Skinny Jeans, Ruffled Feathers, and Kingdom Mission: My Interview with Scot McKnight

Skinny Jeans, Ruffled Feathers, and Kingdom Mission: My Interview with Scot McKnight October 30, 2014


One of my theological heroes is Scot McKnight. He recently released a new book called Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. And it is a doozy…in all the right ways! (Check out the book website here.)

Here’s my interview with Scot:

Z: Hi Scot, thanks so much for joining us over here! I love your new book and think it’s a really timely addition to the conversation. But enough with my opinion – what prompted you to write it?

Scot: I have been thinking about and writing about kingdom for nearly twenty years now, and I first published something about kingdom at an extensive level in 1999 in A New Vision for Israel. At that time I was already connecting “kingdom” to “Israel” but I was in a historical mode and not much of a theological mode.

As my life shifted into college student teaching, I began to think about that view of kingdom more and more theologically so that I could explain the significance of kingdom to students who were wondering why this term even mattered. I published a few observations about kingdom in this more theological mode in books like Embracing Grace, One.Life, and The King Jesus Gospel.

But I wasn’t happy because (1) I wasn’t sorting out what I was seeing in the Bible comprehensively enough and (2) I was hearing an increasing use of this term in ways that bothered me because the uses were veering far from what the Bible means.

So, there, that’s why I wrote this book: to set out my thoughts in the context of an increasing popularity of a term that was being used in ways significantly different than the Bible’s use.

Z: Right off the bat, you introduce the Skinny Jeans vs. Pleated Pants metaphor for how the church thinks about the kingdom of God. Granted these are generalizations, but do you see one perspective as more harmful or errant than another? In other words, who is closer to the vision of kingdom that you present in the book?

Scot: Both are harmful to the same degree (though I think the skinny jeans folks will be more sensitive to my critique) and both have said something important to the same degree. I’d rather bring them to the same table and then have us all shift to a new and bigger table, if you see my metaphor.

Neither is closer; neither is farther away than the other. 

Both are reductions: the skinny jeans folks reduce kingdom to an ethic and extend that ethic into the public sector through the political process and call their work kingdom; the pleated pants folks reduce kingdom to redemptive moments and so focus on personal salvation or on healing someone or on redeeming some cultural good.

The kingdom of the Bible includes justice (but in the context of the church) and the Bible includes redemption, but the kingdom can’t be reduced to either. 

Z: In Chapter 6 you lay down something of a gauntlet. You write, “Kingdom mission is church mission, church mission is kingdom mission, and there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission.” Whoa! What exactly do you mean by that axiom?

Scot: Yep, that’s a big claim and it is precisely the thesis of the book: we don’t understand kingdom mission until we understand kingdom. My contention is that the word “kingdom” in the Bible – and in its historical context – entailed five elements, and each was necessary for there to be a kingdom at all: a king, a king who can rule by way of governing and redeeming his people, a people over whom the king rules (by governing and redeeming), a law that governs the people, and a land in which this people under this king dwells.

That’s a kingdom: kingdom reduced to one (either the law/ethic or the redemption theme) destroys the complex network that makes up a kingdom. You aren’t an American if you choose as a Brazilian to follow the American Constitution as your law. You must live in our space and follow our laws in fellowship with other Americans under our … well, we don’t have a king so we aren’t a kingdom … but the analogy works. 

A kingdom is a people living under a king and his will in his protected space.

Kingdom mission is now defined for us by the word kingdom: it means living under king Jesus with other king Jesus people who also follow king Jesus’ will in king Jesus’ space. (Save that issue of land and space for some other time, as it is not a crucial element to my book.)

Now to expand: to think we are doing kingdom mission in the public sector is to make America God’s kingdom or it is secularize kingdom to the point it is no longer under king Jesus or a redemptive reality of a redeemed people living in fellowship or, which is often the case I fear, that we have secularized the ethic of Jesus to the point it loses contact with his cruciform reality.

Z: I quoted that kingdom mission axiom in a guest sermon at our local United Methodist Church, and it ruffled all the right feathers :). How do you see this idea impacting your readers – and what result are you hoping for?

