Tuesday, November 08, 2011

McKnight 5: Gospel of Paul

Moving on to chapter 4 now of Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel.  Previous chapter reviews include:

Intro: Evangelism Explosion
Chap 1: The Big Question: What is the Gospel?
Chap 2: Gospel Culture vs Salvation Culture
Chap 3: From Salvation to Story

Now, Chap. 4: "The Apostolic Gospel of Paul"  In this chapter we hit pay dirt, in my opinion.  First my summary then my thoughts.

Although it is not the only reason McKnight starts with 1 Corinthians 15, I think it was good strategy to start here.  Why?  Because Paul is exactly where those who equate "gospel" with "how to get saved" think they have their strongest evidence.  But as Scot indicates, this is not the heart of what Paul had in the bubble over his head when he used the word "gospel."

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the good news that, not only he announced but that he was passing on as something he received from believers before him (i.e., the first apostles).  What Paul goes on to present is the story of Jesus' death and resurrection.  Scot argues that this story is what Paul means when he mentions the gospel, the good news.  The story consists of four parts: 1) the death of Jesus, 2) the burial of Jesus, 3) the resurrection of Jesus, and 4) the appearances of Jesus.

He then makes 8 points.  I won't mention them all but some of the most important include the fact that Paul didn't come up with this himself (49) and that the gospel is the resolution and fulfillment of Israel's story and promises (51).  He draws this latter point from the recurring mention that these things happened "according to the Scriptures."  Salvation flows from the gospel as a result, but is not what the gospel itself is.

An important quote for Scot from Tom Wright appears here: "I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say 'the gospel.'  I just don't think it is what Paul means" (What Saint Paul Really Said, a great place to begin studying Paul, by the way, although you might also like one of mine off to the right ;-)

So, Scot summarizes: "Every time Paul mentions 'gospel' in his letters... he is referring to this four-line gospel."  His main warning, and here I completely agree, is that the other focus has inevitably led evangelicalism to make the gospel be about "me and my own personal salvation" (62).  This tendency does indeed have New Testament theology completely out of focus.

The gospel is the good news about Jesus and the kingdom of God.  That's good news for me too, but I'm an incredibly minor character in the story.
My additional thoughts:
First, I very much agree with what Scot says at the beginning of the chapter about where you begin such discussions being very important.  Hermeneutically, I would put it this way: because the biblical texts are texts of particularity, texts written in differing, specific contexts, we have to map them to each other.  One thing I insist on is that we must allow that not only may different books have a different nuance or even meaning to the word "gospel," but Paul himself cannot be assumed to mean the same thing every time he uses a word.

To map particular texts and passages to each other, especially when we find diversity of nuance or meaning, we must choose an "Archimedian point" from which to integrate them.  This means either 1) choosing one of the passages as the controlling passage and mapping the others to it or 2) choosing an ideological point "beside" the text from which we integrate the particular texts.  Scot is writing a popular book, so I suppose these musings of mine have more to do with my own hermeneutical pet peeves about flattening out the nuances of particular texts in the name of an overall biblical theology.

Secondly, with the phrase, "according to the scriptures" I come back to what I was saying in the last post about the difference between grands récits and petits récits.  Does this phrase in Paul here mean to evoke some entire story of Israel or does it more function along the lines of a proof text?  In my opinion, the NT authors used OT Scripture much more along the lines of proof texts than in terms of the kinds of grand story we as Christians see there.

Again, I am not hereby rejecting the "grand Christian narrative" reading of the OT.  I'm just saying I'm not sure that Paul conceptualized the story bits in such a grand, unified fashion.  It is appropriate theologizing beside the text, drawn from pieces and hints in the text, but never quite done so holistically in the text, in my opinion.

Finally, I tip my hat to Scot's completely accurate observation that when Paul says Christ died "for our sins," Paul does not say how Jesus' death did something for our sins (51).  It is a reminder that to see some systematic "penal substitution" here is to overread the text, to be unaware of the dictionary you are bringing to the words.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I really enjoyed the book and appreciate your review.

In regards to your concerns:

I do think Scot does a good job balancing the places "gospel" is used, primarily the 1 Cor 15 passage, the sermons in Acts, and the Gospels themselves.

"Paul himself cannot be assumed to mean the same thing every time he uses a word."

I don't agree with you there, since he is not defining gospel, rather he is using it as it was passed along to him.

In regards to "according to the Scriptures", I think that Scot jumps to a direct correlation with "Israel". However, I think it is reasonable to say there is a clear indirect correlation, since the Scriptures (of that day) were about Israel.