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The Roman world produced a number of leaders. These leaders would have expected public honor, public reputation, wealth, and they would have been defensive if their reputation was threatened. The Corinthians grew up in this kind of world. They were providing leadership the way that Rome had taught them. When they became leaders in house churches they adopted this leadership model. And it appears they expected the Apostle Paul to demonstrate this kind of leadership. They opposed Paul when he adopted the weird idea that the cross had something to do with leadership.

The following words are influenced by Scot McKnight and any parts that are good are probably his. Let me toss out a statement from McKnight that will likely be protested by some. “The attraction to secular models of leadership in the church today is Corinthian.”

We need reminded that our Leader gave us a strange enactment in the context of leadership. John 13 is probably not the text the Corinthian house church leaders were using when discussing leadership. But Paul may have had it in mind “I did not come with superiority… I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Much of the Corinthian correspondence seems to be contrasting Corinthian influenced leadership vs. Cross influenced leadership. Perhaps the New Testament would like us to be less interested in leadership and more interested in followership.

The New Testament does name some leaders and talk about leadership, but the emphasis is always on followers. A stroll down the aisle of the Christian book store may suggest otherwise, but the New Testament does not baptize secular business models or leadership theory into Christian ministry. To counter such ideas the Apostle Paul summarizes thoughts on leadership in Philippians 2, a revolutionary leadership based on the cross.

I am not opposed to leadership theory. I do think there have been a few instances where the church has benefitted from it. I also think it has been given far more influence in the church and particularly pastoral ministry than it deserves. The fact that it has been helpful does not make it Christian. Even the leaders mentioned in the bible are called to be followers. It is time for the church to emphasize what it is to be a follower. Let us work on our followership.

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In the spring of 2014 I had opportunity to attend a conference where Scot McKnight spoke about Kingdom theory. One thing that stood out was the amount of counter feedback he received to his proposal that church and kingdom be considered synonymous. My guess is that he received push back on other occasions as well.

The result of his stick-to-it-ive-ness is the book Kingdom Conspiracy and we should be grateful. McKnight offers a compelling argument to start thinking about church and kingdom more closely together. I suspect he nails fifteen theses to the final chapter in the hope that the conversation will be ongoing.

This book will be helpful to all of us who struggle with kingdom deficits. Helpful for those who struggle with the kingdom being something more than occasional glimpses of glory. Helpful for those who struggle with the kingdom being something other than an exhibit of victories in the culture wars. Helpful for those of us who struggle with other fraudulent ideas about the kingdom.

I find this conversation meaningful and think Conspiracy complements another recent book from McKnight A Fellowship of Differents. Whereas Differents offers us a family portrait, Conspiracy moves us toward an agenda of how to live in the world. Both of these texts are visionary and point us in a direction we should be going. Both texts attempt to clarify for us our identity as a people of God.

The reader should be aware this is a political book. In case the reader does not figure it out during the main portion of the book, the appendices will make it clear. However, McKnight is not attempting to get the reader involved in modern politics. This is a political book only because our story is a political story. On account of this, he can say “Christian public actions are the ‘spillover’ of the church’s inner workings. A Christian not engaged in the world in ‘good works’ has failed to live according to the kingdom vision.”

McKnight is convinced the world does not understand itself. And that it will never understand itself without the church. This theme reminded me frequently of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s Resident Aliens and he leans on Hauerwas at this point, “For the church to be the church, therefore, is not anti-world, but rather an attempt to show what the world is meant to be as God’s good creation.”

McKnight suggests one of the reasons we struggle with speaking about church and kingdom synonymously is our tendency to compare present church with future kingdom. When we compare present church with present kingdom or future church with future kingdom, it becomes “reasonable to say that the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom – that they are the same even if they are not identical.”

Even if you want to argue this point with McKnight, you may still agree that church and kingdom share the same route and follow the same directions. You may even think that one is the suitcase that carries the other to its destination. We can be grateful that McKnight has brought us into this conversation and helps us recognize who we are called to be and what we are to be up to as participants in this conspiracy – however you may choose to define it.

