On reading my book to my daughter for the first time…

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Last night I read The Story of King Jesus to my daughter for the first time. Well, I read printouts with not-quite final art that my publisher gave me last week. Still, it was a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

It’s been two years since I shared the first draft of what became The Story of King Jesus. Then Scot McKnight picked it up and shared it on his blog. Many, MANY rewrites later, it was a book proposal…and finally (after more rewrites), an actual book with a publisher and a release date and everything (ahem, March 2015). But it’s always been—and always will be—something I wrote for my daughter. This is how I want to introduce her to our faith.

She’s picked up bits and pieces about Jesus over the years. She knows Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, though she wonders why she’s never seen him in person before. We’ve read some Easter books together, as well as excerpts from The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu. But this was her first time hearing the whole story of Jesus in one sitting—including the story of Israel, which he brings to fulfillment.

I think one of the reasons we reduce the gospel to a handful precepts or sound bites is because we’re not sure our kids are up for something bigger. Or because we don’t think of the gospel as being primarily a story. Or maybe we worry our kids won’t have the attention span for something more than a few quick bullet points about sin and salvation.

I want to prove these assumptions wrong—because, frankly, this kind of gospel doesn’t work. It doesn’t stick. Stories stay with us for life. Bullet points, not so much. Our kids need a better story.

Last night, my daughter stayed with The Story of King Jesus all the way through, even though it’s longer than most of her bedtime books. She even had me read it a second time. OK, that may have been a bedtime stalling tactic. And granted, she’s a focus group of one. But she’s also a bit younger than the target age group (4 to 8) for my book, so I was thrilled to see how she engaged with it.

She was absorbed in the story and the art (thank you, Nick Lee). When we got to the part about the crucifixion, she grabbed her owl nightlight and held it close to the page so she could look more closely. On our second time through, she started repeating some of the key lines—completely on her own.

I have no illusions that everything got through on the first or even the second read. But she was absorbing, processing, engaging with the story. After we finished, she said it was her favorite story she’s ever read. (Though earlier that evening, she said the meatless chicken nuggets we had for dinner were her favorite food she’s ever had. The night before, peanut butter sandwiches were her favorite.)

As for the “most clueless dad” moment of the night… afterward she asked me, “When will it be put together?” I assumed she was asking a deep spiritual question about the state of the world. After all, God fixing the world—putting it back together—is one of the recurring themes of The Story of King Jesus. So I proceeded to stumble my way through a response…until she cut me off and said, “No, dad. When’s the book going to be put together?”

But she also asked me when Jesus is coming back, which gave us a chance to talk about how we get to be part of making the world right and good until he returns. We talked about how God gave us a job to do: love each other with all we’ve got.

The bottom line is, last night, I got to talk to my daughter about bringing heaven to earth.

I know it can be terrifying to talk to your kids about faith. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing and screw it up for them. But it can also be a wonderful, rewarding experience. It can be like bringing a little bit of heaven to earth right here and now—especially when we let go the pressure to extract a decision from our kids now and just tell them the story and watch it begin to click in their own imaginations.

I think—I hope and I pray—that’s what started happening for my daughter last night.

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In which my book has a title, a cover, and a release date

So this is real, friends.

Yesterday, I saw the final cover of my book. With my actual name on it.

Apparently, they’re really letting me do this. (Yeah, I’m surprised too.)

As of today, my book has a title, a cover, and a release date.

The Story of King Jesus will be published on March 1, 2015. Five days before my 38th birthday. A month to the day before our son turns one. Exactly two hundred days after our daughter turns four.

She’s the first of two very good reasons I have for doing this book. I wrote the first draft when she wasn’t even two years old. Back then I had no idea it would ever become a book. I just wanted something we could use to nurture her spiritual curiosity and introduce her to a more holistic gospel story, the kind of thing Scot McKnight calls for in his book The King Jesus Gospel. Something that’s more than just a set of spiritual laws. A gospel that’s not about escaping from this world but something much better: the story of God making this world right and good again.

I’m thankful I get to share the end result with you. Thankful that David C Cook is taking a chance on this first-time author (one who never thought his first real book would be a kid’s book). Thankful that a talented illustrator named Nick Lee has thrown everything he’s got into making this story come alive with his captivating artwork.

And, of course, thankful to any of you who end up buying a copy or sharing it with someone who’s wondering how to introduce their kids to their faith.

This is coming March 1.

