‘How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens’ by Michael Williams (Book Review)

This post is part of a blog tour for a new book called How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens by Michael Williams, who teaches Old Testament at Calvin College. When I saw the announcement for the book and the blog tour I was very much intrigued due to my interest in both philosophical and theological hermeneutics (specifically Paul Ricoeur) and what is called the ‘theological interpretation of Scripture’ (TIS) movement which seeks to read the Bible as specifically Christian Scripture and even according to a Trinitarian ‘rule of faith.’ The TIS movement has been vigorously opposed by some who favor a more ‘scholarly’ historical-critical approach to biblical studies (with its various criticisms – textual, source, genre, literary and so forth) which ask in true modernist fashion for readers to lay aside their presuppositions, theological or otherwise (as if that were even possible) in the name of modern objectivity. To read the Bible through the ‘Jesus lens’ seems to call for a specifically theologically driven reading of Scripture and so would be opposed by a great many advocates of historical-critical scholarship. I wanted to see if William’s book could add anything to the conversation between the TIS and historical-critical camps.

An Overview of How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

Williams offers brief chapters on all 66 chapters of the Bible with each one being only four or five pages in length. His opening chapter, itself only about 2½ pages, begins with his central (theological) presupposition that all of the Scriptures testify to Christ and that to read the Bible well is to read it as a picture of Jesus. As he says, “Reading the Bible through the Jesus lens is reading it the way it was intended. It keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God’s grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son.” (9) With his cards laid on the table he moves on to the main chapters which are all outlined in similar fashion. Each chapter begins with what Williams takes as the main focus or theme of the book in question, the second part provides a memory passage that demonstrates the main theme, the third part (which forms the center of each chapter) takes up the Jesus lens for which the book is titled, the fourth part deals with contemporary implications, and the fifth section provides hook questions that can be used for group discussions.

I signed up for Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians as the chapters that I was to take a look at for my review. Here is how he lays out his chapters for these three books.

Ephesians: Williams gives his one word summation of the theme of Ephesians as shalomshalom that undoes the brokenness of sin. His sentence summary is “God establishes the church as the firstfruits of his shalom.” “Through Jesus Christ, the brokenness of sin is undone. It is God’s will ‘to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ’ (1:10).” (198) He gives the memory passage as 2:17 and links the Jesus lens to Christ himself being our peace (2:14). “Christ is our peace. He alone is able to mend the greater-than-Grand-Canyon-size rift between us and God and between us and other human beings.” (200) His section on contemporary implications center around the responsibility of those who have been restored in Christ to demonstrate the shalom of Christ to a world full of broken people.

Philippians: For Philippians Williams gives the standard one word theme: joy. His sentence summary is “God gives resurrection power and joy in the face of persecution and heresy.” (203) Here I might say that instead of joy the theme of Philippians revolves more around the faithfulness of Christ or Christlike cruciformity – those things that give our joy grounding. The memory passage is 3:10-11. The Jesus lens section pulls again from the word ‘joy’ drawing a connection between Philippians and Luke 2:10 and Hebrews 12:2. The contemporary implication section can be summed up thusly, “We can be sure that God will give strength, and even joy, in the midst of challenges to come.” (205)

Colossians: The phrase that Williams sets as the theme for Colossians is ‘exalted Christ.’ His sentence summary is “God has exalted his Christ above all human wisdom and tradition.” (206) The memory passage is 1:18 and Williams summarizes “if the teaching presented to the Colossians was not based on Christ and did not ultimately lead to a deeper relationship with Christ, that teaching was worthless and harmful. Christ provides the lens through which both the truth and its cheap imitations come into focus.” (207) The Jesus lens section explores the reality that the ‘extras’ offered by the Colossian false teachers have all been accomplished in Christ. Spiritual mysteries, spiritual wisdom, and spiritual life are all to be found in their fullness in the exalted Christ. The contemporary implication section emphasizes that the exalted nature of Christ will manifest itself in practical ways in relationship to others.

