The King Jesus Gospel | Notes & Review

Scot McKnight. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Zondervan, 2011. (184 pages)


The Christian faith is kaleidoscopic, and most of us are color-blind. (11)

We ought to welcome it if a musician plays new parts of the harmony to the tune we thought we knew. (11)

“the gospel” is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world. (12)

I want the full, biblical gospel. – John Stott

But we all urgently need to allow this deeply biblical vision of “the gospel” to challenge the less-than-completely-biblical visions we have cherished for too long, around which we have built a good deal of church life and practice. (13)


At the root of the many problems that trouble the “church visible” today, there is one simple source: the message that is preached. (15)

Only a life of intelligent discipleship cold bring [the personal and social transformation that is so clearly anticipated in the biblical writers] to pass. Without that we have massive nominal, non-disciple “Christianity.” This leads one to ask, “What was the message that shocked the ancient world into its response to Christ and his apostles?” … Can we identify it and teach and live it today? | The answer to this question is “Yes!” We can today teach what Jesus taught int he manner he taught it, and that is certainly what he commissioned his disciples to do down through the ages. (15)


Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. …the gospel of Jesus wants more from us than a singular decision to get our sins wiped away so we can be safe and secure until heaven comes. (18)

At the most conservative of estimates, we lose at least 50 percent of those who make decisions. … One more point: focusing youth events, retreats, and programs on persuading people to make a decision disarms the gospel, distorts numbers, and diminishes the significance of discipleship. (20)

[VIA: So, as I was reading this introduction, I was struck with a (few) question(s), that is (are) a bit provocative, and perhaps a bit naive. If we’re losing 50% of those who make decisions, a) how could that or any rubric be the motivation for change (ought change necessarily come from awareness that we’ve fallen short in our theology?) and b) what evidence do we have and we can point to that true “King Jesus Gospel” conversions or disciples fairs any better than 50%?]


What is the gospel?

I believe the gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about “personal salvation,” and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making “decisions.” (26)


The gospel doesn’t work for spectators; you have to participate for it to work its powers. (28)

Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. …In this book I will be contending firmly that we evangelicals (as a whole) are not really “evangelical” in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians. Here’s why I say we are more soterian than evangelical: we evangelicals (mistakenly) equate the word gospel with the word salvation. Hence, we are really “salvationists.” (29)

My plea is that we go back to the New Testament to discover all over again what the Jesus gospel is and that by embracing it we become true evangelicals. My prayer for this book is that it will revive a generation of evangelicals to become true evangelicals instead of just soterians. (29)

A salvation culture does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision. In this book we want to show that the gospel of Jesus and that of the apostles, both of which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be “in” to be The Discipled. In other words, it swallowed up a salvation culture into a gospel culture. (33)


To set the stage for defining the gospel we need to distinguish four big categories, and the themes of this book flow from these four categories:

  • The Story of Israel/the Bible,
  • The Story of Jesus,
  • The Plan of Salvation,
  • The Method of Persuasion.


What Adam was to do in the Garden — that is, to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf — is the mission God gives to Israel. Like Adam, Israel failed, and so did its kings. (35)

…the idea of King and a kingdom are connected to the original creation. …Finally, the Story has an aim: the consummation, when God will set it all straight as God establishes his kingdom on earth. (36)


…the fundamental problem the writer had in asking what Jesus as Messiah had to do with the gospel is that his understanding of the “gospel” is that it is a solution to an individual, existential, private sin-problem but not (at the same time) the resolution of a story-problem, namely, Israel’s Story in search of a Messiah-solution. (37)


…this Plan of Salvation is not the gospel. The Plan of Salvation emerges from the Story of Israel/Bible and from the Story of Jesus, but the plan and the gospel are not the same big idea. (39)


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 best place to begin is the one place in the entire New Testament where someone actually comes close to defining the word gospel. First Corinthians 15 is that place. (46)


that Christ died,
that Christ was buried,
that Christ was raised,
and that Christ appeared.

…the word gospel was used in the world of Jews at the time of the apostles to announce something, to declare something as good news — the word euangelion always means good news. “To gospel” is to herald, to proclaim, and to declare something about something. To put this together: the gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God. (50)

What this means is that the gospel is a whole-life-of-Jesus story, not just a reduction of the life to Good Friday. In my judgment, soterians have a Good-Friday-only gospel. (55)

I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say “the gospel.” I just don’t think it is what Paul means. – Tom Wright


We must now sum up this chapter: the gospel for the apostle Paul is the salvation-unleashing Story of Jesus, Messiah-Lord-Son, that brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. To “gospel” is to declare this story, and it is a story that saves people from their sins. That story is the only framing story if we want to be apostolic in how we present the gospel … This story begins at creation and finally only completes itself in the consummation when God is all in all. (61)

This leads to a warning, and it is one that animates much of this book: the Plan of Salvation can be preached apart from the story, and it has been done for five hundred years and two thousand years. When the plan gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation. | There’s more. We are tempted to turn the story of what God is doing in this world through Israel and Jesus Christ into a story about me and my own personal salvation. In other words, the plan has a way of cutting the story from a story about God and God’s Messiah and God’s people into a story about God and one person — me — and in this the story shifts from Christ and community to individualism. (62)


1 Corinthians 15 is the genesis of the great Christian creeds. (64)

…denial of the creeds is tantamount to denying the gospel itself because what the creeds seek to do is bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel. (65)

