16 April 2012

king Jesus gospel 1

Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

A question which has recently emerged concerns the very foundation of the church . . . and it is being raised from within the body of believers: "What is the gospel?"  This is the starting point which McK takes in his latest book.  My plan here is to take a series of posts to interact and respond to the book's content, rather than offering a more traditional review.  I will be jumping over things and not taking the time to cover all of of the points.  Suffice to say that I highly recommend this book and would review it as excellent.

Every once in a great while there is a book that, if taken seriously by the church, will be a game-changer.  I believe this is one of those books.

McK contends early on: "Our biggest problem is that we have an entire culture shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel.  That so-called gospel is deconstructing the church" (27).  The fuller meaning of this statement is unpacked in a few chapters, both from an academic point of view and through perspectives of college students and pastors, demonstrating the widespread impact of our lack of understanding.

One of the early claims is that evangelicals are not really "evangelical" but are more "soteriological" - that we might be more accurately called "salvationists" (29).  Although there are strengths to the evangelical movement, the salvation culture that has been created in and around the church has devalued the narrative of faith, the story of Jesus and the journey toward genuine discipleship.  In other words, our methods of evangelization have been focused too shortly; they "emphasize entrance into the church" (31).  But then what?

To this end McK is right in his assessment of the average evangelical congregation.  One point that he will make throughout the book is that salvation is found in the larger narrative of faith - Israel's story fulfilled in the story of Jesus - but that most evangelical Christians cannot explain it, nor do they understand or accept it themselves.  Anecdotally, think of the many times you - or someone you know, if that makes you feel better - have willingly ignored the Old Testament for believing that it was too difficult to understand, lacked any genuine relevance for us today, or was simply replaced by the New Testament?  Although there is enough lip service decrying such sentiment, it is a very real phenomenon among American evangelicals today.

For years I have wondered about those congregations that pour vast amounts of energy and resources into evangelization and church growth, but have no real plan for what to do once the masses (who aren't really masses) come rushing into our sanctuaries.  And it appears that this pattern has run its course a few too many times that the world is no longer listening to our sales pitch gospel.  Hence, we are right to reexamine what we mean by gospel.

I have sometimes heard how Billy Graham has been one of the contributing factors for becoming a salvation culture over an evangelical one.  But I must contend that his ministry's numerical success is not our problem.  For years his team as unleashed on cities networks of follow-up teams, church pastors and leaders, and congregations and ministries to emphasize the discipleship element so that Christian commitment isn't something that is left on the stadium grounds.  The problem just might be more about the many pastors and leaders who felt that if they did what (they shallowly observed) Billy Graham did, they would have the same result.  We have allowed his one-piece of the gospel to become the whole of the gospel, and thus are now lacking our understanding of it at all.

In 1999 I was serving in a church that had an "outreach campaign" called 200 by 2000.  The average Sunday morning attendance at that time was about 180, and as a means to get over the threshold of 200 this was the reminder and goal.  All in all this is probably harmless, except for the fact that my eager-to-challenge college mind kept wanting to ask, "But then what do we do with the 200?"  The reality was that not only was there no answer, but I was quickly and quietly discouraged from asking such things.  I didn't rock the boat over this one - again, I think it was somewhat harmless anyway - but it did leave a lasting impression of what I thought about church leadership worldviews.

So, this is the problem . . . and it is more prevalent than even McK takes the time to demonstrate, though he does his part well.  The rest of the book is diagnosing and treating this epidemic . . .

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