Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

kjgospelContemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

from the description of Scot McKnight’s book
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
at Amazon.com

Several months ago, D. Thomas Lancaster suggested this book to me and I was able to insert it into my reading list. I can see why Lancaster made the recommendation and while I generally agree with the core message McKnight is presenting, it seems like he could have made a few improvements (in my humble opinion).

But first things first.

The part I liked about McKnight’s book is that he was recasting the gospel message from one that only contains the message of personal salvation to one that is expanded to include the story of Israel.

In his Foreward to the book, N.T. Wright says:

…according to Scot, and I am convinced he’s right: “the gospel” is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes, but this statement illustrates what I see as one of the unfortunate limits of McKnight’s book. While he is correct in stating that the actual gospel message includes the return of Jesus as King of Israel and redeemer of the world (rather than just saving individuals one person at a time), he seems to end the story of Israel after the resurrection of Christ. The end. Israel’s story shifts to the story of a homogenized Kingdom of God in the Messianic Age.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that McKnight’s vision of a future Israel just got lost between the lines, so to speak. Part of his main point, which he emphasized over and over again (the book was kind of repetitive) was:

Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.

I couldn’t agree more. But again, the story of the good news of Messiah goes much further than making disciples. It’s the story of Jesus as the Messiah, the King, the one who will establish his rule of peace on the Earth. This is part of McKnight’s message as well and again, I totally agree.

McKnight also addressed the question of whether or not Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel and (to me), amazingly, whether or not Jesus preached the gospel at all. I was astonished (I don’t know a great deal about the specific theological mechanics of organized Christianity in its various denominations) to discover some Pastors think it was impossible for Jesus to have preached his own good news about himself.

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.”

The above transaction gave me a cold chill. It’s terrifying to imagine that hundreds of thousands (or more) of Christians are attending church services, attending Sunday school, attending mid-week Bible classes, and being taught that Jesus could not possibly have understood the good news about himself. Doesn’t anyone read the Bible anymore?

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NASB)

scot-mcknight1That’s pretty much Jesus preaching the good news of the Messiah in a nutshell. It was apparently missed by the above-mentioned Pastor because the gospel message to him is only “justification by faith.” It has nothing to do with Israel, King Messiah, or the national redemption of Israel at all.

I want to make clear at this point that I do believe Jesus does provide the Gentile and the Jewish person salvation from sins on a personal level, but like McKnight, I believe it goes so much further. The gospel message isn’t just about the plan of salvation. It’s the good news that Israel is to be liberated, the exiled Jewish people will be restored to their Land, and national Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations in the physical Kingdom of God.

But you don’t get this in most churches.

…the gospel has lost its edge and its meaning. Nothing proves this more than the near total ignorance of many Christians today of the Old Testament Story.

This is true. It’s impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the Apostolic Writings without a very good grasp of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Old Testament).

McKnight spends a lot of time saying that to understand the gospel message, you have to start in 1 Corinthians 15. Frankly, that would never have occurred to me as a natural starting point, but then again, I’m not a Bible scholar or a theologian. In fact, to get a good summary of the meaning of the gospel, all you have to do is watch television for about thirty minutes.

Oh not just any show.

I wrote a review of the First Fruits of Zion TV series episode The Good News not too long ago. Here’s a description of the episode from the FFOZ TV web site:

Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

This sounds very similar to some of McKnight’s writing and I suppose it’s possible this book could have been available (it was published in 2011) to the writers of this television episode, but the content between the two isn’t identical.

Two of the problems I had with McKnight’s definition of the gospel message was that the story of Israel seemed to end with the coming of Messiah (which is a common theme in Christianity) and that he seemed to miss the ascendancy of the Nation of Israel as the core of the Kingdom Messiah is to establish on Earth upon his return. He didn’t say why the Messiah’s gospel message was good news to Jewish people. I summarized this good news for Jewish people in my review:

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

This is why I think that Luke 4:16-21 is a better summary of the gospel message of Messiah and proof that Messiah knew what the gospel message was and indeed preached it to Israel. Because the good news of Messiah is first and foremost aimed at Israel nationally and at the Jewish people. After all, Jesus said he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” not the “lost sheep of planet Earth.” Also, Paul always went “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles.” Why? Because the gospel message is most focused on the Jewish people and made the most sense to the Jewish people.

If McKnight had gone that far, I’d have enjoyed his book a lot better. As it was, I think he made a very important point, but he stopped too soon. He also spent too much time going over and over his central point. I get that he wanted to be thorough and I get that often, an important message needs to be repeated so the reader “gets it,” but I “get it.” I just wanted to get more.

But maybe this is why I didn’t get more.

It is sometimes forgotten that “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The word Messiah means “anointed King…”

ffoz-teaching-teamI wasn’t surprised when I saw something so elemental in McKnight’s book. I’d gotten past my surprise after writing my review of the FFOZ TV episode Messiah. Exactly the same point was made during this 30-minute episode: the fact that “Christ” is a word that contains a lot more information and meaning than just the “last name” of Jesus.

Like the FFOZ TV show, McKnight is likely writing to the widest possible Christian audience, attempting to tell the largest number of believers that they have been taught a common misconception about the gospel message. After all, if at least some Pastors have adopted a limited vision of the gospel, how can the people who sit in the pews every Sunday be held accountable for not knowing the wider meaning?

Again, I disagree that Jesus has completed Israel’s story at this juncture. Israel still has a story and it will continue to be central to the good news throughout the Messianic Age and beyond. Israel will be the head of the nations and the people of many nations will stream to the Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1) in the days of Messiah.

McKnight’s book is readable and educational as far as it goes and I’d recommend it if you want to get out of the traditional rut of gospel equals plan of salvation, period, end of story. But I still wish he’d have taken the story further into the future and presented the Messiah as Israel’s King and his rule on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, his gathering of the exiled Jewish people to himself, and the total redemption of national Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by his name.

Oh, and this is my 900th blog post on “morning meditations.”

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel”

  1. That’s a lot of blogging, James! Congratulations!
    I’ve also read this book and thought it was pretty good up to a point. The first couple of chapters I had high hopes for and was even willing to think ‘complete’ meant something like, ‘the goal’, like Paul said of Jesus being the end, or the goal. But that’s stretching it alot.

    I’ve been conversing with people for awhile about what is the gospel and is ‘handing out a track of information and saying a short prayer’ really what it means to be a new believer? Alas, the community I’m in goes out 2 by 2 and talks to people. They argue sometimes, explain salvation, then announce at the next meeting that ’25 people were saved!’. Then everyone claps. I asked one time how many were made ‘disciples’ and the comment was, good point! But no one has changed the way they do evangelism and they still claim people ‘saved’. I never see these people in church or the prayer room. It bothers me because the next time those ‘saved’ people are approached, their hearts are hardened and they are really better off not hearing the message in the first place.

    But I can’t be too critical because I don’t have a better method, other than living my life as an example. Evangelism has always kinda confused me. I don’t really see an example in the Gospels other than when Yeshua sent his disciples out 2 by 2. But they are going to people who already believe in G-d and they are telling of the Kingdom, demonstrating through signs and wonders, miracles, healing, yanking out demons, etc. I don’t think its the same thing as a ‘short prayer and you’re in the Kingdom’!

    But at least this book got back to the subject of the Kingdom of Heaven and put salvation in its right perspective. It did give me some language to debate the subject. It didn’t go far enough as you have written.

  2. I’m hoping is this kind of information about the gospel being about more than just the plan of salvation gets out through different venues (books, blogs, TV shows), then slowly the consciousness and then the “gospeling” of Christians will begin to change.

    Thanks for your comments and complements, Esther.

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