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How I rather unexpectedly wound up writing a children’s book

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Update: My book now has a title, cover, and a release date: March 1, 2015! Check it out!

One Saturday when I was 5, I got down on my knees and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I only remember a few details from that day — mostly trivial ones like what we had for lunch.

(Tuna fish sandwiches, in case you were wondering.)

For many Christians, faith is all about The Decision. The earlier it’s made, the better. But if the stats are to be believed, more than half of my friends who prayed the same prayer as kids are no longer practicing Christians.

So maybe it’s time we reevaluate a decision-based approach to the gospel. Maybe we’re shortchanging our kids, who in many cases aren’t old enough to even know what they’re signing up for. Yes, Jesus said, “Let the little children come.” But he also told would-be followers to “count the cost” of discipleship.

When I prayed the sinner’s prayer, all I knew was I didn’t want to go to hell. And I wanted to eat my tuna fish sandwich.

But a decision-based approach also shortchanges the gospel by confusing the decision with the gospel itself. It reduces the gospel to a tool for sin management or hell avoidance.

The New Testament paints a more expansive picture of the gospel. It’s not merely a decision you make. It’s not a set of four spiritual laws. It’s not a wordless color book. It’s not something that can be reduced to a formula or an incantation.

It’s a story. It’s the story of God rescuing the world, bringing heaven to earth, advancing his kingdom. And it’s an invitation to become part of that story, to become citizens of a kingdom characterized by loving God and loving others.

As Scot McKnight writes in his book The King Jesus Gospel,

The gospel is the Story of Jesus as the completion of the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures, and that gospel story formed and framed the culture of the earliest Christians.

I believe it should form and frame ours, too.

Now it would be to easy for me to sit back and just be another armchair critic, judging others for how they’ve sought to pass down their faith. But there’s at least one important thing a decision-based approach to the gospel gets right: the fact that we owe it to our kids to start telling them about our faith when they’re young.

That doesn’t mean we should settle for a reductionist gospel. It doesn’t mean we should employ tactics that border on the manipulative in order to coax a decision from them.

Our kids deserve better when it comes to the gospel. 

Some of the first people to follow God had another way of passing down their faith; and it’s time we rediscovered it. The ancient Israelites passed their faith to each generation by telling their story:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (from Deuteronomy 6)

Tell your story.

—//—

Three years ago, I became a parent.

Suddenly these questions — What is the gospel? How do we pass it on to our kids? — took on a new sense of urgency. Suddenly the stakes got very real.

Could my wife and I live our faith in a way that would nurture our daughter’s spiritual curiosity? Could we tell the story of our faith so that someday she would come to embrace it as her own?

Inspired in part by the depiction of the gospel set out in Scot’s book, I began writing my own sketch of this story — the whole gospel story — for my daughter. I meant for it to be something we could read together when she’s a bit older, a first introduction to our story of faith.

About a year ago, I shared an early draft on this blog. Then it got shared on a few other blogs, including Scot’s. A few people said I should try turning it into a children’s book. I’ve always thought I would write book someday. I just didn’t think it would be a children’s book.

But I gave it a shot. With the help of a good friend, I found an amazing agent. Together, we crafted a proposal. Then re-crafted it. And re-crafted it again. Finally, we sent it off to some publishers. And waited.

Then one day I signed a two-book contract with David C. Cook.

(Believe me, there was plenty of nail-biting in between.)

The thing about Cook is, well… they’re awesome. They share this vision for communicating a more holistic gospel to our kids. From our very first meeting, I wanted it to be them. Can I just say? I am SO excited to work with everyone at Cook.

So the first book will tell the whole gospel as a single story — starting with God’s good world, which he made for us to share with him, and telling how God set out to rescue us from exile so he could be our king once more, making the world right and good again.

Unlike most storybook Bibles, it will be something parents and kids can read together in a single sitting. But it’s not a quick fix. It’s not a replacement sinner’s prayer. It’s not primarily a tool for coaxing a decision. It’s something that can help you to begin this journey with your kids, to start telling the story of your faith.

In the end, this will always be the book I wrote for my daughter. But my hope (and prayer) is that it will help a few other kids take their first steps of faith, too.

More details to come! (Including figuring out what that second book will be…)

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Goldfish crackers, Eucharist, and the lost art of waiting to be asked

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Every Sunday, we take our almost-three-year-old daughter Elizabeth up for communion. In our church, baptized children are welcomed at the altar even before they understand what’s going on. Grace is, after all, a gift.

