Book Review – The King Jesus Gospel, The Original Good News Revisited

104 Book McKnight King Jesus Gospel

  • Link: Amazon
  • Length: 175
  • Difficulty: Easy-Popular
  • Topic: Gospel, Evangelism
  • Audience: Mainstream Christians

This is a long review of the short book ‘The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited’ by Scot McKnight. Scot is an American New Testament Scholar (blog Jesus Creed) and this book calls all Christians to review their current methods of evangelism and look to the scriptures at what Jesus and the apostles preached as the gospel.

Scot has really helped me with my own understanding of the gospel.

I really like this book and hope you read this review. I’ve put a bit of work into it. This review will give you a good understanding of what Scot has written. Then I hope you will want to buy and read the book for yourself.

This post is one of my book reviews.

Contents – Overview

Main points

1971

Scot begins by sharing a story about an early evangelism experience when he was a young teenage student. He and a deacon of his church introduced themselves to a man who filled out a visitors card at their church. They came to his house, introduced themselves and worked their way into a conversation. The deacon persuaded the man to make ‘a decision for Christ’. Deep inside Scot remembers he was convinced the man had not made a decision for Christ because he rarely saw him at church. Now he looks on with a cynical eye at this kind of evangelistic strategy. He then summarises the whole purpose of the book.

“Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. Those two words — decision and disciples — are behind this entire book. 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.” (p18)

Scot does not explain what he means by ‘the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles’ but he will in chapters to come. Scot then relates more of his experience.

“Years of discussing the gospel in my classes at North Park University have led me to two observations that have helped shape this book: First, nearly all of my Christian students tell me that the gospel they heard as they grew up primarily had to do with their sin, Jesus’ death, and going to heaven. But, second, these same students tell me over and over again that they know there’s something wrong with that; the gospel of Jesus wants more from us than a singular decision to get our sins wiped away so we can be safe and secure until heaven comes.” (p18)

This quote highlights what Scot McKnight believes is wrong with much of evangelism today.

The gospel of Jesus wants more than a single decision for personal salvation.

These last two quotes further highlight the problem Scot is presenting.

“I recently had a conversation with David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, an organization that specializes in statistical studies of Americans and their faith. Anyone who brings up statistics about faith seems to be asking for a fight, but studies across the board — and I love to read such studies — show that the correlation between making a decision and becoming a mature follower of Jesus is not high.” (p. 19)

“At the most conservative of estimates, we lose at least 50 percent of those who make decisions. We cannot help but conclude that making a decision is not the vital element that leads to a life of discipleship.” (p. 20)

Scot is saying:

At least 50% of people who hear a gospel about their “sin, Jesus’ death and going to heaven” and decide for Jesus will not go on to a life of discipleship.

From my own personal experience, I cannot doubt these figures. In some ministries I’ve been involved in. I’ve seen this kind of gospel being used and know people reported to have made a decision for Jesus have later turned away and lived as if they never knew him.

Scot finishes this section (it’s not a chapter) introducing the ‘one big question’ that will lead us to do evangelism in a way that leads beyond decisions to discipleship. You can perhaps guess what it is…

1 – The Big Question

The question Scot refers to in the last section is of course, ‘What is the gospel?’ Scot’s intention is to take us back to the bible and see what it says the gospel is. He believes we will be shocked by what we find and gives three exhibits why.

Scot recalls an email sent to him asking a question about the gospel and Jesus being the messiah. He concludes;

“Answer A: For this emailer, the word gospel was almost entirely about personal salvation. That means the gospel no longer includes the promise to Israel that Jesus was the Messiah. But let’s not be hard on this emailer. Perhaps most Christians today wonder what the gospel has to do with Jesus being ‘Messiah.’” (pp. 24-25)

He then points out that many including John Piper simply assume justification is the gospel. In doing so they demonstrate their ignorance of how the early church related the two. Particularly in their understanding of Galatians.

“Answer B: When we can find hardly any instances of our favorite theological category in the whole of the four Gospels, we need to be wary of how important our own interpretations and theological favorites are.” (p. 25)

Have you ever heard someone describe the gospel in terms of justification or penal substitutionary atonement?

He recalls another experience where he bumped into a pastor at an airport. Scot told him he was writing a book about the gospel, to which the pastor responded. ‘That’s easy justification by faith’. Scot responded by asking a question, ‘Did Jesus preach the gospel?’