Overall Williams has given us a great resource for Sunday School teachers, Bible Study leaders, and those that host small groups that can help anchor their discussions in the larger picture of Scripture. As with any book, I found much to appreciate and also some disappointment but before I get to those I’d like to comment on some issues Williams’ book may raise in regards to typical evangelical hermeneutical methods.

An Interlude on Hermeneutical Methods (or going down the interpretive rabbit trail)…

Williams’ book actually stands in a series with two other books that I have read. The first of these is How to Read the Bible for all its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart. I remember having to read this book for my undergrad biblical interpretation course. Fee and Stewart cover many of the same ‘criticisms’ of historical-critical methodology but of course do so from within the tradition of contemporary evangelicalism. I remember being dramatically affected by the discussion of genre in the Bible and how genre affected the task of interpretation. As an undergrad it was the first time I had ever encountered a serious discussion that poetry may be different from prose may be different from narrative and so on. The second book is How the Read the Bible Book by Book with proposes a basic four line narrative structure for reading Scripture of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation with an emphasis on the story of God becoming the story for our lives. I would quibble a bit here or there since the four line narrative seems to have some gaps but overall I applaud a narrative approach to the Bible. Surely, this type of a narrative approach and reading the Bible through the Jesus lens fit hand in glove!

However, going back to How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, there is an aspect to Fee and Stuart’s initial proposal that disturbs me (despite the fact that Fee remains to this day one of my favorite New Testament scholars). There is a common feature of evangelical hermeneutics in Fee’s proposal that I feel is troublesome and that ultimately doesn’t jive well with the Jesus lens of Williams’ book. I am pulling from memory here since my copy of How to Read the Bible for all its Worth is packed in a box in storage (my family and I just moved) and I can’t give exact quotes (there was no preview available on Google Books) but here goes. Fee and Stuart have a good discussion on the need to interpret and that the answer to bad interpretation is not no interpretation at all (which is impossible) but good interpretation. But then they say that proper interpretation of Scripture involves the ‘plain meaning’ of the text uncovered by an ‘enlightened common sense’ reading of the text. The call for the plain meaning and an enlightened common sense reading indicate Fee and Stuart are squarely within the realm of typical evangelical hermeneutics.

Now they recognize that the ‘plain meaning’ and ‘common sense’ approach can too easily simply be reduced to MY meaning and MY common sense reading so they seek to protect and guard against this sort of abuse by grounding the hermeneutical task in three interrelated aspects of the text – the original context, the original authorial intent, and original meaning. This is the basics to the grammatical-historical approach that developed in evangelical camps as an alternative to the historical-critical approach. The motto of this approach as Fee and Stuart state it is – a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or original hearers. Or the shorter version that I learned in my early days in seminary – a text can never mean what it has never meant. So, as we are told, the scriptural text has only one meaning but multiple applications. The net result here is that meaning gets split from application in much the same way that theory and practice were split apart in theology under modernity (modernity had a way of doing this with just about everything it touched). But does this mean that with this methodology in regards to a great many Old Testament texts in which the original readers would not/could not have seen Jesus in them that Jesus is merely the ‘application’ of the text and not its full meaning? Something about this doesn’t sound right to me. Of course to resolve this and other such tensions there is always the tactic of simply overruling human authorial intent whenever needed with divine authorial intent. However this only seems to succeed in bifurcating the human and divine authors and points us towards a sort of scriptural docetism.

