Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

The problem that Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel is intended to address is that the way evangelical Christians preach the gospel doesn’t often lead to lives characterized by discipleship. Evangelical evangelism has been geared toward getting people to make decisions (“accepting Jesus into your heart”), but “we lose at least 50 percent of those who make decisions” (20, italics in original). People become “saved,” but they don’t become disciples of Jesus. Clearly, the evangelical understanding of gospel and evangelism is not leading to changed lives as often as it should.

After calling attention to this problem, McKnight asks, “What is the gospel?” He turns to the New Testament–Paul, Jesus, and Peter–and concludes that the gospel “is declaring the story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus” (79). He argues that Christianity left behind the emphasis on story in favor of an emphasis on salvation during the Reformation; the story-formed Creeds were de-emphasized in favor of confessions (McKnight mentions in particular the Augsburg Confession and the Genevan Confession). He takes pains to point out that the Reformers can’t be blamed for the “salvation culture” that we’ve ended up with. However, the seeds of a salvation culture were planted during the Reformation’s shift from an emphasis on story (of which salvation is a part) to an emphasis on salvation (without the rest of the gospel).

McKnight closes the book with five things that are necessary to regaining a gospel culture:

1. We have to become people of the Story (153).
2. We need to immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus (153).
3. We need to see how the apostles’ writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation (155).
4. We need to counter the stories that bracket and reframe our story (157).
5. We need to embrace this story so that we are saved and can be transformed by the gospel story (158).

I would recommend this book, but not on its own. It needs other books to flesh out the full picture. It does a good job of arguing that evangelical understandings of the gospel have led to a salvation culture rather than a gospel culture, but doesn’t go into detail about what a gospel culture looks like when it is lived out (McKnight himself has written a book on that subject called One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow). Also, and this is not really a fault of the book, but I am concerned that as a result of McKnight’s argument there may be people who get an impression that the gospel is “either/or”: that is, it is either the story of Jesus fulfilling the story of Israel, or it is salvation. In reality, salvation is part of the gospel. McKnight makes that point (88), and I think it is very important that we do not lose sight of it.