the Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight A Book Review
With forewords written by N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard, this promises to be a discussion of the gospel from the cutting edge. With all the talk today of emerging this and missional that, it is refreshing to take another look at the gospel. After all, we need to remember what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:1-2 “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”NIV So we take our stand on this gospel and it is by firmly holding to it that we are saved. So Scot McKnight asks, what is this gospel? What is its content and context? Did Jesus preach it? Is what we preach today as the gospel really THE gospel?
Today the gospel most commonly heard in Scot McKnight’s circles is about “getting our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven when we die” (pg. 27). This, Scot claims, is a broken gospel, a bit left over out of the real thing and as such it is only a part of the truth. This gospel is so misconstrued that, by endless repetition, it has produced a Christian culture that is actually destroying the Church. That which was for our salvation has now become a message that does not produce disciples, but only members who, at one time or another, have made a decision. The gospel in the scriptures was a message that, when believed, produced a people so transformed that they would follow Jesus even if it killed them – which often it did. But the gospel that is often preached today produces a people little differentiated from the society within which they are found. What went wrong? And, can it be fixed?
These are the questions Scot McKnight hopes to answer in this book. Scot’s plan is to find someplace in the New Testament that defines the gospel and go from there. This passage is 1st Corinthians 15 which becomes the starting point for Scot’s look into the gospel. From this chapter Scot traces the gospel through history, not only from good Friday to resurrection Sunday, but from the beginning in the garden of Eden, through the patriarchs and Israel resolving the unfulfilled promises of scripture, and landing ultimately in the end with the new heaven and new earth. It is this whole context that Scot sees as vital to the gospel. It becomes a complete story surrounding and making the import clear of the death, burial, resurrection, and subsequent appearances of Jesus. To preach the gospel is to proclaim this story. The gospel is not just the plan of salvation but the story of the King who is our savior. It is by believing in the King that we are saved. And not only believing in, I might add, but by believing the King.
All throughout this book Scot warns that what went wrong was that we have allowed the ‘plan of salvation’ to obscure this gospel. We have allowed “the story of what God is doing in the world through Israel and Jesus Christ into a story about me and my own personal salvation”. (italics original) Thus “the story shifts from Christ and community to individualism. We need the latter without cutting off the former.” (pg. 62) This then becomes the problem Scot is getting at, and here he quotes Dallas Willard, “What must be emphasized in all of this is the difference between trusting Christ, the real person Jesus, with all that that naturally involves, versus trusting some arrangement for sin-remission set up through him – trusting only in his role as guilt remover.”(pg.75)
The next several chapters document how the gospel is the gospel. How the four gospels are really four different versions of the one gospel. And how Jesus preached that He was Lord, how the apostles preached that Jesus was Lord, and how all of scripture says that Jesus is Lord. Agreeing with Michael Bird, Scot quotes, “Nero did not throw Christians to the lions because they confessed that ‘Jesus is the Lord of my heart.’ It was rather because they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord of all,’ meaning that Jesus was Lord even over the realm Caesar claimed as his domain of absolute authority.”(pg.144)
Scot McKnight hopes that if we, as a whole church, can reclaim this understanding of the gospel and preach it we can once again produce true disciples to Jesus. Scot thinks that this is revolutionary, and so does Tom Wright. It will be if it is believed.
Yet all the way through this book I kept thinking to myself, who is he talking to? Who does Scot imagine his audience to be? I have never been in a church since my rebirth that taught the gospel like Scot sees the modern church preaching. My first thought when Scot asked the question “What is the gospel?” (pg.23), was that Jesus is Lord. I remember many times talking with Christians when I first met Jesus and believed that Jesus was both Savior and Lord and that you can’t have one without the other. I thought then that it was self-evident. I still do today.
Yet it seems that my circle is the overwhelming minority. I see what Scot is alluding to and why he is sounding the alarm. Jesus is Lord. We need to boldly proclaim this. Yet even here I can see the difference between Scot and myself. Upon seeing that this gospel is not proclaimed boldly, Scot questions that maybe we should pray like the early church prayed as in Acts 4:31 NIV “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” He then writes “Or perhaps it is the almost complete absence of resurrection theology in much of the gospeling today that explains our lack of boldness. At any rate, we need to recover more of that early, emboldened Christian resurrection gospel.” (pg.132) I find it instructive that Scot overlooks the obvious; we need to be filled with the Spirit to be bold. Herein lies the key to passion. Here is the source of powerful preaching. Paul wrote in 1 Cor 2:4-5NIV that his “ message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”
In McKnight’s discussion of the gospel, this concept was completely overlooked. Even though part of his issue with present practice is that because of the weakness of the crippled gospel that is now preached, pressure tactics are used to notch conversions. Here would have been a perfect spot to show that the gospel when preached not only is the message that Jesus is Lord, but it also the demonstration that Jesus is Lord by what the preacher lives and does. The gospel message is reality and is to be experienced. It is not just a concept of reality. May the cutting edge cut more sharply O Lord. Only He can fix it.