They Asked

Students have asked me questions over the years that I have sought to probe with them and answer myself. I’m not sure I can reduce all the questions to the single-most important, but I think I can reduce them to a few topics.

What is the Christian life all about? Why has justice — especially in the world when it comes to poverty and suffering — been so neglected? What does kingdom of God mean and why wasn’t I evangelized into the kingdom? Why has peace — in the world and in our country — been so ignored by so many Christians? If love is so central to Jesus, why is it not more prominent as the center of my church and my life and my family?

In addition to these questions, when we discuss “wisdom” in the Bible, students begin to ask other questions: What is a wisdom culture? What would it look like today? And I have at times pushed back and said we are so absent of a wisdom culture because ours is a youth and newness and “what’s the next new thing?” culture.

Oddly enough, though my students don’t often ask about the church and they often come to us from the church, when they see the kingdom vision of Jesus they wonder what the church has to do with the kingdom. And then they begin to wonder why the church and do we need the church and … and then I push back and say the kingdom vision of Jesus and what the church is are not far apart. That can get things rolling. Another one that gets things rolling is anytime someone brings up hell or heaven, or any text we are reading touches on those themes.

In the inner recesses of my office I hear lots of stories about vocation — what should I do? What do you think of this job? — and at times students talk about their sex life and how they are either disappointed or ravaged or wondering and “why is this such a big deal in the church?”

When we examine the inner structure of the Gospels in the Jesus class the cross comes up, and sometimes students ask why the cross is so important and what it has to do with daily life.

That’s why I wrote One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. Here’s what I can say now: when I began teaching college students I had a plan of what I would  be writing over the next one or two decades. That all changed because “they asked.” I feel many times that I’m one step behind them and then at other times trying to get one step ahead of them – “if I say this, they will ask this. What will I say?”

There you have it, a part of the inner world of what it means to be a professor of some of the finest young people in the world.

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  • Trish

    As a 46-year old who has spent most of my life in the Church, I can understand the students’ disconnect between the Church and the Kingdom. You wrote, “they begin to wonder why the church and do we need the church and … and then I push back and say the kingdom vision of Jesus and what the church is are not far apart.”

    Though the Church is part of the Kingdom plan, they often offer up two different realities. When you see people so caught up in building their own personal kingdoms through their local church or you see people rejected for their beliefs rather than supported by the local church, etc., it’s easy for disillusionment to set in. You begin to realize how far away from the Kingdom vision the church is and yet, it still remains Christ’s bride. So, I guess what begins to emerge, at least for me, is that as imperfect as She is, it’s God’s chosen vehicle for extending His Kingdom here on earth and part of our mission should be to make it be all that it can be. At least, I know that is my call as difficult and heart-wrenching a work as it can be at times.

  • I am a divorced, single, 50-year-old man who deeply believes in Christianity and the potential for the church to have relevance for life. My son is 22, a musician, highly intelligent single man who was raised in the church, yet now wonders about the reality of a personal God. He considers himself to be agnostic at this point, but is open to God, if he can experience a personal God. Essentially, his question is: “Is God personal?” If not, what difference does the moral codes the church holds make for how I live my life? If so, why hasn’t God spoken to him personally?
    Tough questions… We get together from time to time and we talk. The conversations usually scatter across a wide range of topics, and are frequently very deep. I share my own on-going faith experience and don’t necessarily try to do a sales-job about it. He is frustrated by the church, and quite often, I am as well. However, I am understanding that I am the church, and I must be honest about my own presuppositions and predjudices about the church and people without a faith tradition. I love our conversations, but hurt deeply for his spiritual loneliness and the frustration of his faith. But it is HIS search! I can only share my journey, and pray to a God that deeply loves him, knows his heart and is calling him through his life. Many times, I think the conversation is more important and shaping than any answers could be.

  • scotmcknight

    Larry, sometimes a common reading of a book can be of mutual benefit.

  • Good suggestion… I can think of one about some kind of bird….maybe a parakeet? Actually, he and I talked about Blue Parakeet after I read it. That is a good suggestion. He used to be an English major, until he joined the current band he is in. (Root and Stem, sorry… a dad’s shameless plug)He loves literature. Would you have a second suggestion to go along with Blue Parakeet?

  • Scot McKnight

    Larry, well … I’d recommend Tom Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus (with DVD).

  • Christina

    Thanks so much for posting this, Scot. I will be teaching college students for the first time this fall and hope to be a professor in the future. I learn a great deal from students and pray that I will be responsive to their questions and needs, following your example.

    Thanks also for writing One.Life. I’m a thirty-something pursuing my second graduate degree, but the book answered many of my questions, too. It has helped me to be more intentional about living out the kingdom dream of Jesus (no easier in my thirties, in this cultural moment, than it was in my twenties!).

  • paul johnston

    What is a Christian culture of wisdom? Surely more than a series of propositions? Should it not be an ongoing tradition, a way of life, being and understanding dating from Apostolic times to the present.A distinctive and discernible alternative to the vagaries of time and culture. Beyond the Catholic faiths, either orthodox or latin, which Protestant ecclessial community can claim such continuity?

  • K. Reux


    How I identify with what you are saying. My daughter who has just graduated from college has become agnostic. Part of her reasons are because many of her friends are homosexual and she sees passages in the text (especially Paul’s epistles) that seem to condemn it. She doesn’t understand how this can be and so she rejects God at this point.

