Scot McKnight posts today on The Three “J’s” in the Gospel Debate, and by doing so opens up in interesting ways this debate about what the gospel is and how we should understand it. This debate is fundamental to the Christian faith, because, in McKnight’s words,
The gospel is at the heart today of every major theological debate, and it spills over into one ecclesiastical debate after another.
For McKnight the key to the debate is how to frame the gospel. He notes that “some people frame the gospel through the category of justice“, and others “through the category of justification“. The latter group, especially those who call themselves “Reformed”, tend to reject as “liberals” the former, who tend towards political activism. The latter often reject the former as “fundamentalists”. McKnight responds to both groups:
The gospel, I contend, is not properly framed as injustice becoming justice (though clearly this happens) or as the unjust becoming just/justified (though clearly this happens too). And the debate between these two folks proves an inability to convince one leads to the other compellingly. There’s a better way. Instead…
This is where McKnight brings in his third J. He writes that “some people frame the gospel through the category of Jesus“, and for his discussion of this framing he links to his own recent book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited . He concludes:
There are three J’s in the gospel debate. The right J is Jesus.
If you preach Jesus as the gospel you will get both justification and justice.
If you preach justification you may get Jesus (but I see only some of Jesus and not the whole of Jesus) and you may get some justice (I’m skeptical on this one).
If you preach justice you may get some justification (but I’m skeptical on enough justice gospelers ever getting to justification) and you get Jesus, but again only some of Jesus (often only his teachings, his life, and his life as an example).
If you preach the Jesus of Paul’s gospel (1 Cor 15) or the apostolic sermons in Acts or the gospel of the Gospels, you get all of Jesus and all of Jesus creates both justice and justification.
As for me and my house, we take the third J.
And so will I. Jesus comes first. Following him leads to personal justification and also to action for justice. But both have to spring from a relationship with him and follow the path on which he leads.