Takeaway: The Gospel is about proclaiming Christ as Lord over all, not primarily about personal salvation.
Some books just give words to those ideas that have been floating around in your brain and suddenly you have a way to express what you were not previously able to express. The King Jesus Gospel is one of those books.
Over the past months, I have been struggling through understanding scripture and the church and the gospel and how it all relates. Of course, not all of my questions are answered and of course, I am not sure about all of McKnight’s answers, but his basic thesis, that we need to re-orient the way we talk about the gospel I am convinced is one of the most important messages I have heard.
Early in the book McKnight summarized his thesis (which he does a number of times throughout the book).
“Perhaps the most important thing I can say about what this book will argue boils down to these points:
- A salvation culture and a gospel culture are not the same.
- In thinking our salvation culture is identical to a gospel culture, we betray a profound lack of awareness of what gospel means and what a gospel culture might mean for our world today.
- We are in need of going back to the Bible to discover the gospel culture all over again and making that gospel culture the center of the church.”
McKnight is quite provocative in this book. He clearly knows what he is trying to say, but he also knows that he will likely be misunderstood, and bends over backward to try to clarify so that he will minimize any confusion. Frankly, my main complaint is probably that he spends too much time refocusing, repeating his point, and clarifying that he is in complete support of personal salvation. The repetition is probably important to maintain the antagonistic reader, but for the friendly reader, it is a bit draining. As draining as the repetition is, the fact that he is trying to keep the reader on board is very important. My main complaint about Peter Enns’ Incarnation and Inspiration and Christian Smith’s Bible Made Impossible were that they were needlessly controversial. So I want to give McKnight a pass on the repetition.
I am not going to draw out McKnight’s argument. He makes it carefully and over 176 pages, but I will quote one of his definitions of the gospel (he defines it several times in several different ways, but this seems to be the most complete to me.)
“…the gospel is, first of all, framed by Israel’s Story: the narration of the saving Story of Jesus — his life, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, and his coming again — as the completion of the Story of Israel. Second, the gospel centers on the lordship of Jesus. In ways that anticipate the Nicene Creed, the gospel of Peter and Paul is anchored in an exalted view of Jesus. Jesus is seen as suffering, saving, ruling, and judging because he is the Messiah and the Lord and the Davidic Savior. He is now exalted at the right hand of God. Third, gospeling involves summoning people to respond. Apostolic gospeling is incomplete until it lovingly but firmly summons those who hear the gospel to repentance, to faith in Jesus Christ, and to baptism. Fourth, the gospel saves and redeems. The apostolic gospel promises forgiveness, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and justification.”
McKnight in no way is minimizing the need for salvation as an individual. Christ came so that we could be saved, personally, from our sin. McKnight’s point is that the gospel message is not about personal salvation (although salvation is important), the gospel message is about the Lordship of Christ and Christ’s fulfillment of the story of Israel.
Personally, the implications of this book are important. One, focusing on the Lordship of Christ clarifies the evangelism/social gospel problem that has been around for the last 150 years. Two, it completely redefines Baptism and Eucharist for me. I have strongly felt that we Evangelicals are not giving adequate due to the power of the sacraments. McKnight spends some time talking about Baptism as submission to Christ as Lord (joining into Christ kingdom and the body-the church). Even more important for me is that the Eucharist is even more emphasized because regardless of what you think theologically about the eucharist, all views can see that it is about participating in the body of Christ (universal) and that it is a physical way of seeing that we are empowered to live out the kingdom.
Third, McKnight’s approach gives meaning to focusing more on discipleship as a process than on evangelism as an event. I have focused on this for a while, but this really inspires me to continue. Fourth, and maybe most importantly, this again gives even more ammunition to the idea that we as Evangelicals need to be spending more time reading scripture, reading it completely, reading it as a complete story, and absorbing it in a way that the Holy Spirit can really use it to change us.
I have to admit I was primed to read this book. I have been talking about some of the themes for months now. So you might not be as enthused about it as I am. But I do think that the central message, that 1) the church should be about the gospel, that 2) the gospel is primarily about the Lordship of Christ and Christ’s completion of the story of Israel and that 3) as important as personal salvation is, it should never be placed before the central place of Christ, are very important to the continuing process of rediscovering what the role of the church is right now for this people.
An ebook was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.