Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Two

Scot McKnight is an American author, New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, and theologian. He is currently the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University.

Prior to joining the NPU faculty in 1994, he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. McKnight will join the faculty at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary this Fall 2012.

McKnight has written more than twenty books. His book, The Jesus Creed, won the Christianity Today book award for 2004 in the area of Christian living. He currently has one of the most popular evangelical blogs online. He has written widely on the historical Jesus and early Christianity. He is an authoritative voice for evangelicals today.

The next book I’m recommending in this series is McKnight’s most recent work, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Sept. 2011).

His book comes with a forward from N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard. Wright says, “This book could be one of God’s ways of reminding the new generation of Christians that it has to grow up, to take responsibility for thinking things through afresh, to look back to the large world of the full first-century gospel in order then to look out on the equally large world of twenty-first century gospel opportunity.”

As you might have guessed with a subtitle like, “The Original Good News Revisited,” McKnight sees that our biggest evangelical problem is “that we have an entire culture shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel” (p. 27).

He is confident that this problem is evident by some sobering statistics and the failure of the church to transform society with the gospel. McKnight points out that, according to the Barna Group, 75 percent of Americans have made some sort of “decision” for Christ, but only about 25 percent of Americans actually attend a church fellowship regularly (p. 19).

McKnight writes, “We cannot help but conclude that making a decision is not the vital element that leads to a life of discipleship.” He continues with, “Our focus on getting young people to make decisions—that is, “accepting Jesus into our hearts”—appears to distort spiritual formation” (p. 20).

While McKnight affirms the evangelical conviction that a person must be born again or saved, he contends that this salvation must always and only be understood within the biblical narrative and a call to radical discipleship—the way in which it is proclaimed in the New Testament.

He writes, “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. 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 apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians.”

He goes on to say, “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.” We are wired this way. But these two words don’t mean the same thing, and this book will do its best to show the differences” (p. 29).

McKnight believes that the apostolic gospel was a gospel culture gospel, not a salvation culture gospel. He believes the early church did not have the struggle that we now have in America. The salvation culture gospel “will always create the problem of discipleship.”

A salvation culture does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision. In this book we want to show that the gospel of Jesus and that of the apostles, both of which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be “in” to be The Discipled. In other words, it swallowed up a salvation culture into a gospel culture (p. 33).

McKnight sets out to convince evangelicals that its time to rethink the gospel according to the Scriptures. From a critique of the Reformation efforts to reshape the apostolic gospel into a “salvation” gospel, to the popular efforts of modern day men to reduce the gospel to a sinner’s prayer, McKnight deconstructs the current evangelical proclamation in order to construct a NT-styled evangelism. He calls it “gospeling” a Christian resurrection gospel—retelling the saving story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s story.

In order to further whet your appetite for this book, here are a few comparisons that McKnight makes between the King Jesus Gospel and the salvation gospel of many evangelicals today:

(1) the gospeling of Acts summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as Savior; (2) the gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story. It was driven by the Story of Israel; (3) neither Peter nor Paul focuses on God’s wrath when they evangelize in Acts, nor do they describe the saving Story of Jesus as an escape from hell; (4) NT gospeling was politically subversive to the agendas of empire; (5) the early apostles evangelized by telling the complete Story of Jesus within the Story of Israel (pgs. 133-144).

McKnight says, “Our gospel preaching and evangelism tend to tell the story of how to be saved personally. There is a major difference between the Story of Jesus and a Plan of Salvation” (p. 144). I could not agree more with McKnight’s observations and his refreshing look at the King Jesus Gospel.

There are some complimentary overlaps between McKnight’s book and the previous book in this series, N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. A good bit of the evangelical theology that Wright seeks to correct in his book makes us up much of the backbone within the salvation gospel that McKnight rightfully critiques. They both offer up a new vision for 21st century evangelicalism.

Read them, digest them, search the Scriptures, and see if they do not ring true with you as they do with me.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Three

*See the intro post for information on the free book giveaway at the end of this series. It’s not too late to get in on the drawing!


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

12 responses to “Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Two

  • Mac Dumcum

    I am just about finished reading this book. To say it is amazing would be a severe understatement. Scot McKnight does a masterful job of getting us to rethink what the Gospel message really is all about. I highly recommend it.

  • Mark Sequeira

    Wow. Thanks David. I guess I have to read it. I am reading Viral Jesus now by Rohde, as well as How God Became King by Wright. (Have to say I liked “Simply Jesus” better…) Keep the good reads coming!!!!

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Mark, I have been reading Wright’s new book as well. I enjoy all of his stuff. He’s a good writer. I do believe his Surprised by Hope is unique among all of his books so far, even as many of his books share the same content. I think you would like it.

  • Otto

    Looking foward to the rest. They have definitely got my attention. These may be my next reads.

  • Patricia

    Excited! I already have the first two books.Thanks for sharing David!

  • jaredcburt

    David, I’m really interested in reading this book. Of course, just from reading your review I would think it is based upon the “new perspective.” At this point, my argument against the “new perspective” is not that it is absolutely wrong, but that it is suddenly THE vantage point for how we are to view Scripture, and nobody knew this for the past 2000 years until Sander, Wright, Dunn, etc. First, I find this hard to believe. Second, I think what was really discovered was an area overlooked and not emphasized (Israel, exile, kingdom, Messiah, gospel, etc.) which should be emphasized greatly. The problem is when a neglected point takes front-and-center, abolishing things like the substitutionary atonement as though it were totally off base. So while I can go a ways down the “new” road, I am not at all convinced that the vicarious sacrifice and substitutionary atonement understanding of salvation are off mark in the least.

    So my comments are not really at the book mentioned, but concerns I have about the new perspective. Even so, I look forward to reading it.


    • David D. Flowers

      Whoa, Jared. New perspective? 🙂 I don’t recall he ever mentions it. It’s mainly about Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed (i.e. King Jesus Gospel).

      • jaredcburt

        Lol. He may not have mentioned it. I don’t know. Would you say he writes form that perspective? I’m not critiquing him; my comments were aimed at the new perspective. Of course, the new perspective is an adjustment to the gospel as it has traditionally be understood.

        • David D. Flowers

          “Traditionally” been understood? You mean the “Reformed” tradition? I find the Reformed tradition way too narrow and reductionist. It makes little-to-no effort incorporating Judaism and the OT into the NT Gospel story. Is that surprising with the Reformer’s sentiments of anti-Judaism and ignorance of early Judaism. I think we have discussed this before. With all the insight we have today, which they didn’t have, we really should acknowledge their short-sightedness and make room for a bigger gospel. 🙂

          I find many aspects of the “new” perspective, which I believe is better representative of Paul’s ideas, much more consistent and cohesive with the entire story of God’s redemption through Israel than that of the reductionist efforts of the magisterial Reformers.

          I know that McKnight is in agreement with the new perspective, but he doesn’t mention it in this book.

  • jaredcburt

    Yes, I would say the Reformed view is traditional. My thinking at present is that both may be too narrow. I’m not convinced they are mutually exclusive. In fact, I don’t think Wright or Carson think so either (I’m sure Carson doesn’t, Wright’s words are a bit vague to me at this point. But I’m sure he reservations about the extent to which Dunn and Sanders have taken it). My concern is that making room for a “bigger gospel” amputates another equally valid part of the gospel.

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