9781441221476Scot: Of course, ruffling feathers is part of this book because I know my view is the minority viewpoint (right now, I hope). The standard views are skinny jeans and pleated pants so my contention makes the church far more central to kingdom than most are doing. In fact, most are de-centering the church in their quest to do kingdom work. That is a blatant mistake: to do kingdom work at the expense or to the neglect of the church denies the kingship of Jesus and the kinship of king Jesus’ people.

What I most hope is that people will take a long look at the meaning of kingdom in the Old Testament to see what happens when someone runs through the Old Testament, pops out in the New Testament period with Jesus, and hears that term. What they heard first and foremost with the term “kingdom” was “Israel as a nation under God as king.” I hope more will consider this as the meaning of kingdom.

Z: Do you see this perspective as pushing back at all on the popular missional axiom, “The church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church” (i.e., missiology before ecclesiology)? Or is it compatible with that view?

Scot: I don’t often know what people mean by “mission” and “missional” – for many it is a pushback, reactive, and counter-term rather than constructive. (Like the word “incarnational.”) I have focused in Kingdom Conspiracy on the word “mission” and “missional” because I think the terms are being used in such sloppy, happy, tribalistic ways.

The line you gave me above is a false dichotomy and I find it meaningless, though I think I know what folks are meaning. What they are doing, however, is decentering the church as institution (always a pejorative term, but a term that we can never get rid of because the moment we organize we’ve got an institution) and offering some happy alternative that in the end will either have the church as the focus in the mission (which view destroys the happy line you gave me) or it will destroy the church and make God’s mission something bigger and better (which view destroys what the Bible and our great tradition have taught). 

God’s mission is the church, that is, God’s mission is the Body of Christ, that is, God’s mission is to rule in Christ over those who submit to Christ’s rule. Those who submit to that rule are kingdom people, that is, church people. God’s mission is the church.

Z: One really important contrast you draw at several points in the book is that kingdom mission is not the same as “Skinny Jeans” views of liberation. How does kingdom mission differ from liberation theology?

Scot: There are all kinds of liberation theologies, let’s be honest. I didn’t have space or the expertise to sort them all out and make different colors of skinny jeans. Liberation theology’s major voices for me in this book are Guitierrez, Jürgen Moltmann and his wife Elizabeth Wendell-Moltmann, and Brian Blount. They are samples, and I see in each, and esp in Gutierrez’s seminal work, a diminishment of the church as the locus of God’s mission in the world. 

Kingdom mission as church mission, remember this is my burden to establish, makes churches the place where liberation is to occur and be exhibited to the world. Most, however, in the liberation theology movement, turn all action into the public and political and economic sectors. I am not against that kind of activism at all; in fact, I’m all for it. But that does not make it kingdom work; I call such “good work” (I offer biblical reasons for that expression). To secularize the kingdom is to dethrone the king because the one who is least mentioned in the public sector is king Jesus.

Z: Let’s be honest – you are poking at progressive Christians in this book! (And conservatives too.) In Chapter 9 you point out that justice and evangelism are like two poles with groups gravitating toward either one. Then you offer a way forward: “Kingdom mission admits the primacy of evangelism but sees the locus of the social dimension to be first and foremost in the church as a witness to the world.” You also draw attention in Chapter 11 to Jesus and judgment in perhaps my favorite quote from the book: “There’s a full sleeve of punishment sayings tattooed on the arm of Jesus when it comes to the future kingdom.” How have progressive Christians missed the boat on evangelism, judgment, and punishment in their vision of the kingdom?

Scot: I’ll say this again: Yes, I do poke at skinny jeans folks but I poke too at pleated pants folks. Both are operating with reductions of the kingdom and neither has enough church in their kingdom theory. 

I have no desire to point out the weaknesses here of only the skinny jeans crowd, though have a trend not to be evangelistic as I would understanding gospeling; they probably do not focus much on judgment as a desire for the kingdom people and for the kingdom itself; but I’m not sure the pleated pants do much better. Yes, pleated pants folks who focus on redemptive moments and evangelism as a redemptive moment may well focus on evangelism more than skinny jeans, but they are the ones who neglect justice and peace as a generalization. So I’m calling for evangelism and justice as expressed in the church as kingdom mission and kingdom work.