“’Nope,’ he said, ‘Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.’ ‘Not even Jesus?’ I asked. ‘Nope. Not possible,’ he affirmed. …

Answer C: For this pastor, the word gospel means ‘justification by faith,’ and since Jesus really didn’t talk in those terms, he flat out didn’t preach the gospel. Few will admit this as bluntly as that preacher did, but I’m glad some do. This view is wrong and wrongheaded. (pp. 25-26)

The following quote has been underlined more than four hundred times by readers of the Kindle edition of Scot’s book and it’s so true of what I’ve seen for most of my Christian life. Scot writes,

Inigo Montoya.jpg

“I believe 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 of this hijacking is that the word gospel no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles.” (p. 26)

Scot quotes another scholar Dallas Willard both claim that today’s gospel is about ‘sin management’. From my own personal experience it seems many Christian leaders want to make sin front and centre of what they proclaim. For them everything starts with sin, then moves on to its implications and how to deal with it. Their starting point is the centre they move outward from. Therefore sin is the centre of their faith. My problem with what I have seen and what Scot has highlighted here is:

Today many Christians put sin at the centre of their faith, not Jesus Christ.

2 – Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture

In this chapter Scot compares two types of culture. A salvation culture and a gospel culture.

“Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. Behind the word gospel is the Greek word euangelion and evangel, from which words we get evangelicalism and evangelism. Now to our second word. Behind salvation is the Greek word soteria. I want now to make a stinging accusation. In this book I will be contending firmly that we evangelicals (as a whole) are not really “evangelical” in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians. Here’s why I say we are more soterian than evangelical: we evangelicals (mistakenly) equate the word gospel with the word salvation. Hence, we are really “salvationists.” When we evangelicals see the word gospel, our instinct is to think (personal) ‘salvation.’” (p. 29)

Scot will go on to say that many mistakenly assume a salvation culture is a gospel culture. I assume from what Scot writes that a ‘salvation culture’ is one which speaks about and places all its emphasis on sin and personal salvation. In this chapter Scot does not define what he means by a ‘gospel culture’. His definition of what a ‘gospel culture’ is will come later when he defines what the gospel is.

Scot then gives an example of Pastor ‘Eric’ preaching a soterian gospel. Pastor Eric jumps around through a series of bible verses to put his gospel together. ‘Saviour’ (Lk 2), ‘Sins’ (Mt 1.21), ‘Death & Resurrection’ (1 Pet 3.18 ‘), lastly faith and grace.

I’m reminded no passage in the scriptures the can fully reproduce the soterian gospel.

Pastor Eric was forced to jump around to create it. At the end Scot highlights again the problem of discipleship.

“But here Pastor Eric begins to wonder about one of the most significant problems in the church: Does salvation really lead The Decided to become The Discipled? So he starts to work the words. He contends that true faith is a robust faith; it involves the mind, the heart, and the will. Frankly, he does his best to make sure salvation is by faith alone, but he wants that faith to lead (inevitably and surely) to discipleship. Yet he worries that if he presses discipleship too hard, salvation by grace and by faith alone will be compromised. And so back and forth he goes.“ (p. 33)

Scots example of Pastor Eric reminded me of something I read a long time ago about the gospel, justification and sanctification.

Book Luther Preface to RomansLuther is well known for his reading of Romans 1-3 which forms the basis for the soterian gospel.

His gospel involves a strong rejection of ‘works’ and ‘effort’. Consequently, some soterians who believe the gospel is justification by faith (coming from Luther’s reading of Romans 1-3) also believe that understanding justification will automatically lead to sanctification. That is – to a changed life or what Scot is saying – discipleship. Any preaching (even from Jesus or the apostles) that instructs or commands (good works, law, etc) is unnecessary and could possibly lead to ‘works-righteousness’. Soterians will try to avoid this at all costs. Thus we see the problem with discipleship Pastor Eric has.

If someone new came into your church, what would they think was distinctive about it?

3 – From Story to Salvation

Scot begins to define what he means by the gospel. He first sets up four big categories:

  • The Story of Israel,
  • The Story of Jesus,
  • The Plan of Salvation, and
  • The Method of Persuasion.

Story of Israel

Scot equates the Story of Israel with the sweep of the Old Testament and he leads into an introduction of God’s anointed King and the Kingdom of God. He concludes his explanation of the Story of Israel saying;

“The Story of Israel, or the Bible, is the sweep of how the Bible’s plot unfolds” (p. 35). “This story is not the same as the gospel. The gospel fits into this story, but it is not the story. Further, the gospel only makes sense in that story. Now a very important claim: without that story there is no gospel. This leads to a second claim: if we ignore that story, the gospel gets distorted, and that is just what has happened in salvation cultures.” (p. 36)

Scot argues that the Story of Israel is important. So important that if it is ignored then there is no gospel. He hasn’t yet explained why this is true. But he will in chapters to come.

