I’ve worked my way through the first three chapters of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, and I am both challenged and impressed. This is the “wrecking ball” that Rob Bell thought he was writing in Love Wins. Scot is deconstructing the nature of the gospel within evangelicalism, and calling us to a more faithful, more biblical reading of the gospel. Because the chapters of the book are so short, and so dense, I’d like to interact with this book on a chapter-by-chapter basis, rather than write a general review after I’ve read it.

Prologue: 1971

Scot begins with the story of his first encounter with personal evangelism–it’s a story that many young evangelicals can resonate with. The extreme discomfort. The awkwardness. The insecure silence. Evangelism is a horrible and terrifying experience for so many because we can’t help but feel as though we’re on a high-pressure sales call, and we’re the ones making the pitch! Evangelism, in evangelicalism, is about bringing people to the point of decision. This, Scot argues, represents a break from historical Christianity. “Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.” (18)

There are dire consequences for our decision-oriented evangelism. “Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and…aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at discipleship slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles.” (18) We are “distorting spiritual formation” through our decision-aimed evangelism because we are diminishing the importance of discipleship. Scot has strong words for us: “There is a minimal difference in correlation between evangelical children and teenagers who make a decision for Christ and who later become genuine disciples, and Roman Catholics who are baptized as infants and who as adults become faithful and devout Catholic disciples.” (20) In other words, we’re no better than the Catholic Church at making true and faithful disciples, and much of the blame for our failure can be laid at the feet of our perception of the Gospel and our aims in evangelism.

Chapter 1: The Big Question

The big question facing evangelicalism is this: What is the gospel? Scot claims that we are in a fog regarding the gospel, and I think he’s right. For most evangelicals, the gospel is vague. We can’t define it concretely, much less biblically. To demonstrate this, Scot offers three exhibits.

Exhibit A is from an emailer who asked the question, “What is good news about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the descendant of David?” Exhibit B is John Piper’s assumption that justification is the gospel. Exhibit C is a pastor who shared Piper’s view and flatly asserted that Jesus did not preach the gospel because “no one could understand the gospel until after the cross and the resurrection and Pentecost.” (26) Scot concludes “the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about ‘personal salvation,’ and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making ‘decisions.'” (26)

I think he’s absolutely right about this, and I think the view that justification is the gospel is very prevalent due, in large part, to the popularity of the neo-reformed preaching of John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, David Platt, and others. What is more, pastors like Steven Furtick have taken the gospel as “personal salvation mediated through a decision” to its logical extreme, with more than 10,000 “salvations” in the short life of his church. And now we get to the key distinction Scot is making in his book.

Chapter 2: Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture?

Have you ever considered that there might be a difference between the two?

Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. Behind the word gospel is the Greek word euangelion and evangel, from which words we get evangelicalism and evangelism. Now to our second word. Behind salvation is the Greek word soteria. I want now to make a stinging accusation. In this book I will be contending firmly that we evangelicals (as a whole) are not really “evangelical” in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians. Here’s why I say we are more soterian than evangelical: we evangelicals (mistakenly) equate the word gospel with the word salvation. …When we evangelicals see the word gospel, our instinct is to think (personal) “salvation.” We are wired this way. But these two words don’t mean the same thing. (29)

We have replaced the gospel with personal salvation. Maybe it’s because we’re so pragmatic, but all that seems to matter to us evangelicals is where one spends eternity. Salvation is our number one priority, and the only way to be certain of one’s salvation is if one has made a personal decision to accept Jesus. “When did you get saved?”

But a salvation culture is not a gospel culture. Think about it. Do you need to be a disciple in order to be saved? How do you answer that question? How might Jesus answer it? The fundamental problem of the salvation culture is that it doesn’t require discipleship, and so discipleship doesn’t happen. And this is why so many people live nominally Christian existences, blindly ignorant of the Scriptures and the primary tenets of their faith, and ultimately trusting, not in Jesus, but in the decision they made at Christian Summer Camp between 6th and 7th grade–a decision from which they have failed to progress or build upon in the decades following. But “the gospel of Jesus…which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be ‘in’ to be The Discipled.” (33)

Chapter 3: From Story to Salvation

Before he can define the term gospel, Scot lays out four important categories for understanding the gospel: 1) The Story of Israel / the Bible; 2) The Story of Jesus; 3) Plan of Salvation; 4) Method of Persuasion. To fully understand the gospel, he argues, we must begin with the Story of Israel, which finds it’s natural fulfillment in the Story of Jesus, from which we derive the Plan of Salvation. Then, understanding our own context well enough, we create Methods of Persuasion. This is the proper orientation of a gospel culture.

However, in our salvation culture, we have flipped the order. The first question we ask is: “How can we get people saved?”

