The King Jesus Gospel [2] – Overview

This is the second post in a series on Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.

“…the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” John Steinbeck

This really describes me right now. I had originally planned to blog through the whole of KJG this week. I even got off to a good start with Monday’s post covering the first two chapters. So, what happened you may ask? Tuesday was the 14th anniversary of when my wife and I were married. No…I didn’t forget about it…but we decided to go out of town. I figured I could pick back up Wednesday with two chapters at a time and just finish on Saturday. But the stuff of life, as it often does, has conspired such that only now am I getting back McKnight’s book. For the one or two folks who were waiting eagerly I offer my apologies. My new plan is to 1) offer a basic overview in this post and 2) to take additional time to discuss the book one chapter at a time more substantially.

Chapters 1 and 2 (redux)

In my first post I already covered chapters one and two. In chapter one McKnight gave us three exhibits. In one of these someone wrote to ask McKnight what was ‘good news’ about Jesus being the Messiah of Israel. The other two provided evidence that evangelicals in particular had come to define gospel as ‘justification by faith’ and personal salvation (particularly in Paul). McKnight contends this represents a confusion of the gospel and that we need to revisit afresh the question ‘What is the gospel?’ (hence the reason he wrote this book). In the second chapter McKnight claims that evangelicals are actually misnamed. Instead of evangel-ical (which comes from the Greek for gospel) they are better called soterians (which comes from the Greek word for salvation). In other words, evangelicals ought to be called ‘salvationists’ instead of ‘evangelical’ because of their emphasis on personal salvation. Salvation and the gospel are not the same thing, and though salvation is a part of the gospel it ought not to be confused for the whole of the gospel (nor should it be merely reduced down to individual salvation). The result of the evangelical confusion of personal salvation for the gospel has resulted in what McKnight calls a ‘salvation culture’ vs a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have created a salvation culture in which they focus on decisions or getting people to be among the ‘The Decided.’ The problem here is that because they have not emphasized the gospel they then fail to move ‘The Decided’ to the ‘The Discipled.’

Chapter 3

In chapter three McKnight takes us ‘From Story to Salvation.’ Before we answer the question: ‘What is the gospel?’ McKnight first lays out four categories. These four are 1) the story of Israel/the Bible, 2) The story of Jesus, 3) the plan of salvation, and 4) the method of persuasion. McKnight presents a condensed summary of the story of Israel /the Bible which takes us all the way from creation to God’s covenant with Israel, to Christ as climax, the church and commission, and the consummation. The gospel is the story of Jesus that fits within this narrative and only makes sense within this narrative. McKnight goes on to say that the story of the Bible and the story of Jesus belong together and the plan of salvation and method of persuasion go together. The problem it seems that for too long these two pairings have been inverted. The method of persuasion and plan of salvation has been placed on top of the story of Jesus and the story of the Bible. The result of this inversion has been a de-storified personal salvation and a salvation culture. As McKnight says, the gospel has been “crushed” under the plan of salvation.

Chapter 4

Chapter four moves to the New Testament and considers the ‘The Apostolic Gospel of Paul.’ To begin to answer to the question: ‘What is the gospel?’ and whether or not Paul and Jesus preached the same gospel, McKnight starts with I Cor 15. Here we find that Paul ‘gospeled’ (or preached) the gospel to the Corinthians – a gospel in which Christ died for our sins, that Christ was buried, that Christ was raised, and that Christ appeared to witnesses according to the gospel. McKnight says that “the apostolic gospel is an ‘according-to-Scriptures telling of the story of Jesus.’” The gospel for Paul is the salvation unleashing story of Jesus, who is Messiah, Lord of all, and Son of God. This story of Jesus brings to completion the story of Israel according to the Scriptures. And though the plan of salvation is included in the story of the Bible and the story of Jesus, one can not simply limit or reduce the gospel to the plan of salvation (thus it seems to me that evangelicals may not only need to recover the gospel but to rediscover Paul afresh as well). “When the ‘plan’ gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical.”