Story of Jesus

“At the center of the Story of Jesus is the narrative of his birth, his life and teachings, his miracles and actions, his death, his burial, his resurrection, and his ascension and exaltation. Inherent to the Story of Jesus are labels that define him and identify him and his role in completing Israel’s Story: Messiah, Lord, Son of God, Savior, and Son of Man.” (p. 37)

Scot connects the Story of Israel to the Story of Jesus in terms of the Kingdom of God with Jesus as King. Hence Scot has named his book ‘The King Jesus Gospel’. Both stories concern history. To share the gospel one must tell story of Israel leading into the Story of Jesus. In fact, the Story of Jesus is the fulfilment of the Story of Israel.

Plan of Salvation

“What then is this (personal) Plan of Salvation? By this I mean the elements or ideas that we find in the Story of the Bible that many of us, but not just evangelicals, bring together to explain how a person gets saved, gets forgiven, and gets reconciled with God, and what that person must do in order to get saved.” (p. 38)

Note from this the primary emphasis in what is being said is about the audience and their salvation. Discussion about Jesus is subordinated to it. Personally the Plan of Salvation can boil down to a simple ‘problem – solution’ format.

“Here are the most common elements of the Plan of Salvation, and each of these lines warms the heart of anyone who knows God’s saving power:

  • God’s love and grace and holiness and righteousness
  • Our creation as Eikons, or image-bearers, but our choice to sin …
  • Our condition of being under God’s judgment
  • The good news of the atoning death of Jesus Christ that forgives us our sins and reconciles us to God
  • The need for every human being to respond simply by admitting one’s sinfulness, repenting from sin, and trusting in the atoning death of Jesus

It may strike you as uncommonly odd for me to make this claim, but I’m going to say it anyway: this Plan of Salvation is not the gospel.” (pp. 38-40)

I can imagine many have grown up in protestant churches and were told this is the gospel. They are probably exposed time and time again by people telling them this is the gospel. Many believe this is the gospel. Scot has made some huge statements here and he needs to back up what he says with the scriptures. He will in the next chapter and we will discuss what he says in tomorrow’s post.

Method of Persuasion

“The Method of Persuasion is how we have learned to “package” the Plan of Salvation in order most powerfully and successfully to persuade people to respond. I am referring here to two things: the specific biblical elements (like God’s love and grace and faith) and the bundling of those elements into a rhetorical shape. The preferred method of persuasion for many, if not most, begins with God’s grace but quickly moves to the final judgment, hell, and the wrath of God. This second move uses terms that have a way of laying down a sense of ultimacy to our message and a way of grabbing the hearers’ attention.” (p. 42)

Scot calls this ‘persuasion’. One could also call it ‘manipulation’. Often when I’ve heard the soterian gospel (plan of salvation) preached. The primary subject of their gospel is the listeners and their problem of sin and God’s judgment on them. Not Jesus.

Many soterian gospel messages seem to invest most of the effort into explain the trouble the listeners are in, their inability to do anything about it.

Only when the preacher is satisfied the audience is aware of the trouble they are in does he talk about Jesus.

Liminality

In his blog, Scot has said this about this method;

“Most of us don’t pay attention to the rhetoric at work in this traditional approach to gospeling. What I mean is that articulating the “gospel” like this is to shape themes of salvation in a rhetorical order aimed at precipitating a response. The rhetorical shape of the gospel above the jump is aimed at getting an audience into a state of liminality, a state where one feels he or she is between God’s love and God’s justice/wrath and holiness. This may seem a little too clinical for such a serious subject, but hear me out.

This kind of gospel rhetoric is aimed at comforting us by knowing that God loves us and at the same time driving us to see that we are outside that love. In other words, it aims to drive people into the liminality of wondering where they are before God.

I do not dispute the truth of the propositions above: God is love, God is holy, we are sinners, we are at enmity with God, etc.. Nor do I believe there is anything wrong with speaking to our relation to God.

But this rhetorical bundling into what some call the gospel is designed to be a species of what I am calling persuasive rhetoric, at times (but not always) even emotionally manipulative rhetoric. Sometimes, sadly, it seems aimed at precipitating an intense experience.

Trading in the shocking impact of a graphic image, like someone stepping out in front of a train, is emotionally evocative but not sufficient to be called genuine apostolic preaching.

