18 April 2012

king jesus gospel 2

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

[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.]

One of the issues that arises when talking about the gospel and church is defining the terms.  There seems to be a wide chasm between the biblical understanding of gospel and how most churches use the term. For most evangelicals (and this gets back to the evangelical-soterian discussion) the mention of gospel is singularly focused on Jesus's death and resurrection, and how you too can be saved.  This perhaps lends some insight into how it became evangelistic to hand out New Testaments (with Psalms and Proverbs, of course).  Perhaps this is convenience and simplicity at work, or perhaps it is practice following belief - the other stuff is nice to know for Sunday school, but it has not bearing on the true gospel of Jesus.

The problem which McK identifies is that we have made gospel synonymous with Plan of Salvation, and are therefore missing out on the fuller context of the narrative.  He states, "The Story of Jesus, though, is first and foremost a resolution of Israel's Story and because the Jesus Story completes Israel's Story, it saves" (37).  Once this situation is identified as being tied to the lacking discipleship emphasis in our churches, it becomes clear that our foundational understanding of gospel is not only incorrect, it is damaging the work of the church.  Essentially, "we are also asking the Plan of Salvation to do something it was never intended to do.  The Plan of Salvation, to put this crudely, isn't discipleship or justice or obedience.  The Plan of Salvation leads to one thing and to one thing only: salvation" (40).

Nevertheless, the evangelical culture has continued to push on the plan of salvation as though it were the climax of Christian belief and experience.  And to the extent that they are the high point of the faith, everything else following conversion is, by definition, a downhill and anticlimactic journey.  On this point I am reminded of Caird's words on Revelation, "the end is not an event, but a person."  Similarly, the gospel is not an event - it is a narrative, a story, a person.

With all of the good work that Gideon's International does, and I do believe there is a lot of merit in their ministry, one glaring question that keeps returning to my mind about their approach concerns the split between gospel narrative and plan of salvation.  One of the hallmarks of the Gideons is that they place Bibles - hotel rooms and schools/colleges are their most well-known handouts.  This is well and good, but after many years of doing this, and many testimonials about how someone's life was transformed by a 'chance encounter' with a Bible, turned open to the Gospel of John, there seems to be an embedded belief that this book is quite magical in its ability to transform lives by its proximity to a lost soul.  Hence, in the drive to get the Bible to as many people as possible (again, not all bad) there is a black hole of how to make kingdom-people and Jesus-disciples once they have accepted salvation.  And I've yet to hear this issue discussed on any level from that camp.

Another issue which McK brings out is that gospel is often synonymous with Method of Persuasion.  That is to say, evangelism is simply the crafty technique which will make followers of Jesus in one step-by-step conversation.  (Well, that's how I describe it.)  The gospel is 'packaged' in such a way to get people to respond to it.  Again, more emphasis on what we do as disciples and not as much emphasis on the overarching narrative of salvation.

What has happened here?  "The Plan of Salvation and the Method of Persuasion have been given so much weight they are crushing and have crushed the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus.  This has massive implications for the gospel itself" (43).  The building metaphor is good here - instead of constructing upon the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus, the overbearing weight of what we are doing might be in some way based upon the gospel narrative, but in such a way that it disproportionate to the foundation itself.

It is imperative to reset the meaning of gospel and get back on the right track.

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