Z: Since the readers of this blog likely lean toward the Skinny Jeans camp, what final exhortation would you give to us in our pursuit of kingdom mission?

Scot: Come with me to the Bible and answer with me what the Bible means by “kingdom” and commit with me to use the term faithfully as Jesus used it. Even more, let’s first “kingdom-ize” our own fellowship (local church) before we go public. We earn a voice in the public square only by showing we can do it in our fellowship. 

Thanks again, Scot. I appreciate your work immensely. And I hope everyone goes out to buy this book!

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  • Bill Sahlman

    I enjoy a lot of this. I do take issue with this: “Now to expand: to think we are doing kingdom mission in the public sector is to make America God’s kingdom or it is secularize
    kingdom to the point it is no longer under king Jesus or a redemptive
    reality of a redeemed people living in fellowship or, which is often the
    case I fear, that we have secularized the ethic of Jesus to the point
    it loses contact with his cruciform reality.”

    I think the whole secular part of kingdom discussion needs to just.. go away. God can be ‘at work” so to speak. and He?She has no parameters or borders. The rain falls on all, blessings on all. living for others with or without a God ethic is the heart of kingdom. We step into into that “wprld’, that reaity,… everytime we step outside our small selves into athe bigger picture.

    And I agree. the word kingdom is loaded. It needs to be replaced. and whatever try to use will come up short. But in our day, liivng in a socio-political reality that can/could have implications in to the future, living into the kind of world Jesus talked about, told stories about, and lived…. has to be encompassed in the new revisioned, descriptive word. or phrase. or hashtag. 🙂

  • My feathers are indeed ruffled. I take umbrage at being lumped into a “pleated pants” category. I’d never! I’m more of a flat front trousers kind of guy.

  • Herm

    I’m bound to this world which is finite. Jesus tells me this world is His kingdom to administer as the promised Messiah. I’m offered full citizenship in the no beginning and no end eternal “kingdom” of God” of which the Father is declared the reigning authority throughout. Earth will pass away but for now remains within the endless boundaries of the Kingdom.

    As a student of Jesus I have learned that His Church’s mission is purely to let it be known that our Father desires to share His loving Family’s Kingdom with all who would reciprocate. I am His child dependent upon His direction and cannot earn nor learn separate from His authority.

    Someday we won’t need any pants in the example of Adam and Eve prior to defying the authority of God. Today I’ll wear whatever I am told will serve best to bring more children like myself to our Lord God even if that is a skinny pleated skirt.

  • “Those who submit,” in another language, are named Islam. I’m not much impressed with the behavior of men who submit their minds to the control of others, or desire that submission under them.

    I am not an “authoritarian submissive.” (Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, 2006)

  • Earth will pass away?

    The earth abideth for ever. ~Ecclesiastes

  • Hi Zach:

    Interesting interview and sounds like an interesting book. I did wonder about the following idea:

    ‘”What I most hope is that people will take a long look at the meaning of kingdom in the Old Testament to see what happens when someone runs through the Old Testament, pops out in the New Testament period with Jesus, and hears that term. What they heard first and foremost with the term “kingdom” was “Israel as a nation under God as king.” I hope more will consider this as the meaning of kingdom.’

    When the Jewish people ran through the OT and popped out into the NT, they also had expectations of “messiah”, which Jesus clearly turned upside down. And it seems that they had ideas about the role of Israel (versus the gentiles) that Jesus did not share either. And I know that God did not originally give them a human king, but only after they complained and asked for one (seeing that the other nations had kings!). And the five elements of kingdom do not really “smell” like Jesus to me….

    I guess I’m just expressing some things that come to mind when after reading the interview. Would welcome others’ thoughts to help me think more about it.

  • “Turned upside down?” Clearly, 14 million Jews contradict that notion.

  • mbaley


    That’s going to be a tough word to work around as Scripture sees Jesus as THE King and a King reigns over a kingdom.

    John 12:15: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

    1 Timothy 6:15: For at just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

    Rev. 17:14: Together they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.”

