Discussion of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Part Four
A week and some days ago I invited you to read Kingdom Conspiracy (Brazos Press, 2014) along with me and participate in a discussion of it here. Hopefully you have obtained the book by now and are prepared to participate as you wish. I am offering my thoughts about the book in several response posts over a few weeks. This is Part Four of the series and covers Chapters 8 and 9, “The King of the Kingdom” and “Kingdom Redemption Unleashed” respectively.
Once again, I find myself in general agreement with Scot’s main points, but that would be boring, so I will also express some of my hesitations, possible disagreements, while acknowledging that he may yet resolve those issues to my liking later in the book.
Scot’s main concern is expressed most concisely on page 152: “So often today, kingdom gets boiled down to ethics. … Others reduce kingdom redemption to personal salvation.” Then, on page 157 Scot expresses (again, in other words) his corrective thesis: “Kingdom is about the people of God living the will of God, and kingdom mission is first and foremost about a redemptive reality of living under King Jesus as a fellowship.” The main purpose of God’s people in “kingdom mission” is “to establish the kingdom community in the here and now.” (157)
Anyone who has read John Howard Yoder and/or Stanley Hauerwas cannot miss their echoes in these statements. Which is not to reduce Scot’s view to theirs. It is simply to “locate” his view as in general agreement with theirs.
The main thesis of Chapter 8, “The King of the Kingdom,” is stated clearly at its end: “Kingdom mission is church mission is gospeling about Jesus in the context of a church witness and a loving life. Anyone who calls what they are doing ‘kingdom work’ but who does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or kingdom work. They are probably doing good work and doing social justice, but until Jesus is made known, it is not kingdom mission.” (142) I agree—so long as Scot does not mean traditional “witnessing.”
The main thesis of Chapter 9, “Kingdom Redemption Unleashed,”is “Kingdom theology…must be redemptive, or it is not kingdom theology.” (143) and by “redemptive” Scot clearly means transformational holistic redemption, not mere “turning over new leaves” by individuals, governments or corporations. In this chapter Scot talks about spiritual warfare without calling it that. Jesus encountered and conquered evil cosmic forces—both invisible, demonic and structural, political. Where does this spiritual warfare happen and what does it look like? Well, for Scot, it happens primarily in and through the local church.
At the end of Chapter 9 Scot takes up the question I have asked at least twice now—“What church?” What church is the locus of the present kingdom of God between the times? Scot admits that the present church, to a very great extent, more or less, falls far short of the eschatological community God promises and that the church is to manifest and establish. It is “messy and inept and divided and pock-marked by the infections of the powers and principalities.” (157) Indeed. So far, up through Chapter 9, Scot’s only answer to this realistic depiction of the historical church (before the eschaton) is patience—looking forward to the day when the “fellowship will be completed and perfected.” (158)In these chapters, more than anywhere else so far, Scot shows his true evangelical colors. I don’t know if “evangelical” is a word Scot still likes; I hope so. But one cannot read these chapters (and those previous) and not recognize his evangelical heart. He emphasizes the centrality of life-transforming power through the cross, conversion and evangelism. And he refers richly and sympathetically (not always with total agreement) to evangelical heroes such as Carl F. H. Henry, John Stott and N. T. Wright. And he affirms substitutionary atonement!
To those “missional Christians” who are reluctant to embrace evangelicalism as an ethos because of the near total disaster of the evangelical movement I recommend Scot—as Stan Grenz before him. I knew Stan better than I know Scot, but I know Scot fairly well. Both were/are solidly evangelical without bowing down to the idol of biblical inerrancy or cozying up to the self-proclaimed popes of evangelicalism.
I still struggle with the problem of tying kingdom of God so inextricably with “church.” Because of his frequent mention of specific churches he knows intimately that do embody and establish the kingdom of God as he understands it I have to wonder what Scot would say to Christians who simply cannot find such churches? In my experiences, there are whole swaths of America where all the local churches are so culturally accommodated that identifying them as even “outposts” of the kingdom of God to come seems ridiculous.
Let me make my concern even more clear. In Germany during the 1930s the vast majority of “Christian” churches “bought into” National Socialism and became subverted to its idolatrous ideology. Many social critics have rightly noted that National Socialism was not only an ideology; it was also a religion. Peter Leithardt rightly argues (in Babel or the Beast?) that “Americanism” has become a religion and has invaded churches. I wonder what advice Scot would offer, could he go back in a time machine, to real Christians in Germany in the 1930s? Even the Confessing Church movement did not take a very strong stand against Hitler and National Socialism. What is an individual Christian to do when he/she finds himself/herself in a social-cultural context where all the local churches are either 1) heretical or 2) mired in “culture Christianity” in which Jesus is not really acknowledged as king and lord?
Finally, I am still waiting for Scot to deal with Isaiah 65. He mentions and quotes many passages of Isaiah and other portions of the Bible that point forward to a future perfect kingdom of God, utopia of Christ, after the parousia. But Isaiah 65 stands out as clearly referring to an earthly kingdom of God through an earthly messianic reign that is not the “new heaven and new earth.” (If you doubt me, read the whole chapter carefully and pay no attention to the traditional “header” added to the chapter in many English Bibles!)