One reason so many make decisions and don’t follow through is because the rhetoric was aimed at an insufficient response and appealed to a decision on the basis of an emotional story.” (McKnight, Gospel and Rhetoric)

What key factors influence people to trust and follow Jesus for the rest of their lives?

Scot then gives a very brief history of evangelistic preaching. (For your interest this link is a large sermon where he goes into much greater detail). In his book as Scot draws closer to our current modern context Scot says;

“The Plan of Salvation and the Method of Persuasion have been given so much weight they are crushing and have crushed the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus. This has massive implications for the gospel itself.” (p. 43)

We’ve gotten to the end of chapter 3 and still Scot hasn’t gone about explaining from the bible what the gospel is. The wait is over. In the next section we will look at Chapter 4 – The Apostolic Gospel of Paul.

4 – The Apostolic Gospel of Paul

If you didn’t know what the gospel was, how would you approach the New Testament to determine what the apostles believed?

I wrote a series on the gospel. In it I devised a method to approach the scriptures and work out what the gospel is.

Scot begins explaining the gospel by going to the best location in the whole New Testament. 1 Corinthians 15. Scot says ‘If we don’t begin here, we make a big mistake.’ (p. 46) In 1 Cor 15 Paul reminds his readers of the gospel by reciting the apostolic church tradition. Scot then breaks the passage down into three parts. Part A – the introduction (1 Cor 15.1-2). Part B, the definition of the gospel (1 Cor 15.3-5) and Part C, the remaining part of the definition (1 Cor 15.20-28).

Scot describes the Greek in the opening verse saying ‘the gospel I gospeled’. The word commonly rendered as ‘preached’ or ‘proclaimed’ is euangelizō. Then he rightfully points out from the text the gospel of Paul saves and sustains. He then shows that Paul is passing on what he received. Paul is passing on the traditional gospel of the apostles.

What do you think the gospel is?

Scot quotes Paul saying;

“The authentic apostolic gospel, the gospel Paul received and passed on and the one the Corinthians received, concerns these events in the life of Jesus:

  • that Christ died,
  • that Christ was buried,
  • that Christ was raised, and
  • that Christ appeared.

The gospel is the story of the crucial events in the life of Jesus Christ. Instead of “four spiritual laws,” which for many holds up our salvation culture, the earliest gospel concerned four “events” or “chapters” in the life of Jesus Christ.” (p. 49)

Scot then explains what Paul means by ‘according to the scriptures’. Paul is referring to the Old Testament and that is what shapes his understanding of the gospel – the Story of Israel. The gospel is rooted in the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus fulfills the promises and prophecies that pointed towards him in the Old Testament.

25 And he [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Lk 24:25–27)

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Rom 1:1–4)

Scot then explains how the gospel and salvation fit together. Rather than say the gospel is about how people can be saved. Scot says;

“So, let’s make this clear: salvation — the robust salvation of God — is the intended result of the gospel story about Jesus Christ that completes the Story of Israel in the Old Testament.” (p. 51)

Scot describes the many faceted aspects of sin, salvation and in particular gives a  description of the saving benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross. Then he draws us back to the story of Jesus because it is often under emphasised today.

“It is common today to emphasize the death of Jesus as reconciling, forgiving, atoning, propitiating, redeeming, ransoming, and justifying; not much gospeling deals with the burial, the resurrection, the appearances, or the final consummation.” (p. 54)

Scot gives an explanation of the often neglected elements of the gospel. The burial,  resurrection and appearances of Jesus. The gospel is a ‘whole-life-of-Jesus’ story with Jesus at the center. “Jesus the Messiah, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Saviour, and Jesus as Son”. (p. 54)

What do you think about NT Wright’s understanding of the gospel?

Scot then talks about ‘Pastor Tom’. Tom Wright has often been wrongfully treated by reformers because he has corrected their understanding of the gospel.

