The church is the hope of the world

Ben Witherington interviews Scot McKnight on McKnight’s new book, A Fellowship of Differents. The interviews I’ve read sound great. This interview in particular draws out a connection between Christ and his Church I think we keep wanting to lose in our American culture.

We have too much of this, “I love Jesus, but can’t stand his Church” kind of mentality. Quite frankly, and this is as honest as I’ve been on this, that is GARBAGE thinking. 

We like a head without a body? Get real.

McKnight says this in the interview:

The church, a local church, is the Body of Christ, a local Body of Christ. I cannot emphasize enough that Christ and his Body are in union and one can’t love the Bridegroom without loving his Bride, the church.

Most importantly, modernity and postmodernity have wreaked havoc in the church with individualism and the notion that each of us is captain of our own soul. Yes, but there’s danger lurking there. Each of us accountable to God as a person but God is at work building the church and not simply individual Christians.

The body needs to express the beauty of Christ better. I won’t argue that. But to say we love a head without a body is just… well… creepy.

22 God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, 23 which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. (Eph. 1:22-23)

I will confess my love for Christ AND his Church. He is perfect, and he is perfecting his body. We do this together.

Why I won’t leave the church

For all the angst out there about evangelicals “leaving church,” and there are good reasons to get disappointed (so don’t get me wrong), Scot McKnight hits another home run in an interview regarding his latest book. When asked about evangelicals “leaving the church” he says this:

…as divorce is easy so leaving church is easy. The rugged commitment to one another that ought to shape a person’s commitment to a church has been transcended today by seeing church as a place to go to hear a sermon and get something, and if the sermon isn’t good enough or if the person is not getting enough out of it, they pack up and move on. This denies the fundamental commitment to one another in the New Testament church as a fellowship. Leaving a church needs to be experienced more like a divorce than a change of scenery.

For all the problems of the evangelical church, if I leave and don’t work on being better in my own faith, how can I demand something else “get better?” If I am in it to help things “get better” there are greater opportunities for flourishing again in the Body of Christ. Truth be told, if I leave this “disappointment” for greener pastures… I’ll find disappointment over there as well. To further Scot’s divorce analogy, the first divorce makes it a bit easier to bolt the second marriage as well…

I am committed to the Church. The particular expression I work and worship in is where I have the deepest roots. I also have the deepest problems here as well. But I love the full expression of the Body of Christ as well. I love my city where Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians gather for Good Friday. It’s where each of us as pastors gather monthly and love each other. We learn to love the greater expressions of the Body of Christ.

Let’s resist the temptation to pack up and move on. Let’s work harder and loving one another, challenging one another, and having the opportunity to possibly grow up rather than spin in perpetual toddler cycle.

Let’s at least get to the table to talk

What I long for is the honest conversation in the church. I want to drop my misconceptions and just invite a conversation. It’s incredibly difficult. For one, I can’t get those things completely out of my head. I have to work harder at simple listening.

For another, when people see me, they see my labels. So, because I’m Pentecostal… or “evangelical”… or white… or male… somehow there is not a conversation to be had. Misconceptions run both ways.

I won’t be labeled automatically. Not if I can help it. I know it will happen, but that’s not on me. It’s up to me to make sure I’m not letting labels get quickly in the way so it blocks a conversation with someone else.

But let’s at least get to the table to talk.

Scot McKnight has some powerful questions on the “success” of a church. I like some of these challenging questions!

Asked as a question, Who is invisible in your church?

To the degree folks are invisible, we don’t have the right view of the church or the right view of the Christian life.

Here are some examples:

Ethnically different
Faith strugglers

Then…. BOOM:

What about gays and lesbians? Let’s ignore the debates about what the Bible teaches and ask this question: Are they able to be honest about their sexual orientation? Or do they catch the message the gospel is not for them? Does your church want redemption or exclusion?

For me, I want to at least get to the table to have the conversation. As uncomfortable as it is, I long for those deep moments where something real is possible.

Diminished Expectations

The other night in our Bible study the question came up, “Can we ever get to a place where we don’t grumble?” (We are studying Philippians.)

I said flatly, “Of course.”

It drew out some surprised looks. I went on, “If it’s raised as an expectation in Scripture, why would we NOT think we could have a place where we don’t grumble in our lives? Why SAY IT… and then not expect it?”

We have diminished expectations in our American Christianity. We settle in too easily.