And every Sunday, Elizabeth’s rapidly growing mind takes in more and more of her surroundings. Yesterday, as we knelt by the altar rail, she started telling us what to do next, parroting the whispered instructions we’d given her countless times before: Don’t eat the wafer yet. Wait for the person to dip it in the cup and give it back to you.

Afterward, we were talking with our priest during coffee hour (a tradition every bit as sacred to Episcopalians as potlucks are to Baptists). Elizabeth had a cup of goldfish crackers; and right there with the three of us, she began reenacting the ritual she’d just been a part of, solemnly handing each of us an orange, fish-shaped wafer.

Our daughter is noticing. Absorbing. Processing. Becoming an active participant in this ancient and slightly bizarre ritual.

Someday soon, she’s probably going to ask why.

—//—

Christians of a certain stripe have long been preoccupied with getting kids to make a decision about God as quickly as possible. From an early age, we start peppering our kids with answers to questions they haven’t even thought to ask yet.

The truth is, we’re scared.

We’re scared something bad might happen to them before they make a decision about God. Which probably says more about our notion of God than anything else.

So we settle for methods that short-circuit our kids’ natural sense of curiosity, imagination, and wonder. We reduce faith to a decision, a transaction, an exchange of goods and services.

Is it any wonder, when we rob faith of its ability to capture the imagination, that it has so little staying power in the lives of our children?

—//—

The rituals prescribed in the Torah — Passover meals, phylacteries, mezuzahs — served many purposes, but one was made explicit to the ancient Israelites on at least two occasions in scripture.

In Deuteronomy 6, the Israelites were told to etch the Torah onto their hearts, bind it to their foreheads (hence the phylacteries), and scrawl it onto their doorframes (hence the mezuzahs).

Parents were also told to “impress” or “engrave” these laws onto their children. To teach them in such a way as to make a lifelong impression.

So let’s all break out the spiritual hammers and chisels then?

Not quite. The text goes on:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

A similar decree was made concerning the Passover meal in Exodus 12:

And when your children ask you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes…”

The best way to make a lasting impression on your kids? Nurture their curiosity. Honor it. Allow questions to sprout and take shape in their minds. Wait to be asked.

I don’t mean sit back and do nothing. After all, something has to spark our children’s curiosity. Something like kneeling with them at an alter and receiving a round wafer dipped in wine from somebody wearing a white robe.

Something like watching a priest sprinkle water over a child’s head while onlookers clap, cry, snap pictures, and promise to support that child in their newfound life in Christ.

Something like practicing justice and mercy, loving our neighbors (even the difficult ones), welcoming outcasts, relinquishing power, serving others.

Rituals and practices like these are not likely to go unnoticed by our kids. They observe and absorb more than we think.

So maybe all we have to do is nurture their curiosity. Maybe we don’t have to butt in with answers to questions they haven’t even asked yet.

Of course, this begs the question: what should we tell our kids when they do ask?

—//—

Four Spiritual Laws. Romans Road. The Wordless Book. The sinner’s prayer.

All of them methods, tools, or techniques for extracting a decision from people.

The Torah suggested a rather different approach. When parents were asked the meaning of all the laws and rituals they followed, this was the answer they were to give:

“We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

Instead of using abstract concepts or clever techniques to cajole a profession of faith from their kids, they simply needed to share their story.

Of course, there was always the implicit invitation to enter the story, to activate it, to make it your own story. And of course, doing so means there is a decision to be made at some point.

The question is how.

Do we go about introducing faith to our kids in ways that respect their personhood, nurture their curiosity, and engage their imaginations?

And if we did so, would they be more likely to make a decision that lasts?

On passing our faith to the next generation…

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

— Deuteronomy 6:20-21

I think we’re overdue for a grown-up conversation about how we pass our faith to the next generation. Because, let’s face it… we’re not very good at it.

In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight (citing research from David Kinnaman) says around 60 percent of Americans make a commitment to Christ, most when they’re still very young. Yet by conservative estimates, fewer than half of these decisions stick.

So why do we put all this energy into getting our kids to make some kind of “decision” for Christ as early as possible? Maybe it’s because we fear the worst if something terrible should happen to them. Maybe it’s because of studies that say people are more likely to “accept Christ” as children. So we try to extract a profession of faith before it’s too late — before they cross that threshold after which they are statistically less likely to make such a decision.