Book Wright What Saint Paul really said“Pastor Tom, usually called Tom Wright or N. T. Wright, in an important book called What Saint Paul Really Said, discusses the meaning of the word gospel in Paul’s writings. His opening salvo aims directly to the point we have been making about a salvation culture dwarfing a gospel culture:” (p. 57)

“Tom goes farther and in so doing appears to be the foil of Pastor Eric, and he clearly states that “gospel” is not the Plan of Salvation: the gospel “is not, then, a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people getting saved…. But ‘the gospel’ itself, strictly speaking, is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus.” “Or, to put it yet more compactly: Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord.” (p. 58)

104 Book Gilbert What is the GospelScot then critiques Greg Gilbert’s book ‘What is the Gospel?’ Greg holds to the kind of gospel that both Scot and Wright advocate. So in his book he tries to defend his view. Scot says about Greg;

“Gilbert believes the place to begin is the book of Romans, in particular Romans 1 – 4.22 In effect, Gilbert’s gospel is what I learned as a child as the Romans Road to Salvation, and Pastor Greg and Pastor Eric are more or less on the same page when it comes to the meaning of the gospel. Gilbert’s gospel is the Plan of Salvation, and so he finds four points to latch onto in Romans 1 – 4: first, humans are accountable to God, which emerges from his reading of Romans 1 especially. Second, the problem humans have is that we have rebelled against God, and here he fastens onto Romans 1:23; 2:1; 3:9, 19; and of course 3:23. Third, the solution to humanity’s rebellion problem is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, and no finer passage in the entire Bible witnesses to this than Romans 3:21 – 26. And, fourth, humans can be included in this salvation by faith alone, and again we find this in that most central of Pauline passages, in Romans 3:22.” (p. 59)

How does Scot respond to this?

“Full agreement. Four points: God. Man. Christ. Response. But the question is this: Is this the Plan of Salvation or is this the apostolic gospel?” …

“Gilbert has minimized the structural significance of 1 Corinthians 15; he has focused only on the salvation bits in the evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts; he has not given sufficient emphasis to the Story of Israel as yearning for resolution in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord as the framing story for how to understand gospel; and this Story of Israel is the driving focus of the book of Acts’ sermons and 1 Corinthians 15.

Furthermore, I believe the fundamental issue Paul is dealing with in Romans is not simply the personal salvation issue but the problem of how God joins together Jewish believers and Gentile believers into the one church of Jesus Christ.” (p. 59)

This chapter has been longer than his previous ones and rightfully so. He wraps up this chapter by summarising his more important points. He gives a significant warning;

“This leads to a warning, and it is one that animates much of this book: the Plan of Salvation can be preached apart from the story. … 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. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation.” (p. 62)

In saying so he is in complete agreement with John Dickson who wrote;

104 Book Dickson Promoting the Gospel“The gospel message is not a set of theological ideas that can be detached from the events that gave these ideas definitive expression. Nor is the gospel a simple narrative devoid of theological content. One without the other is not the gospel. To recount Jesus’ words and deeds without explaining their significance for our salvation is not what the Bible means by “telling the gospel”. Then again, to explain the doctrines of salvation without recounting the broad events of Jesus’ life as contained in the Gospels is not telling the gospel either. The gospel message is the grand news about how God’s coming kingdom has been glimpsed and opened up to a sinful world in the birth, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, the Messiah, who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity. This is the content of the Gospels; this is the content of the gospel message.” (Dickson, John (2010-04-29). The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips (Kindle Locations 1880-1882). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

5 – How did Salvation take over the Gospel?

Scot begins by tracing the history of the early Christian creeds. He begins with Paul’s credal definition of the gospel in 1 Cor 15. Then he moves to Ignatius, Tertullian, Hippolytus and then the Nicean Creed. One could just as easily add the apostles Creed to this mix.

The Nicean Creed is below. I’ve bolded Paul’s 1 Cor 15 gospel definition.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and

was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

In each of these creeds Scot captures the early church’s understanding of the gospel.

Then he moves to the Reformation.

The singular contribution of the Reformation, in all three directions — Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist — was that the gravity of the gospel was shifted toward human response and personal responsibility and the development of the gospel as speaking into that responsibility. This is not to deny the important and real differences between these three movements, but it is to say that the one thing that emerged in each was a heavy sense of the need for personal salvation. I do not mean that such was not found in Roman Catholicism; rather, the Reformation said, in effect, that the “gospel” must lead to personal salvation — and the rest is history. But with that emphasis, regardless of how important it was and remains, came a price. The gospel culture began to shift to a salvation culture. Our contemporary equation of the word gospel with the Plan of Salvation came about because of developments from and after the Reformation. When I read today’s thin and superficial reductions of the gospel to simple points, I know that that could never have happened apart from the Reformation. I also know that it didn’t happen during the Reformation itself but as a result of the Reformation’s reframing of the apostolic gospel-become-creed. (p 70)

Then Scot looks at the statements of faith produced by the reformers. The Augsburg confession for example.