Our Method of Persuasion is shaped by a salvation culture and is designed from first to last to get people to make a decision so they can come safely inside the boundary lines of The Decided. (43)

So we begin with the Method of Persuasion (4 Spiritual Laws, Alpha, Evangelism Explosion), incorporate the Plan of Salvation, and take bits from the Story of Jesus–mostly about his atoning death. The Story of Israel gets lopped off completely. In fact, I would be willing to bet that most evangelicals don’t think you need the Old Testament to share the gospel. “One reason why so many Christians today don’t know the Old Testament is because their ‘gospel’ doesn’t even need it!” (44)

Now for the most important point of the book thus far. The Plan of Salvation is, essentially, this: God created humans to be perfect, but we rebelled against him and brought sin and death into the world. We are separated from him, forever. But because he loves us so much, he sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins, as the ultimate atoning sacrifice. Now we can be saved if we believe in Jesus! This is all true, wonderful, and great in every way. But it is not the gospel.

Here’s the point: The Plan of Salvation is not the Gospel, and by mistaking the former for the latter we have created a salvation culture that misses the deep truths of the gospel, emphasizes decision over discipleship, and, as a result, fails to make true disciples of Jesus. Upon closer examination, we see that the situation is dire. We must get back to the biblical gospel. But what is that? And where do we find it?

More to come…

If you started the M’Cheyne reading program on January 1, and then had a baby which set you back about two weeks, today you would have had a scheduled reading that included Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever present help in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break her day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

YHWH Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what YHWH has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

YHWH Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

God is bigger than your problems. God is stronger than your enemy. God is mightier than the nations. God is wiser than the schemers. With him, you have nothing to fear. With him, you need never be afraid because, in him, your fate is secure. Though your world waste away, your God will never fade, tire, or leave. YHWH Almighty is with you. Run to him, for he is the only sure refuge! Hide in him, for he is the only true strength!

My devotional reading brought me to 1 Thessalonians 5 today. Here is what struck me:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Is this even possible? Aren’t there times when rejoicing or giving thanks would be inappropriate, like in the wake of a natural disaster? Is it reasonable to command people to be in constant prayer? What would that even look like?

I don’t know if any of these are possible, but I think there’s a deeper principle at work here, and it’s this: Your character can exceed your circumstances. Don’t let the circumstances of your life bring you down to the pit, or shut your mouth from prayer, or make you embittered and ungrateful. No matter what comes your way, the way you respond is entirely up to you. Rejoicing, prayer, and thankfulness are always a conscious choice. You don’t just fall into those responses by accident; you do them on purpose.

It is God’s will for you that your character be determined by the power of Christ in you rather than on your instinctive reactions to the various circumstances of your life. You might say that your natural response to your circumstances is what is true, and to force yourself to respond another way is hypocritical. Not so. If you follow Jesus, what is truest about you is Christ in you. Jesus Christ is what is most true of you. Not your sin. Not your past. Not your temper. Not your attitude. Not your instinctive reactions to your circumstances. Through faith in Christ, you are no longer a “natural” person, but a “becoming-supernatural” person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The old is gone, crucified with Jesus, and the new is here, resurrected with Jesus. You are new, through faith in Christ.


It is God’s will for you that your character be determined by the power of Christ in you rather than on your instinctive reactions to the various circumstances of your life.
You have power, in the Spirit, to rise above your “natural” reactions and instincts. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying you can change overnight. But you can learn to walk in the Spirit–and to rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give thanks no matter what–the same way you learned to walk as a toddler. By falling down a lot, and getting back up.

I’m a pastor, and I’m still learning to walk. It’s hard. Sometimes I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, which really just means I’m choosing to be a frustrated, mean-spirited, downcast jerk like I am today. I don’t always remember these things, but that doesn’t make them any less true. My character can exceed my circumstances, but only as I lean into the power of Christ within me through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The same goes for you. And be encouraged, because you’ll learn to walk someday.

Make no mistake about it; I am a huge nerd. I got a small book order in the mail yesterday, and I am so excited to dive into these books! Check them out:

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight is one of the books I’ve been waiting to get my hands on for a while. Though it did come out this year, I wasn’t able to pick up a copy right away. But now that I have it, I’m very much looking forward to reading it. McKnight is, for me, a breath of fresh air. So much of contemporary evangelicalism has been bifurcating between the emergent church (Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Chris Seay, and you could throw Rob Bell in there as well) and the neo-reformed movement (Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, David Platt, with John Piper playing the role of the Godfather). I don’t identify with either of those groups–the former because they seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and the latter because they’ve made the tub so small the baby doesn’t fit in it anymore. While I don’t agree with all of McKnight’s views either (for example, I’m not a pacifist), I find that he is a reasonable voice of Arminian centrism within American evangelicalism, and perhaps the only one. All of the popular-level, American evangelical pastor-theologians seem to be coming from a Calvinist perspective. I’m beginning to feel like an evangelical without a place in American evangelicalism, and I’m curious to see what will happen to believers who, like me, reject reformed soteriology. Will there be an evangelicalism for us? This is why I’m so excited to read The King Jesus Gospel.