I saw THIS POST this morning and this quote jumped out:

“It would be bad enough if Christians just forgot about spiritual growth, but the problem is worse than that. A good many Christians seem committed to the idea that we can expect little spiritual progress in this life”

We are a people of diminished expectations. The Kingdom is great than this. Our King is greater than this. And he deserves better from those who claim to follow him.

We need this call refreshed in our lives:

First Christians need to have the right expectations regarding maturity. Spiritual maturity is desirable. Maturity is the gateway to the kind of deep, powerful, experiential relationship with Christ that energized Paul. It is the path to a beautiful life of love. It is attainable, something to be expected in the life of every believer after a normal period of training. Finally, it is visible. People who fail to display the qualities of maturity are either spiritual infants or are slipping back into immature ways.

Lord, help us walk on to MATURITY.

Kingdom power is NOT about this world’s power

We keep refusing to understand the kingdoms of this world in an unredeemed state don’t operate under what we want to have as “true morality.” I got another email about some legislation where we need to “pray this doesn’t pass.” I understand that, but to try and force a world power to act like the kingdom of God may or may not work. It’s uneven.

And WE operate IN this world, but it’s under the authority of the Kingdom of God. This should be why Christianity is truly a threat, especially in totalitarian regimes.

This longer post has a great discussion on the ACTION of the true Kingdom, but here is one good quote:

Kingdom of God, instead of aligning with already existing political powers, created a new kind of kingdom with a new king, a new rule and redemption, a new people, a new law and a new sense of place. The ethic of the kingdom is for those people living under that king not for the public sector living under other kings.

We need these reminders no matter where we are on the theological spectrum. I find “liberals” and “conservatives” constantly trying to make a secular government act like the Kingdom of God and both sides keep getting frustrated. Maybe we need to keep learning new lessons about the true Kingdom.

Youth Ministry as “Cheap Grace?”

Scot McKnight gives some excerpts from an author named Andrew Root on the use of Bonhoeffer with youth. Root recommends taking some of Bonhoeffer’s essential ideas and utilizing them in discipling youth. (More HERE)

He also gives a sober warning:

It is possible that much of North American youth ministry is actually the perpetuation of cheap grace; it is the arm of the church that offers the “idea” of Christianity to the young. Bonhoeffer may tell us if he were with us today that the problem with youth ministry is that it is addicted to cheap grace. It has been so captivated by the “idea” of Christianity, by the idea of getting young people committed and excited about the institutional church, that it has given itself over almost completely to principles and programs. Just take stock of the most popular blogs and speakers at youth ministry conventions. Often these are not theologians or ministers but those in the business of ideation; they tell youth workers that they can create the next big idea, that Christianity is an idea and that if we can just break through, following the right principles, we can create programs of loyalty that stretch as deep as Apple and Gucci (177).

I was able to help with our youth group going to our denomination’s youth convention this year. Having a theme of “LIVE DEAD” and having two speakers who were missionaries in very dangerous areas of the world doesn’t scream: “IDEATION!” to me. For that, I am thankful. We need a more serious call to youth. We need a more concerted effort to guide and mentor and quit making them feel like the sun rises and falls on them.

Youth ministry is such a mixed bag, but I was grateful for so many things I witnessed at our youth convention. As another matter, I still think our “worship” lacks serious depth. But the theme of “LIVE DEAD” and the challenge of two incredibly dedicated missionaries was not a “typical” youth event. Far from it.

The key at any age is we need to move away from cheap grace and show people there is a cross to confront and move through. We all have to come to the cross. We all have to understand the seriousness of following Christ. And the younger we have people understanding this, the better off we are as the Church in America.

Real Church. You may want to try it.

Great thoughts here from Scot McKnight on the local church.

Ordinary small churches are the norm and the reality of church life, of kingdom-now life.

We have the ideal in our head, and lifted up as THE model for church, McKnight tries to burst that bubble.

As pastors we can even have our ideals:

Pastors smitten by the ideal of the church think more of themselves as prophets instead of pastors.

We need to keep it real. Pastors pastor. 

Could we get the hope of the ORDINARY church back into our vision?

The real church, then, is made up of ordinary Christians who are ordinary sinners.

And LESS of the “ideal?”

Those who are comfortable only with the ideal will settle for nothing less than conformity of all others in the congregation to their perception of the Christian life and church.

Help us, Lord, live in the reality of the Kingdom… mess and all.

My contention is this: if we will learn to expect less than our ideals we will discover the genuine more of fellowship and church life.

We don’t have all the answers. We won’t lob theological grenades at each other. We may even disagree, but are willing to talk it out.

