Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel: Has The Gospel Coalition Caved?

A whole lot has been written about Scot McKnight’s latest book King Jesus Gospel. We probably don’t need another review of it. Nonetheless, since I received a free copy (in full disclosure) I need to say something :). (Again in full disclosure, before I requested a copy, I already knew I would like it. I had a early preview).
I think pretty much everyone knows by now Scot McKnight’s contention that evangelicals equate the word “gospel” with the word “salvation.” Hence, according to McKnight, we evangelicals are really “soterians” not “evangelicals”. According to McKnight, the NT gospel should not and cannot be reduced to “our plan of salvation.”(39). Scot shows in King Jesus Gospel that the gospel according to the NT is best defined out of 1 Corinthian 15.  Here the Gospel is the telling of the whole Jesus Story as the completion of the Story of Israel, the lordship of Christ over the whole world. It is the summoning of people to respond to the completion of the promise to Israel in Jesus Christ as Lord.  Through the proclamation of the gospel, we are invited to enter into this grand work of God in history in Christ. Out of all this, we are saved and redeemed (here’s where salvation is part of the gospel but not to be equated with the gospel). Without the Story (of Israel), Scot says, there is no gospel (36). So Scot singularly does one thing in this book, he shows how “individual salvation” is part of the wider gospel. It is not the whole gospel. The salvation we as individuals receive is something we receive as we participate in the wider work of God in the world to bring in His Kingdom in and through Jesus Christ. Even this “personal” salvation is much bigger than “justification by faith” although it certainly includes that!

Scot does a good job unfurling this gospel as it appears in the Bible focusing on the apostle Paul’s 1 Cor 15, the four gospels themselves and the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts.  He gives his quick take (and it is a quick one) on how the gospel culture of the first three centuries turned into what we have now, a salvation culture obsessed with individual salvation and getting people out of hell into heaven. It is all nicely done

I think this is a landmark book because it summarizes and communicates the important issues of New Perspective, NT Wright and the Kingdom/Paul debate for everyday Christian life in a way the average adult Christian can grab hold of. That’s a feat! I have been trying to teach New Perspective on Paul, NT Wright on God’s “making all things right,” for years. I have been trying to teach how the gospel is not an either/or – kingdom or justification. It is bigger than both and includes both. This book does what I couldn’t do. My student’s light bulbs have been going on this quarter and they are using this book with elders in their churches.

Of course, if there is one lack here in McKnight’s book, it is the thin offering on ecclesiology at the end of the book (ch.10). To me, the redescribing of the gospel according to the New Testament changes how we gather as a people in the world. It changes the way we “proclaim the gospel” at Sunday gathering, “proclaim the gospel as witness in our everyday lives”, how we engage everyday life as the places where God is at work to complete His Mission, how we pray and how we inhabit the world in Mission, how people are baptized into the kingdom (we return to some of the ancient rites). It’s probably too much to ask, but the last chapter on “Creating a Gospel culture” leaves us asking for much more. But this is a short book. I chalk it up to that.

So, all this leaves me with the one question that headlines this blog post. Has the Gospel Coalition caved in all of this? These friends, who have taken on the name “Gospel” and sought a re-invigoration of it (“the gospel”) as “justification by faith,” seem largely absent in challenging McKnight’s book. There are some good reviews out there by Reformed types. Michael Horton, for instance basically argues (here) with Scot over the innocence of Luther and Calvin on the individualizing of salvation. He himself seems to fall into the trap of saying McKnight is marginalizing “salvation” as the forgiveness of sins (just like many seem to accuse NT Wright of). See McKnight’s response here. But Horton is a classical Reformed theologian. He’s not in the Gospel Coalition/Neo-Reformed camp. Where are the serious disagreements from the Gospel Coalition/Neo Reformed bloggers? Even Neo-Reformed blogger Trevin Wax seems to demure to McKnight by subordinating (unintentionally?) “salvation” into part of what God has accomplished in Christ’s Kingship over the world. Is this not what Trevin is saying when he says here “I see the announcement of 1 Corinthians 15 as the gospel presentation by which we are being saved.” But even aside from Trevin, where is John Piper, Al Mohler, or Don Carson in response to this book? (I couldn’t find reviews by them?) Why the silence?

