Sprinkled throughout Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel, are brief anecdotes from Scot’s students about their understanding of the gospel. They all reflect a truncated and hollowed-out gospel vision. These reports from evangelical undergraduates demonstrate the effect of a generation raised on a “packaged gospel.”
I’ve discovered the same thing. I taught undergraduates for eight years and regularly began an upper-level course with a simple assignment. I asked students to write me a one-page summary of the biblical narrative. I would say, “just tell me the story of Scripture in one page. Give me the Christian narrative.”
Invariably, students began in Genesis 3. These were young Christians who prided themselves on their knowledge of the Bible. But they all began with the fall. They lopped off Genesis 1-2 entirely. They began like this: “We’re all sinners and we stand in need of salvation.” Or, “we have all offended a perfectly holy God and need Christ to have our sins forgiven.”
Some might nod toward the creation, but only with a view toward the fall. “God created the world perfect but we rebelled against him and now stand in need of salvation.”
Once they were saved, the only thing left to do was to tell others that they were sinners and needed salvation. There was no vision for Christian behavior in the world.
This assignment would then lead into a two-week discussion comparing a two act narrative (Sin –> Salvation) with a more faithful narrative (Creation –> Fall –> Redemption). We took the time to work through the richness of Genesis 1-2 and its implications for being human, knowing God, relating to creation, relating to one another, developing culture, playing sports, pursuing vocation, etc. Students were stunned at what we discovered.
Then we worked through the call and purpose of Israel and why the Old Testament is even there. Again, students were happily shocked at what they found. They were amazed that the Bible had a coherent narrative that made Jesus, the early church, and living as Christian people today make good sense.
I stated a few weeks ago that I believed that evangelicals are largely ignorant of the biblical gospel. I’ve seen it first-hand. I have found that evangelicals generally reflect the same ignorance of the Bible as Scot’s and my undergraduates. They are living with a truncated version of the Scriptural narrative. They have shrunk down the nature of theology, their understanding of God, the character of salvation, and the content of Scripture to a single formula that starts in the wrong place, renders irrelevant about 80 percent of the Bible, and has no discernible Christian social outlook.
This is not good.
One of the wonderfully salutary effects of N. T. Wright’s many works over the last few decades is to re-orient evangelicals according to the narrative of Scripture. Many other scholars have contributed, such as Chris Wright and the works by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.
I think Scot has diagnosed the problem well and is pointing in several redemptive directions. I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops some of his solutions as I make my way through his book.