The Augsburg Confession converted the order of the “articles” into sections on salvation and justification by faith. It is precisely here that a “gospel culture” was reshaped into a “salvation culture” or, better yet, “justification culture.” Here are the central categories of the Lutheran confession:

God as Triune [as at Nicea]

Original sin [major reshaping idea]

The Son of God [as with Nicea and Chalcedon, with a clear understanding of a satisfaction and propitiation of God’s wrath]

Justification by faith

Then the Augsburg Confession covers the office of ministry, the new obedience, the church, baptism, the Holy Supper, confession, repentance, sacraments, order in the church, church usages, civil government, the return of Christ to judge, freedom of the will, the cause of sin, and a lengthy discussion of faith and good works, and it concludes with the cult of the saints before it discusses matters about which the Reformers were in serious dispute.

I wish to make only one point: this Lutheran confession framed the gospel in terms of salvation. It would not be inaccurate to say that the gospel “story became soteriology,” or the Story of Israel/Bible/Jesus became the System of Salvation. 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. (p. 72)

This is a sketch I display in my gospel page to reflect this increased emphasis on personal salvation. Consider Calvin here and here.

104 Gospel evolutionScot then moves to modern times. He speaks about the salvation culture and the emphasis on personal decision as proof of conversion. He draws upon Dallas Willard with some provocative statements about ‘vampire Christians’.

6 – The Gospel in the Gospels?

In this chapter Scot looks at the Gospel narratives to see if Jesus preached the gospel.

Rather than ask if Paul preached kingdom or if Jesus preached justification, we now ask this question:

Did Jesus claim Israel’s Story was fulfilled in himself? Or, even more directly, Did Jesus preach himself?

And, if he did, Then Jesus too preached the gospel! We can frame this in a number of ways, so here’s one more:

Did Jesus make his kingdom message center on his own role in the Story of Israel?

If we answer “Yes” to any of these questions, we are saying that Jesus preached the gospel. (p. 78-9)

Scot will return to this question in the next chapter. Referring to the bibliographies Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Scot says;

Why did the early Christians call these books “the Gospel”? …

What clicked was that I suddenly realized that Paul’s “gospel” was the Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and the reason the early Christians called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John “The Gospel according to” Matthew and Mark and Luke and John was because they knew each of those Gospels told that very same Story.

Paul and the Gospels tell the Story of Israel coming to completion in the Story of Jesus.

The apostolic gospel, the tradition the apostles passed along, can be found in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John.

It may seem patently obvious, but it’s not to most: they called these books “the Gospels” because they are the gospel. (p. 79)

The four Gospels and the gospel are one. I’ve seen this reflected in the early church immediately after the apostles and continuing for four hundred plus years.

Scot has a wonderful focus on Jesus.

He says throughout this chapter the Gospels are about Jesus. They tell the story of Jesus. Each of the Gospels are about Jesus.

He then draws upon John Dickson, Tom Wright and compares them with Greg Gilbert and John Piper’s descriptions of the gospel.

Scot returns to the core elements of 1 Corinthians 15 and shows how they are interwoven in the Gospel accounts. He writes about

  • the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus,
  • the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (according to the scriptures) in the gospel accounts and
  • how themes of sin, forgiveness and salvation (died for our sins)

are interwoven into the narrative.

7 – Jesus and the Gospel

In this chapter Scot goes into reasonable detail discussing the content of Jesus’ preaching and if what he preached is the gospel.

Do you think Jesus preached the gospel?

If you’ve read much of Tom Wright (God becomes king) or Michael Bird (God became Jesus) you will be familiar with what he says.

Jesus not only believed the kingdom was connected to him and to his mission and teachings, but he believed the kingdom of God was now breaking into history in himself. (p. 99)

These main points capture what Scot writes about.

The point I want to make now is fivefold, and it is the heart of the answer to our question whether Jesus himself preached the gospel:

  • Jesus went to the Bible to define who he was and what his mission was.
  • Jesus believed he was completing scriptural passages.
  • Jesus predicted and embraced his death and resurrection.
  • Jesus therefore preached the gospel because he preached himself.
  • Jesus preached the gospel because he saw himself completing Israel’s Story. (p. 104)

Scot argues Jesus preached about himself in the following ways;

  • His moral vision (Sermon on the mount, fulfillment of the law of Moses)
  • Jesus and the twelve (Jesus over the twelve tribes)
  • Jesus and his death (Fulfillment and interpretation of OT death and resurrection prophecies)

Near the end of the chapter Scot answers the questions he put forward.

