Scot McKnight

Since McKnight and I bear the same testimony regarding the Lordship of Jesus and the presence of Christ in the Old Testament narrative, I wanted to underscore his latest book with this interview. Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel is an excellent contribution on the meaning of the gospel.

Scot McKnight

While I wish the book would have discussed “the mystery” of God’s eternal purpose and the indwelling life of Christ – both of which are vital aspects of the gospel in my opinion – McKnight’s new book does a great job beating another drum I’ve been banging for years: That the gospel and personal salvation are not the same thing.  And that the gospel isn’t a “plan” as much as it is a Person.

As many of you know, the way I defy the “echo-chamber” phenomenon rampant in the blogosphere today is by interviewing other authors and bloggers with whom I have both agreements and disagreements. I personally wish more bloggers would do such interviews as I believe it’s healthy for the body of Christ.

Enjoy the interview and get Scot McKnight’s book.

Scot, I’ve interviewed you on the blog before concerning your last book. Since then, however, this blog has gotten many more subscribers. So for the sake of our new readers, tell us a little about “who you are” (to quote Jack Nicholson in Anger Management) and what your ministry is all about.

Scot McKnight: Frank, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I was reared in American fundamentalism in the Midwest in a Baptist church; as a high schooler I was converted and became convinced immediately I was to go into some kind of ministry; I became a ferocious Bible reader; went off to a Christian college (now Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids), seminary and did a PhD.

I have been a professor and author for almost thirty years, love this ministry of teaching and speaking and writing, and have also developed a blog called “Jesus Creed.” Kris and I grew up together, married in college, had our children while I was in seminary and now both of them are married (two grandchildren) and Kris is a psychologist.

Scot, “I don’t want you to tell us what you do, I want you to tell us who you are.” Just kidding (couldn’t resist. Just saw the movie the other day . . . sigh.) You’re in an elevator and you have one minute to tell someone – an evangelical Christian – what your new book is about (because they asked nicely), what would you tell them?

Scot McKnight: The gospel we have been told since we were kids is a shortened, and sometimes dangerous, gospel. That gospel, roughly the four spiritual laws, is not found that way in the New Testament. The gospel of the New Testament focuses on the Story of Israel being fulfilled in the Story of Jesus, and the good news for them was that Jesus was the very one they awaited. The good news, then, is that Jesus is King/Messiah and Lord and he saves. The gospel is not first about us but about Jesus.

Back in 1980s, John MacArthur wrote a bestseller entitled, The Gospel According to Jesus. It was a response to what was dubbed as “easy believism” that came out of Dallas Theological Seminary at the time. MacArthur’s book was said to promote “lordship salvation” where the Dallas people were said to promote “cheap grace.” Understanding that both you and I differ with MacArthur on many things, how is The King Jesus Gospel similar and different from MacArthur’s, The Gospel According to Jesus? 

Scot McKnight: John MacArthur and I are not arguing the same thing. Yes, it is true that I emphasize Jesus’ Lordship, but Macarthur was battling Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie’s notion that faith is intellectual assent to propositions about Jesus as Savior and that repentance was to change your mind about who Jesus was and who we are.

They added the stinger than making Jesus Lord would mean works would be involved, so Jesus’ Lordship was about discipleship and not salvation. Macarthur then argued that the NT does not separate Jesus as Lord from Jesus as Savior for you either take Jesus as he is – both – or you don’t have the real Jesus.

The issue for them was the nature of what one had to believe, or surrender to, in order to be saved.

Their gospel was essentially a gospel of how to get saved.

The King Jesus Gospel entails the need to surrender to Christ, to be sure, but the gospel of the New Testament can’t be reduced to the plan for personal salvation, which is what that debate did, and so while I agree with Macarthur that Jesus is Lord is at the heart of the gospel, I don’t agree with how he was then defining the gospel. One more time: the gospel cannot be reduced to the plan of personal salvation; the gospel is the Story about Jesus, the full Story, and then the plan of salvation flows out of that Story.

One of the debates among Christians has been over the word “disciple.” Some view a disciple as something different from a convert. Being a convert is necessary for being saved; being a disciple is optional and has to do with receiving future rewards (so the thinking goes). Others argue that being a disciple and being a convert, a believer, a Christian, etc. are all the same thing. What is your take and why?

