There is an interesting critique of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel on the Gospel Coalition site, by Luke Stamps, called “What God Has Joined Together: The Story and Salvation Gospel”. It’s worth reading, not least because it’s a good example of a friendly and constructive response from the more traditional evangelical-Reformed side of the argument.
The central issue is whether the category “gospel” includes the “plan of salvation”. Scot’s argument essentially is that the New Testament “gospel” is a proclamation about the lordship of Jesus at the culmination of Israel’s story. Personal salvation is what happens when people hear that proclamation and respond to it in faith, repenting of their sin and accepting the lordship of Jesus over their lives. Stamps argues that while the emphasis on the narrative framework is a ‘helpful corrective to some popular “de-storied” presentations of the gospel’, the dichotomy that Scott insists on between Israel’s story and the offer of personal salvation “doesn’t appear to do justice to the ways in which Israel’s expectations of the kingdom are transformed by Christ and his apostles”.
Scot has responded to the critique in the comments, mainly to the effect that he does not question the importance of personal salvation, merely how it relates to what we call “gospel”.
My point is simple and clear throughout: it’s about how to frame the gospel. One method, which I call “soterian,” is personal salvation with no Story of the Bible (which is not the same as the Story of Redemption), and the other is “Story” that entails salvation. Maybe you don’t like that I see salvation as the impact and purpose and not the Story itself, but I see the fundamental gospel to be a declaration about Jesus as King. He is Messiah. Not just Savior.
I have some rather more detailed comments to make about Stamps’ attempt to reintroduce personal salvation into the gospel story and a general question about how the word “gospel” works in the New Testament.
1. Stamps attempts to demonstrate from Matthew that “personal trust in Jesus and his gospel” rather than ethnicity “becomes the line of demarcation for the people of God”. As far as the Gospels are concerned, this pushes the argument too far. Clearly the disciples were called to a radical personal trust in Jesus, but that in itself does not mean that we have stepped beyond the parameters of Israel’s story. The disciples trust Jesus personally because they believe that he has called them as a community to be the kernel of a renewed Israel, under a new king. They do not simply trust him as their personal saviour. They trust him as Israel’s saviour. Or to put it slightly differently, their personal trust in Jesus does not make Jesus a personal saviour or make the gospel a personal gospel. It is a political-religious gospel with personal implications for individual Jews.
2. Stamps suggests that the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 is evidence that Jesus “extends this message of mercy outside the boundaries of Israel”. Technically, yes. But the significance of the story should not he overstated. She remains a “dog”, not one of the “children”. She is not herself “saved” in any sense—rather her daughter is healed. She is not called to follow Jesus. And there is no suggestion that Jesus or the disciples now change their policy regarding the preaching of the good news to Israel. Arguably, the woman is simply the exception which proves the rule.
3. Stamps argues that the completion of Israel’s story depends on people personally trusting in Jesus. But those who personally respond to and trust in Jesus are Jews—those whom he calls to continue his dangerous mission to Israel. Gentiles do not personally respond to and trust in Jesus. They respond to and trust in Israel’s God in the name of the risen Jesus. That’s a very different matter.
4. So I think that Scot is basically right to maintain that the gospel is not itself the offer of personal salvation but the announcement that God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord; and I disagree with Stamps’ conclusion that “the gospel is more than a message of personal salvation, but biblically it cannot be less”. But having said that, I would question what appears to be an underlying assumption in these debates—that there can be only one gospel. The argument goes from the singular gospel of personal salvation to the singular gospel of Jesus’ lordship to the singular, but slightly more complex, gospel of people placing their trust personally in Jesus’ story as the one who completes Israel’s story.
But I would argue that in the New Testament “gospel” or “good news” is narratively contextualized. It was good news that the kingdom was about to come. It was good news that Jesus died for the sins of Israel. It was good news that God raised him from the dead. It was good news that participation in the covenant community was extended to Gentiles. It was good news that God was about to “judge” the pagan world in righteousness. And so on. None of these directly equates to the “plan of salvation” gospel. That does not prevent us from saying today that it is good news—regardless of how the term is used in the New Testament—that people can be reconciled to the creator through Jesus. But that is only an outcome of the story of how God judged, saved, and transformed his people that is told in the New Testament.