Perhaps it is time that we recognize that the biblical authors as specifically ancient writers would not be able to pass our seminary courses in either historical-critical or grammatical-historical methods. Additionally, we ought to recognize that the church Fathers (often slammed by evangelicals for their many hermeneutical faux pas) employed hermeneutical methods much closer to those used by the biblical authors themselves than those typically taught in our seminary courses these days (whether liberal or conservative). As it turns out both the historical-critical and grammatical-historical approaches were forged in the Enlightenment, modernist worldview and as a result both fail to adequately deal with the ‘surplus of meaning’ (to use a Ricoeurian term) in the biblical story! Ironically I have seen both advocates of the historical-critical method and the grammatical-historical method feel uneasy about Christological readings of Scripture. Sometimes it seems to me that some evangelical approaches operate with an economy of scarcity in regards to ‘meaning’ as if there won’t be enough meaning in the Bible to go around, or perhaps even an economy of fear in which we won’t be able to control where all this ‘meaning’ will go.

But when it comes to the activity and revelation of the triune God in the person of Christ its not a scarcity we are dealing with. A surplus should not be a surprise to us! And yes, the surplus of the biblical narrative is not something that we can control. But good news, hermeneutics is not about control after all, but about wisely discerning where the biblical story is pointing us. Additionally, to posit a surplus of meaning is not to discard historical-critical or grammatical-historical approaches in wholesale fashion. Nor is it to ignore the original context, original authorial intent, or original meaning of a text … the hard work of exegesis must still be done. Neither is the positing of a surplus of meaning the removal of all interpretive controls such that we grant ourselves unlimited interpretive license and end up with a hermeneutical free for all. To posit a surplus of meaning is not to say that the biblical text can meaning any and everything at all, but simply that the text can mean all that it can mean. With regards to Williams’ book it seems to me that without something like a surplus of meaning that Christological and Jesus lens readings of much of the Old Testament simply won’t work. Because of this Williams’ book seems to stand in some tension with How to Read the Bible for all its Worth and those who would privilege historical-critical or grammatical-historical approaches. I think however that the surplus of meaning inherent in the biblical text itself is precisely what 1) a narrative approach to Scripture 2) coupled with the Jesus lens can help us to uncover. (For an introduction to the surplus of meaning see Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church by Merold Westphal which covers the hermeneutics of Gadamer along with a discussion of Ricoeur).

Final thoughts on Reading the Bible through the Jesus Lens

With my compulsion to chase rabbits appeased here are briefly some things I appreciated about the book as well as some disappointments.

Appreciations: As I stated above, Williams has give us a great resource for church leaders to anchor their teaching in the bigger Christocentric picture of the Bible. Also, as I flipped through the various chapters I found that most of the themes he assigned fit the biblical books in question (although there were a few I would quibble with, but that is to be expected). The length of the chapters is not so long as to overwhelm readers and the lay of the book enables readers to find what they need quickly. This book makes a good reference tool for lay readers. And of course, I appreciate the fact that Williams leads readers through the Bible by means of a specifically theological interpretation of Scripture (though he doesn’t call it that) by using the Christologically focused Jesus lens. Basically what we have with How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens is introductory Christological hermeneutics for lay readers instead of the grammatical-historical method for lay readers.

Disappointments: There are two main disappointments I have with the book. First, the length of the chapters (which above formed a strength) also becomes a liability in many places where more depth is really needed. Also the uniform four to five pages for every book of the Bible doesn’t seem to correspond to the greatly varying lengths of the biblical books themselves. Second, the contemporary implication sections (which seem to function as Williams’ practical application section) seem too broad and seem to suffer from their shortness. For instance in both Ephesians and Colossians Williams is only able to say that the shalom of Christ and the exalted nature of Christ have practical import into our lives. But then, for instance, there is no comment whatsoever on how the shalom of Christ and exalted nature of Christ affects the particular issues of submission and marriage relationships in everyday life. Realizing that this may be due to the length of the chapters this becomes another indication that while a strength in some ways the length of the chapters form a deficit in other important ways as well.

Overall, I give my recommendation for this book. While including no in depth discussion on the hermeneutical questions I raised earlier I am encouraged that Williams is bringing a specifically theological hermeneutic to the table.  While those hoping for deeper discussions will need to use this book as a springboard to other resources, I think this book will be a great reference for readers who are willing to take what the book actually gives them and accept it for what it is – an introduction and beginning guide to a Christological reading of Scripture.

