Saturday, 4 December 2010

Scot McKnight on Jesus vs. Paul

Christianity Today carries a long-ish piece by Scot McKnight (beginning here) on the perennially-vexing question of the relationship between Jesus and Paul on ‘the gospel’

He begins:

‘Many biblical scholars and lay Christians have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven, while Paul highlighted justification by faith—and not vice versa. Some conclude that they preached two different gospels. Others argue that really they both preached justification; still others say it's all about the kingdom. What gives?’

He notes that his own early experience of reading the gospels as they are ‘filtered through Paul's theology’ is not unusual for evangelicals, and he also thinks the Reformation and the Great Awakenings and revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries largely led to a ‘Paul-shaped movement through and through’. And yet, increasingly, he says, there is an ‘unmistakeable shift among many evangelicals from a Pauline-centered theology to a Jesus-shaped kingdom vision’.

‘It is not exaggerating to say that evangelicalism is facing a crisis about the relationship of Jesus to Paul, and that many today are choosing sides. I meet many young, thinking evangelicals whose “first language” is Jesus and the kingdom. Yet despite the trend, perhaps in reaction to it, many look to Paul and justification by faith as their first language. Those addicted to kingdom language struggle to make Paul fit, while those addicted to Paul’s theological terms struggle to make Jesus fit.’

According to McKnight, attempts to make the one fit the other only end up reducing the gospel – either it gets equated with the kingdom or it becomes a synonym for justification by faith.

Instead, leaning on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (in which, McKnight notes, there is not a word about ‘kingdom’ or ‘justification’), he says:

‘The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus. Or, to put it theologically, it's about Christology. Behind or underneath both kingdom and justification is the gospel, and the gospel is the saving story of Jesus that completes Israel’s story. “To gospel” is to tell a story about Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord, as the Son of God, as the Savior.’

After some more elaboration of this point, he concludes:

‘My contention, then, is simple: If we begin with kingdom, we have to twist Paul into shape to fit a kingdom vision. If we being with justification, we have to twist Jesus into shape to fit justification. But if we begin with gospel, and if we understand gospel as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, then we will find what unifies Jesus and Paul – that both witness to Jesus as the center of God’s story.’

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