“I believe the word gospel has been kijacked by what we believe about ‘personal salvation,’ and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making ‘decisions.’ The result of this hijacking is that the word gospel no longer means is our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles (pg. 26).”

This statement summarizes what Scot McKnight seeks to communicate in his new book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. As with his other books, McKnight pulls no punches as he seeks to expose the failures of evangelicalism when it comes to gospel preservation and presentation. Essentially, McKnight believes that the church has “(mistakenly) equated the word gospel with the word salvation (pg. 29).” What we have in evangelicalism is a salvation culture that is focused on decision making and not a gospel culture that should be focused on disciple making. Thus, we have earned the title of soterians because we have a Good-Friday-only gospel (pg. 55).

McKnight believes that our salvation culture has wrongly majored on the Plan of Salvation (how we get saved) and pushed aside the gospel which the Plan of Salvation fits into. We have preached the goal of the gospel (plan of salvation) as the gospel and thus forgotten the gospel all together.  In this presentation of the gospel many have made the goal of salvation about having our sins washed by the blood of Jesus and then getting to live with Jesus in heaven. All to often this is where it stops.  But McKnight contends that “the ‘gospel’ of the New Testament cannot be reduced to the Plan of Salvation (pg. 39).” This is a serious claim and one in which many will resonate with. I know that in my experience this has been the case and something I realized was wrong several years ago.

So if evangelicals have the gospel and the plan of salvation backwards where do we go to straighten them out? The answer McKnight provides is right under our noses. McKnight takes us back to I Corinthians 15:1-28. In it is these verses that we find the one gospel message of Jesus, Paul, Peter the and the Gospel writers. “The gospel is the story of the crucial events in the life of Jesus” as summarized in verses 3-5: (1) that Christ died, (2) that Christ was buried, (3) that Christ was raised and (4) that Christ appeared (p. 49). According to McKnight, these four events form the Story of Jesus which resolves and brings to completion the Story of Israel (pg. 36, 44 & 50). Thus, “the gospel is the Story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s Story,” and therefore ” we dare not permit the gospel to collapse into the abstract, de-storified points in the Plan of Salvation (pg. 51).”

So if the gospel is how the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel and this has been right in front of us in I Corinthians 15, how did we get to what McKnight calls a soterian culture that majors on justification and making a decision so one can be justified before God? Surprisingly McKnight primarily sees it stemming from the Reformation. McKnight contends that up to the Reformation the church, through the creeds, continued to “articulate what is both implicit and explicit in Paul’s grand statement of the gospel in I Corinthians 15 (pg. 64).” That is, they continually affirmed the gospel as presented in I Cor. 15. The shift from this gospel articulation to a salvation message gospel came when the Reformers emphasized the goal of the gospel – personal salvation (pg. 71). This was not on purpose and they could not have foreseen the result this shift in focus would cause. “The Reformation did not deny the gospel story and it did not deny the creeds. Instead, it put everything into a new order and into a new place (pg. 72).” This shift can be seen in the Augusburg and Genevan Confessions. Before the Reformation, the creeds framed things through the lens of the trinity as derived from I Cor. 15. During the Reformation the established articles of the faith were converted into sections on salvation and justification by faith. In my estimation what McKnight is saying is that instead of retaining the gospel as found in I Cor. 15 and fleshing out its implications for the current situation, the new creeds re-ordered the content towards more timely needs. Unfortunately, this re-ordering controlled the discussion for the rest of church history.

Following Paul’s presentation of the gospel in I Cor. 15, McKnight fleshes out how Jesus, the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark & Luke) and the sermon(s) of Peter in Acts (as well as sermons by others) all proclaimed this same gospel. McKnight shows how Jesus saw his life as the completion of Israel’s Story, how the gospel writers presented their account of Jesus’ life to prove the same thing and how Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 follows the same pattern as he presents the gospel through a sweeping overview of the life of Israel through the life of Christ.

So what is needed in order to save our salvation culture from itself and get back to the gospel culture of Jesus, the gospel writers and the apostles? McKnight suggests four things:

  1. Gospeling must summon listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord and not merely confess their sin and need for a Savior. Gospeling must be a declaration of something that leads to a decision (pg. 133-34).
  2. Gospeling is not driven by the atonement  but by the saving Story of Israel which the story of Jesus completes (pg. 134).
  3. Gospeling must include a declaration of final judgment so that people will see they will one day stand before God to account for their lives (pg. 135).
  4. Gospeling needs to present the need of salvation not just in personal terms for the individual but in corporate terms as well. God is working to restore a people (plural) not just people (individuals). This restored people is the church. (pg. 136).

Admittedly, some may accuse McKnight of downplaying the atonement. I think what KcKnight is trying to do is get our focus back on track. The atonement makes it possible for the Story of Jesus to complete the Story of Israel (the gospel) but McKnight does not think the atonement is the gospel itself or it in its totality. This improper focus “reduces the gospel to only personal salvation” and thus tears “the fabric out of the Story of the Bible and we cease needing the Bible (pg. 142).”

In addition to these four things, McKnight makes some practical suggestions in order to create a gospel culture.

  1. We have to become People of the Story – we must know ALL of Scripture (pg. 153).
  2. We mus immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus – we must know the Gospels better (pg. 153).
  3. We need t see how the apostle’s writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation – we must know church history (pg. 155).
  4. We need to counter the stories that bracket our story and that reframe our story – we need to counter the false gospels of our culture (pg. 157).
  5. We need to embrace this story so that we are saved and can be transformed by the gospel story – a lasting gospel culture can only be built by converted believers (pg. 159).

All in all this book is a great corrective to much of evangelical soteriology when it comes to the presentation of the gospel and salvation. They are not the same and that is McKnight’s basic premise. There is little to disagree with and the implications of what McKnight is saying are huge. The King Jesus Gospel has set the standard for the future of the discussion on the gospel. McKnight minces no words and makes many statements that some will recoil at but need to hear. This is a welcome and much needed book to add to the gospel discussion.