This Lent I’m leading a book study of Scot McKnight’s latest work “The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited”. We’ve only had one meeting so far (I was on retreat this week) but the conversation in that meeting was fantastic and people committed themselves to reading on in the book in preparation for our next gathering.
McKnight’s point in the book is that ever since the rise of the Englightenment groups of Christians have tended to equate the Gospel with saving people. You’ve probably heard the script. The claim is that the Gospel is about personal salvation and it’s deeply connected to Paul’s writing in some of his letters (not all). McKnight even points out there are serious people asking whether or not Jesus actually knew what the Gospel was during the time of his incarnation… or did that not become revealed until Paul’s writing? (Shudder)
When people who want to base the Gospel on the 4 spiritual laws and little else are asked why there are four Gospels in the New Testament that simply don’t explicitly make this point, they have no answer. Much less can they explain the inclusion of the Hebrew Scriptures. I suppose that’s why, if you listen to Soterians (McKnight’s word for people who focus on personal salvation as the Gospel) preach you note that they tend to focus almost exclusively on St. Paul.
McKnight spends a number of pages developing his point, but the simple version is this; Jesus, the Messiah has come, and all that God has been promising to us has been (or has begun to be) fulfilled. McKnight uses early Christian writers, the early liturgies of the Church and the Creeds to bolster his argument.
Turns out that the early Reformers wouldn’t have had much to argue with. Look at this quote from Luther:
“The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.
(Martin Luther, “A brief instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels,” in Luther’s Works[ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; 55 vols.; Fortress: Philadelphia, 1960] 35.118.)“
Of course Luther got his start in ministry as an Old Testament professor, so it’s no big surprise to read these words.
Earlier this week I spent a couple of days reading diagnostic exams for a group of young seminarians. (I serve as a member of our diocesan Board of Examining Chaplains and on our Commission on Ministry among other diocesan roles.) We had asked a question of the students that was something to the effect of “Can you give us a two sentence summary of the Gospel?”
Most of the answers tended to focus on the role of Jesus as exemplar of what Humanity is capable of achieving. None of the answers were of the form that McKnight would describe as “soterian”. But none of the answers talked about Jesus as Messiah either.
So here’s a question for you to ponder, especially if you’re part of our Cathedral’s reading group; How would you tell someone the Gospel in two sentences?
I posed a question like this before. I’m trying to decide if I’d have the same answer today.
It’s a worthy thing to ponder for Lent.