Read an Excerpt
THE KING JESUS GOSPELRevisiting the original good news
By Scot McKnight
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Scot McKnight
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Big Question
This book is asking the most important—or at least one of the most important—questions we can ask today. In this book I will contend we all need to ask this question because we've wandered from the pages of the Bible into an answer that isn't biblical enough. In fact, there is both a widespread dissatisfaction with where we are and a widespread yearning for a more biblical approach to the question, and the dis-ease and yearning show up in a vigorous and invigorating discussion of this question today. One of my friends says the church is "in a fog" about this question, and another writer says there's a "fog of confusion" about it.
The question is this:
What is the gospel?
You may be surprised. You may think the word gospel, a word used in the ancient world for declaring good news about something (like a wedding) but used today for our Christian message, is the one thing we do understand. You may think that's the one thing around which there is no fog at all. You may think the gospel is the simple thing, whereas everything else—like politics and eschatology and atonement theory and poverty—cries out for debate. Those issues need to be debated, but we really cannot debate them in a Christian manner until we get the gospel question resolved. I think we've got the gospel wrong, or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. We need to go back to the Bible to find the original gospel.
By the time we get through digging into what the New Testament actually says, I think you will agree with me that the question noted above is the most important question we need to ask today, and I hope you will agree with me that our current answer isn't biblical enough. I'm also hopeful you will see some biblical wisdom in my proposal. I encourage you to pull out a piece of paper or open up the flyleaf of the back of this book and scribble down your answer to this most important question before you read one more word: What is the gospel?
The following three exhibits illustrate why I think we've wandered and why we are in need of going back to the Bible to ask this question all over again—as if for the first time, as if we were in Galilee listening to Jesus ourselves, or as if we were the first listeners to the apostles' gospel in some small house church in the bustling and boisterous Roman empire. In going back, I believe we will be shocked by what we find, and these three exhibits show why we will be shocked.
I received an email from a reader with this question: "I know you're probably really busy. If you have time, I have a question about the gospel. I notice that the gospel writers often include in their gospel the announcement that Jesus is the Messiah. My question is, 'What is good news about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the descendant of David?' ... Thanks for your time!" I read that letter three times and shook my head in disbelief each time, and I did so because I wonder how we have gotten ourselves to a point where we can wonder what Jesus' being Messiah has to do with the gospel. But that emailer is not alone.
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."
John Piper, one of America's most influential pastors and authors—and deservedly so—at a big conference in April of 2010 asked this question: "Did Jesus preach Paul's gospel?" To answer it, he examined the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, where we find one of the few uses of the word justified in the Gospels. Then John Piper concluded that, yes, Jesus did preach Paul's gospel of justification by faith. I would defend the legitimacy of Piper's question, and I would also agree that the makings of justification by faith are indeed found in that parable of Jesus. So, it is entirely fair to ask if Jesus preached a gospel like Paul's.
But ... to begin with, there's the problem of order and even of precedence: Isn't the more important question about whether Paul preached Jesus' gospel? Moreover, there's another problem: Piper's assumption is that justification is the gospel. The Calvinist crowd in the USA—and Piper is the leading influencer in the resurgence of Calvinist thinking among evangelicals—has defined the gospel in the short formula "justification by faith." But we have to ask whether the apostles defined the gospel this way. Or, better yet, when they preached the gospel, what did they say? We will answer these questions in the pages that follow.
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.
At an airport, I bumped into a pastor I recognized, and he offered a more extreme version of what we saw in Exhibit B. He asked me what I was writing, and I replied, "A book about the meaning of gospel."
"That's easy," he said, "justification by faith." After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper's question: "Did Jesus preach the gospel?"
His answer made me gulp. "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. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I've often used: "Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn't get to preach the gospel." My satire, if not sarcasm, would not have helped, so I held back. But I've heard others make similar claims about Jesus, Paul, and the gospel, and this book will offer a thorough rebuttal of this conviction.
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.
Harsh words, I admit.
Each of these three instances—the emailer who can't figure out how in the world "Messiah" and "gospel" are connected, and the two pastors who believe "justification by faith" and "gospel" are one and the same (one thinking Jesus preached it and the other thinking Jesus didn't and couldn't have)—illustrate my deep concern. 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.
I know this is an unusual claim, and I know some will think my claim is outlandish, so I'm going to ask you to be patient enough to hear me out. I believe we are mistaken, and that mistake is creating problems we are trying to solve. But as long as we remain mistaken, we will never solve the problems. Our system is broken and our so-called gospel broke it. We can't keep trying to improve the mechanics of the system because they're not the problem. The problem is that the system is doing what it should do because it is energized by a badly shaped gospel.
Over lunch not long ago I mentioned to a well-known American pastor what this book was about. Here is what he said to me: "Scot, we need that book. The reason we need the book is because people are confused. Not only are they confused, they don't even know they are confused."
I asked for more because he, too, seemed to observe the "fog" that others are seeing. Here's the gist of what he said: "For most American Chris tians, the gospel is about getting my sins forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die." Then he rolled onward: "I will never forget encountering what Dallas Willard called 'the gospel of sin management.' When I read Dallas, I knew he was right. If the gospel isn't about transformation, it isn't the gospel of the Bible. We need a book that tells us in clear terms what the gospel of the New Testament really is." That pastor is right. I hope this book helps him and others like him.
Our biggest problem is that we have an entire culture shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel. That so-called gospel is deconstructing the church.
Excerpted from THE KING JESUS GOSPEL by Scot McKnight Copyright © 2011 by Scot McKnight. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.