Thursday, September 22, 2011

Have We Missed the "Gospel"?

In his latest book titled The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, Scot McKnight says we have. He says that "we've got the gospel wrong, or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles" (24). The gospel that McKnight thinks we, as evangelicals, have wrong is the gospel of justification by faith. McKnight does not want to deny justification by faith, but he does not think it is the gospel. "The Calvinist crowd in the USA...has defined the gospel in the short formula 'justification by faith'" (25). And it is this gospel of justification by faith that McKnight sets up as his foil.

What does McKnight offer in the place of this "wrong headed gospel"? To answer this question he starts with Paul’s summary statement of the life of Jesus found in 1 Corinthians 15 and then moves to the the Creeds of the Church and then he ends with a return to Jesus in the Gospels and Acts. In essence, his view is that the the death and resurrection of Jesus are the consummation of the story of Israel and that this is the gospel. He argues that "the book of Acts reveals that gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story. It was driven by the Story of Israel, and in fact makes most sense in that story” (134, emphasis original). He goes on to state 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 original).

What are we to think of McKnight's proposal? First, it is true that the death and resurrection of Jesus are central to the gospel. Without these divine acts there is no gospel. However, what makes this message "good news"? In other words, why is the death and resurrection of Jesus good news to anyone? What is it about the death and resurrection of a Jewish Rabbi that is good news for anyone? The answer is found in what Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished, that is, in salvation. The very thing that McKnight wants to distance the gospel from. It is true that some might have over emphasized the salvation aspect of the gospel (as a few of the stories McKnight tells in the book pp. 25-26), but the solution to this over emphasis is not to remove salvation from the gospel.

Second, as McKnight himself points out, the preaching of the gospel in Acts does have aspects of judgment. For example, Acts 17:29-31 speaks of the fact that God will one day judge the world. It is the fact that Jesus removes us (or saves us) from this judgment that makes the whole gospel good news. Also, in Acts 24:25 Paul reasoned about the coming judgment. Further, Romans contains a few examples of wrath and judgment that are linked with the gospel. For instance, in Romans Paul begins his discussion by stating that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18). This declaration of God's wrath follows right after Paul introduces the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). Thus, it seems that for Paul, the wrath of God is the (or at least a) starting place for the gospel. Also, In Romans 2:16 Paul links the gospel with God's judgment when he writes "...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus."

So what is the gospel? I think McKnight has part of it right, it is the fact that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to die a sinner's death and that he rose from the dead to prove his claims true and usher in the new creation. But this by itself is not good news, unless it is for me. That is why the full gospel is that Jesus did all of this for sinners. So sinners would not have to face the wrath and judgment of God. Jesus did all he did in the place of sinners; he died for sinners; he lived a perfect life for sinners; he rose again for sinners. And by faith alone all Jesus did is counted as all I did. This is the good news of the gospel. And this is what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15. He writes, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins." That gospel is not just what Jesus did, it is that, but it is also what Jesus did for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!