So my question is: is this silence real? (I could have missed some reviews – please help me here) Or maybe, just maybe, has Scot McKnight done the impossible? Has Scot given us the bridge to bring together – the “NT Wright-ests” with the “John Piper-ites”? –  for a re-invigoration of the gospel of the Kingdom in our times? Is this what is happening? or am I hearing crickets chirping in “the Gospel Coalition camp? Just asking 🙂

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24 responses to “Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel: Has The Gospel Coalition Caved?

  1. There’s been no response because Carson and Piper are busy crafting a definitive, earth-shattering response to “The End of Evangelicalism”… 🙂
    This is the best book I’ve read on these matters too, Dave. The reviews you mention above are frustrating for the same reason most reviews are frustrating: They focus on one somewhat peripheral or secondary argument, take issue with it, talk about their fears (insert slippery slope argument), and then give the reader of the review the impression that the book is “clever” and “interesting” but misleading, dangerous, or uninformed – i.e. worthwhile of “discussion” and “thought” but not digestible.

    This interview is worth a listen for those who’ve read (or haven’t) the book, between Michael Horton and Scot McKnight. Good stuff because they actually model how to disagree with Christian charity: http://bit.ly/vqKc0L

    One other quick comment: I honestly don’t think that the Gospel Coalition (Mohler, Carson, Piper) knows what to do with McKnight. He’s an Arminian, which to a Calvinist is like a smoking hot model with a hair lip – just enough to appreciate but you’re not going to lean in for a holy kiss. If only he could be labeled NP or Emergent or Liberal…that’s where the the guys you mention above really engage.

    1. Yep,BTW, there was a certain member of the trio mentioned above who promised to review End of Evangelicalism? but then backed out. There is a sneaking suspicion, that after the Gospel Coalition and Neo-reformed bloggers made Rob Bell a best seller, they don’t want to fall into that trap again. Now if they would do that for a very academic narrow audience book like mine, can you imagine the pressure to not review a more widely accessible book like Scot’s? After the Rob Bell thing, I can undertand why … 🙂

      1. Matt, your description of the hot model with the hair lip absolutely made my day. So beautiful.

        I think that you need cooler glasses and a better video producer to get the Coalition to tackle your stuff. Have you thought about becoming the Canadian Rob Bell? You could move back to Canada, I am guessing to Toronto or Vancouver (wherever the Canadian Hollywood is) and produce a TV show about your life. You could spice it up so that you were a hockey player who ended up as a prophet in the church. It would be riveting. At which point people would write inflammatory blogs about you. I volunteer to write the first one.

        1. Greg,dude, that’s way too close to my fantasy … especially the hockey player bit. It’s not good to encourage fantasies.

          1. David, I know just the city you should move to- central and very likely qualifying as “the least of these” for urban Canada! (wink)

      2. I heard it was because Zondervan wouldn’t run with their selected title – “Becoming Conversant with Zizek: Why You’re an Idiot” (but Crossway still might pick it up…)

      3. Cha-ching!

  2. “Has Scot given us the bridge to bring together – the ‘NT Wright-ests’ with the ‘John Piper-ites’? – for a re-invigoration of the gospel of the Kingdom in our times?”
    If he has, does characterizing the GC guys as “caving in” add some planks to that bridge or is it pouring some gasoline on it? Just a thought. Otherwise, very enjoyable article. Thanks!

    1. Jeff,gotta do something to get their attention 🙂

      1. I hear ya. As good Calvinists, however, they haven’t experienced a second work of the Spirit where their sin nature is taken away so they’ll probably get a bit angry. 🙂

        1. We can work on that … Jamie Smith is a pentecotsal Reformed 🙂

  3. Thanks, David, for this post. Other than the usual suspects who’ve they seemed to have deemed “easy targets”, it seems that the GC folks don’t know what to do with those who are theologically sophisticated and articulate.

  4. Can’t answer your question Dave but just have to say I”m grateful for Scot – his scholarship and his character, his dedication and clarity. So many books being written, and Scots are some of the best.