But it’s also because we hear Jesus extol the virtues of childlike faith. It’s not hard to see why. A child, not yet jaded by the world, has this extraordinary capacity to trust without holding back. I was reminded of this when some friends came over the other night. My 2-year-old has seen this couple maybe two or three times before; yet she climbed into one of their laps and snuggled in as if she’d known them for ages.

We all know how hard it is to maintain this capacity for trust the older we get. So we try to persuade our kids to put their trust in God when they’re little, before they lose the ability to trust those they can see, much less someone they can’t.

Yet we all know something’s not right. There are many of us who feel like Sarah Bessey when she writes:

I worry sometimes about how I’m passing this whole life-in-Christ, God, and faith thing down. I worry about whether I’m doing enough and then I worry about whether I’m doing too much. I don’t like competitions and scores and games for Jesus stuff. I don’t like formulas and gold stars. I worry about turning the Bible into a children’s story book, about helping the tinies to engage with Scripture and wrestle and ask questions…

As badly as all we want our kids to inherit our faith — and as much as we all know that faith, if it is anything, must be childlike — there is also a very grown-up side to this whole business of faith.

Because faith is more than belief. We can’t just trick our kids into saying a few magic words to secure their eternal destiny. We don’t want them to grow up and discover there’s more to following Jesus than saying a prayer, only to think, “This isn’t what I signed up for.”

The same Jesus who begged his disciples to cultivate a childlike faith also preached the importance of making an informed decision — of counting the cost, lest we ask Jesus into our hearts so we can go do heaven when we die, only to learn much later that what he really wants us to do is pick up a cross.

What if, instead of trying so hard to get our kids to “make a decision” (before they become too smart for their own good, presumably) — what if all we’re really supposed to do is tell them the story, and then try as best we can to model it for them?

Because as Sarah writes, it has to be caught, not taught:

I’m pretty sure that I need to be the person now that I want them to be someday, and so if I want them to care about justice and mercy and compassion, then I have to live it out. And if I want them to be fearless and bold and courageous, well, guess what? And if I want them to pray, I must pray, and if I want them to know God as love and Abba, and I want them to know that He is very fond of each of them, and I want them to forgive and offer grace and second chances and love tougher, well, then, here we go, I’m about to live a better truth with my life.

This was how the Israelites were told to do it. Not by reducing their covenant to four spiritual laws or a color-coded wordless book.

Instead, God gave them signs, symbols, and rituals — liturgical reenactments of their story. One of the main reasons for celebrating Passover was so their kids would ask, “What is this all about?” One of the main reasons for all the bizarre laws and customs was to get their kids to ask, “Why?”

And when they did, well, that was a parent’s cue to tell the story: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out with a mighty hand.”

It seems to me we’re given the same opportunity every time we kneel at the altar and receive bread and wine, body and blood. As my daughter watches my wife and me perform this sacred ritual, someday the wheels in her head will turn and she will ask why. And on that day, we’ll sit down with her and tell her a story. Then we’ll try as best we can to live out the implications of that story. We’ll try to show her that it can be her story, too.

The gospel sketched for kids

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Next month, our daughter turns two. Ever since she was born, we’ve wondered: how do we introduce her to Christ? We had her baptized a year ago — now what? How do we help her to embrace faith in God for herself? Somehow, coaxing her into praying the sinner’s prayer as soon as she can mouth the words and leaving it at that doesn’t feel like the best way.

That’s what led me to Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel several months back. (You can read my review here, if you want.) Scot argues that what we call the gospel isn’t really the gospel — or at least it’s an incomplete gospel. The true gospel is not four spiritual laws or some other formula. It is a story — specifically, Jesus’ story, which in turn was the fulfillment of Israel’s story. That is the gospel the ancient church confessed from its its earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 15). And that’s the one we should be sharing today.

Near the end of his book, Scot takes a stab at sketching this gospel in story form. It’s not something that can be distilled into a sound bite, though. As Scot writes, “The assumption that the gospel can be reduced to a note card is already off on the wrong track.”

The gospel sketched in Scot’s book is the one I want to share with my daughter someday. What I wrote below was an attempt to translate it into simplified (hopefully not simplistic), kid-friendly version. Someday, when my daughter is ready, we’ll sit down and read this together. (In the meantime, any suggestions or feedback would be welcome, especially if you’ve interacted with Scot’s book.)

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The King Jesus story

It all began with God.

God made everything you can see.
(And even some things you can’t see!)