Lord, please give us some reality!

Are you finished being God?

Matthew 7:1-6 gives us the ultimate excuse to tell people to back off.

We usually don’t like others prying into our messes, so we say something like, “Don’t judge me.”

The Kingdom ethic is, of course, a bit more involved than us just trying to get people to back off. Scot McKnight’s new commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, gives some good insight. One of the messes we get into is that word “judge.” It’s simply too broad so finding the context is key.

McKnight points out the Kingdom ethic John Wesley used: “The judging that Jesus condemns here is thinking about another person in a way that is contrary to love.”

The Kingdom ethic is learning that we are not God. God alone is judge. We don’t need to be a part of a society of condemnation. We are in a Kingdom that calls us to humility and is marked by love for our neighbor.

To this short point, I am really liking McKnight’s approach to the Sermon, especially as I try to capture the power of this message through the lens of Dallas Willard and The Divine Conspiracy.


Book Review: Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not

I received Jesus is Lord Caesar is Not from IVP for the purposes of reading and reviewing the book. I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

The book is edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica and features several authors critiquing the thought of the New Testament being “anti-Empire.” They look at the writings of several scholars over the recent years who have put forward the idea that the New Testament is a subversive text and the purpose is to give veiled criticism of the Roman Empire.

This book piqued my interest for several reasons. I have a friend who has as a tagline on her Facebook page regarding political views: “I don’t do empire well.” Also, I worked my way through NT Wright’s Simply Jesus a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated by the idea of “Kingdom allegiance.” That added to what I read from James Smith a couple of years ago in Desiring the Kingdom.

The question put forth in this volume is this: Is the New Testament as subversive as recent scholarship seems to claim? The answer generally is “No.” However, I appreciated the volume not simply saying, “No, the New Testament is not a subversive text at all.”

It was more a call for balance, to realize that saying, “Jesus is Lord” in Roman times did indeed mean something. It just may not have meant, “Tell Caesar where to stick it,” or something like that.

As the introduction points out, the whole idea of being “anti-Empire” seemed to gain steam when George Bush was president and we didn’t like his war policies. Now that we have a different president there may be some modification to that whole idea.

I thought Judith Diehl’s chapter on “Anti-Imperial Rhetoric in the New Testament” was extremely helpful. She took the time to walk through some Roman history and different views on how emperors should rule in the Roman world. She points out that the Church comes into being in a time when the Roman Empire held to the belief that the emperor had absolute power. There could be a hostile environment if the empire thought some rhetoric appeared to be “anti-emperor.”

While emperor worship was not obligatory for most people, to publicly worship an “unseen God” represented by a “peasant Jew” who was crucified as a criminal by Roman authorities could be seen as a challenge. It was at least open to scrutiny (p. 45).

She offers a question as to whether Paul in Acts 22-28 is the same as the person who authored the epistles because they seem like two different people (p. 51). Did Paul’s view change as he grew older?

Diehl’s quick overview of the entire New Testament was a good start. Other chapters offer more specific critiques of specific NT books (like Matthew) and specific scholars who wrote on just how “subversive” the New Testament writers were in those books. Generally, the consensus is that the NT is not quite a “subversive” and “anti-Empire” as those scholars may claim.

In the conclusion, the warning is clear. When you have a hammer you think everything is a nail. That’s good advice whether it’s an academic exercise or church ministry. We can have an “anti-Empire” burr in our saddle and then read everything that way. That works when you don’t like a particular president, but when you like the next president and his policies, it may tend to tone down your rhetoric.

Personally, I like the work of Smith and Wright on this issue. The Kingdom calls for allegiance and that means the allegiances of this world will clash with our Kingdom allegiance from time to time. Whose Kingdom do we serve?

This is a book worth exploring and it helps bring a bit of balance to the understanding “empire” and what that may truly mean in a New Testament context.

Careful, Your Inner Zealot is Showing

Scot McKnight has a good word regarding “evangelicals” and “zealotry.” We need to be mindful of what is GOOD and JUST, and not allow our own quest for “being right” get in the way of true freedom in Christ. But, overall, our zeal should be for Christ and his Kingdom and not our own particular agendas, no matter our particular theological or philosophical leanings.

One of the “fears” of zealotry Scot mentions:

A fear of what freedom in the Spirit just might create. In other words, the operative word inside the fear of freedom is control. Control of self and control of others. If we construct zealous rules, fences around the Torah to prevent anyone from getting remotely close to breaking some law, then we can control what others will do.