Chapter 5

So, if Paul emphasized the gospel, that is the story of Jesus, then how did the salvation culture overtake a gospel culture? Without going into detail here, McKnight narrates how the early creeds were formed complete with quotes from them that mirror this apostolic gospel preached by Paul which narrates the story of Jesus within the creeds themselves. McKnight (and I have some questions here I will need to talk about later) says that our equation of gospel with the plan of salvation came about “because of developments from and after the Reformation.” McKnight does some comparison of the ancient creeds with Reformation era and after confessions and what one finds (my words here) is that the later confessions come to resemble modern systematic theologies in their organization. In other words they become less narrative and story centered and more proposition driven as the shift was made from the story of the Bible and Jesus and to a system of soteriology. To recover the gospel we will need to recapture the narrative…the story.

Chapter 6

On this note, McKnight turns his attention to what we call today ‘the four Gospels.’ McKnight here asks if one has ever wondered why these first four books of the NT are called ‘the Gospel.” McKnight answers this question by saying that the Apostle Paul and the Gospel writers both told the same story: that being the story of Israel coming to completion in the story of Jesus. The four Gospels and the gospel are one. There is only one gospel that was preached by Paul and the Gospel writers. This one gospel was written down in four unique versions (what I like to think of as portraits) – the one gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as witnesses to the story of Jesus. McKnight rightfully concludes that “the Gospels are about Jesus, they tell us the story of Jesus, and everything in them is about Jesus.” “To ‘gospel’ is to tell the story if Jesus!” Again, this story that both the apostles and the Gospels told was the story of Jesus completing the story of Israel as Messiah and Lord. In this story Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected, appeared (and is coming) again according to the Scriptures.

Chapter 7

In chapter seven McKnight moves on to discuss ‘Jesus and the Gospel.’ His big question in this chapter is: ‘Did Jesus preach the gospel?’ McKnight reminds us here that we are not asking: ‘Did Jesus preach the plan of salvation?’ or ‘Did Jesus preach justification by faith?’ No, what McKnight wants to determine is: did Jesus see himself and preach himself as the completion of the story of Israel. The importance of framing the question this way is that it shifts the focus away from the benefits that we experience (ie, personal salvation) to the Person himself who is the good news. In the process this way of asking the question reveals that the gospel is not primarily about us. Instead the gospel is about Jesus – his story and (we’ll have to cover this more in the subsequent post on ch 7) the coming of his kingdom and reign. McKnight concludes, “Jesus was totally into preaching himself as the center of God’s plan for Israel.” Therefore, Jesus did preach the gospel because he preached himself, and he preached himself completing Israel’s story – and all this is (you guessed it) according to the Scriptures.

Chapter 8

McKnight thus far has fashioned three legs in what he calls his ‘gospel chair’: that Jesus preached the gospel, that the Gospels tell us the gospel, and that Paul passed on the apostolic gospel tradition. And these three proclaim the same gospel we have already discussed. The fourth leg McKnight says to this ‘gospel chair’ is the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts, in particular Peter’s gospel preaching. In this we find that Peter and Paul preached and were contending for the same gospel. I Cor 15 outlines the gospel for us. However, McKnight discusses seven (or eight) gospel sermons in Acts – 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 10:34-43, with 11:4-18; 13: 16-41; 14: 15-17; 17:22-31 (and possibly 7:2-53) – that present for us ‘gospeling’ in public. These are summaries of the actual gospeling of Peter and Paul. McKnight contends about the apostolic preaching in Acts, “The apostles were not like our modern soterians because they did not empty the gospel of its Story, not did they reduce the gospel to the plan of salvation. In fact, the apostles were the original robust evangelicals.” The framing for the gospeling in Acts was the story of Israel and ‘according to the Scriptures’ which they began to read according to the story of Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Each of the four legs in McKnight’s gospel chair tell us the same thing about the gospel: “it is the story of Israel that comes to completion in the saving story of Jesus, who is Messiah of Israel, Lord over all, and the Davidic Savior.”

