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how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

Scot McKnight, Gospel Coalition, and how many "gospels" do we really need?

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.

Comments

This is immensely helpful. I’ve much to ruminate on here before providing substantive comments. Meanwhile, special thanks for a fair summary and for your pressing thoughts. 

Andrew,

Thanks for these reflections.  I definitely agree with Scot against the neo-reformed folks, but wonder with you if he hasn’t narrowed down the gospel as well. 

two questions:

1) how does the more apocalyptic view of Jesus work into the gospel (i.e. the arrival that changes everything, that fundamentally alters the world, and is more politically aware)?  It didn’t really see that above in your plural gospel.  What about the apocalyptic in-breaking of the Kingdom in the proclamation and person of Jesus hinted at in passages like Luke 4.

2) also, does the plural gospels approach offered here explain why there are a plurality of christologies in the NT?

thanks.

Geoff,

Two (brief) answers:

1. The apocalyptic view of Jesus is in the proclamation that the kingdom is at hand and in the expectation that Israel’s God will judge the Greek-Roman world. I think “kingdom” refers to transformative religious-political events on the horizon of the New Testament—the catastrophe of AD 70, the renewal of God’s people, and the victory of Jesus’ followers over Rome, roughly speaking. I think that the idea of the kingdom “in-breaking” in the proclamation and purpose of Jesus is overstated or misconstrued. I would rather say that the coming transformation is anticipated or prefigured in the healings and exorcisms.

2. At first glance, no, I don’t think so—or at least, I think that the sequence I suggest implies a coherent story about Jesus as the one who is made Lord, saviour, king, judge, etc. But the question depends really on how we distinguish between different christologies in the New Testament. John’s Gospel stands out somewhat, but I would argue that even taking John into account the apocalyptic-christological narrative remains pretty constant. Obviously, though, it is drawn upon and developed in different ways depending on the rhetorical context.

Hi there,

I think I agree with you Andrew, this may help to shed some light on why this is such a big issue to many today.

It is hard for us today to understand 1st Century culture regarding the relationship between the group and Individual.  Malina in his book the new testament world: insights from cultural anthropology, points out that:

In our culture, we tend to consider a person’s psychological makeup, his or her personality development from infancy on, as well as well as his or her individuality and uniqueness (personal reasons) as pehaps the most important elements in understanding and explaining human behaviour, both our own and that of others.  Yet if you carefully read the New Testament writings or any other writing from the same period , you will find an almost total absence of such information.

(p61)

He contrasts this with the collective orientation of 1st Century mediterantian culture. 

Persons always considered themselves in terms of group(s) in which they experienced themselves as inextricably embedded.

(p62)

Therefore 1st Century people would explain human behaviour in terms of what we would call group stereotypes.  e.g.

““Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”

Titus 1:12,

or,

“The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 

John 4:9

This seems to point to the fact that our understanding of ‘personal salvation’ as tied to a modern concept of a psychologically idenpendant being would be anachronistic.  That is not to say that individuals where not saved but that it was the relationship to the group which defined them.  e.g.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Acts 16:31

This hits hard at our modern western obsession with individuality, independance, and significance, which compels us to look for personal significance in a text and culture which ascribes significance as corporate.  But just maybe a study of Jesus story in this culture will critique our culture and we can find the humility to truly ‘love another as ourselves’.

Hope this helps the discussion.

Neil

 

I think it’s time to realize that the word EUANGGELION does not necessarily mean ‘Good News.’ Especially if we mean that it is perceived as good news by all hearers. Rev.14:7ff would not have been good news to many who heard that proclamation of the ‘gospel.’

‘Gospel’ means ‘God’s authoritative message.’ Sure, it’s the BEST news, and it is GOOD, but I don’t think that’s the necessary denotation of the word.

Pete

Peter, I agree that the “gospel”, when interpreted contextually, is not good news for everyone, but that does not mean that euangelion means something other than “good news” or “good tidings”. I’ve commented on the Revelation 14 passage here.