A Final Reply to Scot McKnight and Matthew Bates
Editor’s Note: Last month, Greg Gilbert spoke at T4G. You can read his sermon here. In that talk, Greg took issue with some statements and emphases of both Scot McKnight and Matthew Bates. They have both responded (McKnight and Bates). Greg then responded to their responses. Matthew then wrote a response, which included an “open letter” to Greg. This article is Greg’s final response.
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I think this is going to be my last word in this latest flare-up of this Gospel-Kingdom-Justification conversation, and I’ll try to keep it brief. Scot and Matthew may very well respond again, even to this post. If so, I’ll read their responses, but I’m happy to leave the last word to them. Honestly, I think this conversation has become tainted by the overly personal in some unhelpful ways. I love a good-faith biblical and theological debate as much as anyone, but this one has devolved into every question or challenge I offer being categorized as “misrepresentation,” and intentional and even deceitful misrepresentation at that. That kind of thing makes for a lot of heat but very little light.
I do not believe that I have misrepresented Scot or Matthew. I certainly have not intentionally done so. I’ve just tried to point out several ways I see their teaching on this matter contradicting not only Scripture, but sometimes, it seems to me, even their own writings. I’ve tried to get clarity on whether each of them stands by the statement that when Paul defines the gospel, it contains “not a word about atonement, not a word about salvation, not one hint of the soterian gospel” (KJG, 50). That, to me, seems important. I could try to respond to every charge of deceit and intentional misrepresentation that Matthew has made against me, but that exercise would become really tedious for everyone. And I’ve learned over years of pastoring a church—and being married! 😄—that conversations like that are rarely fruitful.
So let me just bring my participation in this to a close by making one more point that seems important, especially if this whole conversation has been new to you: It’s not new. It’s been going on for years, even decades. So despite Matthew’s claim, a half-dozen blog posts written in response to this latest dust-up don’t even get close to “heft” in terms of an “emerging consensus” in his favor. The fact is, most of the scholars who I think would agree with me on the substance of this haven’t written about it in the last several days not because they’ve come to agree with Bates, but because they’ve been writing against his proposal for years. There’s no reason for them to say anything more now because they’ve already said it. So if you’re interested in that larger conversation, here’s just a small handful of examples as a starting point. (I’m not saying all these people are in lockstep agreement with me, nor are they all responding to McKnight or Bates. They just variously raise points and ask questions that I share.)
- Tom Schreiner, Saved by ‘Allegiance’ Alone? On a New Attempt to Revise the Reformation (2017)
- Trevin Wax, Scot McKnight and the “King Jesus Gospel” 1: Points of Agreement (2011)
- Trevin Wax, Scot McKnight and the “King Jesus Gospel” 2: Points of Concern (2011)
- Timothy Ward, review of The Blue Parakeet (Themelios, 2009)
- ETS Review of Salvation by Allegiance Alone, by Will Timmins. (2019)
- Michael Horton, “Are You a Soterian?” (2011).
- Matthew Lee Anderson, “Putting Jesus Back in the Gospel” (2011)
- Simon Gathercole, “The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom.” (2006)
- D.A. Carson, “What is the Gospel?–Revisited,” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. (2010)
- Jeremy Treat, “Kingdom and Cross: What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate.” (2014)
Here’s the important thing: If any of this has whetted anyone’s appetite to understand the whole Bible better, to see Jesus and his saving work more clearly, to behold our Crucified and Resurrected King more brilliantly in all his breathtaking beauty, then that’s a win, and I’m happy to leave it right there. SDG