Chapter 9 and 10

In the final two chapters McKnight discusses ‘Gospeling today’ and ‘Creating a Gospel Culture.’ The big ideas that I want to mention at this point are that 1) the apostles did not frame their gospeling with an individualistic plan of salvation or a method of persuasion centered on hell and judgment. If McKnight is right (and I think he is) if we are going to gospel the way the apostles did we shouldn’t either. 2) Only by telling the apostolic gospel can we reclaim a gospel culture. In telling this apostolic gospel as the story of Jesus we are not doing away with salvation but instead placing “salvation in the context of a story that has a beginning (in creation and covenant with Israel), a middle (David), and a resolution (Jesus and final redemption).” Evangelicals tend to individualize and reduce the gospel by de-storifying salvation. Only within its proper narrative context (the story of Israel/the Bible and the story of Jesus) will salvation be robust and gospel shaped. We ought to tell the (whole) story of Jesus as the gospel, and let the gospel do its work. And the only way to create a gospel culture is to tell the story – that we may become people of the Story, immersed in the story of Jesus that continues in the church’s story. Only by embracing this story can we form gospel shaped counter stories to the false stories of the world. But all this starts not with individual salvation, but instead with the story of Jesus – the gospel.

There is much more to say that this overview could not cover. McKnight’s KJG raises so many good questions and things to discuss. As we journey in more depth through each of the chapters individually we will cover questions related to (just to name a few off the top of my head):

the nature of the gospel as anti-empire (which I was disappointed that McKnight de-emphasized), hermeneutics (what does it mean to have a gospel shaped reading of the Bible), anthropology (what are we created to be), ecclesiology (what kind of people are we called out to be), ecclesial practices (what kinds of things form us into the people we are called out to be), as well as theological method (specifically the role of narrative theology). Through it all I think that we will find that far better than evidence the demands a verdict, or four spiritual laws, or an awkwardly constructed roman road is the story itself of a Jewish Messiah who is also Lord of the whole cosmos.

Again, just to be official, everyone should know (in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”) that I received this book free from Zondervan as part of a give away to read and talk about on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review, a bad review, or an in between review. I hereby swear upon pain of death or worse, being forced to watch endless reruns of anything involving William Shatner, that the opinions I have expressed are my own (but I would have bought the book and reviewed it anyways if I had not received it for free) and that I am solely responsible for any typos that appear.

The King Jesus Gospel [1] – Chapters 1 & 2

Thanks for joining me as we discuss Scot McKnight’s new book The King Jesus Gospel (KJG). If you haven’t seen it already, please go here to see my preview post I did yesterday which will introduce you to the basic ideas. I hope to offer at least two things through this series – first, a substantial, yet condensed summary of the material of KJG and second, not only a review but an interaction with and discussion with what McKnight has to say to us.


Before he gets to chapter one McKnight shares an experience from 1971 in which he was a seventeen year old participating in the evangelism program at his church. This experience read like it could have been from my own life as a newly ‘surrendered’ preacher to the ministry. McKnight was teamed with a seasoned deacon from his church and they made ‘call’ to a guy’s house because he had filled out a visitor’s card. They found the man and his family in the middle of dinner, which didn’t deter the deacon any and they spent the hour or so witnessing to this man. It was apparent that this man had no interest in getting ‘saved’ but the deacon applied ever ounce of persuasion he had and the man ‘made a decision for Christ’…McKnight’s church rejoiced at the report of a salvation…and no one ever saw this guy at their church (or presumably any other church) ever again. McKnight says that most of evangelism today is obsessed about the decision but that the disciples were obsessed with making disciples. “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.” (18)

McKnight is a professor and he reports that his students report to him 1) that the gospel they heard had to do with their sin, Jesus’ death, and going to heaven. But 2) these same students also report that they know that something is wrong with this picture. McKnight presents some statistics that I won’t repeat all of them here (check them out on pages 18-19) but that approximately 60% of Americans make a commitment to Jesus (ie, a decision) but if we measure discipleship that 60% dwindles down to something more like 6%. McKnight concludes that “at the most conservative estimates, we lose at least 50 percent if those who make decisions” and “our focus on getting young people to make decisions – that is, ‘accepting Jesus into our hearts’ – appears to distort spiritual formation.” These conclusions have convinced McKnight that we need to revisit “the connection of gospel and evangelism and salvation and our methods of persuasion.” (20-21) But all of this requires an answer to one big question, which is the subject of chapter one.

