A Stark Contrast with the Conventional

It was Jesus who stood out in his Jewish context, not the Essenes or the Pharisees. They were conventional and followed their logic of holiness well; Jesus went in a different direction. The prophetic calling of Jesus demanded the unconventional. The temptation for the church is to be conventional, when the prophetic calling often demands the unconventional.

How prophetic is your church when it comes to the conventional? Has the unconventional become in fact unconventional for the church?

As Luke Timothy Johnson says it in his book, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church, conventionality at the time of Jesus meant to:

privilege the male over the female,
the free over the slave,
the rich over the poor,
the powerful over the weak,
the healthy over the sick.

Everything about Jesus was against that sort of conventional. Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of embrace. The conventional, Johnson says, is fully in step with the “logic of holiness.” Jesus’ ministry is noted, then, by these features: healings that restored people to society (exorcisms, healing the sick) and restoring the marginal (good news to the poor).

Johnson sketches Jesus and women and notes the many women who are embraced by Jesus’ ministry: Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Peter’s mother-in-law, the bent woman at the synagogue, Mary Magdalene… and he observes how often Jesus embraced children, which was even more unconventional. Then we think of Gentiles and his embrace of sinners. Each unconventional.

The Book of Acts develops the same themes: healing and restoring and embracing women and the marginalized. And the Gentile embrace is huge in the Book of Acts — that is the Story of Acts.

The unconventional mission of Jesus was resisted; so too was the mission of the church resisted. Resistance is part of the unconventional mission of God in this world.

The church today?

Exorcism: the church must name the evil, must resist demonic systems in the name of Christ, and the church must provide an alternative to the systemic injustice systems of this world.

Healing: the church must think more in terms of caring than curing but it does this by seeing, touching and placing the afflicted in the midst.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • T

    I have to say, I’m a little disappointed with the answers to the “church today?” question, if the summary matches the chapter.

    I’m all for both things mentioned for Exorcism and Healing. But both of these are huge jumps from what we see in the NT for “exorcism” or “healing”, both in Jesus and in his apostles and in the churches they founded. Yes, let’s care for the sick, but let’s not point to the healing of the NT as our prototype for it.

    Jesus said, concerning his many exorcisms, “if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Paul similarly asked if God did miracles among the Galatians because they obeyed jewish law or because of faith. And he proclaimed Jesus crucified with “demonstrations of the Spirit’s power” so that people’s faith would rest on God’s power rather than men’s wisdom. By contrast, Johnson is recommending, as exorcism, what seems like conventional political lobbying and grassroots community work, which is great, but a serious stretch to call such “exorcism” even if we call it good. And he proposes we “think more in terms of caring than curing” as we follow Jesus’ healing ministry. Again, these are good, good things, but they are remarkably conventional and not necessarily Christian. There are many wonderful organizations doing both these things of various faiths or no faith. If the church today wants to be prophetic and unconventional in our day, then . . . *pray* for the sick and the demonized (and begin working through the painful realities of what we believe and disbelieve that such practice brings to the surface), or have the chutzpah to begin to believe or at least talk with an open mind about the kind of demonic activity we see in the NT, and maybe even learn to deal with it. I know I’m not the only person who has encountered the demonic not at all because I went looking for it, but because I was willing to get involved with abused or deeply wounded people.

    I think what’s most concerning for both the “unconventional” approaches argued for here (and again, they are good things) is that the power that such efforts run on are typically human and monetary, especially since they are being done by secular orgs. Jesus not only eschewed both these forms of power for his work, but he basically forced his missionaries to do the same. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” But, of course, what they did have was his authority to heal the sick and cast out demons. It seems that the conclusion has been made that we have no access to that authority, so do we change the mission to match the power we think we do have?

    My point is that if we are to be unconventional or certainly prophetic in the biblical sense, then we need to start warming ourselves to the power of the Spirit (and, as Johnson has argued) becoming more distrustful of “conventional” forms of power that the world already harnesses. “If I drive out demons *by the Spirit of God* then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” That’s the essense of Christian exorcism. We work not only in Christ’s name, but in the Spirit’s power, as agents of the kingdom of God.


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