God made the world to be his home.
Then God made the very first people
so he could share his home with them.

God gave them a beautiful garden to live in.
He gave them a job to do:
take care of God’s good world;
rule it well on his behalf.
But they didn’t.

They didn’t like doing things God’s way
and not theirs.
So they took what wasn’t theirs,
and tried to rule the world their own way.
They tried to be God.

So the very first people
had to leave the garden.
They had to leave God’s presence.

Without God,
they began to die.
But God never gave up on his people.
He still loved them.
He promised to fix the world
so he could share it with them again.

But it wouldn’t be easy.
Everyone who’s ever lived,
from the very first people
all the way to you and me,
have gone the same way.

We’ve all taken what isn’t ours.
We’ve all tried to do things our way.
We’ve all tried to be little gods.
Things kept getting worse.
But God had a plan.

God chose a man named Abraham.
He gave Abraham children,
and grandchildren,
and great-grandchildren.
God turned Abraham into a great nation
and called it “Israel.”

God made Israel his chosen people.
They would help him fix the world.

God went with Israel
everywhere they went.
When they were slaves in another country,
God remembered them.
When they were treated badly,
God rescued them.

God gave Israel a home.
He gave them a job to do:
show the world what it’s like
to be God’s people.

God gave Israel priests
to teach them how to love God.
He gave them laws
to teach them how to love each other.

God told his people,
“If you follow me,
you’ll have a good life.
You’ll get to help me fix the world.”
But Israel didn’t listen.

God’s people didn’t want God
telling them how to live.
They wanted to do things their way,
just like the very first people — just like all of us.

God’s people didn’t want God
to be their king.
They wanted a king of their own,
a person just like them.

So God gave Israel a king.
Then another king.
And another.
Some were good. Some were bad.

Mostly, the kings did whatever they wanted.
They took what wasn’t theirs.
They ruled Israel for themselves, not God.
They tried to be little gods.

So God sent prophets
to tell the kings and their people
that there is only one true King;
there is only one true God.

But the kings and their people wouldn’t listen.
So they had to leave their home.
Other nations came and conquered Israel
and carried God’s people off by force.

Israel lost everything.
Then there was silence.

Years went by.
No one heard from God anymore.
Until . . .
something new happened.
God sent someone:
a person just like us, yet different.
Someone who could rule the world
the way God wanted.

God sent Jesus,
his chosen one,
to rescue Israel
and fix the world.

Jesus did good wherever he went.
He healed the sick.
He fed the hungry.
He rescued people from all sorts of problems.

Jesus did everything God wanted,
but it wasn’t what God’s people wanted.

They didn’t want Jesus to be their king.
They didn’t want the kind of kingdom he would bring.

So one day, some powerful people decided
they’d better put a stop to Jesus
before he took their power away.

So they arrested Jesus.
They stripped him naked.
They nailed him to a cross
and watched him die.

Jesus didn’t fight back.
He didn’t raise a sword;
he didn’t even raise a finger.

And so the powerful people
thought they had won.
They thought they had beaten
God’s chosen one.

But there was something they didn’t understand.
They didn’t know that Jesus died
not because he had to,
but because he chose to.

They didn’t know that they,
like all of us, deserved to die
for all the times we’ve gone our way
and ruined God’s good world.

They didn’t know a servant’s death
was the only way to live.
They didn’t know a servant’s cross
was the only crown worth having.

The one true King had come
and given his life for the world.
But they didn’t even know.
No one did.

But then God —
the one who made the world,
rescued Israel,
and sent Jesus —
raised him from the dead.

Lots of people saw him alive
before he went back to God.

But Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead.
He defeated death,
so it wouldn’t have power over us any longer.

God gave us the King we needed,
a King who loves, forgives,
and changes everyone who comes to him.

This King gave us a job to do:
love each other with all we’ve got.
Because that’s how we show others
what it’s like to be loved by God.

That’s how we show others
what kind of King we serve.
For now, the world is still broken,
still waiting to be fixed.
But someday, our King is coming back
to rescue us and share his home with us again.

Never again
will anyone take what isn’t theirs.
Never again
will anyone ruin God’s good world.

God will live with us,
and we will rule the world for him.
Forever.
(For Elizabeth)

The King Jesus Gospel (or, what I’m going to tell my kid someday)

One day when I was five, I knelt down and prayed the sinner’s prayer. That was the first step of a lifelong journey, guided first by my parents, then by other Christian leaders and mentors as well. I’ve identified myself as a Christian ever since.

