Can Someone Please Tell Me What the Gospel Is? Like for Real? – A Review of The King Jesus Gospel, by Scot McKnight

A few weeks ago, my doorbell rang, interrupting the quietude of my workday. Since my home office is located near the front door, I got up from my chair and opened the door. Standing on my doorstep were two women, both smiling happily, both well-dressed, both carrying Bibles, and bothy ready to talk with whomever would listen.

I listened. It became apparent that these two ladies, kind and sincere though they were, did not believe “the gospel” as I understood it. So, I waited until an appropriate moment in the conversation, and asked them point-blank:  “What is the gospel? How would you explain it to me?”

I’ll admit, that’s a pretty big question. My intent was not to try to trick them or stymie them, but rather to get them to think before I showed them something from my Bible. Since some unintelligible stammers and awkward pauses followed my question, I showed them the following  passage from the Bible:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel….that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

I attempted to unpack the meaning of this passage, explaining in summary form a brief account of the “gospel.” My intent was not to anger them, but unfortunately, it became evident in the few minutes following that they were indeed very angry.

Something similar is happening right now. It has to do with 1 Corinthians 15, the gospel, and a few angry people. Thankfully, it’s not taking place on my doorstep. And, thankfully, the few angry people aren’t too ticked off.

The source of angst, information, enlightenment, and controversy has to do with Scot McKnight’s recent book, The King Jesus Gospel:  The Original Good News Revisited (Zondervan, 2011).

Oh, no. Not another book on the gospel!

I live and work in a whirlwind of information, conversations, books, blogs, and broadcasts about “the gospel.” There are gospel talks, gospel books, gospel marriages, gospel music, gospel parenting, gospel preaching, gospel apps, gospel websites, gospel everything. Evangelicalism is consumed with a gospel-centered mentality. The gospel is essential, and I have no desire or intent to minimize the gospel. But do we really need another book on the gospel?

Scot McKnight thought so. So he wrote one. Here’s why:

“What we think is the gospel is not the original gospel. So we need to start all over again. We need to ask, ‘what was the original gospel…what was the gospel Jesus preached?’”

It’s a fairly simple starting point for a book, but it plunges McKnight into the maelstrom of controversy regarding the essence of the gospel.

The Problem of the “Gospel”

In my own words and inspired by Scot’s thinking, here are some problems with our gospel:

  • We’ve whittled down the gospel to a personal conversion experience.
  • We’ve excluded from the gospel the long and storied legacy of Israel.
  • We’ve reshaped the gospel to fit comfortably with other false gospels in our lives.
  • We’ve simplified the gospel into a formulaic A-B-C process that doesn’t look anything like the biblical gospel.
  • We’ve transformed the gospel into “the plan of salvation.”
  • We’ve made “accepted the gospel” synonymous with “made a decision” and “prayed the prayer.”
  • We’ve abridged the gospel narrative into several Romans Road bullet points.
  • We’ve made the gospel into a solution for sin management.

These are serious problems. Sadly, these gospel distortions are firmly ensconced within the psyche of many American evangelicals. Why? There are probably several reasons. First, the gospel we have created is built from the accretions of tradition (and it’s really hard to go against tradition). Furthermore, the gospel we’ve been preaching has created a Christian culture that perpetuates and possibly even further distorts the gospel. Finally, we’re way to comfortable with the gospel that we’ve created to have to give way to the King Jesus Gospel.

So, what is the King Jesus Gospel? 

In order to get back to the true gospel itself, free of the obstructions, confusions, distortions, and additions, Scot maintains that we have to get back to the Bible itself. Again, it’s an obvious solution, but one that is not devoid of the disagreement that attends biblical texts and interpretations. To cut through the confusion, Scot starts with 1 Corinthians 15, but then takes a huge rewind all the way to page one of the Bible. Then, he makes a slow and careful trek through the Whole Story to come to a better understanding of “gospel.” After all, if the gospel is so biblically significant, it must have something to do with the Old Testament.

Scot writes,

“The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel…The Bible’s Story from Israel to Jesus is the saving Story” (37). By contrast, however, he writes, “this Plan of Salvation is not the gospel. The Plan of Salvation emerges from the Story of Israel/Bible and from the Story of Jesus, but the plan and the gospel are not the same big idea” (39).

Scot’s book is a book of big ideas, because it’s a book about the Bible’s Big Idea:  the gospel. Getting to the root of that gospel is his task. So, to the Bible he turns.

As ironic as it seems, not everyone thinks that Scot has succeeded in defining the gospel of King Jesus. Regardless of where you fall on the agree/disagree continuum, this book will have a profound effect on:

  • The way you “lead your children to Christ.”
  • The way you evangelize.
  • The way you read your Bible (and not just the NT).
  • The way you think about “the gospel.”

It’s a thinking book, paradigm shifting, actually. Don’t waltz in to the book expecting Scot to totally change your mind and reverse your course. There’s a lot of meaty stuff in this book—stuff that demands a prepared mind and a careful perusal.

Read Scot McKnight’s cover story article in Christianity today, “Jesus vs. Paul.”
Read Scot’s blog.
Watch the book’s trailer.
See the book on Amazon.

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