Scot McKnight brings fresh breeze into the discussion of The Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is the Gospel? Surely every Pastor and Sunday School teacher must have this basic question down to the black and white and surely every Christian has no problem articulating The Gospel to others...right? Admittedly one of those who honestly struggles with interpreting the proper balance of scripture in this area, I found Scot's work to produce the hooks and footholds to facilitate a new and helpful discernment.
The work is certainly "safe" for those who might be concerned of an author departing from the Word. McKnight doesn't reject what he sees as the prevailing evangelical ideas on salvation, what he argues is that The Gospel of Jesus Christ (as clearly established in scripture) is so much more.
Building on others, like NT Wright & Dallas Willard, Scot McKnight wrestles with our crystallized doctrines of salvation and wonders if modern Christianity (that developed during the pendulum swing of the Reformation) hasn't taken the Gospel of Jesus Christ and stripped it of its full meaning. That instead of the fullness of the Gospel as represented by Jesus Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; expounded by Paul and Peter; and repeated in sermons in the book of Acts which reflect the full meaning of the story of Jesus who fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel's story - McKnight argues we find many have allowed the definition of the Gospel, "to collapse into abstract doctrines that reduce all that God has said and done into a carefully packaged plan of salvation."
The concern is that we unwittingly stripped the Gospel of its full meaning when, in an attempt to correct the errors of the church that existed prior to the reformation (salvation concerns of works), we've too often boiled it down to nothing more than a doctrine of salvation - to suggest that the Gospel is nothing more than an individual plan of Salvation. "Sin management."
â€¢ Individual (as opposed to corporate)
â€¢ Decisions (as opposed to discipleship)
â€¢ Sin management mentality - ticket punched: leaving many to wonder if they even need the bible to walk rightly.
Scot has got my attention: the Gospel is, in truth, much more than my personal plan of sin management. McKnight puts it like this:
â€¢ The Gospel is God's explanation of the intended life through the biblical accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is the revealed interpretation of the life He intends for the Imagebearer.
â€¢ We must know this Gospel if we hope to possess and share a true Gospel culture - [and it's that Gospel culture that's glimpsed in the book of Acts as anointed by the Holy Spirit and bringing thousands into Christ on a daily basis.
One of the errors of our day is our tendency to minimize the story - to reduce the gospel message to napkin or a note card. ("A minute to win it?")
McKnight issues the call to return to be the people of the Word - to know the Word from Genesis to Revelation; to ponder the depths of the contours in the story of God as revealed in the bible - to listen to His Holy Word - to Listen to Him speak to us - to see the Messiah in His proper context and then can we hope to truly reflect His light and bear His image.
That will preach, as they say. And hopefully, by focusing on the revealed life and words of Christ as interpreted through scripture, we'll find more and more decision makers able to apprehend who God is and how best to respond to Him.
Wish it was in paperback so we could share it more readily in the prisons.
This book, like many others by McKnight, has caused a bit of a stir - you can see the mixed reactions below. Even those who do not agree with McKnight should be able to credit his writing style as well his passion for asking important questions.
The main question he so eloquently asks throughout this book is "What is the Gospel"? Most Evangelical Christians would say something about being saved from our sins by the death of Jesus. While McKnight agrees that Jesus does save us from our sins, he doesn't see this as the Gospel. His point is that we have created a salvation culture, but not so much a Gospel culture. He sets out to explain what he sees as the Gospel - which is essentially Jesus Christ being the fulfillment of Israel. So on some level, this book serves as an easily accessible monograph on what the word "Gospel" means.
I really enjoyed this book - it is incredibly well-written and well-footnoted (I wrote down a few new books I want to check out). McKnight, as he usually does, is gentle with those he disagrees with. Since he is presenting a fairly novel idea for most of us (though he does fully document the Biblical and historical reasons of those who agree with him), I think this book would make for an excellent discussion in some sort of group setting. Thus, I wish he would have added a fourth Appendix with a discussion guide - however I also realize this might be nit-picking. I think it will take some time for me to think through the issues he brings up but I know that even though I might disagree with some of his conclusions, he nonetheless is an incredibly important voice in discerning what it means to be an effective Christian and how to be an effective witness to culture in our day.
