Tag Archives: Scot McKnight

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Evangelical Gospel

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.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Seventeen: The Evangelical Gospel
Originally presented on May 25, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

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.

Hebrews 6:1-3

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.

Jesus never saidThat’s the Evangelical message of the Gospel in a nutshell but Jesus never said it…ever. For that matter, neither did Paul, Peter, James, or any of the other apostles.

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)

Gates of HeavenThe 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?

milkThat 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?

Elementary PrinciplesLancaster 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.

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.”