The King Jesus Gospel (1)

Last week I posted a little about how I have come to the conviction that how we talk about the gospel has been reframed in such a way that it does not look like the gospel message preached by Jesus and the Apostles. I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, and have found it very helpful to my own thinking on the topic. I promised then that I would be blogging through the book. A good place to start is in the section of the forward entitled “1971”. It is here that McKnight talks about his first experiences as a young Christian trying to evangelize non-Christians by the method of door-to-door visitation. The experience did not go well, and left him questioning how we go about inviting people to follow Christ. The following quote gives us an idea of the author’s rationale for writing this book:

Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. Those two words — decision and disciples — are behind this entire book. Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and — yes, the word is appropriate — aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles.[1]

McKnight argues convincingly that the Evangelical obsession with decision has been unsuccessful in producing long lasting, mature follower of Jesus. He uses some statistics to show how our methodology of conversion has not worked. These numbers are his approximations of actual statistics from Barna and some other organizations.

Among teenagers (ages thirteen to seventeen) almost 60 percent of the general population makes a “commitment to Jesus” —that is, they make a “decision.” That number changes to just over 80 percent for Protestants and (amazingly) approaches 90 percent for nonmainline Protestants, a group that focuses more on evangelicals. As well, six out of ten Roman Catholic teens say they have made a “commitment to Jesus.”[2]

However we look at this pie, most Americans “decide” for Jesus. But if then we measure discipleship among young adults (ages eighteen to thirty-five), we find dramatic (and frankly discouraging) shifts in numbers. Barna has some measures for “discipleship,” including what they call “revolutionary faith,” a “biblical worldview,” and “faith as a highest priority in life.” Take revolutionary faith, which sorts out things like meaning in life, self-identification as a Christian, Bible reading, and prayer as well as questions about how faith has been or is transforming one’s life. That almost 60 percent becomes about 6 percent, that 80 percent or so of Protestants becomes less than 20 percent, and that almost 90 percent of nonmainline Protestants becomes about 20 percent.[3]

McKnight goes on to report that by the most conservative estimate we lose about 50% of those young people who claim to make a decision for Christ. He concludes from this that the focus on conversions distorts the discipleship process citing that there is a much higher retention of those young people who attended church regularly, prayed regularly, have a higher rate of attending youth groups, and have families that helped foster their spiritual growth.

So, what do you think? Does hyper-focusing on conversions hinder us in making disciples?

[1] McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 18). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, p. 19.

[3] Ibid, p. 20.


6 thoughts on “The King Jesus Gospel (1)

  1. So this is my understanding:

    decision = “sinners prayer” = magical conversion and now your safe = emotional high = go on with life


    disciple = life change, seeking God through bible/prayer, a transformation = true salvation

    I have been studying this same concept from a different angle. But your post has clarified it for me. This puts true Christians into a very small minority.

    • Matt,

      Yeah, I think your formula more or less captures it. My belief is that the push for “decisions” actually makes some shallow Christians because, in line with your equation, we’re not able to convince “decision makers” of the necessity of perseverance in the faith. Christians from all traditions have taught that true believers will persevere in the faith. They will strive to pursue Christ-likeness. The focus on “decision” accompanied with a misunderstanding of eternal security minus perseverence leads to a shallow faith. But how do we encourage perseverance? By refocusing the discussion from “make a decision so you can go to heaven” to acknowledge Jesus and King and Savior, dedicating yourself to humble repentance and pursuit of Him.

  2. I am somewhat confused by the premise. It sounds as if the author is making a distinction between “decisions” and “disciples” as if they are separate entities. A decision is a necessary step along the path to discipleship. (My humble opinion) Churches and individuals who emphasize the counting of decisions error. I believe the statistics sited are an indictment of us, the Church, the Bride of Chrst. We fail to befriend, to be a living testimony, to demonstrate the love of Christ in our lives . . . we fail to disciple the babes in Christ. Once an individual makes a “decision”, our work should be just beginning.