Chapter One – The Big Question

This chapter introduces us to what is, in his contention (and I buy his contention here), the most important question the church can ask today – this is an issue in which there is a ‘fog of confusion’ about it. That question is: what is the gospel? This will come as a surprise to quite a few who thought they had gospel nailed down, especially evangel-icals, who seemingly have the gospel or good news built right into their name. Sure, poverty and politics and eschatology and a host of other things can be debated till we are blue in the face, but the Christian message is something we should have down already. There are other things that need discussion but McKnight suggests that we can’t really discuss them well until we answer the gospel question. In order to answer this gospel question he says that “we need to go back to the Bible to find the original gospel” (24) and for those thinking they have the gospel down pat already McKnight offers a ‘well, sorry, but not so fast…’ McKnight then offers three exhibits that illustrate why he thinks we are off track.

Exhibit 1 is from a reader who wrote to question what the ‘good news’ was about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the descendant of David. McKnight had a reaction of disbelief and I understand where he is coming from. At a church I was a youth pastor at during my undergrad I will never forget a very seasoned (and old) deacon, who had grown up in this little Baptist church, confessing to me that ever since he was a teenager he never could figure out why it mattered to us that Jesus was the Messiah. That was a Jewish message and we as Gentiles just need to focus on ‘Jesus in our heart.’ What’s more is the pastor, who had an MDiv from a large Southern Baptist seminary somewhere in general area of Texas, agreed with him! McKnight is correct, these instances reveal that what folks mean by gospel is far too often entirely about personal salvation and not Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The sad thing is that there are very likely many other Christians out there who also wonder what the gospel has to do Jesus being Messiah (thus demonstrating the gospel has flown right by them!).

Exhibit 2 concerns the ever influential (and very often controversial) John Piper. At a big conference in 2010 he asked a question: Did Jesus Preach Paul’s gospel? Piper examined Luke 18 and thankfully found that, yes, Jesus did preach Paul’s gospel of justification by faith. However, it seems that Piper may have gotten things a bit backwards. McKnight concedes that there are the makings of justification by faith in Luke 18 and that it is fair to ask “if Jesus preached a gospel like Paul’s.” But this isn’t the same thing as asking whether Jesus preached Paul’s gospel. Indeed, the more appropriate question is whether Paul preached Jesus’ gospel. And the other problem here is that “Piper’s assumption is that justification is the gospel.” McKnight contends (and I again agree with his contention here even though I am moderately Calvinist) that the Calvinist crowd in America (or more appropriately the neo-Reformed) has defined the gospel with the ‘justification by faith’ shorthand. But did the apostles define the gospel this way? And we must admit that there are hardly any instances of this favorite theological category in what are called the four Gospels.

Exhibit 3 concern a pastor McKnight ran into at an airport. When questioned about what he was reading McKnight told the pastor it was a book about the gospel. The pastor confidently stated the ease of defining the gospel and said confidently the gospel was ‘justification by faith.’ So McKnight asked him: Did Jesus preach the gospel? The pastor’s response was that Jesus could not have preached the gospel because no one could understand the gospel until Paul. Ummm, really? This is another equation of the gospel with ‘justification by faith’ and a rather stark admission by this pastor that because Jesus did not speak in these terms then he didn’t preach the gospel.

