Micahel Horton has published a lengthy review of Scot McKnights new book, The King Jesus Gospel. Although heartily praising the books many strengths, Horton offers an important critique of McKnights tendency to lay modern caricatures of the Gospel at the feet of the Reformers and their theological descendants.
Here’s a snippet:
From Bavinck to Berkhof, Reformed theologians have lamented the excesses of a pietism and revivalism that threaten to reduce the gospel to a personal decision or crisis experience. So how exactly does the Reformation get saddled once again with a tragic narrowing of the gospel to the “four spiritual laws” with the goal of making mere deciders (converts) who know Jesus as Savior rather than disciples who embrace him as Lord? McKnight acknowledges that there were some flaws in the pre-Reformation “Gospel Culture” (Constantine, the crusades, etc.). He also acknowledges that the Reformers wouldn’t agree with everything that “salvation culture” implies. Yet, much like N. T. Wright, he seems to think that he if we would just go “back to the Bible to find the original gospel” as he has, we’d get it right (24). The history of exegesis is reduced to the categories of “gospel culture” and “salvation culture.” Also as in Professor Wright’s work, The King Jesus Gospel offers sweeping assertions about the Reformation without serious engagement. I can’t imagine that he has explored the commentaries of the Reformers or the history of Reformed biblical theology in any depth. No harm done for having different interests, but one shouldn’t then pile with one more straw-man portrait.
Later he writes,
I worry about forcing a choice between the gospel as the Story of Jesus and the Plan of Salvation (if the latter means justification and new birth, for example). The one is still too broad to specify the saving announcement and the latter is too narrow—indeed, somewhat distorting (understood the way McKnight describes it, as akin to the Four Spiritual Laws). McKnight does a great job with 1 Corinthians 15, but there Paul clearly includes the benefits of Christ’s saving work (forgiveness, justification, resurrection) with Christ’s Story as the gospel. In fact, our story (how he saves us) is bound up with his story in that passage. If 1 Corinthians 15 is a summary of the gospel (and I agree that it is), then wouldn’t it be arbitrary to say that the details about Christ’s death and resurrection are the gospel while the benefits for us, as important as they are, are not the gospel? There are just too many passages, here and elsewhere, that make Christ’s work (living, dying and rising again in history) and its effects for us inseparable aspects of the gospel. “He was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). The dramatic story of Christ and the doctrine that interprets its significance for us are inseparable aspects of the same gospel.