2 Stars Out Of 5
September 20, 2011
Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel is one of those rare books where it's impossible to remain on the sidelines. What McKnight is proposing in this little book is that evangelicals have, for a long time, gotten the gospel wrong. Such an accusation must be considered and engaged, and it requires a response.
There was much I liked and agreed with in McKnight's analysis of the situation. He is right that Christians in the West often reduce the gospel to a plan of salvation pitch. He's also right that Jesus and the apostles preached Jesus as the gospel, rather than succumbing to a personal-need oriented appeal. McKnight rightly shows how the full, biblical gospel is the story of Israel culminating in the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and then carrying on in the New Testament church. Very few engaged and thinking Christians will disagree with McKnight here, but he seems to exaggerate the real state of things. As I read, I kept thinking to myself, "Who are these people that would take issue with a gospel that can be traced from Genesis to Revelation? I'm sure they exist, but they can hardly be taken seriously."
I do take issue, however, with the trajectory of The King Jesus Gospel. In my opinion, it pushes justification by faith alone to the outskirts of the biblical gospel. It's still there in the scenery to be sure, but it's no longer central and it's no longer the doctrine on which the church stands or falls, to paraphrase Luther. Ironically, the very camp that would most agree with McKnight with regard to preaching a fuller, more biblical gospel - those who stand under the shadow of the Reformers - are the very ones he blames for reducing the gospel to a plan of personal salvation. He writes, "The Reformation did not deny the gospel story and it did not deny the creeds. Instead, it put everything into a new order and into a new place. Time and developments have somehow eroded the much more balanced combination of gospel culture and salvation culture in the Reformation to where today salvation culture has eclipsed the gospel culture" (72).
McKnight leans heavily on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 as an early Christian creed and examines the other gospel summaries and sermons recorded in Scripture. No one will deny that these creeds and statements consist of factual summaries about Christ and his ministry, but that doesn't mean that deeper theology is unimportant. All of Scripture is God-breathed, and so to minimize certain parts (most of Romans and Galatians) in order to purify the early gospel is misguided. Certainly, evangelistic sermons are not normally going to delve into the inner-workings of monergistic salvation, but that doesn't mean they stand on the sidelines in our understanding of the gospel. In the end, I simply couldn't figure out how McKnight could read John or Romans or Galatians faithfully and not see justification by faith alone all over the place. There's much to commend in The King Jesus Gospel, but McKnight seems to over-correct a personal-decision-driven gospel by pushing a story-based gospel that requires no decision and no understanding of our standing before God as helpless sinners dead in our sins. The biblical gospel accounts aren't like that. Decisions are required all over the place.