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I recently finished reading A Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight and cannot help but talk about it. I also cannot help but think of it as a portrait of the church. He begins by providing us with an image of a salad bowl (did anyone else think McKnight was hungry when he wrote this)? The image is a helpful one and helps us to see a picture of church that is a fellowship of different colors, textures, and flavors.

I really like the way he works to provide a picture of the church that looks like the picture we get from the text. I like that some of his struggles are evident in his writing. This is the second book of McKnight’s that I have read and plan to read another soon. It is exciting when exegetes wrestle with the needs of the church.

McKnight calls the church “God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share with one another as a new kind of family.” He goes on, “The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family.”

After listing a number of differents who may have gathered for church in the first century, McKnight asks “Do you think these folks agreed on everything? (Impossible is the right answer.) Were they a fellowship of “differents”? (Yes is the right answer.) ” Was life together hard? (Yes again.) That’s the whole point of what it means to be a church.” This is important because following Jesus is not about how I am doing as an individual as much as “how and what I am doing in that mix of others called the church.”

Back to the image of a salad bowl. Too often, we have thought that we were smothering others with our flavorful dressing when what we have been doing is making us all look and smell and taste the same. This has encouraged differents to go somewhere else where they can surround themselves with others who are like them. This is the natural way the world has always done things. In contrast, God designed the church to be something different than the world had ever seen before.

I love what is said about Galatians 3.28, “The apostle Paul laid down one of the most brilliant lines in the history of mankind, a set of lines that reveal God’s grand social experiment called ‘church.’” McKnight helps us to see a portrait of God’s grand world-changing social experiment where “differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… one in Christ Jesus, in the salad bowl that holds the differents together.”

There is so much more. So much that I think you will want to read this book. In the meantime, I will keep on talking about it.

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Scot McKnight is concerned that we have watered down the kingdom.  At a recent conference sponsored by Ecclesia, he shared that some have limited the kingdom to good people doing good things in the public sector for the common good.  McKnight calls this “skinny jeans kingdom theory.”  Others, he claims, have limited the kingdom to looking for redemptive moments.  This he calls “pleated pants kingdom theory.”

Much of the discussion that followed was intended to strengthen incomplete kingdom theories.  McKnight proposed that some things are absolutely necessary in any discussion about kingdom.  He talked about kingdom mission.  What it is and what it is not.  He talked about the character of the King as the major determinant of the character of the kingdom.

Two things in particular prompted hearers to challenge McKnight’s thinking.  One, he seems to specify a difference between doing good in the public sector and kingdom mission.  While he emphasized that kingdom mission includes doing good as disciples in a missional way, this does not mean that the kingdom can morph into a new social gospel.  He separates kingdom mission from many forms of doing good.  Kingdom mission is not social justice, activism, or related things.  Kingdom mission is not an attempt to redeem culture or an effort to change the systems of this world by means of the strategies of this world.  I do think there is a difference between 1) eliminating oppositional evil and 2) entering into it as a collection of people who call themselves the church.

The second thing that prompted hearers to challenge his thinking was the strong connection he gave between church and kingdom.  To emphasize that the kingdom is something other than social justice or redemptive moments, McKnight emphasizes the church as kingdom fellowship or kingdom politic.  (I sense some influence from Stanley Hauerwas).  The church is a political assembly.  A manifestation of God in a local community.  McKnight goes so far as to say that if kingdom is not church then you are using kingdom wrong.  I rather like his statement that kingdom mission means we learn to live under King Jesus as a body.

While many challenged his categories, I think that everyone would have agreed with a statement something like; “Whatever we choose to call certain activities of the church, let’s just do them.”  Good works are not automatically Christian, but they can serve as an assault into darkness.  They can also potentially distract from the larger plan of God for his people.  I found this discussion particularly helpful and wish that more could have participated in it.  (Perhaps it is a good idea to buy McKnight’s forthcoming book as a starter into the conversation).  I am always glad when exegetes wrestle with the issues of the church.

I am inclined to agree with the notion that kingdom and church should be considered more synonymously than they are.  And whether we call it kingdom work or not, I think that the church does participate in forays, in rendezvous, and in reconnaissance into places that some may consider to be secular territory.  There, we participate in work that is good, work that builds the kingdom, work that glorifies the King.  And all of us can agree, whatever we may choose to call it – this is work we all should join in.

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