14 May 2012

king jesus gospel 7

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.]

If we are to accept the overall argument(s) set forth by McK about what it means to proclaim gospel, then it is necessary, therefore, to evaluate our evangelism and discover what he refers to as "Gospeling Today."  Overall, that is the aim of the final two chapters of the book - though, Chapter Ten is broader to creating a gospel culture which reflects a more biblical understanding.

I agree with McK that there seems to be a lack of boldness due to a lack of connection with the Spirit, coupled with a near absence of resurrection theology in much of what is considered gospel in modern Western Christianity.  Again, he suggest four parts to what gospeling actually is: 1) framed by Israel's story; 2) centers on the lordship of Jesus; 3) summoning people to respond; and 4) an emphasis on the gospel as saving and redeeming (132-133).  Within this, the bulk of Chapter Nine is centered around six comparisons between the biblical evidence (which he has developed in the earlier parts of the book) and our own evangelical church culture.  We'll consider them briefly in turn.

Comparison One: What Gospeling Seeks to Accomplish
McK contends that one of the primary differences between the early church and our experience of church is in declaration.  Time and again the notion that the apostles proclaimed truth rather than seek persuasion or seeker-techniques seems to rise to the surface.  As he stated early on in the book, there is a difference between our culture which focuses on a personal decision and the culture of the early church which focused on personal discipleship . . . "the gospeling of the apostles in the book of Acts is a bold declaration that leads to a summons while much of evangelism today is crafty persuasion" (134, emphasis in original).

This is quite important, for I firmly believe that a decision-focused approach places the individual at the center of the salvation story.  If this is the case, as so often is has been the case, then there is a lackluster appeal to the gospel, for we have stripped it of its greater presence and purpose.  It must be a story about that which God has done over and above anything we have to offer.

Comparison Two: What Frames Gospeling
Here is something that is more challenging than is perhaps immediately visible.  McK contends that the gospel is driven by the story of Israel more than any salvation story or atonement theory.  (I suspect many longtime churchgoers will have a strong contention when it comes to letting go of their own finely crafted theological positions in order to accept gospel as it is.  And this isn't to say that there is anything wrong with such theories, but neither are they the center of the gospel.)  The gospel makes most sense in the story of Israel, and that is where McK places it (134-135), a point repeatedly emphasized throughout the book as a whole.

Comparison Three: Gospeling, Wrath, and Judgment
This particular point is quite interesting to negotiate, since McK is quite right to point out that, "Neither Peter nor Paul focuses on God's wrath when they evangelize in Acts, nor do they describe the saving Story of Jesus as an escape from hell" (135, emphasis in original).  However, this is balanced somewhat with, "You can't avoid judgment in gospeling" (Ibid.).  Overall, the eschatological realities of God's judgment are a necessary part of the biblical story, but should not be pushed to the point where our evangelization is focused on get-out-of-hell approaches (also known as 'fire insurance').

Comparison Four: The Problem Gospeling Resolves
You have seen the bumper stickers, t-shirts and other sentiments: "Jesus is the answer."  And you've no doubt heard the facetious response, "Great!  What's the question?"  Although this is a silly give-and-take, it does highlight a central problem to the church's message and mission - namely, we've lost sight of the problem and therefore have an inadequate answer.  McK states, "Remember that the fundamental solution in the gospel is that Jesus is Messiah and Lord; this means there was a fundamental need for a ruler, a king, and a lord" (137).  In other words, the proclamation of the early church must have been made in such a way that it made a difference to its original audience.

Again, the gospel is framed by the story of Israel, which is consumed with kingship and rule.  It is about covenant and redemption and creation.  "The question over and over in the Bible is: 'Who is the rightful Lord of this cosmic temple?'" (141).  Frankly, the assertion that Jesus is Lord doesn't mean much to our current culture because we have framed the dialogue in a personal-decision-for-personal-salvation context rather than the grand narrative of God's story in Creation.  The gospel hasn't lost its power or its voice, but we have lost our ability to tell it all.

Comparison Five: Gospel and Empire
"The issue here is how conscious, overt, and intentional this anti-imperial theme is to the gospeling of the first Christians" (142, emphasis in original).  Indeed, there has been much debate over the last number of years on this precise point.  The evidence clearly demonstrates that the early church had some sharp teeth in its message of Jesus' lordship over and above that of Caesar's.  But how much?  Rather than get bogged down in the debate - and McK summarizes it nicely here - it would be good for us to approach this issue sensibly, which often means taking a tempered approach to understanding what actually was happening.  History doesn't typically exist with extreme and simple categories, it is just as muddied and complex as our world today.  With that in mind, "To proclaim the gospel entails that Caesar - in whatever guise such an autocrat presents himself - is not.  But to claim the gospel was intentionally subversive stretches the evidence" (144).

Comparison Six: Talk about Jesus
The most important point of gospeling is in this - ". . . the apostles evangelized by telling the Story of Jesus" (144).  Seems so simple, yet is strangely absent from much of modern evangelicalism.  Yet again, modern approaches focus on the individualistic - namely, the sinner's heart.  We seem more interested in telling heart-warming stories that reflect biblical themes, which somehow begin to take the place of the story of Jesus.  However, there can be no substitute for the story of Jesus.  Result?  Epic fail.

One of the other interesting points included here is the question, "Did Jesus preach the gospel?" (145).  The fact that this is taken seriously is evidence (I agree with McK) that we are not taking the notion of gospel seriously.  Our misunderstanding and misreading of gospel is quite evident here.  "We need to talk more about Jesus and know that telling others about Jesus is half the battle when it comes to fear of evangelism" (145).

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