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!