According to the New Testament writers, what is the ‘gospel’?

5 03 2012


Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago) . A popular and witty speaker, Scot has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly asked to speak in local churches and educational events throughout the USA and in Denmark and South Africa. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham. Dr. McKnight is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society for New Testament Studies and the author of more than twenty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed.

According to McKnight, contemporary evangelicals have built a “salvation culture,” rather than a “gospel culture” in which the good news is reduced to a message of personal salvation. In the video trailer above, he says that “the so-called gospel at work in many of our churches today is actually deconstructing the Church into a society of the saved instead of constructing a society that follows Jesus to the cross.” McKnight suggests that ramping up our emphasis on God’ wrath on the one hand or his mercy on the other won’t help because “if you tweak a weak gospel, you still have a weak gospel.”

In The King Jesus Gospel, McKnight argues that:

1. The Gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus
2. The Gospel is found in the Four Gospels
3. The Gospel was preached by Jesus
4. The sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of sharing the gospel in the New Testament.

Ben Witherinton dialogues with McKnight about ‘The King Jesus Gospel’

Ben: You talk a lot in this book about the difference between the ‘soterian’ Gospel which is not a full presentation of the Gospel and what you view as the full Evangelical Gospel. Can you explain this distinction and what you are wanting to stress by making it?

Scot: In part that is answered in the first one, but now I can say it differently. The fact is that if you ask most of us what “gospel” means they will give us something to do with salvation, and that will involved God’s love and grace and holiness and Christ’s atoning death and our need to believe. And if you ask people to present the gospel they will order a rhetoric that seeks to compel people to get saved. But the gospel – the Greek word is euangelion and we get the word “evangel” and “evangelical” and “evangelism” from that Greek word – cannot be reduced to salvation in the New Testament. So The King Jesus Gospel seeks to show that salvation is not the same as gospel, that salvation needs to be seen as something that flows from gospel, but that gospel is something bigger and different. The gospel is to declare something about Jesus, from whom our salvation comes.

Ben: I can see that one of the immediate misunderstandings or objections to your book will be—- Are you really saying that the Gospel is not mainly about soteriology or salvation?

Scot: I’m really saying that, but I’m saying that because that is what the New Testament really does teach.

Ben: What precisely is wrong with someone who says ‘Paul preached the Gospel, but Jesus actually didn’t?’

Scot: Nothing I suppose, if what we are talking about doesn’t matter. If we say Jesus didn’t even talk about elders and Paul did, I can’t say that I think it matters that much to have a word from Jesus about elders and their qualifications. And I’m not sure it matters if Jesus talked about spiritual gifts. But we are not talking, when we talk about “gospel,” about something that is of secondary importance. We are talking about top shelf, first order theological truths that we embrace. It is exceedingly hard for me to think Jesus taught and taught and did and did but neither talked about nor did gospel in his day. It is this tension that has animated so much of the struggle in composing a New Testament theology: it is the instinct of Christians to want Jesus – after all, we claim he’s God, he’s the truth, he’s the one on whom we rely and under whom we live et al – to be on the side of Paul or Paul to be on the side of Jesus when it comes to first order theology.

Here’s my instinct: if we think something is cardinally important and we think Jesus never talked about it, I think we want to ask if we have got what’s cardinally important right.

The most exciting thing about the work for this book was the discovery that Paul’s gospel and Jesus’ gospel are not just connected, but virtually identical. Jesus preached Paul’s gospel because Paul preached Jesus’ gospel.

Ben: Another major stress in this book is that the four Gospels in fact contain the Gospel, and that Jesus and Peter and Paul preached basically the same thing— namely King Jesus, and his becoming King on earth as in heaven. This will seem strange to the soterians who thinking the Gospel is justification by grace through faith. Are you simply focusing on the person of Christ rather than on his soteriological benefits?

Scot: Yes, I think – with John Dickson, that fine young evangelical pastor down in Sydney, and Pope Benedict’s exceptional study on gospel – that the Gospels are the gospel. Dickson even says the fullest preaching of the gospel in the NT is the Gospels. I agree.

Here’s a big point, and I’ll move on: these books were not called “gospel” because they did a search in the library on genre questions and decided that “gospel” is a little more accurate than “biography.” No, they called these books “The [one and only] gospel according to Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John.” They were not giving us a genre classification so much as a substance declaration. They were saying these books tell us the gospel. Liturgical churches make this clear every week because they not only stand for the reading from the Gospels, and they sit for everything else, but they call that reading not a “reading from the Gospels” but simply “The Gospel.” That’s exactly right.

Click here to read the rest of this interview.

We have chosen to reframe evangelism through the doctrine of salvation, and then we’ve sorted out the major elements of salvation, re-ordered them into a compelling package and then said, “There, that’s the gospel.” I’m convinced this is not the gospel and I’m not convinced this method of persuasion is nearly as effective as many think.

