In modern evangelicalism, we have several versions of the gospel with which people are familiar.
- The doctrine of justification by grace through faith, which, may describe the theological ramifications of the gospel, but isn’t actually the gospel.
- The “plan of salvation” including four spiritual laws, or five steps to peace with God, the Romans Road, or some other presentation and decision-centric idea.
- The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which is really close. It’s a huge part of the gospel, but not the whole thing.
The problem with all of these is that they can all be shared with little connection whatsoever to creation, to the Old Testament, and to the church. They can be shared without most of the story and without any kind of actual relationship between the presenter and the audience.
In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight takes us back – way back – to grasp a more complete version of the gospel. It all started when God made the first humans to be his image-bearers in the earth. Those humans sinned and God raised up Israel from among the earth’s peoples to usher in the Messiah and deliverer. The gospel, as the early church understood it, is how God restores us as his image-bearers in the world through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the promised King whose story ultimately resolved the story of Israel.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book…
Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. Those two words — decision and disciples — are behind this entire book. Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and — yes, the word is appropriate — aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles
If the gospel isn’t about transformation, it isn’t the gospel of the Bible.
The idea of King and a kingdom are connected to the original creation. God wanted the Eikons, Adam and Eve, to rule in this world. They failed, so God sent his Son to rule. As its King and Messiah and Lord, the Son commissions the Church to bear witness to the world of the redemption in Jesus Christ, the true King, and to embody the kingdom as the people of God.
I’m convinced there’s a fundamental misperception at work in the motivational ploys. Namely, not only have we reduced the robust view of salvation to these four or five points; we are also asking the Plan of Salvation to do something it was never intended to do. The Plan of Salvation, to put this crudely, isn’t discipleship or justice or obedience. The Plan of Salvation leads to one thing and to one thing only: salvation. Justification leads to a declaration by God that we are in the right, that we are in the people of God; it doesn’t lead inexorably to a life of justice or goodness or loving-kindness. If it did, all Christians would be more just and more filled with goodness and drenched in love.
The Plan of Salvation and the Method of Persuasion have been given so much weight they are crushing and have crushed the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus.
One reason why so many Christians today don’t know the Old Testament is because their “gospel” doesn’t even need it!
The authentic apostolic gospel, the gospel Paul received and passed on and the one the Corinthians received, concerns these events in the life of Jesus: that Christ died, that Christ was buried, that Christ was raised, and that Christ appeared. The gospel is the story of the crucial events in the life of Jesus Christ. Instead of “four spiritual laws,” which for many holds up our salvation culture, the earliest gospel concerned four “events” or “chapters” in the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus died (1) with us (identification), (2) instead of us (representation and substitution), and (3) for us (incorporation into the life of God).
Not only is Jesus Messiah, but Jesus over and over in the New Testament is the one true Eikon of God. What the apostles were telling us is that the assignment God gave Adam, the assignment transferred to Abraham, Israel, and Moses, and then to David has now been transferred to and perfectly fulfilled by Jesus.
Whether we look to the words of Jesus in the Jesus Creed of loving God and loving others, or to the words of Jesus in calling us to follow him, or in the words of the apostle Paul to let the Spirit of God loose in our lives to produce the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, the gospel story will not leave us alone. As our God is a sending God, so we are a sent people. As our God is an other-directed God, so we are to be other-directed. The gospel propels us into mission, into the holistic mission of loving God, loving self, loving others, and loving the world.
There’s our gospel: it’s the saving Story of Israel now lived out by Jesus, who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted to God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message that someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury.
McKnight’s writings have been challenging my thinking for some time now, since I first heard him preach at Saddleback Church during our annual Apologetics Weekend. I often find myself wondering if we haven’t somehow overcomplicated the gospel and bogged it down in all kinds of attachments that wouldn’t even have been familiar to the earliest Christians. The King Jesus Gospel confirms this. We’ve drifted from loving the story of the gospel to loving only the saving effects of the gospel.
Read this book to understand the scope of the gospel narrative, and to fall in love with the King all over again!
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
By Scot McKnight / Zondervan
Is the gospel you’ve been told the one Jesus taught? In this provocative study, McKnight opens up the Scriptures to reveal that much of what the church claims as good news is not what Jesus preached. Discover the difference between a salvation and a gospel culture, how to put Jesus’ teaching into practice, and more. 184 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.