Ember’s next preaching series will be through the book of Titus. Because I somehow managed to make it through seminary with barely a commentary to my name (thank you, Gordon-Conwell library!), I try to purchase the best commentary for each book and rely on the work of that scholar. Towner’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles comes highly recommended from several sources, and is a part of an important commentary series, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, which is edited by the brilliant Gordon Fee.

When I get a commentary, I try to find one that’s been written recently. This is not because I’m a cultural snob (though I probably am), but because the newer commentaries, at least the good ones, will deal with the most important, relevant, and best material from the older commentaries. Biblical studies is a field that has developed and changed over time, and methods of interpretation have evolved since the Bible was first written. A good commentator will give you the best thoughts of those who have written before him, as well as adding the best of his own research and thinking.

I am a huge, huge fan of N.T. Wright. His books, particularly The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, The Challenge of Jesus, and What Saint Paul Really Said (as well as his more popular level works like Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, and After You Believe) have dramatically changed the way I think about and live out my faith. For so long I had been hoping that he would put out a translation of the Bible, and here it is! I’m so looking forward to adding The Kingdom New Testament to my devotional reading, as well as to my study, particularly for the upcoming Titus series at Ember. I’ve had a chance to briefly scan through his translation, as well as read the introduction, and I think it’s going to be very good. I’m particularly interested in reading his translation of Romans, because he once quipped that if you’ve only read Romans in the NIV, then you’ve never really read Romans. I have been reading the new NIV this year in my reading plan, but that’s already taken me all the way through the New Testament, so I’m going to substitute The Kingdom New Testament on the second go around.

And then there’s this last book, Simply Jesus. It’s also by N.T. Wright, and I don’t know anything about it. I had no idea he was writing about Jesus again; but I suppose this could also just be an updated version of The Challenge of Jesus. Whatever it is, I’m very excited to dive into it, as I’m sure that anything Wright writes on Jesus won’t disappoint.

I don’t know what kind of a value you place on reading, but I can honestly tell you that I would not be where I am, who I am, or doing what I’m doing right now if it weren’t for the books I have read in the past decade. Reading is my primary form of learning. I take in information, process it internally or here on the blog, and then it slowly integrates its way into my life, forming me and shaping me. I believe this process is taking place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it is a part of what he is doing in and through me to conform me into the image of the Son of God. Not only that, but as the pastor of a church, I take it as my responsibility to engage with serious thinking regarding Scripture, Theology, and Doctrine on behalf of the congregation, and then to translate that information in such a way that it works into their hearts as it has worked into mine. That is part of what I try to do in my preaching, and also, in a freer way, here at the blog.

Before I can get to these books, I have to finish King’s Cross by Tim Keller, which is also an excellent read. I hope to get back into the habit of doing book reviews here. Lord knows I’ve got plenty of good material to work with!

A couple of days ago I blogged about Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1 that was, for me, quite timely. Yesterday my devotional reading took me to Colossians 2, which is amazing, but about which I didn’t have time to blog because I was doing home school with my son and passing out door hangers for our Trunk or Treat this Sunday. (By the way, if you live in central Ohio, you should definitely come to our Trunk or Treat. There will be candy, and the candy will be free. Do you need another reason?)

So today I came to Colossians 3, which is also thoroughly amazing. (You know what, maybe you should go read the whole book of Colossians. It’s really great.) Here is a portion of what struck me today:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

What are you wearing today? I’m wearing my favorite Ohio State zip-up; but am I wearing compassion? Are you wearing kindness and humility in such a way that people notice the quality of your character the same way they notice the clothes on your body? When they see you coming, do they see a red shirt and blue jeans, or do they see a person who is gentle and patient?

I’m not trying to guilt you; I’m trying to change your perspective about the person you could possibly be. You really could be a person whose compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (all held together by agape love) is as evident to others as the clothes you wear. You really can possess these qualities of character because this is exactly what God is trying to do in your heart. He is remaking you–reclothing you. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and by faith in Jesus Christ, God is slowly but surely remaking your character so that you possess these qualities.

Your responsibility is to put on the clothes. Sure, it may not feel natural at first. Yes, you may feel like a hypocrite in the beginning. But the only way to live into this new character God is forming in you is to actually try it. You’ve got to give it some effort. (Remember, you’re saved by grace, but you’re changed by active cooperation with God.) Because compassion et. al. don’t come naturally to us, we have to choose to live that way. So put on your new clothes; they look much better on you than what you were wearing before.