Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel


The King Jesus Gospel
9780310492986
By: Scot McKnight
Zondervan (2011)

Review By: Kevin Stern

What is the gospel? Did Jesus preach the gospel? How could he have preached it if He hadn’t died yet or risen? Scott McKnight, in The King Jesus Gospel, argues that the evangelical church has too narrowly defined the gospel. That definition has limited the gospel to a decision an individual makes rather than a larger call to discipleship under the kingship of Jesus.

After discussing the problem and its repercussions, McKnight walks through the New Testament trying to develop a proper definition. He concludes that the plan of salvation must be explained by the story of Jesus, which in turn is founded on the larger story of the Bible.

McKnight begins with Paul’s gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, then continues with the gospel writers’ versions in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and how Peter and others preached it in Acts. The bottom line is that the gospel is the whole story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus, by preaching Himself as the Messianic King, is telling the same good news as the other gospel writers.

I have much to agree with in Scott McKnight’s presentation. I, too, am frustrated that the gospel in some circles has been reduced to a quick presentation that is aimed at a decision. Any pitch that gives the impression that a decision is the end of a process rather than the beginning of a relationship is off-based. Likewise, repentance should be a continual surrendering of your will to the submission of Christ’s rule. I applaud McKnight’s synthesis of New Testament teaching and believe with him that the whole Bible needs to be communicated to fully understand the gospel.

I’m not sure, however, that the full communication of the Word is the solution to the decision/disciple problem. At some point, an individual has to make a decision. Whether that is a decision to follow Christ as a disciple, or the realization of our own inadequacy to meet God’s standards and thus see the need for a Savior—it is a decision made. The journey from that moment will be a series of decisions to bring ourselves under Christ’s sovereignty. I would argue that making that decision is the beginning of the discipleship process.

I also wonder if Scott McKnight’s analysis of the Reformation was misguided. Yes, the reformers did put an emphasis on justification by faith, but the only other option was justification through the sacraments. I guess any discussion of justification could lead to distortion, but I think the “counter stories” of individualism and consumerism identified by McKnight are far more to blame than Reformation theology.

Finally, I was left wondering about the practical aspects of Scott McKnight’s proposal. His pared down summary of the gospel was a four-page whirlwind through the Bible. I smiled in appreciation at the Meta story beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. Did McKnight believe that each time we present this message to an unbeliever we need to show them Israel’s failure and the Babylonian exile? As a Bible student, I have an appreciation for this finesse in the story, but my non-Christian friends would need at least a semester or two to absorb that much information. And once they understood the message, wouldn’t they, as they begin this journey, need just as much guidance, teaching and encouragement as a person who had come through a “salvation culture” experience?

Scott McKnight has provided a helpful critique of evangelical culture. We have often presented too narrow a gospel pitched at an individual to reach a decision. Understanding the gospel as a bigger concept will help create disciples, but discipleship is a more involved process than simply understanding the larger truth. Living that truth will always require the help of a discipler walking along side.

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