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As mentioned in a recent post, I failed to write any book reviews this year, despite reading some important and exceptional books. This is to my own detriment, and I plan to write some belated reviews of 5-10 of these books. Scot McKnight is a well-known author and professor. I read his book The Blue Parakeet, and The King Jesus Gospel has been on “my list” for some time so I was happy to find a like-new hard copy at my local thrift store for $1.50!

The King Jesus Gospel, The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight (Zondervan 2011).

McKnight writes from a distinct evangelical background. With keen insight he notes some of the problems of the evangelical tradition that emphasizes the need for each person to have a distinct conversion experience, that is, to make a personal decision to place their faith in Christ. Yes, doing that is important! “Personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable.” (page 28)

Yet, sometimes there can be excessive pressure (manipulation) to get people to decide for Christ, and that can lead to false converts. That is, someone may repeat a prayer but they only repeated empty words that they did not really mean or properly understand, and they never progress in the Christian life – as they never actually began the Christian life! Also, and this is really the focus of the book, the emphasis on personal conversion can lead to a truncated view of Christianity, where there is no grasp of the big picture of the faith and God’s plan for this world; and that can be another reason Christians can fail to become mature followers of Christ. This off-balance focus on “Jesus as your personal savior” has unfortunately blended well with superficial or outright false worldviews or modern approaches to life such as: individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism, scientific naturalism, etc. A self-focus is the antithesis of Christianity and leads to anemic or distorted Christianity. Indeed, we have that.

Yet again, this does not mean McKnight thinks personal faith is not necessary! He brings up the other, more sacramental or high church branches of Christianity – Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy – and offers critique here too, particularly regarding the lack of emphasis on having a personal faith experience. He shares that an Eastern Orthodox theologian he knows honestly states that in his tradition too many have been “sacramentalized” but not “evangelized” – that is, they have jumped through some hoops, but never made a personal commitment to Christ. A similar example is given regarding Roman Catholicism, that if you are baptized and catechized, then you are automatically part of the church. “Making the conversion process automatic…is disastrous for the vitality of faith and church life.” (page 31)

What? Are you confused? Is McKnight pointing out problems with emphasizing a personal faith experience -and- not emphasizing it as well? Yes, he is. McKnight notes that both the high church and low church have seen too many people fail to become mature followers of Christ.

Lest it sound like McKnight is just critical in this book, he is not, but he had to make the case for why we need to re-visit the gospel. McKnight proposes a different approach as he re-visits the good news (see subtitle of the book). We need a “gospel culture” rather than the “salvation culture” that came to be among evangelicals. These sample chapter titles can perhaps give you an idea of the book:

Gospel culture or salvation culture?
The apostolic gospel of Paul
How did salvation take over the gospel?
The gospel in the gospels?
Jesus and the gospel
The gospel of Peter
Gospeling today
Creating a gospel culture

In case those chapter titles make you think McKnight is presenting differing gospels – of Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc – no, there is ONE gospel. The point is that some pastors can actually teach that the gospel wasn’t clear until Paul (justification by faith), and the gospel was not clear yet in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Uh? But we can be guilty of the same or similar if we think about it!

From page 111: “Did Jesus preach the gospel? Yes, he preached the gospel because the gospel is the saving story of Jesus completing Israel’s story.”

Evangelicals (at least traditionally, not so much in recent years) can be big on putting Scripture passages in context, but then are guilty of ripping verses about “being saved” out of context – not presenting it within the greater context of God’s plan for this world. Yes, we need to be saved, but this salvation needs to be “in the context of a gospel story that has a beginning (in creation and covenant with Israel), a middle (David), and a resolution (Jesus and final redemption).”  (page 131)

Of course, when sharing Jesus with people, you might not have a lengthy time to go into all that, but the church itself can fail to teach this to their people, and too many believers don’t really understand how the Old and New Testament fit together and the Bible’s bigger story. “The more we submerge ‘salvation’ into the larger idea of ‘gospel’, the more robust will become our understanding of salvation.” (page 39)

In an age of weak or superficial Christianity, we need a more robust understanding of our salvation!

The book ends with an example from the Chronicles of Narnia, and then says this: “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.” (page 160) – Jesus is King!