    I have struggled with this issue myself. I have taught her to think for herself and I have taught her openness to others regardless of what is going on in their lives. I struggle with what I see are clear texts and yet I understand her concerns and difficulty with what appears to be condemnation of her friends.

    This is a box of worms I know. But it is one I am still trying to get a handle on.

  • DRT

    This really hits home Scot. My oldest son does not ask those next level questions yet, but hopefully he will realize the illusion of his current pursuits.

    In the past week I have given my copy of the Blue Parakeet to a 20 something that wants to sell the church, but is not willing to make to make it meaningful, and another very fine man who wonders about the idolatry in his life and how that intersects with the true teachings of Jesus. Both heavy interactions.

    If I were to push back on the One.Life, I would say that it may be further down the road than many young folks are. I can see those who feel they have committed to Jesus being the right audience, but I see so many confused about the message that I don’t even want to give that one to them because I am afraid they will equate the giving of their life with rigid acceptance of calvinism or something like that. There is an intermediate step of getting them on the right track before they start dedicating themselves to that track. Or, perhaps its been awhile since I read your book, but that is where I am, Scot.

  • DRT

    K. Reux#8, my younger sister is gay, and I love her for it. It is so incredibly different from the way any conservative seems to envision being gay that I realize that there is no way in the world to relay the difference.

    My sister is not going to find a guy, the only one that she really hit it off with was an effeminate Eagle Scout in high school. She is not mainstream, and the abosolutely wonderful and lifegiving thing that has happened is that she has found someone else who cares about what she cares about, and accepts her for what he is. I am so wonderfully happy for her that it gives me peace in my soul. Though our parents have not accepted the situation yet…..I am nearly 50 and parents in the 70’s.

    The dualism of greek philosophy goes far beyond the matter / soul discussion that we have all been having. Sexuality is not an either/or thing, it is a vast and multi-dimensional continuum that we all life with and the tails of the distributions tend to have a very difficult time with the religions that value conformance. Frankly speaking, there is no such thing as normal, yet that is what people judge others against, it is just wrong.

  • Larry and repliers – I too walked away from my parents’ faith in college, agnostic than atheist. I returned when I finally, for the first time in my life, met and talked to a Christian who was super-smart (not turning his brain off in reading the Bible and coming to faith) and super-loving (not hypocritical, but oozing joy and grace) at the same time. Now more than ever, they need to SEE the love of Christ and read the gospel in the lives of friends, before they may be able to be open to the written Word.

    Paul – we studied that this very week in a Bible study on James 3 – the Greek ‘culture of wisdom’ exalted truth and deep knowledge and wise sayings, but James says that true wisdom does not come from a sage or even from heaven as a set of propositions – but as a life that is lived out pleasing to God – “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

    My takeaway from that study – wisdom = seeing things from God’s perspective, and living out what that requires.

  • Scot, thank you for having the courage to let them ask the questions and explore the answers together. It’s difficult for many folks to know how to trust children & young people to know how to “see” God at work in people around them (and to see not-God, too). It’s as if we really don’t trust that the Holy Spirit is speaking to them, too. God-with-us is with us throughout our lives, and from my perspective, it seems vital that we listen well enough to help them identify Who God is, all the time, always imminent, and when they’re faithfully serving God themselves. My prayer is that we, in ministry & in the Spirit, may help tune ears to hear God aright, and eyes to see Jesus.

    One of my early childhood memories of a traumatic situation was hearing God’s voice emphatically speaking truth into that darkness. (and, I didn’t know who God was, or know the gospel, then…)

  • paul johnston

    I like your definition, Larry. Wisdom is lived.

  • Scot, sometimes I wish I had probed deeper and asked you more questions like those. I learned a lot from you and those things roiled in my head, not only then, but for the years to come – I just kept a lot of it in my head. Thanks for your honest and serious teachings. I have been challenged and shaped by them for the last decade.

  • Joe Canner

    DRT #10, Thanks for sharing that. Your situation is pretty much the same as mine, and your post encourages me a lot at a time when I am frustrated by the inability of many Christians to be willing to truly dialogue and engage with this issue.

  • Dana Ames

    your students are very blessed to have you. May the Lord continue to continue to confirm you in faithfulness.


  • Paul Johnston

    With regard to the issue/discussion of homosexuality, I’m hoping that the “public square” will allow the question, “Is homosexuality disordered?” to be sensitively asked and thoughtfully and respectfully answered.

  • Jeff L

    Paul Johnson @17: what do you mean by “disordered”? and can you clarify what you mean by “‘the public square’ will allow the question”?
    Just curious.

  • Jeremy

    Scot (and certainly readers),
    I have no idea why I haven’t thought of this before, but your statement, “Why wasn’t I evangelized into the kingdom?” rocked me. It’s been percolating for two days now. Could you suggest a book/article that pushes that thought a little further. Thanks, love the blog!

  • scotmcknight

    Jeremy, two books I’ve written are addressing that very topic: One.Life and the next book, due out Sept, called The King Jesus Gospel. But there are a bazillion books that take us straight to Jesus and his kingdom vision.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hey, Jeff L. Disordered, as in not functioning in a healthy way.

    Biologically speaking an existing homosexual species, unable to procreate itself, would be dead after one generation. If evolutionary theories are correct shouldn’t gay genes, if they exist or existed, have dissappeared a long,long,time ago.

    Morally speaking completely divorcing sexual expression from the possibility of procreation.

    Rationally speaking should a sexual predisposition become the single most significant expression of one’s personhood? Can sexual predisposition be personhood?