  5. I don’t think that this book has gotten enough attention, David, just like yours didn’t. They pick their battles and look for easy targets, I think. Rob Bell was an easy target. NT Wright was proclaiming the New Perspective for years before they took him on. So, posts like this are needed to raise the awareness of the “Gospel of the Kingdom” as being the only Gospel that Jesus ever preached and how that challenges our truncated views of what the gospel is.
    Scot is well known amongst the blogging world and pastor/theologian types, but people in my church do not know him. They knew Rob Bell because of the Nooma videos. They know Piper, of course. But, this discussion is inside baseball, so to speak. I am willing to bet that most of the neo-reformed are not really aware of what McKnight is saying here.

  6. [email protected] says:

    McKnight clearly has a vocation of holding together the best of evangelism, which brought many of us to faith, with a larger view of historic chrisitanity. And possibly, he’s a bit of a popularizer of Wright.
    To get a full of view of why the neo-reformed are so focused on individual faith, and why classical and medieval Christianity saw something larger- see “A Secular Age” by Charles Taylor and his source, Ivan Illich. Albeit, you have to read between the lines. Good theology is an art after all.

    Reformed types crafted an individual focus contra late medieval clericalism. That’s why they
    still ring true with many today- it works in a rational, immanized world. But as some of us
    are longing for a more orbed, fuller faith, early
    medieval Christians are the source. That’s why
    Pentecostalism is more and more
    resonant. It touches on earlier experiences of a
    God bathed world. Neo-reformed faith tries to
    hold to gospel faith while giving groud to rational,
    Secular categories. But without the Catholic Taylor, most don’t see it.

  7. David –
    The critique of a thin ecclesiology from McKnight is a good place to see where Scot will go in the rolling out implications.

    I really believe the lack of Evangelical responses to TEoE is really an affirmation of the critique you lay out.

    Watching the whole Joe Pa event unfurl at State College held an interesting narrative. Chris Fowler, of ESPN, was interviewed by phone last night and he considers the Board to have made a business decision rather than a moral decision. If so, I would contend they should be replaced.

    If some Evangelicals come out to critique the vision you cast for the current state of affairs in Evangelicalism, it would be akin to an admission of the need for their own resignation.

    Or, maybe it is just too hard to believe Zizek could have anything to do with Colorado Springs, Nashville, or any other large Evangelical group’s headquarters.

    1. Todd, I think the End of Evangelicalism? was a challenging read for most. It’s pitched to the academic level. As much as efforts like your won helped get it out there (thanks alot BTW again!!), it can’t cross that hurdle. I’m currently working on details to bring a much more popularly written version out …

  8. After more thought on this…I think at least some in the Gospel Coalition (i.e. Tim Keller) should have blurbed “King Jesus Gospel”. I wrote a brief reflection on how Keller and McKnight agree: http://www.matttebbe.com/?p=89

  9. Great summary of the core issues. Appreciate the post!

  10. [email protected] says:
  11. [email protected] says:

    I am one who usually reads what you would call “Neo-Reformed” blogs, and I happened upon this website today. I find a lot of posts unfortunate in their misunderstanding of the people in this movement (if it can be called one). There seems to be a “team” mentality as I go around this site. I can’t help but think that the “rally around what you’re against” mentality is actually creeping into some of the emergent and neo-Anabaptist leaders as well.
    Please be more careful in your critiques! If you read authors like Keller, Carson, Vos, etc. who are more Reformed, youll see that there is a large-scale vision of the “kingdom,” in which justification is only a part. They haven’t caved in; they were on your team the whole time!

  12. [email protected] says:

    I agree with Brett. The ‘team’ sentiment seems to be quite prevalent. If one reads God is the Gospel by John Piper or if you attend any of the GC conferences, they present a strong theo-Centered and Christo-centric aspect to the gospel.. in not neglecting His Kingship as Lord over all Creation. Piper would even say how this news is good because we can enjoy and savor this truth.
    The GC just wants to emphasize the ‘good’ part in the news. It’s good when as individuals we put out faith in these truths as applied to us.

    I’m just a lay person who has read John Piper books, but it does seem like we’re splitting hairs.

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