Introduction to the Six Elementary Teachings of Messiah with a look at Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Gospel, citing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
As Lancaster began talking about Shavuot, about Pentecost, about what the Evangelical Church calls “the birthday of the Church,” I wondered where his lectures on the Book of Hebrews went. I knew that he was going to spend some time on the six basic foundations of the faith, but I didn’t know this would entail exiting the Epistle to the Hebrews altogether.
He did quote the following Psalm, which is a Psalm about Shavuot, however:
The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng…
–Psalm 68:11 (NIV)
No, that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Hebrews either, but we’ll get to that.
Lancaster spent a lot of time talking about, really reviewing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. This sermon was given right after First Fruits of Zion’s 2013 Shavuot conference (although that link takes you to info about this year’s conference). It’s always held at Lancaster’s home congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship.
I attended the conference in 2013 and also went the previous year. I didn’t spend a lot of “face time” with Lancaster, usually because he’s pretty busy and in demand, but last year we talked for a bit and he recommended McKnight’s book. I formally reviewed the book as well as mentioned it elsewhere, and found it reassuring if not illuminating.
Like Lancaster, I didn’t agree with everything McKnight said, but it was refreshing to read an Evangelical teacher and author saying that Evangelical Christianity is serving up a hopelessly truncated gospel message.
I’ll skip over Lancaster’s history of the Evangelical Church but I will mention that Lancaster started out his ministry as an Evangelical Pastor and he’s the son of an Evangelical Pastor.
But as a teenager, Lancaster said he got so frustrated with trying to find the Evangelical Gospel message spoken by Jesus in the scriptures, that he threw his Bible across the room.
Here’s a summary of the Gospel message according to, not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but according to Evangelicalism.
Imagine Jesus saying this:
Believe in me for the forgiveness of your sins so you can go to Heaven when you die.
In fact, Jesus rarely spoke of personal salvation and when he did, the teenage Lancaster thought it sounded…legalistic:
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
–Matthew 19:16-22 (NASB)
The traditional Evangelical interpretation is that Jesus was playing a little game with this fellow to help him realize that he needed to leave his wealth behind and learn to trust Jesus, but I don’t see how the fellow in question could come to that conclusion when Jesus was speaking of the commandments and merit, a very Jewish message.
But the Evangelical message of the plan of salvation, although it’s some part of the Gospel message, is not only a small part of that overall good news, it’s terrifically misleading. It only teaches that you have to confess Jesus as Savior and believe in him. That’s it. In fact, Lancaster says Evangelicals shouldn’t really be called Evangelicals but rather “Salvationists” because of the narrow focus of their message.
They’re not even replacement theologists but rather displacement theologists, because the plan of personal salvation, as the length, breadth, and depth of their doctrine, displaces all of the Old Testament, the resurrection, a literal Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Messiah on Earth. Why would you need an Earthly Kingdom if you go to Heaven when you die to be with Jesus?
What was the central message of the Messiah?
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
–Matthew 4:17 (NASB)
The NIV and other translations use the word “near” rather than “at hand.” The Kingdom of God is near. How near is it? Lancaster says it’s so near that the Messiah has even been named. He’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s teaching repent of your sins, return to God, be immersed in the name of Messiah for the forgiveness of sins (after you fully repent), then you will participate in the building of the Kingdom, the restoration of national Israel, the return of the Jewish exiles to their Land, the raising of Israel as the head of all the nations.
Lancaster spoke too quickly for me to capture all of his points, but at the end, he said Peter’s message in Acts 2:37-42 is a much better representation of the actual Biblical Gospel message than what Evangelicals preach.
And at the culmination of the Kingdom, all of humanity, each and every individual, will stand before the throne of judgment. The Evangelical message of salvation is only included in bits and pieces of the total Gospel, and it’s still an anti-Jewish people and anti-Judaism message if only because it wholly denies the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in its own salvational plan.
It gets worse. Jesus preached:
And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
–Luke 13:23-24 (NASB)
This is not what Evangelicals preach about salvation. For example, how can you “strive to enter the narrow door,” when there’s nothing you can do to merit salvation? Evangelicals say to “accept” and “make a decision for Christ” which are quite passive. Striving is active and implies you must do something to enter the narrow gate. Also, how can the gate be so narrow if whole stadiums and auditoriums of people are “getting saved” by some big name evangelist preacher at a huge revival?
That last part is a little tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea. Jesus didn’t teach that the Gospel message or even the salvational part of it was “believe in me and be saved.” He taught, “repent, have faith, become a disciple, for there will be a resurrection of the dead, and the living and the resurrected will participate in final redemption.” Lancaster says the actual Gospel message isn’t news to Messianic Judaism but it must be quite a shock to most of the world’s 100 million Evangelical believers. Most Evangelicals don’t even know about the “milk” being taught in the Bible, let alone the “meat,” and this is where we re-engage the Book of Hebrews.
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…
–Hebrews 6:1 (NASB)
Lancaster ended here a few weeks ago and this is the place where we have come to again. This is also the heart of Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Early Jewish Christianity, which is available as a special promotion (sorry to sound like a commercial, but it’s a pretty good deal) until June 3rd.
Lancaster wound down his sermon with another summary of the six foundations of the faith and said starting next week, he’s going into each of them in detail, with repentance being the very first step.
What Did I Learn?
As I mentioned, I’ve read and reviewed McKnight’s book last year, so this was more like a review than a revelation. I’ve also been going through my own study of repentance or teshuvah, so his comments on repentance operated in parallel to my own thoughts.
I don’t think that all Evangelicals have quite such a narrow view of the message of the Gospel, but I agree that even the most enlightened Evangelical is missing at least part of the picture. I know Evangelical Christians who strongly preach repentance of sins and who even lament there are many people in the pews on Sunday, who in all probability, are not saved because all they know is to passively believe.
I don’t doubt that some and hopefully many Evangelicals are indeed saved and are faithfully serving God, but it’s not my place to say who is and who isn’t. It’s my place first and foremost to care for my own relationship with God, for without love of God how can I love my fellow human being in the manner my Master commands?
Lancaster doesn’t recommend McKnight’s book to his congregation, probably because he believes they are more tuned in to the actual message of the Gospel because of their involvement in Messianic Judaism (and being consumers of Lancaster’s prolific teachings and writings). I do recommend McKnight’s book to Evangelical Christians as a means of understanding that what Lancaster is teaching isn’t “Evangelical bashing,” but rather a startling wake up call.
Do you really want to know what Jesus taught as the good news of Christ? You may not get the full message from your Pastor’s sermons or from popular books by Christian authors. You probably won’t even get it in Sunday school or at a Wednesday night Bible study. If you read McKnight’s book, please open your mind and heart and be prepared for a shock. If you survive the book intact and want to learn more, continue with Lancaster’s book and see where that takes you.