… we can learn from them that what we need to learn to develop more of a declarative rhetoric than a persuasive rhetoric. Put simply, the apostles announced Jesus was who he was (and they did this in a number of ways) and then summoned people to respond. That’s declarative rhetoric: declare and then summon. Our preferred method is persuasive rhetoric, and what we do is we figure out what is most emotively effective and affective in precipitating decisions and re-arrange all we have to say into that model of persuasive rhetoric. It does produce decisions, but it is neither biblical nor any where near as effective as many think. Decisions are not a good measure. Decisions are not enough. Our method is too much shaped toward decisions.

Part 2 of Witherington and McKnight dialogue.

Scot shows in King Jesus Gospel that the gospel according to the NT is best defined out of 1 Corinthian 15. Here the Gospel is the telling of the whole Jesus Story as the completion of the Story of Israel, the lordship of Christ over the whole world. It is the summoning of people to respond to the completion of the promise to Israel in Jesus Christ as Lord. Through the proclamation of the gospel, we are invited to enter into this grand work of God in history in Christ. Out of all this, we are saved and redeemed (here’s where salvation is part of the gospel but not to be equated with the gospel). Without the Story (of Israel), Scot says, there is no gospel (36). So Scot singularly does one thing in this book, he shows how “individual salvation” is part of the wider gospel. It is not the whole gospel. The salvation we as individuals receive is something we receive as we participate in the wider work of God in the world to bring in His Kingdom in and through Jesus Christ. Even this “personal” salvation is much bigger than “justification by faith” although it certainly includes that!

Click here to continue reading.

Ed Stetzer interviews Scot McKnight about ‘The King Jesus Gospel’

Ed: How do you define the gospel in the book?

Scot: The gospel is to announce that the Story of Jesus, who is Messiah/King, Lord and Savior, fulfills or completes the Story of Israel. It is the good news that God’s promises have now been realized in Jesus Messiah, Lord and Savior.

Ed: In the book you seem to want to emphasize the differences between
what you call a “soterian” gospel and the full evangelical gospel? How
do you define these and why do you believe it’s necessary to
distinguish between them?

Scot: In brief, the soterian (Greek word for salvation) gospel is a message of how to get saved from sins and how to be properly related to God. In brief, the apostolic gospel makes the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus first, and not my personal salvation, and makes personal salvation second. I distinguish the two because our current models of the gospel — and here I ask that we consider what we tell people who we think are not Christians — do not sufficiently pay attention to how the New Testament talks about the gospel. We can find that gospel in 1 Cor 15, the sermons in Acts, and in the Gospels. I constantly ask this question: Do you think the gospel is found in those three points?

In brief, it works like this: the soterian gospel is a message of salvation without the Bible’s Story (Israel fulfilled in Jesus as Messiah and Lord) and the Story gospel I am pleading with us to consider more carefully has both the Story line and the salvation message.

Ed: In your view, how does justification relate to the gospel? Are they separate matters? And is it right or wrong to say that the church
stands or falls on the doctrine of justification?

Scot: Simply put: justification is the “effect” of the gospel. The gospel is about Jesus and Jesus brings salvation, and justification is one way of describing that salvation. God, in Christ, through his death and especially resurrection (Rom 4:25), makes us right with God. I tend to agree with double imputation, but it’s not clearly taught in the New Testament, and never in one text, so I don’t want to make it too central to how I understand justification. Justification is God’s judgment on us in Christ.

… The church stands or falls on one thing and one thing alone: Jesus Christ, him who lived, was crucified and raised and exalted. That is God’s action in Christ is that on which the Church stands or falls. The Church does not stand or fall on an idea or a belief but on a Person. On God, Father, Son and Spirit.

I also contend that a gospel that is first Christology and then soteriology is more biblical and differs from the gospels that are through and through soteriology. I ask this: Does your gospel tell me about Jesus (Messiah, Lord, Savior) or does your gospel tell me how to get saved (and Jesus is the one who does it)? That’s the difference.

The gospel of Jesus and Peter and Paul is a gospel that is first Christology and second soteriology.

Click here to read the rest of this interview.

Frank Viola interviews McKnight

The King Jesus Gospel entails the need to surrender to Christ, to be sure, but the gospel of the New Testament can’t be reduced to the plan for personal salvation, which is what that debate did, and so while I agree with Macarthur that Jesus is Lord is at the heart of the gospel, I don’t agree with how he was then defining the gospel. One more time: the gospel cannot be reduced to the plan of personal salvation; the gospel is the Story about Jesus, the full Story, and then the plan of salvation flows out of that Story.

Scot McKnight: Did Jesus preach the gospel? (part 1)

Scot McKnight: Did Jesus preach the gospel? (part 2)

What is the gospel, and why is it the “good news”? – N.T. Wright

Simply Jesus – N.T. Wright (part 1)

Simply Jesus – N.T. Wright (part 2)

HOW GOD BECAME KING: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N. T. Wright


Click here to buy: ‘The King Jesus Gospel’ on Amazon.