A New Book Discussion Series: Scot McKnight’s “Kingdom Conspiracy…”

A New Book Discussion Series: Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church

In a few days I will begin a series of blog posts about theologian and New Testament scholar Scot McKnight’s very important recently published book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Brazos Press, 2014). Those who have followed this blog very long know of my intense interest in discovering the meaning of “Kingdom of God.” There is much confusion about it. Apparently the Bible is not as clear as we wish it were. (One of my basic mottos given to my theology students to justify theology which is more than mere “Bible interpretation.”)

McKnight, Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in suburban Chicago (formerly known as Northern Baptist Theological Seminary), believes many Christians have deviated from Jesus’ own understanding of the Kingdom of God, separating it from the church and making it, for example, either a “dynamic reign of God” wherever God’s lordship is acknowledged and lived out, or a quasi-political program of social justice. In both cases (and there are other ideas of the Kingdom of God) the Kingdom is separated from the church. Anyone who lives, works and worships in the American church world has heard it: talk of doing “Kingdom work” totally outside the church, with no particular connection with any church or anything like church, as charity, community development, and/or social reform.

McKnight is passionate about this subject. His book’s pages bleed that passion. It’s hard not to be a little taken aback by his passion about this matter. But you decide for yourself what you think. Buy the book; begin reading it. Watch for my first discussion of it in about five days. (Most people can easily download the book to their e-reader or computer and begin reading it immediately. Or they can order it from Amazon and have it in two or three days.)

Having read the first several chapters, I can say now that I am intensely intrigued by Scot’s thesis. I share his concern, but right now I’m not settled about whether or not I agree fully with his idea of the Kingdom. I have always resisted identifying the Kingdom of God with the church and I’m not sure that’s exactly what Scot is doing. At least I don’t think he’s identifying the Kingdom with any visible or institutional church. The question, then, is: what “church” is the Kingdom of God? This is the same question I have when I read Hauerwas. I wonder what “church” he is referring to when he writes and talks about “the church is…” and “the church should be….” The “church” is so divided it’s difficult to know what a person who talks about “the church” means. The church universal? What visible and institutional church is the “best” embodiment of that, then? Or should we start over and develop a new and better church? That’s been tried many times.

So, I get Scot’s concern and share it. I agree that “Kingdom” language is being used far too loosely these days (and for a long time!). And I agree that the Kingdom of God must have some relationship with the church as Jesus intended the church to be. Where is that?

Again, my longtime readers will remember that I am a historic premillennialist (not dispensationalist), so I tend to identify the fullness of the Kingdom of God with that future earthly reign of Jesus Christ when Satan will be bound and “Jesus shall reign wher’er the sun does its successive journeys run.” But what about the Kingdom now—in the “time between the times?” That’s Scot’s question and mine. What does it mean to do “Kingdom work?” Can Kingdom work be done totally apart from any Christian community? Is a secular person or pagan doing “Kingdom work” when striving for peace and justice?

So, stay tuned…. Read the book with me if you can. I won’t be summarizing it, but I will bring out some of its main points and respond to them. I consider this truly a learning experience; I do not have a preconceived opinion by which I will judge Scot’s arguments or conclusions. At this moment I am not entirely satisfied with either the non-church meaning of “Kingdom of God” or identification of the Kingdom with church. So, we’ll see if Scot changes my mind (and yours).

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