Scot McKnight: How do we get ourselves in these knots? I’ll tell you how: we have reduced the gospel to the plan for personal salvation, we have tried to figure out the minimal requirements (the sufficient and necessary conditions) for getting saved, and then we try to figure out how to get those who have made a decision to become disciples.

Jesus would have nothing to do with this reduction. Jesus is King/Messiah and Lord; he is Lord over the cosmic realm; he summons people to him as King and calls them into his kingdom; if you want to dwell in the kingdom of Jesus, you have to listen to the King.

A convert may well describe the transformation, both beginning and ongoing, and disciple one’s posture toward Jesus, but the former term is almost not found in the New Testament (one reference in Matt 18) and the latter is everywhere. So we would do well to focus our energies on what a disciple is and being that.

Tell us how the book has been selling compared to your other volumes. I ask because this speaks to the kind of interest in the topic right now.

Scot McKnight: This book is selling very well; my Jesus Creed, since it was pitched at the lay level, has done best, but this book is doing well. But whether it sells well or not is not as important as being satisfied with it, and I’m confident it expresses what the NT says about the gospel and honored by the sorts of letters and comments I’m getting from folks I respect.

Realizing it’s still early (the book came out in September 2011), do you see any changes happening as a result of the book? If so, what kind? If not, when and what do you expect to see in the way of change?

Scot McKnight: I had a conversation yesterday with a young scholar who is plowing similar fields on similar topics, and we both observed that it is going to take a long, long while for this to work down to the “tract” level where we are evangelizing in a more biblical way.

The most common discussion/question I’ve had over the last five years is “How do we evangelize if the gospel is about the king and the kingdom?” More often than not what is being asked is how can I reduce this stuff to four or five rhetorically-compelling propositions. That, I have said over and over, is the problem and this gospel can’t be reduced like that. We are learning to evangelize in a more embodied and story-shaped form, and the results are encouraging.

What are the two or three main objections you are getting on the book from other Christians and what is your response to them?

Scot McKnight: The first and most common is that I pit “Story” over against “salvation” and that folks want both. Which means they are not reading well. Over and over I have said, and say in this book, that Story involves salvation while the salvation approach (I call it the “soterian” approach, the Greek word for salvation, and the one that reduces the gospel to four or five points) excludes Story. So the options are “Story with salvation” vs. “Salvation with no story.” If you don’t need the Old Testament to explain salvation you don’t have the biblical gospel. 

The book is not practical enough. That’s a fair criticism, but in part what “practical” means is “how do I reduce this stuff to a few lines for some quickie evangelism?” Well, I repeat: it can’t and I won’t. But I do want to write something, perhaps an e-book, that offers some evangelistic sermons that illustrates the gospeling of the New Testament.

Finally, tell us a bit about your daily writing routines. When/how do you write your books and your blog posts? If we observed your writing habits for a solid week, what would it look like? 

Scot McKnight: I’m a professor and on my days off I get up early, say 5am, have breakfast, say my prayers, etc, and then I’m at my desk by 7am or 7:30am and I basically stay there, for short breaks and a short lunch, until 3 to 4pm. During the summer I do this 4-5 days a week. I never “work” in the evenings (and never have) or on weekends, unless on some rare occasion (1x every three to four years) I have a deadline that can’t be extended.

In the evening I read and chat with Kris and blog and read some more. I often write the blog posts on Saturdays for the whole week. It is Sunday AM (we go to church on Saturday evenings usually) and I have only a Friday post to write. That is common, except when I travel for a whole weekend… then I often read for the posts on the plane and write them out as I have time. Perhaps once every other month I write a post in the evening for the next morning. What is hard is when we go abroad for two weeks, which we will do this summer (Australia and Denmark), and I have to get the posts ready for the whole time… I often begin those series a month or so in advance so I can stack up posts and not have to try to do them all at once.

Frank, my habits are compartmentalized. At school I do school work; I don’t write or blog there. At my desk in my library I write books and articles and study and read for what I’m writing. In my sitting chair in our backroom I read for pleasure and write the blog.

When I’m home I work; and I don’t have problems with distractions. I love to play golf but a summer off from teaching doesn’t seem to make it any easier to golf. I have work to do in my calling and I stick to it. I tend to golf when someone asks me to play with them, or when I finish a book and say “Time to take a day off.” (But I do keep my eye on the Cubs games.)

