What is the Gospel? Scot McKnight Interview: “The King Jesus Gospel”

Frank Viola recently interviewed New Testament scholar Scot McKnight on his book The King Jesus Gospel.  I have written recently on 9 aspects of the gospel that go beyond justification or heaven and this interview in a way follows a similar line of thought.

The gospel isn’t a “plan” as much as it is a Person.

Yes, the gospel is a plan. But this plan transcends the common understanding of many Christians. Your personal salvation is not the grand goal of that plan, especially if salvation is merely understood as going to heaven. The plan from God’s point of view is something like this: “How can I impart this Person into millions of chosen yet fallen human beings so that I can be glorified?”

The plan and the Person coincide.

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Romans—The Fifth Gospel

One, two, three, four… five? The Gospel of God in Romans

How many gospels are there?

This depends on a number of things. Primarily, what is the gospel? Who is it for? What does the message of good news include?

Of course traditionally we refer to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the four gospels. But Paul seems to consider his message in the book of Romans as the gospel too, although in another sense.

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God –Rom. 1:1

This is how Paul kicks off this epistle- invoking the gospel of God as the raison d’être of his ministry. Now I know what you’ll say, this is not conclusive evidence to claim that Romans is a so-called fifth gospel (nevermind the spurious or apocryphal gospels). But look closely at verse 15:

So, for my part, I am ready to announce the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

The question is, who is the you here? Verse 7 makes it abundantly clear:

To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, the called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying that he is ready to announce the gospel to already believing Christians in Rome! Paul is saying that even the Christians need the gospel. Not in a New Calvinist kind of way, but the gospel in its entirety with its proper focus.

What is the gospel? Good News

The most basic definition of the gospel is the good news. The traditional four Gospels are packed with good news. That good news however is largely focused on man’s benefit—his salvation, rescue from eternal damnation, and restoration to a proper humanity. This is certainly good news. But this is admittedly shy of God’s eternal purpose.

Thus, Paul in Romans lets us know that there is much more good news. This is ultimately good news to God, because in the working out of this gospel God is the principal beneficiary.

For if we, being enemies, were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more we will be saved in His life, having been reconciled. –Rom. 5:10

The four Gospels all end with “the death of His Son” resulting in our reconciliation to God and with His subsequent resurrection as the receipt or proof our justification (Rom 4:25). They zoom in on the three and a half years of Christ’s life and ministry on earth which culminated in the cross. They are four distinct but harmonious biographies of the God-man Jesus.

But Paul is here to tell us that there is something “much more.” This implies that if you don’t know this gospel, Paul’s gospel, than you know much less than the totality of the good news.

The gospel in Romans concerns God’s purpose (Rom 8:28-29), God’s will (Rom 12:2), and God’s mysterious economy (Rom 16:25, Eph 3:9).

God’s purpose is to produce many glorified sons that Christ might be the Firstborn among many brothers. God’s will is to obtain the Body of Christ with many members. God’s economy is to mysteriously work Himself in Christ as the Spirit of life into the spirit, soul, and body of His believers for His manifold expression.

Actually the word gospel shows up more times in Romans than in any other book in the New Testament (totaling 9 times as a noun, a few more as a verb including verse 15 above).

  1. Rom. 1:1 …separated unto the gospel of God…
  2. Rom. 1:9 …I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son…
  3. Rom. 1:16 …For I am not ashamed of the gospel…
  4. Rom. 2:16 …when God judges the secrets of men according to my gospel through Jesus Christ…
  5. Rom. 10:16 …But not all have obeyed the gospel…
  6. Rom. 11:28 …According to the gospel they are enemies for your sake…
  7. Rom. 15:16 …a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, a laboring priest of the gospel of God…
  8. Rom. 15:19 …I have fully preached the gospel of Christ…
  9. Rom. 16:25 …my gospel, that is, the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery…

In this sense then, Romans is the fifth gospel.

The gospel of God is an all-inclusive unveiling of God’s full counsel concerning His good pleasure, His will, His purpose, and His economy. This is presented to humanity as a proclamation, as an official announcement made by a herald who has the responsibility to proclaim under official sanction this tremendous announcement.

-Ron Kangas, Crystallization-Study of the Gospel of God

How is the gospel good news for God?

The gospel is good news for God in that through it His eternal purpose to gain the Body of Christ and the kingdom of God is realized and His enemy Satan is crushed (Rom 12:5, 14:17, 16:20).

Next time you are out preaching the gospel then, and someone says, “Oh yes, I’m already a Christian” why not do what Paul did and announce the gospel anyway, for God’s sake?

Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus

Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus

At 10,587,270 views at 11 pm on only the fifth day since it was posted, the “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” YouTube video can officially be dubbed viral.

It’s amazing to me that 685 words with the right video editing and some perfectly timed musical swells can attract such a flash flood of attention. The entire video lasts but a brief 4 minutes and 4 seconds.

For counterpoint:

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was 2,633 words and were nailed to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. No lute was playing in the background for dramatic effect.

The United States Declaration of Independence was 1,458 words.

Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the third longest novel in Latin or Cyrillic alphabets, stands at 1.5 million words and is today creating considerably less a stir. Apparently then, length does not necessarily equal impact. The internet is a different kind of physics.

In fact, it’s very probable that if Jefferson Bethke’s video had been much longer, many people wouldn’t have watched it to the end. But the visual stimulus and moving music appealed to more than just the “relevant” followers of Jesus.

Beyond the appeal to the senses there is the more significant appeal to reason, history, and the Bible.

The thesis sentence seems to be “Jesus came to abolish religion.”

Notable themes are: judgmentalism, self-righteousness, objective teachings that don’t transform, mere rule-following, hypocrisy, works and self-merit. Jesus and the apostles surely touched on all these themes in the New Testament (Matthew 7:1, Romans 2:1, 21-23, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Matthew 15:7-8, Galatians 2:16)

In the deluge of blog responses and their comments, some have come to the defense of religion. Clearly we need some definition of religion in mind then to proceed.

What is Religion?

My working definition of religion comes from Witness Lee and is “the attempt to do something for God apart from Christ.”

Thus, not only is legalism religion but loving people apart from Christ is religion. Zealous works apart from Christ is religion. Patience apart from Christ is religion. Kindness apart from Christ is religion. Anything that is not the result of the subjective experience of Christ living in you may very well be religion.

Galatians is a book that combats religion, and here Paul uses such expressions as “reveal His son in me” (Gal. 1:15-16), “Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), and “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).

In this sense, Jesus did not come to abolish one religion (Judaism) to establish another religion (Christianity). Christ came to release His divine life into His believers to form the church as His organic Body for His practical, corporate expression. This is His eternal purpose and it is absolutely outside religion.

Let us therefore go forth unto Him outside the camp… –Hebrews 13:13

The History of Judaism

To trace the history of the children of Israel is a lesson in religion. It’s beyond the scope of this post but it’s an enlightening survey- how man went from direct fellowship with God, to indirect fellowship (yet still genuine and in faith) with God through the tabernacle with the offerings and the priesthood, to (generally) degraded traditionalism without much heart for God. What began as a vital contacting of God in faith ultimately became a religion of man.

The synagogue itself became the epicenter of the persecution that Jesus and the apostles experienced.

And departing from there, He came into their synagogue. And behold, a man who had a withered hand was there. And they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, What man will there be among you who will have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath. Then He said to the man, Stretch out your hand. And he stretched it out and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees, going out, took counsel against Him as to how they might destroy Him. –Matthew 12:9-14

And all in the synagogue were filled with anger when they heard these things, and they rose up and cast Him out of the city and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built so that they might throw Him down the cliff. –Luke 4:28-29

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. –John 9:22

And beware of men, for they will deliver you up to sanhedrins, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. –Matthew 10:17

Ultimately Judaism became formal in letter, deadening in quenching the Spirit, killing in man’s communication with God in life, and contending with the gospel of Christ in God’s New Testament economy. If it happened with Judaism in the Old Testament could it happen with segments of Christianity in the New Testament?

What should we do about it then? What do you want to change? Do you want people to do more to reach out to the homeless? Do you want people to be more tolerant and accepting of others? Do you just want people to unwind a little and not be such sticklers? These may all be good things. But the only thing that can save us from religion is the subjective experience of Christ as life.

Perspective on the Mission of the Church: Noah

Recently I’ve been considering the mission of the church from the lens of Noah’s life and work.

Jesus Himself reveals how relevant the story of Noah is today.

For just as the days of Noah were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. –Matt. 24:37

Noah’s living and work parallels and prefigures the critical aspects of the church’s mission in view of Christ’s return.

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Steve Jobs’ On-Off Switch and Eternity in Man’s Heart

It has been a month since Steve Jobs’ death. The talking heads have had their lime light, the biography has been released, and the tributes have been turned down to a simmer.

Before this passes out of the realm of current events and sinks into the internet’s vast catalog of oblivion, I want to make one more observation on Steve Jobs’ life.

The absence of an on-off switch on Apple devices is more than a design feature. It’s a life philosophy. It has been said that Steve Jobs didn’t put on-off switches on his products because he didn’t like the thought that at the end of a successful, influential life a person is just gone- put eternally in the off position.

“Ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about (God) more. And I find myself believing a bit more. Maybe it’s because I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear,” Isaacson quoted Jobs as saying.

“Then he paused for a second and he said ‘yeah, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone,” Isaacson said of Jobs. “He paused again, and he said: And that’s why I don’t like putting on-off switches on Apple devices.”

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Steve Jobs, the Gospel of Technology, and the Hope of Humanity (2)

Technology is like bamboo, it’s an invasive species.

I wish there had been a way to set up a worldwide time-elapsed camera taking shots for the last 10 years. I think if we could watch this film we would notice a progressive yet definite change in head posture (maybe you can see it on Google maps street view). Everyone is looking down at their phones.