The result of this is McKnight’s claim that “the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about ‘personal salvation,’ and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making ‘decisions.’ The result is that the word gospel no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles. The text or gospel story has disappeared and been buried under layers of ‘personal salvation’ interpretation. This has created a whole system or church culture that is doing precisely what it is programmed to do (ie, decisions that don’t seem to stick) because it is energized by a badly shaped gospel. McKnight concludes this chapter, “Our biggest problem is that we have an entire culture shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel. That so-called gospel is deconstructing the church.” (27)

Chapter Two – Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture

McKnight opens this chapter by saying that evangelicalism is a gift to the church and world. And one of the gifts that McKnight says that evangelicalism offers is the conviction that personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable. The gospel is not for spectators. McKnight also mentions an Eastern Orthodox friend of his who admits that there are too many who have been ‘sacramentalized’ but not ‘evangelized.’ McKnight concludes that the sacramental process isn’t enough and that there must be a call for personal faith. As an aside here: I think we can also reverse this and contend that evangelicalism’s avoidance of the sacraments has contributed to what McKnight is calling a salvation culture – relegating them to mere symbol or mere ordinance. The sacraments (yes, I am Baptist!) of baptism and the eucharist are key for being incorporated into the biblical story, the story of Jesus, and the wider mission of God. We’ll talk more about this as we go along, specifically in the last chapter.

But while evangelicalism may be a gift it is far from perfect. “We evangelicals (as a whole) are not really ‘evangelical’ in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians.” (29) Drawing from the greek words euangelion and evangel (from which we get gospel) and soteria (from which we get salvation) McKnight makes the contention that the term at the heart of evangel-ical description does not really define evangelical identity. Instead, evangelicals ought to be called soterians (the saved ones) due to their over emphasis on personal salvation (and even here I think it can be contended that the evangelical ‘personal salvation’ is a reduction of a more robust biblical salvation). What has happened is that evangelicals have created a ‘salvation culture’ and have mistakenly assumed it is a ‘gospel culture.’ What’s more is that McKnight sees this salvation culture at work in more liturgical traditions as well as evangelicalism. The difference is that the former have trouble getting The Members to move on to the The Discipled and the latter has trouble getting The Decided to move to the Discipled. But if McKnight is correct then it seems that an overwhelming portion of Christianity (at least in northern America) has a discipleship problem. McKnight contends three things: 1) a salvation culture and gospel culture are not the same thing, 2) in equating a salvation culture and gospel culture we betray a profound lack of understanding of the gospel itself, and 3) we must create a gospel culture to move The Members and The Decided to The Discipled…ie, we need to (re)create a gospel culture and we need to go back to the Bible in order to do this.

Concluding Observations

Well, here are the first two chapters. I want to end with two brief notes. First an observation about McKnight identifying a problem in the emphasis on persons ‘deciding’ for Christ – or the salvation culture. McKnight shares about Pastor Eric in chapter 2 who does his best to ‘balance’ justification and discipleship, fearful that emphasizing discipleship too much will compromise salvation by faith. So, he goes back and forth because he has a salvation culture and not a gospel culture. I want to suggest here that there is a deformed ecclesiology that has been adversely affected by modern American individualism. In identifying a salvation culture versus a gospel culture McKnight is echoing the longstanding critiques of many concerning evangelicalism’s ecclesiology (or lack thereof!).

Second, I think we need to pay close attention to the evangelical propensity of leaving the biblical and gospel story behind and importing a systematic theology in its place which speaks to evangelical theological method. We have already seen this at work in these two chapters and the salvation culture McKnight identifies (based as it is on a de-storified or decontextualized ‘justification by faith’ theology) is a prime example of this. Evangelicals claim to be a ‘people of the Book’ (my own Baptist tradition uses this as a mark of pride) or a ‘people of the Story’. How ironic then that they have lost the biblical narrative/story to a systematic theology (and I say this as one trained as a theologian) combined with a lopsided emphasis on the individual experience of salvation and have as a result confused a salvation culture for a gospel culture.

