When it comes right down to it, I think Wright and McKnight are basically on the same page. Both maintain a kind of righteous discontent with the state of affairs regarding the gospel in today’s Western Christian culture, and for many of the same reasons. Both believe wholeheartedly that today’s Christians simply do not know the story out of which the gospel of Jesus arose. Nor do they know why it matters that they don’t know that story.
There is no question McKnight reveres NT Wright for his scholarship and the view Wright has taken on many issues related to the gospel. Wright, after all, is quoted several times in The King Jesus Gospel. Wright, for his part, could easily say that McKnight has started this conversation down the right path. (One wonders whether McKnight’s book was the motivator for How God Became King.) Nevertheless, probably each would say of the other he goes too far in certain areas, not far enough in others.
Here are a couple areas I could see them disagreeing.
The Creeds Maybe “disagree” is too strong a word here. Certainly the two scholars use the creeds for different purposes in their work. McKnight, for his part, sees the ancient creeds as real standards to be upheld and rehearsed. He sees the heart of the gospel within the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, for example.
Wright would not disagree that the creeds are extremely valuable, that they contain, for those with eyes to see, the heart of the gospel, but he contends that our own Western Christian cultures have conditioned us from seeing the real story of the gospel within the creeds. Wright would never do away with the creeds – far from it – but he does desire to see them imbued with the meaning they originally carried.
Gospel and Empire This is likely where McKnight and Wright would have a serious conversation and potentially real disagreement. In fact, McKnight devotes a whole section of a chapter questioning the intentional presence of a supposed anti-imperialism in either the gospels or Paul. Further, McKnight is clear that this is in response to the world of folks like NT Wright, among others. McKnight’s contention is simply that any anti-imperial message found within the New Testament is basically there unintentionally because to find it, one has to read between the lines.
Wright and others, on the other hand, have argued that confrontation with Caesar must have been carried out between the lines, for necessity’s sake. One cannot openly oppose the systems of the strongest political power in the world and expect to do so for very long. Jesus himself wanted people to shut up about his identity for a season so as not to attract too much undue attention. At any rate, it’s difficult to imagine how the Jewish tradition might have conceived of their Messiah being simultaneously Lord of the whole world and not have him stand in opposition to the dominant empire of the day.
The Plan of Salvation McKnight is well aware that the typical evangelical plan of salvation emerges from the actual gospel. Nevertheless, he recognizes the deep seated problem that we’ve largely forgotten the story from which salvation has come. We’re left with a message that has no roots.
Wright is noticeably silent about the plan of salvation in How God Became King. He’s quite clear that the gospel is a gospel of salvation, but he says little on 21st century evangelistic techniques. Still, Wright has commented rather powerfully on evangelism elsewhere. He writes in Surprised by Hope of an approach to evangelism that is actually quite similar to some of McKnight’s pleas.
The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank account to be, is the foundation of everything else. (227)
I wish Wright had included this paragraph in How God Became King, even if the sentiment is implicit throughout.