    • Hi James,

      What your hearing is probably just my inability to capture what McKnight is saying. Once we get into the book, the author is clear that one of the strengths of Evangelical efforts to make disciples is the insistence that there must be a point of commitment to follow Christ. Where the process breaks down is that we tend to focus in our gospel message on the salvation of the individual (Do you know where you are going when you die?), instead of the big picture of restoration that God is accomplishing in the entire creation through Christ. Focusing on the former makes shallow Christians, but focusing on the latter make robust Christians who have a clear vision of what God is doing in this world.

  3. Since you invited me to this blog Eric, I will make my first post for fun…:) Our concept of Grace should not ever be determined by the response it makes in our followers. While I was in the Dominican republic, a gentleman in one of the villages gave his life to Christ. My immediate reaction was to want to baptize him that next day in the local river. The church leaders in the village did not want to do this. They wanted to make sure that he had changed first and suggested he go through a thorough process first to make sure. Behind this suggestion was the feeling that they wanted to weed out the easy believers…who were potentially not real believers. I protested saying that the NT does not have a process for baptism, because life change is in response to salvation in Christ and grace means the acceptance of a sinner. In the NT, people believe and they are baptized….there is no proof needed for baptism, because baptism is something that Christ does for us….the focus should not and cannot be on our behavior because that is not what we are trusting in. Certainly, baptism is a picture of our new faith that pictures for us that Grace has united with Christ and we are to start a new life….but Christ had to redeem that life before that process could be started. Throughout the history of the church there has been movements to collapse justification and sanctification into one movement (Roman Catholics, etc.) and at other times to so completely separate them that sanctification is a maybe at best. So I guess it would I would like them to be separate in the fact that my salvation is due to Christ and his work alone….so I will not bring up my works to prove my salvation or my perseverance….so when a Christian is struggling, I shouldn’t have to question their relationship with Christ….thus clouding the question of where our dependence lies; in Christ or our behavior. But I will speak to them about growing in the knowledge of Christ, and that sanctification is an extension and part of the salvation picture in general. So justification and sanctification are linked inextricably, but they are not the same thing. One begets the other. Much of the literature out there is reformed in nature….I like Demarest for soteriology from the reformed point of view, but I also like a new book by Dave Anderson (not because of his representation on others views but of his own) called Free Grace Soteriology.

    • Gavin,

      “Our concept of Grace should not ever be determined by the response it makes in our followers”

      I’m not sure what you mean here. I don’t think you’re saying that there should be no change in a follower of Christ. I totally agree that we are not trusting in our behavior for anything, but only in the grace of God. The use of the statistics mentioned are simply to demonstrate how many people have made a “decision” to follow Christ only to later seem to have no interest in serving Christ. I totally hear you about baptism, and I don’t think anything I’ll be covering in the coming posts would disagree with that.

      That’s said, I think we’ve made a category mistake. Soteriology (grace, justification, sanctification, atonement) explains the mechanics of how salvation works as explained by Paul, but should not to be confused with the gospel message preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles, and Paul (I illustrated this in the “Getting the Gospel Wrong” post). The point of the book, as I hope to present it, is that we have a “soterian” gospel which confuses the “plan of salvation” (how Jesus accomplished our salvation) with the actual gospel (good news) message that Jesus the King has arrived in fulfillment of the the Old Testament promises to Israel. Discussion of the right understanding of grace, justification, and sanctification are subjects of soteriology but are not the same thing as the gospel message. The “soterian” gospel is not the message preached by anyone in the New Testament. A study of the sermons in Acts reveals that the point being preached by the Apostles was that Jesus was legitimate Messiah/King. A point that is made clearly is that in the “soterian” gospel has no need for a King, or the entire Old Testament if the entirety of the message is Christ died to pay for your sins so you could go to heaven. This leads to shallow Christians and weak disciples.

      McKnight wants to root our gospel preaching in Christology (the person of Christ) and not Soteriology (the mechanics of how salvation works). Soteriology is all about grace, on that I’m in complete agreement with you, but the Gospel (the message we preach) is all about Messiah/King Jesus. This is why the Church Fathers referred to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as “The Gospels.” They felt these were four tellings of the good news (gospel) from different perspectives. The story of Jesus is the Gospel.

      This is more than I wanted to say now, as I hope to be unpacking this in the coming days, but what do you think?

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