A note before we go. Tomorrow will be fourteen years since my wife and I said I do and tied the knot. Seeing as it is our anniversary, and seeing as I want to have another next year, I will be spending the day with her. So, I will be back Wednesday sometime.

Oh, by the way, just to be official, I think I am supposed to let everyone know (in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”) that I received this book free from Zondervan as part of a give away to read and talk about on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review, a bad review, or an in between review. I hereby swear upon pain of death or worse, being forced to watch endless reruns of The Office, that the opinions I have expressed are my own (but I would have bought the book and reviewed it anyways if I had not received it for free) and that I am solely responsible for any typos that appear.

The King Jesus Gospel – Preview

Tomorrow, as part of a Zondervan blog tour which runs this Monday through Friday (9/19 – 9/23), I will begin blogging my way through Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel (KJG). The book has ten chapters so I will cover two chapters per day. In my estimation, McKnight’s KJG is an important book and is paradigm changing. Additionally, I think McKnight shows that the majority of evangelicals are not really talking about the gospel when they think they are.

Ok, that was big, so let’s pause for a second and let that last sentence sink in.

Here it is again: when evangelicals think they are talking about the gospel they are really talking about something else, something perhaps important…but not the gospel. McKnight’s message here (in the words of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride) is “you keep using that word (ie, gospel). I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

N.T. Wright says much the same thing: “I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when the say ‘the gospel’. I just don’t think it is what Paul means. In other words, I am not denying that the usual meanings are things the people ought to say, to preach about, to believe. I simply wouldn’t use the word ‘gospel’ to denote those things.” (What Saint Paul Really Said, 41)

Ok, now that I have your attention…

You are probably asking, ‘Well, then what are evangelicals talking about that they have confused with the gospel?’ and even ‘Ok, then precisely what IS the gospel?’ And you may be asking this with a bit of sarcasm and even anger. This would be understandable…evangel in Greek is ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’…and no one likes being told that something so foundational to Christian faith and evangel-ical identity has been wrongly conceived. That what they thought was gospel really wasn’t. Before we start working our way through the KJG tomorrow let me offer to you some videos McKnight did for the Q conference called ‘Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?’ In these videos McKnight presents in condensed form the basic material that we will find in KJG.

In these videos McKnight argues that “the text has disappeared (or has been buried) under the interpretation?” What does he means by this? He means that the biblical narrative and story of Jesus has been eclipsed by doctrinal formulations that aim at personal salvation instead of a FULL gospel.

In the first video McKnight says, “We have developed a personal salvation culture at the expense of a gospel culture…we have lost contact with the meaning of the gospel” and “When all words in the Bible mean personal salvation, no words mean anything.”

What McKnight is contending here is that to think of gospel as merely personal salvation is to abstract the gospel from the story of Israel and the biblical narrative and to instead present a reductionist ‘plan of salvation’ that functions as a poser gospel. What does this plan of salvation look like? Most of us should recognize this right away:

McKnight summarizes for us, “The plan of salvation is not quite the gospel but it is what we as evangelical Christians feast on – the plan of salvation. And here are our favorite elements: God’s love and grace and holiness, our creation as eikons (image bearers) and our sinfulness, and therefore our standing under the judgment and wrath of God, but that Jesus Christ stepped in as a substitutionary, atoning death to forgive us of our sins and reconcile us to God, and all we have to do is respond to this plan of salvation in faith and we too can be saved.”

And this plan of salvation has been wedded to a method of persuasion or what is thought of as evangelism in which the plan of salvation is framed with the themes of judgment, wrath, and hell. But while we will find that McKnight says we shouldn’t do away with judgment, he nevertheless makes the claim that no one in the New Testament called the plan of salvation the gospel or framed the gospel in this manner.

“That is the plan of salvation and I want to suggest to you that no one in the New Testament calls that the gospel” McKnight says. Instead McKnight claims that “The word gospel belongs to the (biblical) narrative and it makes sense only in the (biblical) narrative…” It can’t be abstracted out of the biblical narrative/story and still be gospel! We need to ask, in losing the biblical story and Jesus story have evangel-icals lost the evangel?