Reading this book made me think of my late grandfather, who had, around age 30, "got saved" at a revival meeting. According to my grandmother, he attended church a few times, dropped out, and spent the rest of his life acting extremely Unsaved. My grandmother still wonders if he is in heaven, as does everyone who knew him. "Once saved, always saved" is the familiar phrase, but even people who believe that will admit that in some cases "getting saved" was illusory.
So, in light of all that, I was prepared to give this book a fair hearing. I agree that the "getting saved" mentality can lead a person to a false sense of security, as it can lead people to define "Christian" as "someone who gets saved." But just because something is abused doesn't mean it ought to be discarded. The author of this book assures readers (too often, frankly) that he still believes that "decisions for Christ" are important. But the upshot of his book is that "decision evangelism" is an embarrassment for modern Christians and ought to be moved to the back burner (or shoved off the stove). We live in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity, especially in its traditional form, and we absorb some of that culture, so that many pastors no longer talk about evangelism or witnessing to one's faith - which means that they give up trying to please God in favor of "What will my non-Christian friends think?"
As I read the book, I kept recalling Paul's wonderful phrase: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, it is the power of God that brings salvation" (Rom 1:16). Paul was not a suburban pastor or seminary professor ensconced in a cozy three-bedroom, two-bath house with an Acura in the garage, he was "out there," getting beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, mocked, slandered, which definitely proved that "I am not ashamed" was no idle boast. Scot McKnight is no Paul, and neither are the vast majority of pastors, even those who hold (very loosely, and with embarrassment) to the name "evangelical." Knowing that their own preaching is essentially just warmed-over Norman Vincent Peale positive thinking fluff (or the "God wants you to vote Democratic and march in gay pride parades" preached by liberals), these comfortable, world-conforming pastors try to excuse their lack of zeal by proving that the "real" gospel and the "real" Jesus weren't decision-centered. The author tries to prove that the cool people like himself are part of the "gospel culture" instead of the "salvation culture" of those dumb, unsophisticated evangelicals. He is correct that a lot of "saved" people don't ever grow into mature disciples who live out their faith. But in trying to prove that the "gospel culture" is better than "salvation culture," he is simply approving of Christians who do not evangelize or verbally witness to their faith in the hope that friends and family members will become Christians - in other words, Christians so intimidated by the secular culture that their "witness" takes the form of something insipid and nonthreatening like "You might like our church, we have a really cool music program, and our pastor is a fun guy."
Yes, we ought to ACT like Christians, because that is an indispensible part of our witness. The "salvation culture" has never denied that. But there is a flaw in "evangelism by example" - people may not know just what we are an example of. And aside from that, there is no getting around the Book of Acts: It all starts at Pentecost: "Repent, and be saved" - yeah, you, the individual there - accept Christ. That's Christian Life, Part 1. We get Part 2 in Paul's letters, addressed to people who made the decision but are still flawed sinners who need Paul's guidance in growing in the faith. But they had to do Part 1 first. No evangelism, no church. The church didn't spread, in Acts, because the apostles ran around bragging about their music program or about how witty the pastor was, nor did they assure their audiences that "all roads lead to God, so one religion is as good as another - we don't judge." Peter and Paul are a tough act to follow, but that's the reason the pastorate is not for softies - come to think of it, that's true for the laity too. If we stripped the church down to the true believers - something God will do, at the end - we would have a much smaller but infinitely more vibrant mission force. After all, it started with just twelve guys, but it's amazing how bold people are when they're not ashamed of what they preach. That certainly isn't true of the vast majority of pastors and seminary professors.
So, despite its good points, this book falls into that growing category of books: "How to Be an Evangelical and Make Your Unbelieving Friends Think You're OK." Or maybe