Not everyone can say the same. In the introduction to The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight observes that, even by the most conservative estimates, more than half of those who pray the exact same prayer won’t grow up to be active followers of Christ.

Unless you’re superstitious — unless you believe the words are some type of magic incantation — there’s only one conclusion. For most who pray the sinner’s prayer, nothing happens.

I have a 17-month-old daughter. We had her baptized last year. For my wife and me, her baptism signified her initiation into the covenant community. But to see it as some kind of automatic guarantee is to be just as superstitious about baptism as some people are about the sinner’s prayer.

I want to pass my faith on to my daughter. I want it to stick. But she’s my first kid, and, well… I’ve never done this before.

That’s what was on my mind when I picked up Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan, 2011).

I’m a theology nerd. I actually like reading theological books. I burned through my Christmas gift card money stocking up at four different bookstores last week. But when I picked up Scot’s book, there was more on the line than mere intellectual curiosity.

Scot’s premise is that the gospel isn’t sticking because what we’re proclaiming isn’t really the gospel. It’s a set of propositions that reduce the gospel to a legal transaction between God and individuals. It’s “the plan of salvation.” It’s “sin management.” Or what Scot calls “the soterian gospel” (from soteria, Greek for “salvation”).

And it isn’t working.

Evangelicals focus on getting people to make a “decision” for God. Liturgical traditions (like the one my wife and I now belong to) focus on making people “members” of the covenant community. Both, Scot argues, need to do a better job of making disciples out of these “deciders” and “members.”

Dog-eared pages = sign of a good book

And he argues that the best way to do that is to start telling our story.

Not the four spiritual laws. Not the five things you need to be sure to say when you ask Jesus into your heart.

The story we need to tell, according to Scot, is the story of Jesus completing of the story of Israel.

Scot begins by asking a painfully obvious (but important) question: what is the gospel Jesus preached? And what is the gospel the apostles preached?

Actually, he asks the second question first. And he finds his answer in 1 Corinthians 15, arguably the most explicit summation of the “gospel” to be found in the New Testament. (The apostle Paul starts by referring to this text as “the gospel I preached to you.” Doesn’t get more direct than that.)

The gospel Paul goes on to expound is nothing more (or less) than the story of Jesus: dead, buried, resurrected, appeared, ascended, and someday returning so the rest of us can join him in resurrection. And all of it “according to Scriptures” — i.e. in fulfillment of the story of Israel.

This text, Scot notes, comes from one of the earliest books in the New Testament. It predates the four gospels (or, as Scot would have us say, the ONE gospel according to four witnesses). It formed the basis of the church’s earliest creeds — including the one my church recites every Sunday.

This gospel sees Jesus not so much as the centerpiece of a legal transaction between us and God, but as a king (which, after all, is what the term “Messiah” suggests) who is coming to reverse our usurpation of his rightful kingdom, as well as the death and devastation that followed. It’s the story of a God who is coming to make peace with the world.

Yes, this gospel involves many of the same things the soterian gospel involves — repentance, forgiveness of sin, etc. But it is a much bigger gospel, bigger than me and my felt needs. As Scot writes:

If the Story of Israel finds its completion in the Story of Jesus and if that is the gospel, we must find the problem [that needs fixing] within the fabric and contours of Israel’s story and not just my needs in my story. . . .

Jesus’ word for the solution is the kingdom. . . . If kingdom is the solution, the problem was about the search for God’s kingdom on earth and the problem was the absence of God’s kingdom on earth.

Sure, I found things to nitpick in Scot’s book. Personally, I thought he was a little hard on the “Jesus vs. empire” view put forward by scholars like N.T. Wright and Richard Horsley. (Sorry, Scot, but I’m an N.T. Wright fanboy. And I’ll bet that’s the first time THAT phrase has been used.*)

But I loved this book. The King Jesus Gospel is a much-needed reminder of what the real gospel is — you know, the one that actually means “good news.” In particular, Scot’s restatement of the gospel story on pages 148-153 is worth the price of the book, all by itself.

I still have to figure out how to translate that story for my daughter when she’s old enough, but I have a much better idea what I want to tell her, thanks to Scot’s book.

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*OK, so I was wrong. A Google search of the phrase “N.T. Wright fanboy” yielded no fewer than 1.8 million results.

Oh, and for more on Scot’s book, watch this video (which I’m pretty sure was filmed about a mile from my house)…