The King Jesus Gospel, like all good sermons, finds its home stretch in the application. The point has been drilled again and again: the original gospel was the story of Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s story, that God was establishing His anointed one in Jesus, setting him on the throne of both Israel and, ultimately, the world through his death, resurrection, and ascension. It’s a saving story, yes, but it’s far bigger than our salvation messages. So as Scot McKnight rounds the corner towards the finish line, he’s keen to ponder how we might present the gospel today in a manner faithful to the original message.
McKnight’s approach is to compare and contrast his findings from scripture with our most common 21st century models of evangelism. His hope is that these comparisons might lead us to reconsider our own approaches and adapt to what’s found in the gospels and Acts and Paul’s letters. There are six comparisons (or contrasts) to be made.
- Goals. “The gospeling of Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as the Savior” (133, emphases original). This is not to say that sin isn’t a real problem for people. It is. It is, instead, to suggest that perhaps we need to place a bit more confidence in the power of the declaration over the power of our skills of persuasion.
- Starting Points. “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, emphases original). Again, it is not that salvation and atonement are unimportant or that they are not a part of the story. They are. But the story is simultaneously broader and more specific. For too long, we have allowed our gospel story to find its roots in dehistoricized propositions. It was, however, always a part of a historical narrative. To do it justice, we ought to return there.
- Judgment. Although the final judgment is often just behind the curtain in much of the New Testament (nearly every page yields allusions to, for example, Daniel 7 and its conclusions), “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). Are we over-characterizing God as vengeful where the New Testament is heavy on His great love and goodness? This ought to give us pause.
- The Problem. McKnight approaches this is reverse. If the solution offered by Jesus in the synoptics was kingdom, then perhaps the core problem had something to do with the absence of God’s kingdom on the earth. If, as John’s gospel tells it, the solution was eternal life, then the problem was something to do with the absence of God’s abundant life. McKnight’s discussion of these issue is actually quite thought provoking, teasing out humanity’s original commission, what their rebellion actually meant, and how Jesus rights those wrongs (hint: it has to do with kingship). When it comes down to it, humanity has tried forever to usurp God’s authority, though they had been commissioned to serve the Creator as representative governors. Only one fulfills that role and thereby establishes a means for all to return to their calling.
- Gospel and Empire. Much has been made in recent years of the New Testament’s stance vis-a-vis imperial forces. McKnight, for his part, is torn. He can see that the gospel may have an implicit subversion against Rome in the first century. His concern, however, is that since it is not explicit, its subversive elements may not be intentional. I can understand McKnight having reservations on this point and I can understand his desire to express them in this book. I’m not sure why it comes here: The original gospel may or may not have been anti-imperial, so our evangelism should or should not subvert other earthly claims to extensive political power. McKnight is unclear.
- Jesus. “The apostles evangelized by telling the Story of Jesus. Our gospel preaching and evangelism tend to tell the story of how to be saved personally” (144). Over and over again, McKnight wants us to hear, just tell Jesus’ story. It is enough.