Order The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight in hardcover

Order The King Jesus Gospel by Scot Mcknight in Kindle

See also:

Interview with N.T. Wright

Interview with Ben Witherington

Interview with Christian Smith

Interview with Craig Keener




  1. David Taylor says

    Refresh – Serving emerging leaders.

    Music Producer turned Bible teacher with news and thinking focussed on the needs of leaders in emerging nations.

    I teach on healing the broken hearted and deliverance because it is 2/5 of what Jesus proclaimed that he came to do (Luke 4:18) and in my church experience these areas were neglected.

  2. Daniel Forster says

    House Of Prayer Ministries
    This Blog is to humbly proclaim God’s Word and my own relationship and walk with Him.- In His Service, daniel

  3. Jeff says

    Scot: For the record, I was a student at Dallas Seminary at the time. Ryrie was no longer teaching there and Zane Hodges was a marginal prof. To imply that easy believe-ism was the official position of the seminary is a blatant misrepresentation and an insult. MacArthur is the king of overstatement when trying to prove a point. While Hodges’ view ignores the sovereignty of God, MacArthur makes it too convenient for legalists.

  4. Andy Blanks says

    Great review, Frank. I’m a pretty big fan of McKnight’s myself. A solid but fresh voice for sure. Thanks!

  5. SuperStar says

    If you want a good follow-up to King Jesus Gospel and how to live the gospel, I recommend Scot’s book ONE.LIFE. It has more of a how-to feel to it.

  6. Bernie says

    A friend just sent this to me and the truth of the need for the full story rings very true. I do not know if you are familiar with the New Tribes method of teaching tribal people the Gospel, but they take a great deal of time teaching the OT story of the coming king and savior. It is only after weeks of teaching that they get to the Gospels and begin to tell the story of Jesus. Even then they do not reveal what is going to happen and they watch the people begin to put the pieces together. WHen Jesus is Crucified they pause their teaching and allow the people to think through what has just happened and how that applies to all the story they have learned. When the resurrection is taught the gospel message is so clear and so complete that the King is believed and many new brothers and sisters are added to the Church, the body of Christ. There is a great DVD called EE-Taow that graphically shows how story and the Gospel are one. Thanks for your efforts.

  7. Larry says

    This is an interesting interview. For the last few years I have been training church planters in NE India. Our method of evangelism has been using Chronological Storying. Once the church planters began to evangelize using the Chronological approach, that is beginning in Genesis and telling the unfolding story of Jesus throughout scripture, the results were incredible. Previously they used the Romans road approach and had almost no converts. But once they started to use the Storying approach by unfolding the gospel story throughout scripture, the increase in converts were 100 fold. And the best part is these converts understood the unfolding story of Jesus throughout history and how Jesus was God’s intention for man’s redemption and intended to be our very life. The other advantage is by telling the Old Testament stories we discovered there were hidden cultural keys that unlocked their heart and made them receptive to God’s provision of Christ.By the time the story got to the cross they were able to see God’s thread of redemption throughout history and were even able to relate it to things within their own culture.

  8. says

    I read King Jesus Gospel along with Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright and The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. They all worked well together hitting different aspects of the work of Christ in context of THE STORY, as well as helping to rescue people from a very flattened reading of scripture. I really appreciate McKnight’s contributions in King Jesus Gospel and would highly recommend it.

  9. says

    Frank, how will I ever keep up with all these books you are recommending??? So many books so little time…

    Thank you for the interview. I read McKnight’s A Community of Atomenment and really enjoyed it, and I’ve followed his blog for a while. I have KJG on my wish list.

    I grew up with the typical evangelism strategies/presentations (If you died tonight…) aimed at quick conversions, but never really identified with that. The gospel as an unfolding story centered around Christ seems right on and opens up so much possibility and draws in the full story of the scriptures. I’m still working this out practically, but it seems like this book paired with Len Sweet’s Nudge would be a great combo.

  10. says

    Thank you for interviewing Scot here.

    If the rest of your readers are wondering whether or not to read “King Jesus Gospel…” The answer is a resounding “YES”.

    For the last 2-3 years, I struggled with what I heard from the church about salvation and what I was hearing from scripture. Nobody really had any answers (well, Frank touched on some of them).

    This book helped put my struggle to rest. It turns out my problem wasn’t some hidden secret but an incomplete view(s) from the churches.

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