“King Jesus Gospel”


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.)

From here.

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.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Whether Paul really differs from Jesus, or whether soterians have simply got Paul complete wrong because they don’t read him in the mindset of his time, is a question addressed by my old seminary professor of New Testament at San Francisco seminary and the GTU, Dr Herman Waetjen, in his new book. The title says it: The Letter to the Romans–Salvation as Justice and the Deconstruction of Law. A synopsis here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Letter-Romans-Salvation-Deconstruction/dp/1907534229/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1331415928&sr=8-7

  2. Craig Sweeney says

    In Jesus’ death and resurrection we are set free from the slavery of the fear of death. This teaches us that we can trust God to care for us and that frees us to care for each other.

  3. Lisa Fry says

    Interestingly, the rector and I here at St. Mark’s were talking about this very thing: how people in leadership here, and people in the pews find it difficult to articulate what the “good news” IS.

    People can articulate all kinds of other parts of their faith, but that one question seems to stump them.

  4. Timothy Watt says

    The Gospel is the story of how Jesus was the Christ, the anointed fulfillment of the messianic promise through Israel, and of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It is through this fulfillment that all other nations (peoples) have been blessed in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.

    This is actually a really hard exercise and I am not thinking these two sentences adequate for fullness… But maybe a start?

    • I like this. It appeals to a desire I have for structure, for acceptance of the Biblical covenant. My own belief is that this covenant is what gives us the foundation–in knowing the love of God through Jesus Christ–to open ourselves and our faith to all comers (and all deniers, sceptics and even vilifiers), secure in the knowledge that the search for truth far from leading us astray as so many fear, will always lead us back to God. Our Biblical story–our Biblical faith, undergirding the experiential–gives us the place to stand firm as well as the place from which we may confidently launch out to bring the Good News.

  5. It is hard – especially if you try not to use “insider language” (though that may be impossible). I’m still not satisfied with my own efforts. My version a few years ago was written while I was in the middle of reading a whole series of Girard’s works, so it’s probably too Girardian for me to think useful right now.

  6. Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.

    Not original, of course – and 3 sentences! I’m working on it, too, but this is where it all happens, for me; it all has to do with the Incarnation, and with human life, in all its joys and sorrows, being redeemed and made holy….

  7. DAVID A MORSE says

    Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged.

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