Smart phones are beginning to rival God in some ways- they’re increasingly “omnipresent”, “omnipotent”, and “omniscient”. Maybe they don’t attain to omni status, but at least they’re ubiquitous, they function intelligently as diverse powerful tools, and they are fully integrated with the internet’s 8.04 billion websites and Wikipedia’s 3,785,993 articles.

Does this amount to a gospel? Everything you ever needed is now available at your finger tips. Just swipe your finger with the slightest touch and it all comes alive. As powerful as the iPhone 4S is with the new dual-core A5 chip, it is powerless against man’s fallen nature. It has no saving power.

Our grandchildren may discover that technological progress, for all its gifts, is the exception rather than the rule. It works wonders within its own walled garden, but it falters when confronted with the worst of the world and the worst in ourselves.

-Andy Crouch

Many people have more of a relationship with their phone than with their Maker. Not only is this a reversal of the logical order (iPhone -> Steve Jobs -> God), this is turning a cold-shoulder to your Husband.

For your Maker is your Husband…

-Isaiah 54:5

As such, a smart phone can begin to replace God in our experience. The time we used to give to the Lord first thing in the morning now may go to our phone. I know I’ve reached for my phone in the morning before reaching for God more than once.

Don’t get me wrong. Technology can be used by the Lord for His purpose. Of course. And I think we need to find more ways to do this.

But the other concern is equally valid.

This isn’t about redeeming an aspect of modern culture. It’s about faith, love, and hope (1 Cor. 13:13). What do we trust in? What do we love? What do we hope for?

The YouVersion Bible app has been downloaded 30 million times since it came out 4 years ago. Angry Birds has it beat by a factor of 16. The game has been downloaded 500 million times and it has been out for only half the time.

YouVersion Bible readers have posted 11,625,190,000 minutes to date.

Angry Bird players have posted 219,000,000,000 minutes to date.

That’s 200,000 years of playing Angry Birds! Again in half the time too.

How much we love the Lord can be measured in part by how much time we give Him. That’s why we need to redeem the time. Not because the days are morally evil, but because all we have is time that is constantly slipping away.

In this evil age (Gal. 1:4) every day is an evil day full of pernicious things that cause our time to be used ineffectively, to be reduced, and to be taken away. Therefore, we must walk wisely that we may redeem the time, seizing every available opportunity. To understand the will of the Lord is the best way to redeem our time (v. 16). Most of our time is wasted because we do not know the will of the Lord.

-footnotes on Ephesians 5:16-17, Recovery Version Bible

Steve Jobs, the Gospel of Technology, and the Hope of Humanity (1)

Since his passing, Steve Jobs has been called a saint, a secular prophet, and a technological evangelist.

On paper, he was just a successful CEO who designed computers and phones. No doubt one that changed not only technology but also the world. He faithfully delivered “magical” products that rarely disappointed. He turned a utilitarian object into something like a friend. One study showed that many people’s attachment to their iPhone reaches romantic levels. They experience separation anxiety if they walk out of the house without it.

Naturally people projected their love of the iPhone onto the creator of the iPhone.

But by no means is he the first to be memorialized with such religious devotion, candid scrutiny, and world-wide attention. Princess Diana and Michael Jackson both went through the same thing. To say “they” went through it isn’t altogether accurate because they weren’t alive anymore, but in another sense they did go through it because their lives were larger than the molecules that made them up.

Make no mistake about it, the veneration we are seeing in the aftermath of Jobs’ death is religious through and through – not “kinda” religious, or “pseudo” religious,” or “mistakenly” religious, but a genuine expression for many of heartfelt sacred sentiments of loss and glorification.

-Gary Laderman

Apple products gave people hope, and this became Steve Jobs’ version of the gospel. They constantly and distinctly improved, not only in technical specs but in user experience. They became less cumbersome. They began to add a fluidity to our lives that tied everything together, magically.

The hope people imbued in the evolution of iPhone became very apparent when the anticipated iPhone 5 turned out to be just a 4S. People wanted something more, new, and transformative. They hoped that technology would provide an ever-developing salvation from the aging, slowing, and decaying effects of fallen flesh. Surely a new iPhone meant new promises, new advances, new releases.

Some have seen the early apple logo as a symbolic proclamation of this gospel. A bitten apple imprinted with a rainbow. Both are Biblical allusions. The bitten fruit, a sign of man’s rebellion and fall from God’s purpose and the rainbow, a sign of God’s promise to man to keep His covenant. The combination of the two applied to a computer company logo heralds technology’s ability to annul the curse. Or even worse to convert the fall of man into a promise of improvement.

Technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world.

-Albert Borgmann

Technology promises that while human life may get worse, it will always get better. It certainly has made life easier. But has it caused us to misplace our hope? Has it merely masked the symptoms of a deeper illness?

The gospel of Steve Jobs may give people temporary hope or distraction from the impermanence of life, but it can’t save people.

Having been regenerated not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through the living and abiding word of God. For “all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass has withered, and the flower has fallen off, But the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which has been announced to you as the gospel.

-1 Peter 1:23-25

The only recourse we have to our fading humanity is the living and abiding word of God. Only God’s word has the life power to enliven us and change our nature, making us living and abiding forever.