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.]
Chapter 8 contains a vital piece of information for understanding the early church, early theology, and most importantly here . . . gospel. McK refers to this chapter as "The Gospel of Peter," which might get some apocryphal fans initially interested in the wrong direction - here we are embarking on a discussion of Acts and the early church. I wholeheartedly support this methodology, as most evangelicals do not know - and many biblical scholars act as though they don't know - that the unified narrative of Luke-Acts means that Luke has written more words than any other author of the New Testament. (Also, I must give a shout out for Best Use of the Phrase: "limbs flying akimbo" in a theological work, which occurs on page 113.)
The specific study of Chapter 8 is built upon the seven gospel sermons which are found in Acts (there would be eight sermons if you counted Stephen's speech, but McK excludes it from the primary focus of gospel evangelism). Taken on the same theme, "these seven summaries of sermons in the book of Acts are gospeling sermons" (115). Thus, he identifies two elephants in the room: that these sermons are summaries of gospel and that they were used to spread gospel belief. Once again the main idea comes through here, that these sermons are shaped by the story of Israel (117f.). If we consider these sermons, then we have a powerful picture of what the earliest believers understood as the gospel.
What can be identified by looking closely at these sermons? Quickly, although McK makes reference to Peter's gospeling, there is a necessary discussion of Paul's work (as well there should be), and that ought not be overlooked simply because of chapter's title.
First, the early church did not proclaim a gospel which their audience could not understand. It might have been something that they needed to "work out" in their minds and hearts, but it was given to them in a way that they could grasp. The early church believed that this gospel was now for everyone, and made efforts to connect persons to the grand story - shaped by Israel and fulfilled in Jesus.
Second, the early church proclaimed a gospel which met their audience where they were. This is similar to the first observation, but is more specific in that the contents of gospel (and this is quite fascinating) are actually shaped by the context into which it is preached. Before someone writes this off as relativism, take a look at the seven identifiable gospel sermons in Acts. I will list two observations which I find of particular interest:
Example 1: Acts 17:22-31. McK points to this directly, and it bears repeating here. In his famous speech, it should be noted that "Paul does not speak directly either of Jesus Christ or of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ when he is on the Areopagus" (126). And yet, Luke records that there were some who wanted to hear more on this, and that some even became part of the church because of his reasoning. (Oddly, I have often been told that this was a "failure" on evangelism . . . I don't know when salvation could be considered a failure - because it wasn't a mass conversion?)
Example 2: Acts 10:34-43. Here is Peter's interaction with Cornelius, and actually provides us an insight into the other six gospel sermons in Acts (!). Interestingly, as Ajith Fernando's commentary on Acts points out, "Peter's speech here is the only evangelistic message in Acts were a summary of the ministry of Jesus is given" (335). So, this is revealing of what is (not) happening as a whole in the proclamation of the early church.
Starting where people are means that we must journey along with them long before asking them to journey along with us. But if we are to believe that the story of Jesus, the story of Israel, is God's story which is written upon the universe (and that he has set eternity in the human heart), then we will be willing to join in their journey as the Creator weaves their walk back into his own. Or is there some other reason that Jesus walked with the disciples toward Emmaus?
Third - getting back to the chapter - is the constant call to respond to the gospel. We seem to have this part present in our modern evangelicalism, but - as we have said many times throughout this discussion - not necessarily in the right context of gospel. Peter includes faith, repentance and baptism in his gospeling (128-129) that bring total transformation to the inner commitment of the heart.
McK places this apostolic gospel tradition out as the fourth leg of a chair, which has been too often ignored by the church (at least in our modern evangelicalism). He concludes, "Most importantly, only by telling this apostolic gospel can we rebuild a gospel culture" (131). The final two chapters of this book will move toward that discussion: "Gospeling Today" and "Creating a Gospel Culture." These will prove to be crucial to the topic at hand and where we are to go from here.