The King Jesus Gospel

Scot McKnight’s latest book, The King Jesus Gospel, has already been sufficiently reviewed and debated in print and online.  Of interest to many (and consternation to some) is the definition at the center of the book: “The gospel, I am arguing, is declaring the Story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus.”  The theological assumptions and practical implications in this short description are vast and it’s not hard to understand the book’s interest, especially among those of us who place the gospel at the center of our faith.

Rather than add to the already-plentiful reviews, I’ll reflect as a pastor as to why the ideas in this book matter significantly to the people in our churches.  To reiterate, Scot understands the gospel as they way Jesus completes the story of Israel.  Within this understanding lies the conviction that Jesus must be seen as the one who fulfilled the vocation of priest and king given first to Adam and Eve and then to the nation of Israel.  It is the atoning death, burial, and victorious resurrection of the Messiah that completes this story and, by virtue of his fulfillment, offers eternal salvation to all who believe.  Gospel, then, includes salvation but is larger than salvation.

A third of the way into the book, after explaining what the gospel is, Scot identifies two pitfalls when we mistake salvation with gospel.  First: “When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off the story that identifies us and tells our future.”  This is an identity issue and it’s rampant within evangelically-oriented churches.  Without seeing the overarching gospel narrative contained in the Bible it is almost impossible to understand the community into which we’ve been saved.  This is a community with a long history, a bright future and deep convictions that sustain us in the present.

Tied to this identity confusion is a second pitfall: turning the gospel “into a story about me and my own personal salvation.”  Removing salvation from the Scripture’s gospel narrative results in a system rather than a story.  Conceived within evangelicalism this system has to do primarily – and sometimes only – with individual salvation.  Not only do people enter their faith without a robust identity, they have also been told that this faith is mostly about them.  It’s a system that fits well with American individualism and poorly within the New Testament’s expectations for Christians.

Both of these pitfalls – identity confusion and individualistic salvation – are issues faced by many frustrated Christians and no ministry or church program will adequately address them.  The gospel described by Scot does more than address these issues; it goes to the heart of the matter and offers a vision of genuine transformation.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


It’s unlikely that you are the intended reader of Scot McKnight’s latest book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.  Who is the book for?  While he never says it, the presence of the hundreds of undergraduate students- Christian and not- he has taught over the years lurk in every chapter.  Scot’s care for these students and their questions, concerns, and complaints about Christianity seem to me the driving force behind the content and passion in these pages.

Scot describes One.Life as an overview of “how Jesus understand the Christian life,” one meant to connect with young people who care little for Christianity but who remain intrigued by Jesus.  The chapters are divided by topics and attributes that slowly bring into focus a definition of a life devoted to Jesus.  The strength of this book is how discipleship is never isolated from Jesus.  Scot doesn’t shy away from the way Christians believe challenging things- the reality of hell for example- or live in difficult ways- money and sex are seen in counter-cultural ways.  But unlike some books that attempt to portray the radical edge of Christianity, Scot ties all of these beliefs and practices to the reality of Jesus who makes such a life possible and reasonable.

Reading this book I was glad that Scot included his own story of growing up within a distinct branch of Christianity.  His was a tribe that prioritized individual conversion and separatist piety.  Certainly there will be plenty of readers, young and old, who will identify with this experience.  For those of us without that same strong memory there are a few moments in the book that could feel reactionary.  But One.Life is a gracious book and regardless of our backgrounds the wide expanse of Christianity as portrayed by the author invites further exploration.

So if this book wasn’t written primarily for you, then why read it?  First, you will hear questions being asked by a younger generation from someone who spends much of his time on the receiving end of those questions.  Second, like the author you may have been handed a vision of Christianity that is too small or that contains far too little of Jesus.  Third, Scot’s conviction that Jesus actually changes lives is a reminder we cannot hear enough of.

One last reason, for what it’s worth:  a story from the book made it into my sermon a couple of weeks ago as a poignant example of the way Jesus subverts our religious instincts.  For that reason alone I’m glad to have read this book and happy to recommend it to you.

I was sent a copy of this book by the author to review.

the blue parakeet

Zondervan was kind enough to send a copy of Scot McKnight’s latest book, The Blue Parakeet, a couple of weeks ago.  Brandon O’Brien has a thoughtful and fairly comprehensive two-part review over at Out of Ur (part one and part two).  Rather than duplicate Brandon’s review, I’d like to reflect on the usefulness of this book.

The Blue Parakeet is Scot’s appeal to think carefully about how Christians read, interpret, and apply the Bible.  He begins by sketching how many folks approach the Bible by using different shortcuts: treating the Bible like a collection of laws to be obeyed, taking the blessings and promises of Scripture out of their contexts, using the Bible as a Rorschach test to project personal opinions, piecing together diverse portions of the Bible to create a unified map, and reading all of the Scriptures through one maestro like Paul or Jesus.  All of these shortcuts distract from the way we should be reading the Bible: as a story.  To be more accurate, Scot understand the Bible to be a collection of wiki-stories that tell God’s story in a particular way for a particular day.  He discovered that this way of reading the Bible,

justified Paul and gave new life to John to take Jesus’ kingdom story and make it their own story of the Story.  I’ve come to see these stories of the Story to be like the seventh day of creation- very, very good.  No single story, not even Jesus’ story, can tell the whole Story.  We need them all.

Do you have an intentional way of reading and interpreting the Bible?  Where did your understanding of how to read the Bible come from?

The rest of The Blue Parakeet is basically Scot unpacking the implications of this way of reading, and it is why this book is so useful.  While the author is a university professor with plenty of academic books under his belt, this book is written more like his very popular blog, Jesus Creed.  At times this can be distracting, as when certain ideas seem incomplete or implications left unwritten.  But most of the time this accessible and conversation style works well and draws the reader into the world of biblical interpretation.  This style of writing combined with Scot’s expertise is precisely why this book is so useful.

In The Blue Parakeet I now have a book that I would recommend to almost any Christian interested in moving beyond the easy shortcuts of Bible reading.  As a pastor I find there are two scenarios that repeatedly surface that make me nervous about how we interpret the Bible.  The first is the person who believes all they need to understand the Bible is the Bible.  This person eschews study aides, historical perspective, theological conversations, and the perspective of those outside his or her tradition.  The other is the person whose biblical interpretation is formed by the buffet of christian television and radio.  For whatever reason, when someone hears an expert say something on the radio it has instant credibility.  It’s always difficult to know how to respond to these scenarios outside of a long conversation.  In the future, for those interested in a more nuanced (and, in my opinion, God-centered) way to read the Bible in our way in our day, I will recommend this book.

Scot ends the book with a case study about women serving in church ministry.  He shows how reading the Bible as a story leads him to believe that women should serve in any area of ministry as they are gifted by the Holy Spirit, a position I agree with.  I’m not convinced this section is entirely helpful for the case Scot makes because in looking at this issue he employs some theological tools not covered in the rest of the book.  Nevertheless, this section allows the reader to watch theology happening in real time rather than only seeing the finished result.

This is a book for any Bible reader, one that will both encourage and challenge the role of Scripture in our day.