All I want to contend for is that the first four centuries were shaped by a gospel culture that derived directly and profoundly from the apostolic gospel tradition. (70)

The singular contribution of the Reformation, in all three direction — Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist — was that the gravity of the gospel was shifted toward human response and personal responsibility and the development of the gospel as speaking into that responsibility. (71)

“Gospels of Sin Management” presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind … [and] they foster “vampire Christians,” who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven. – Dallas Willard


…the four Gospels embody what the apostles remembered and taught about Jesus. (90)


“Did Jesus preach himself as the completion of Israel’s Story in such a way that he was the saving story himself?” (92)

The point I want to make now is fivefold, and it is the heart of the answer to our question whether Jesus himself preached the gospel:

Jesus went to the Bible to define who he was and what his mission was.
Jesus believed he was completing scriptural passages.
Jesus predicted and embraced his death and resurrection.
Jesus therefore preached the gospel because he preached himself.
Jesus preached the gospel because he saw himself completing Israel’s Story.

CONCLUSION | Did Jesus preach the gospel? Yes, he preached the gospel because the gospel is the saving Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and Jesus clearly set himself at the center of God’s saving plan for Israel. (111)


CONCLUSION | This is the fourth leg for our chair: the apostolic gospel tradition, the gospel in the four Gospels, the gospel of Jesus, and now the gospeling sermons in the book of Acts. (131)


Anyone who can preach the gospel and not make Jesus’ exalted lordship the focal point simply isn’t preaching the apostolic gospel. (134)

Just what the “problem” is that the apostles see resolved in the gospel is worthy of serious reconsideration when one studies the gospeling events of Acts. One can infer from the promises — forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the times of refreshing — that the problems were sins and the  absence of God’s power and the need of new creation. (136)

What happens if we begin to rethink the “problem” in light of the fundamental solution? (137)

The so-called fall of Genesis 3 is not just an act of sinning against God’s command, a moral lapse, but a betrayal of our fundamental kingly and priestly roles. …The issue is not just that we were sinners; we were usurpers in the garden. (138)

The question over and over in the Bible is: “Who is the rightful Lord of this cosmic temple?” (141)

When we reduce the gospel to only personal salvation, as soterians are tempted to do, we tear the fabric out of the Story of the Bible and we cease even needing the Bible. I don’t know of any other way to put it. (142)

Nero did not throw Christians to the lions because they confessed that “Jesus is Lord of my heart.” It was rather because they confessed that “Jesus is Lord of all,” meaning that Jesus was Lord even over the realm Caesar claimed as his domain of absolute authority.” – Michael Bird


the gospel is Jesus’ and the apostles’ interpretation of the story of life. (148)

— VIA —

In short, I concur with McKnight’s evaluation of soterians as distinct from disciples who truly live and preach the “gospel” of Jesus. I concur with the theme of “story” that is so central to his thesis as I agree it is central to the Biblical narrative. And in many of the quotes above, I have new language and expressions that I have now added to my vocabulary, of which I’m very appreciative.

However, I have perceived some problems, a few logical inconsistencies, and some general perplexities with McKnight’s writing that I think are important to wrestle with. I’ll note a few.

First, while McKnight lays out a good description of a Biblical gospel he does so at the disdain of the “traditional” gospel of personal salvation. Yet, at the same time, he recognizes that same “personal salvation” as a part of the whole storied gospel. However, at one point he calls our current definition of that personal salvation gospel “wrong,” and a “pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles.” (24) And yet again, quotes N.T. Wright who is perfectly comfortable with the personal salvation definition of gospel (though doesn’t think it means what the Bible says it means). This inconsistency is difficult to read and makes me wonder what McKnight really believes, or how he proposes that all of these definitions and meanings actually work together.

I propose we accept McKnight’s definitions of the “King Jesus Gospel” as distinct from the “soterian” gospel, but to do so without disdaining the meanings that are pervasive in our culture (like Wright’s position). I have personally wrestled with this and have held firmly (paradoxically) to the mystery of God’s work through all of the detrimental definitions, meanings, and cultural understandings of God’s work in the world through “the gospel.”

Second, McKnight makes a plea to the Creeds which seems to me completely antithetical to the storied approach of King Jesus Gospel that he proposes. He is right to suggest that 1 Corinthians 15 is the foundation for those creeds, and I would concur that they (the creeds) preserve an understanding of the gospel as a declaration of Jesus’ resurrection. But to start there, and to even say that the best place to begin is First Corinthians 15 (46) and the following Creeds just does not compute. For at the same time that the creeds solidified a creedal, confessional, theological construct of Jesus, they at the same time strip the gospel of the Story of Israel. This, to me, is simply perplexing how this argument follows.

Lastly, McKnight’s suggestion that “the Gospels” are not “The Gospel” but the “Gospels” actually preach “The Gospel” is a bit, to me, peculiar and odd.

There are a few others perplexities that are minor throughout the book that a reader may simply want to ignore. Regardless, I do believe that McKnight’s contribution, when taken at its heart, will help to challenge modern perceptions of “the gospel,” and prayerfully move the conversation forward, by moving it back.

About VIA


  1. Pingback: Radical | Notes & Review « VIA

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  3. Pingback: A Critique of N. T. Wright’s Perspective on Paul | EFM

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  5. Someone that just wants to help

    In this summary, chapter 6 (the gospel of revivalism) was missed so all the chapter names after that are not accurate with the numbers.

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