Did Jesus preach the gospel? Yes, he preached the gospel because the gospel is the saving Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and Jesus clearly set himself at the center of God’s saving plan for Israel. (p. 111)

8 – The Gospel of Peter

Scot introduces this chapter in the previous.

But this leads to what will be perhaps my most provocative question: Evangelism, what is it? To “evangelize” or to “gospel” is to tell the Story of Jesus as a saving story that completes Israel’s Story. What is the best way to evangelize today? Is it to use the Plan of Salvation and frame it in a Method of Persuasion? We are driven to ask how the apostles evangelized. The book of Acts has seven summaries of evangelistic sermons. What do we learn? (p. 111)

Scot takes us back to scriptural examples of how the early Christians preached the gospel.

He identifies seven, with an eighth possibility, gospel sermon/summaries in Acts;

  1. Acts 2:14 – 39
  2. Acts 3:12 – 26
  3. Acts 4:8 – 12
  4. Acts 10:34 – 43, with 11:4 – 18
  5. Acts 13:16 – 41
  6. Acts 14:15 – 17
  7. Acts 17:22 – 31
  8. (Acts 7:2 – 53)

I’ve blogged through most of these myself with similar results.

In each of these Scot finds the following repeated points.

  • Israel’s story framed the gospel of the apostles
  • The apostles declare the whole story of Jesus as gospel
  • The apostles summed up the gospel in words about Jesus
  • The apostles Paul places new ground by adapting gospel to audience
  • The apostles summoned people to respond

About calling people to respond to the gospel Scot says;

One of the most important contributions that Acts makes to gospeling is the how — for it is in these sermons that we see how the apostles called people to respond. And they are consistent:

to participate in the Story of Jesus the apostles called people to believe, to repent, and to be baptized. I would contend that there is no such thing as gospeling that does not include the summons to respond in faith, repentance, and baptism. (p. 127)

Baptism going underHave you ever heard the gospel proclaimed where the audience was called upon to be baptised? This is what the early Christians did.

9 – Gospeling Today

In this chapter Scot evaluates modern understandings of gospel ministry. He draws upon what he’s seen in the scriptures to explain how New Testament Christians proclaim the Gospel and how we can create a gospel culture.

Scot begins by summarising his main points about the gospel so far. The gospel is

  1. Framed by the Israel’s story,
  2. Centres on the lordship of Jesus,
  3. Involves summoning people to respond, and
  4. Saves and redeems.

He then steps through six comparisons.

What gospeling seeks to accomplish. In the first comparison Scot compares the gospeling of Acts with the plan of salvation approach. The first speaks about Jesus and declares him Messiah and LORD. The second persuades sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as their saviour. Scot stresses the importance of declaring Jesus Christ and LORD, but points out the ‘latter can be done within the former’.

What frames gospeling. I devoted a post in my series on the gospel to just this topic. Have a look at the sermons. Scot is right, the gospel the apostles preached is not driven by personal salvation and atonement.

Gospeling, wrath and judgment. Wrath and Hell are never mentioned in the gospel sermons in Acts. That being said Scot recognises theme of judgment is ‘not to far away from early Christian gospeling work. You cant avoid judgment in gospeling’. Scot has some nice things to say about Jonathan Edwards.

Scot is not here suggesting the plan of salvation and method of persuasion should once again be allowed to dominate the stories of Israel and Jesus in gospeling. Judgment should be seen within the overarching narrative and can rightly influence how we shape the call to respond.

The problem gospeling resolves. Scot moves from solution to plight. He points out the gospel is about the kingdom of God, with Jesus as it’s Christ and King. With this in mind the problem has to do with what has happened in Genesis regarding our place and role in God’s creation. Our role (stewards and Royal priests) and problem (usurping God’s rule) is highlighted throughout the story of Israel. It’s prophesied to be resolved and fulfilled with the promised Christ in the gospel.

Gospel and culture. Scot weighs in on current debates regarding the declaration that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Do the apostles deliberately word the gospel message to oppose the imperial Caesar cult? He briefly mentions Wright, Horsley and Bird in this discussion and comes out saying he needs more explicit evidence.

Talk about Jesus. The gospel is primarily about Jesus (Rom 1.3), not about sin. To share the gospel one must talk about Jesus. In this section Scot compares again the soterian gospel about ‘sin management’ with the apostolic gospel, the story about Jesus. Scot doesn’t deny the forgiveness of sins is important, but he subordinates it as one aspect of sharing the story of Jesus. He gives Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 as an example.