In order to fulfill all legal righteousness you 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 blog tour. I was not required to write a positive review. I hereby swear that the opinions I have expressed are my own, that I am solely responsible for any typos that appear, and that no animals (rabbits or otherwise) were harmed in writing of this review.

Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Review)

My roots are very conservative Southern Baptist and evangelical. It would be a serious understatement to say that all things having to do with ‘spirituality’ were frowned upon – or at least ignored and pushed to the margins – in the churches I grew up in. I remember coming back home from college (where I was a Bible major) one weekend and a deacon asked me what I was studying in my Bible classes. I naively told him that last week we had been discussing the ‘in Christ’ spirituality of the Apostle Paul. This deacon’s reaction was less than positive. Spirituality it has been thought in many conservative evangelical circles is associated with all things ‘weird’. And to bring up mysticism was to stop a conversation altogether, in fact, many I grew up around were sure there could be no such thing as ‘Christian’ mysticism.

Some may find it strange then that Eugene Peterson is one of my most favorite authors and one of my main teachers concerning spiritual theology. Through Peterson and others I have found that spirituality is not all manner of weirdness and that while they had their flaws like everyone else in the world, we evangelicals can learn a thing or two from the Christian mystics. The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is a great resource in pursuit of this aim. Glen Scorgie underscores one of Peterson’s basic ideas about spirituality when he says, “Christian spirituality is the domain of lived Christian experience. Its about living all of life – not just some esoteric portion of it – before God, through God, in the transforming and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.” (27) There it is, spirituality is not about the strange or esoteric. Indeed, ones spirituality is where does life ‘in Christ’ and through the Spirit (to pull themes from the Apostle Paul) in the everyday, ordinary, and mundane stuff of life. Scorgie also give us a valuable matrix of Christian spirituality to keep in mind. He discusses the relational, transformation, and vocational dynamics of Christian spirituality in which there is one key to being spiritually deep. These three dynamics exist in an interdependent matrix in which Christ is with us, Christ is in us, and Christ works through us through the Spirit. (29-30)

With the emergence of authors of such as Richard Foster and Eugene Peterson, evangelical attitudes toward spirituality and Christian mysticism have greatly improved. The publication of Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is a testimony to this reality. But this is not JUST a dictionary. Before one gets to the approximately 600 pages of alphabetized dictionary entries there are 34 chapters comprising 240 pages of ‘integrative essays’ that are well worth the price of the book as a whole. Covered are such topics as Old and New Testament foundations for Christian Spirituality, Human Personhood, Eschatology and Hope, Spirituality in Community, Liturgical Spirituality, Prayer, Mysticism, Spirituality in Relation to Psychology and Therapy, and Mission and Ministry, and four chapters devoted to the history of Christian Spirituality (just to name a few). The dictionary entries contain smaller article as covering a wide swath of subjects ranging from Baptist Spirituality to Methodist Spirituality to Anabaptist spirituality as well as people such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Karl Barth to an article each on the Cappadocian Fathers.

I am well pleased with the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. From what I have seen thus far it represents well the diversity of Christianity and covers not only Protestant and evangelical spirituality but also Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spirituality. I was especially pleased with the wide inclusion of Eastern Orthodox material (and discussions of theosis/deification even) not only because of the influence of Eastern Orthodox on me personally but because Protestants in general and evangelicals specifically (western as they are) have been guilty of ignoring or forgetting about our Eastern Orthodox brethren. As one who desires to learn from and incorporate a wide variety of Christian sources in my spiritual practice I appreciate the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. This book is a great starting point and at the end of each chapter and article there are resources for further reading.  With this book we have the opportunity to learn deepen our spirituality from the witness and testimony of the whole church (I just wish that it had an index).

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 that the opinions I have expressed are my own and that I am solely responsible for any typos that appear. I also apologize for such a late review. My copy arrived rather late, I just started a new job, and there have been a number of family concerns.

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.