Archive for January 12th, 2011

PhotobucketOne of my friends on Facebook posted a link to a great article by Scot McKnight on Christianity Today earlier today. McKnight does a good job of talking about the perceived differences between the way the Kingdom of God is presented in the Gospels and the way Paul presents the Gospel. In his opinion, the way evangelicals think of this supposed divide is changing:

But something has happened in the past two decades: a subtle but unmistakable shift among many evangelicals from a Pauline-centered theology to a Jesus-shaped kingdom vision. Sources for this shift surely include George Eldon Ladd’s The Presence of the Future, the rugged and unrelenting justice voice of Jim Wallis, perhaps most notably in his Call to Conversion, and a growing social conscience among evangelicals.

So does this new found appreciation of the Kingdom mean that evangelicals are abandoning Paul? Well, perhaps some may feel drawn to do so, but, according to McKnight, this is a bit of a false dilemma. Is it really necessary to set Jesus and Paul against each other? No. First, how does Paul actually define the Gospel? McKnight reminds us:

As we can see, here Paul is about to define gospel, and in fact, this is the only text in the New Testament that does so. What he says next is crucial:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

A number of observations are in order.

First, this is the gospel handed on to Paul (v. 3), which suggests it was the gospel the earliest apostles preached.

Second, the gospel saves people from their sins (v. 2-3).

Third, the essence of the gospel is the story of Jesus (vv. 3-8) as the completion of Israel’s story (v. 3). Both the word Christ (Messiah) and the phrase “according to the Scriptures” are central to how the apostles understood the word gospel.

Fourth, there’s not a word here about either kingdom or justification! Sure, you can probe “for our sins” until both themes bubble up to the surface, but we should at least let Paul be Paul when it comes to defining the gospel.

So, the idea that the Gospel is just about personal justification is an idea that is superimposed on the definition that Paul actually gives. Yes, salvation from our sins is part and parcel to the message, but the Gospel is primarily about Jesus – who He is, what He did, and how He fits into the whole narrative of Scripture. Jesus did what Israel could not do by remaining faithful to the covenant, and by dying and rising victorious over death and the Enemy, He brings salvation to the world.

In conclusion, McKnight says:

My contention, then, is simple: If we begin with kingdom, we have to twist Paul into shape to fit a kingdom vision. If we begin with justification, we have to twist Jesus into shape to fit justification. But if we begin with gospel, and if we understand gospel as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, then we will find what unifies Jesus and Paul—that both witness to Jesus as the center of God’s story. The gospel is the core of the Bible, and the gospel is the story of Jesus. Every time we talk about Jesus, we are gospeling. Telling others about Jesus leads to both the kingdom and justification—but only if we begin with Jesus.

Overall, I find McKnight’s conclusion very convincing and helpful. The is basically the same thing as N.T. Wright has been saying for a long time now, and it seems like others are seeing the usefulness of his approach. McKnight doesn’t get into the technical definition of the terms in this short essay, but there are plenty of other places to do that. His point that the Gospel is the story of Jesus is very good one. It’s something we all need reminded of.


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“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.  And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels.  And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.  “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

I read this this morning. It was beautiful to me. I wonder how it is to you? What do you think God is saying here through the prophet?

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