10 – Creating a Gospel Culture

Scot gives a wonderful account of the story of the bible. Starting from creation, the story of Israel, leading up to the story of Jesus and what will happen in the future. Throughout he describes God as king, the sin of mankind (usurping), the promises of God, Israel, the coming of the Christ Jesus, the grace, mercy, forgiveness, good, miracles and teaching he gave and his coming judgment.

He uses this as a springboard to describe what it means to have a ‘gospel culture’.

What do you think is a gospel culture? What does it look like other than saying ‘gospel’ all the time?

First, we have to become People of the Story. Scot encourages his readers to become familiar with the whole bible story and see their place within it. He encourages his readers to read the whole bible.

Second, we need to immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus. He encourages his readers to read the gospel accounts more and more. To know what Jesus said and did so we can guide our lives by him and share him with others.

Third, we need to see how the apostles’ 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. Scot points us to the apostles writings, the epistles as specific contextual applications of the gospel. We can learn from them to do the same.

Fourth, we need to counter the stories that bracket our story and that reframe our story. Scot describes a number of competing worldviews in today’s society. He says we need to counter these. He considers the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist as gospelling’ events.

Finally, we need to embrace this story so that we are saved and can be transformed by the gospel story. Scot sums up the chapter and finishes the book with this conclusion.

23 lionIf I am asked to break the gospel and a gospel culture down into simple statements, I would borrow imagery from the man from Northern Ireland, from Belfast, C. S. Lewis. From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where we first meet the story of Aslan, we will find a few central themes about Aslan. It’s the story of Aslan, which is how Lewis told the Story of Jesus:

  • Watch the Lion roam.
  • Watch the Lion die on the Stone Table.
  • Watch the Stone Table crack with new creation powers.
  • Listen to the Lion’s Roar.
  • Trust the Lion.
  • Love the Lion.
  • Live for the Lion.

There’s our gospel: it’s the saving Story of Israel now lived out by Jesus, who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted to God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message that someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury. (p. 159)

Recommendation

As you can see Scot says a lot of interest in this small book. This is a great book and I encourage everyone to read it. Christians, people wanting to learn more about Jesus, scholars, ministers, students of the bible and everyday church seat warmers like myself. I would encourage you to read this book for the following reasons.

The book is very readable. There are stories and illustrations throughout the book. It is written in simple English and does not use technical theological terms. It’s written for everyday people and to keep their attention.

The book uses scripture throughout to argue his position. Scot clearly holds to the authority of scripture. He works from scripture to base his opinions. His use of scripture communicates a breadth of knowledge on would expect for a new testament bible scholar and early church historian.

The book interacts with the main evangelical positions on what the gospel is. To name a few Scot interacts with Luther, the Calvinist tradition. John Piper, Greg Gilbert, John Dickson, Tom Wright and Dallas Willard.

His book is polemical. It compares and contrasts those positions using the scriptures. Scot understands the key issues each of the above authors build upon in their writings on the gospel and interacts with them with truth and love. He wants to unite people, not divide them.

The book is consistent with the earliest understandings of the gospel held by Christianity. Scot ties his understanding of the gospel into the earliest credal formulations of the Christian Church. He compares and contrasts the main drivers of Christianity over history from these creeds and the confessional statements of the Reformation.

His book explains the gospel can be used for evangelism and discipleship. Thus seeking to prevent converts from wandering away after making a decision for Christ. He seeks to build a gospel culture which can save, transform and inspire the church to share Jesus with the world around them.

Now go buy the book and read it for yourself.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2016. All Rights Reserved.

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  • joseph

    Hi Josh,

    This review is very pertinent to what I see at work. I am a drug an alcohol counselor who deals with broken people regularly, and the Christians I see almost invariably believe they are ‘saved’, yet frequently show remarkably little desire to lead a Christian lifestyle. What has particularly worried me is the fact that these individuals are not necessarily lukewarm. Many of them are quite enthusiastic about their beliefs, and ardently believe that Christ’s death has atoned for their sins. Yet the continual emphasis from the various pulpits on ‘salvation’ and the essence of Christianity being distilled to a kind of personal certitude leads them to believe all else is secondary. Sadly, they end up believing most of all in themselves, and ‘truth’ is whatever is convenient at that time. Furthermore, the problem and its extent is often missed by pastors whose working experience centers mostly on those who avail themselves of his services, which this type of ‘Christian’ is not want to do.

    In short, I probably should read the book….

    Joseph

    • Thanks Joseph. I’m sure your work is quite challenging. I hope God continues to bless you.