I, for one, think McKnight is correct. The text of the biblical story and the story of Jesus has disappeared under the interpretation – particularly evangelical interpretation of Paul which has become our plan of salvation and method of persuasion. In the process we have missed what the gospel really is. The ironic thing is this: if we recapture the authentic gospel we can save the plan of salvation, but if we insist on the plan of salvation as our so called ‘gospel’ we distort and lose the authentic gospel and story of Jesus. As it stands evangelicals have really put their doctrinal/plan of salvation cart before the gospel story/narrative horse. The plan of salvation tail is wagging the gospel dog – so to speak.

I, personally, think this plan of salvation culture is culpable (just for one example) for the dramatic dropout rates of teens as soon as they leave high school. They have gotten their soul taken care of eternally but they have not been given a gospel shaped story by which to live their lives. I have personally seen this in many baptisms. The fact that someone has received individual salvation in the form of a transaction is emphasized…the fact that baptism is our initiation into the story of Jesus has been barely present. Is it any wonder that so many of the folks we baptize also drop out only to come back years later for rebaptism or a ‘rededication’? Some attempt to solve this dropout problem and commitment problem by preaching the plan of salvation louder, or by making it more ‘relevant’, or by tweaking the plan of salvation itself to make it more holistic. But my friends, listen please, if we tweak a weak gospel we still have a weak gospel – which as it turns out, is not really the gospel after all. And also, as it turns out, the plan of salvation makes for a weak gospel but salvation attains its full holistic flavor when situated within the gospel story itself – so we need to get the gospel story right to get salvation right.

So what does McKnight propose we do – go back to the Gospels and go back to the New Testament to see what this word gospel means.

This is what McKnight comes up with: “The gospel is the announcement, the declaration, the heralding, that Jesus is Messiah and he is the point and goal and telos of the narrative. He is the Messiah and he is the redeemer and he is the Lord. He lived, and he died, and he was buried, and he rose again, and he’s coming again. As the raised and ascended one he is Lord of both Jews and Gentiles…and THAT is the gospel according the New Testament.” “The plan of salvation unfolds from the story of Jesus.”


“For the apostle Paul the gospel is to tell and declare the story of Jesus as the climax of the scriptures of Israel’s story. It is according the scriptures, there is a story that comes to a climax in Jesus. Paul when he says the gospel in I Cor 15 doesn’t mention justification, he does not mention double imputation, yes this is a saving story, but the saving story – the plan of salvation – is not identical to the gospel which is the climax to Israel’s story.”

and as for what ‘gospeling’ is…

“According to Paul and according to the apostolic gospelers of the New Testament to gospel is to herald the story of Israel as coming to climax in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The most important thing I will say to you is that to gospel or to evangelize in the New Testament means to the herald the story of Jesus as the Messiah.”

N.T. Wright sums up what McKnight is getting after well for us in his forward for the book. He says, “…the movement that has long called itself ‘evangelical’ is in fact better labeled ‘soterian.’ That is, we have thought we were talking about ‘the gospel’ when in fact we were concentrating on ‘salvation.’

Very true I think. While the gospel certainly has to do with salvation we need to entertain that we have missed the gospel story and in the process gotten the salvation story not quite right as well. Wright continues, “…’the gospel’ is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.”

And Wright is very much…well, right! “A microcosmic theory of atonement and faith don’t, by themselves, make up ‘the gospel.’ When Wright heard from John Stott speak about some who were trying to determine what the ‘irreducible minimum gospel’ was, Stott dismissed the idea. “Who wants an irreducible minimum gospel? I want the full, biblical gospel” he stated. (all Wright quotes, KJG, 12-13)

Well, I do too and I hope that you will join me this week, because I really think that McKnight does a good job of leading us back to this full, biblical gospel. In the meantime, here is a bonus video from Wright on ‘What is the gospel, and why is it good news?’