I do wonder if McKnight overestimates how much of that is out there. He quotes from his students their impressions of what "the gospel" was in their churches, camps, and families, in course at North Park designed to expand their idea of what the gospel is. I imagine that is informative as far as it goes, but one has to remember these are adolescents looking back from their now-lofty perch of great wisdom, seeing as they have been able to reason on their own for a whole three or four years now, deploring the simple Sunday School gospel they were taught. I wonder how many classes of a dozen eight-year-olds McKnight has taught, trying to cram something, anything that might be of value, into their inattentive brains in 45 minutes.
That said, I suspect he is still largely right, and however much Bible young evangelicals are taught, many are taught that some variation of the Four Spiritual Laws, or asking Jesus into your heart is the centerpiece, because it is the technical minimum we must accomplish to be saved (see previous post).
I think we have a pretty clear idea how Jesus or Peter or Paul might respond if we asked "Okay, what's the technical minimum I have to do to be saved?" We may want this version not only for our own comfort of salvation, but in hope for friends and relatives. Not unkindly, perhaps, but not right, either.
McKnight's not the first to notice this and criticise it, but rather than merely deploring, he very methodically examines what the scriptures say. He is an honest broker, and I write that as one who feared he would not be. Lots of people sense that just mumbling some words by a campfire isn't really what Jesus was talking about, but then go on to expand the concept along lines congenial to their own thought - additions that we admit aren't The Gospel, but are "where you really should go next if you're serious." Refraining from sexual sin has been the main gospel companion in many eras; being cheery and nice to everyone appeals to others; some measure your Bible reading, or being generous (even with other people's money), or your gifts of the spirit. These are indeed the conclusions one would leap to right away on a superficial reading of the Bible.
This is so common that I kept expecting that McKnight was going to pull this stunt as well, using all this "Hey, I'm just looking at the scriptures" as a cover to bring us into the presence of his new little godlet to worship. He writes on p. 122:
I live and dwell among scholars who examine the Gospels to discern what Jesus was really like, and we've got all kinds of "Jesuses" in our world: the social activist, the prophet, the miracle-worker, the religious genius, the social contrarian, the Republican and Democrat and Marxist Jesus, and the anti-empire Jesus...I could go on.I wish he had written that earlier.
What then, does McKnight claim the scriptures declare to be the gospel? He resists oversimplifying and shortening, as he worries that this is what got us into trouble the first time. But his main thrust is that it is the Story of Israel, as completed by Jesus as Messiah and Lord, who died and rose from the dead, which invites response from those who hear, and confers right relationship with God on those who believe. This is what Jesus preached about himself; Peter, Paul and the other apostles preached about him; the early church declared to be central; and was reflected in the earliest creed (1 Cor 15) and the later creeds (which McKnight was raised to disdain). They did not leave out the story of Israel nor the life of Jesus when they preached, not even to Gentiles. These were not background - props that might be used or not depending on the audience - but the gospel itself.
The Four Spiritual Laws or asking Jesus into your heart or committing your life to Christ or being born again - those are all true, nothing wrong in them. But these are a gospel stripped down beyond what it can bear and still be the gospel. They aren't enough.
McKnight says it better than I do. I will have another go at it because there is much else I wish to interact with from the book. There are some fascinating pieces about the Gospel According to John, Paul's Letter to the Galatians, Jesus preaching about himself, and the lack of atonement explanation that I would like to get to.
Last criticism. I really dislike his neologism of using "gospel" as a verb, Paul gospeling this and we gospeling that. Irritating.