Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

“What is the gospel?”

There is no question more important for us to be asking. It’s one that we can’t afford to get wrong, because if we do, we’ll get everything else wrong, too. Scot McKnight is concerned that we may have done exactly that—we’ve become confused on the exact nature and content of the gospel, and it shows up notably in how we pursue evangelism. That concern led him to write The King Jesus Gospel where he seeks to reexamine our understanding of the gospel in light of Scripture.

Decisions, Discipleship and Points of Agreement

The short version is that McKnight has a strong distaste for “easy believe-ism”—any sort of notion that all you need is to make a decision and then you’re all set. He’s summed this up in what he describes as a “soterian” culture, rather than a “gospel” culture—one that  is more concerned with making decisions than making disciples. In fact, he believes the word “gospel” has been hijacked to mean little more than “personal salvation,” something that falls far short of the biblical meaning (cf. p. 26). To this, I give a hearty “amen”. Too many times we settle for “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” instead of the truth of Scripture. Ultimately, this kind of easy believe-ism is founded on nothing more than feelings, rather than truth. But it’s not the gospel.

So what is the gospel, in McKnight’s view? In a sentence, McKnight considers the gospel, fundamentally, to be the completion of the story of Israel in the story of Jesus. In this, McKnight rightly emphasizes the truth that we cannot separate the Old and New Testaments. The gospel cannot be separated from the events that led up to it. To do so leads us to completely miss the point of everything that’s going on in the gospel accounts! A greater appreciation of the Old Testament encourages a more robust understanding of the gospel. These are but a couple of the instances where I found myself largely agreeing with the content of the book.

Overstatements and Points of Concern

Unfortunately, my reading of The King Jesus Gospel was something of a disjointed experience. There were a number of times as I read the book that I found myself in hearty agreement with McKnight and there were others where I was left scratching my head as to how he came to some of his conclusions.

For example, he considers pastors such as John Piper and Greg Gilbert as “salvationists,” suggesting they’ve confused the plan of salvation with the gospel itself (pp. 25, 60). Perhaps it’s because I’m part of the “Calvinist crowd” that McKnight refers to, but this boggled my mind. Do both emphasize justification? Yep. Do both suggest that the gospel is about justification only? Nope. Their gospel begin in the same place as the Scripture’s: with God. Because McKnight’s take on the gospel focuses so intently on completing Israel’s story, it minimizes that it’s really God’s story of bringing glory to Himself through the redemption of His entire creation, not Israel alone.

Additionally, McKnight draws a hard line separating the plan of salvation from the gospel (though he does not deny that the plan flows from the gospel). Over and over again he makes this point. And while it definitely has merit—there is a difference between the gospel and the plan of salvation, this overemphasis (arguably) causes him to overlook the reality that the gospel accounts demonstrate the plan of salvation. We need the both/and in this instance, not the either/or.

Finally, because of McKnight’s repeated insistence that you cannot distill the gospel down to a few points, I wonder if he’s not robbing himself of some of the beautiful simplicity of the gospel itself. What I love about the gospel is that it is indeed awe-inspiringly complex, yet breathtakingly simple. The beauty of Jesus—God—taking human form, humbling Himself to be come a servant, to live a life of perfect obedience, to die a death of perfect submission, to rise again in victory over death, is overwhelming. Perhaps I’m being overly subjective, but McKnight’s gospel sketch in the final chapter of this book (pp. 148-152) didn’t leave me with the same sense of wonder as does Col. 1:15-23:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Conclusion

In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight offers a thought-provoking, challenging but sadly disjointed critique of a very real problem. Christians must regain a firm grasp of the meaning of the gospel, on this point, he and I certainly agree. While I’m not sure that his critique helps get us closer to the solution to the issue, it does provide opportunities to begin reexamining our understanding of the gospel in light of Scripture.


Title: The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
Author: Scot McKnight
Publisher: Zondervan (2011)

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher