McKnight's central critique is that contemporary evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the plan of salvation, or to the question of how an individual gets saved. McKnight is careful not to dismiss the importance of personal salvation or of justification by faith, but he contends that the plan of salvation is not the whole gospel, and that in equating the two, evangelicals have made a dangerous mistake.
McKnight writes that the gospel is "the salvation-unleashing Story of Jesus, Messiah-Lord-Son that brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament." McKnight unpacks 1 Corinthians 15, observing how the Good News includes not only Christ's saving work on the cross but also the rest of the story: the Resurrection, birth of the church, and the fact that we are moving forward to the "full consummation of the kingdom when God becomes all in all."
This expanded understanding of the gospel shifts the terms of the discussion. In a brief interaction with John Piper, McKnight points out that asking whether Jesus preached Paul's gospel is a legitimate question, but that the question is backwards. Since the gospel comes from the Gospels, he contends, we shouldn't be asking if Jesus agrees with Paul, but whether Paul agrees with Jesus. For McKnight the primary presentation of the Good News comes from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. To define the gospel as the plan of salvation (and specifically, justification by faith) is to ignore this crucial fact.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.