    John 18:34: Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

    Acts 2:30: But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne.

  • Herm

    Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away Matthew 24:35

  • Thanks for your comment. I realize my wording can suggest that Jesus changed their minds about what the messiah would be like, and that was not my intention. I meant to say that the people of Jesus’ day had expectations of what the messiah would be like, and Jesus did not conform to these (though “did not conform” really is too mild a phrase).

  • Herm

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.​ Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:29 – 5:3

    Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord. Come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the Lord your God, so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. 2 Chronicles 30:8

  • In this particular instance Bible author Vs. Bible author, I choose Ecclesiastes as the closer to the truth.

    In actuality, from a reading of The Word—the One Verse, the Uni-Verse—has declared that it will last a few billion years more, until being swallowed up by a dying sun. Even then, life may go on, and even spread (especially if our sun goes nova,) if you have seen some of the latest scientific work on the possibilities of bacterial panspermia.

  • Submission is unwholesome. Call for authoritarian submissiveness not again. Get off your knees and stand like a man.

    Ever hear of the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures? Altemyer (University of Manitoba, 2006) relates how it went, thusly:

    If you still refuse, the Experimenter tells you sternly, “You have no other choice. You must go on.” If your knees buckle and you say, “But who’s going to be responsible for what happens to that man in there?” the Experimenter ignores you. If you say it again, the Experimenter says, “I’ll be responsible. Now please continue.” What are you going to do? Defy a psychologist in his own laboratory? Would anyone dare?

    Submissivesness leads to horrors. We humans no longer accept the plea from the guilty that they were “just following orders.”

  • Alan R

    “Stand like a man.” That statement has a lot going on in it. We’ve been subjected to the myth of the self-made ‘man’ for generations. We all stand on the shoulders [and backs] of others. The heroic one who claims to submit to self only is self-deceived. What makes self-deception any better? I need other eyeballs on it to live well. I wonder, Isherwood, if what you’re trying to say is that submission to others demands discernment. We need to be choosy. My wife & I choose to submit ourselves to each other, to our pastor, and to God, only after taking a lot of time to determine that they’re legit. It’s not blind submission.

  • I said nothing about a “self-made man.” Thanks for the opportunity to chase your red herring, but I’m not going to pursue. We’re talking somebody who is not an “authoritarian submissive.” Read the scholarly literature on it, including Altemeyer (2006) and Milgram (1963.)

  • Alan R

    I’ve read and formally studied Milgram. You may want to examine why you’re telling me to go read instead of responding. Treating my response as if I were a red herring is your choice.

  • There is nothing worthy of response. If you want to bang away at the “myth of the self-made ‘man'”, have at it; it has nothing to do with my rejection of your right wing authoritarianism.

  • Alan R

    Your rejection of my right wing authoritarianism. Now I’m getting confused, too.

  • Herm

    I chose the author who chronicled the subtlety of Jesus the Messiah. Did you take your name from Christopher Isherwood or is it your given name? Before you get the wrong idea I am very much considered a left wing disciple of Jesus the Christ.

    I appreciate your daring to confront as a self sufficient defiant submitting to nothing and to no one. I don’t know where you can go with this even if you lived to be 120 years old, which is long before our sun goes nova. It’s interesting why you feel so compelled to dominate that I might be submissive to your will that I stand like a man submissive to no one.

    I understand why you might be ignorant of a possible eternal relationship with the Family of our creator God. I don’t understand how you can really believe we are capable in any way to stand alone against all possible forces without submitting to some to be able to survive.

    Infinity is more real than finite. Carnal will always have a beginning and an end. Heart, soul, strength and mind are not carnal and can survive eternally without end. A few billion years more is still a brief nearly insignificant flash of being compared to eternal, infinite and no beginning and no end.

    Love your care for my submissive self, thank you. I have a Father till the end of eternity that I can trust to provide for me in all my childish submissiveness. There is a room in His house for you as His child also but submitting to the humility of knowing for certain you can’t stand against all forces without support of a Family is a prerequisite.

    I’ll know it’s you driving at me down the highway because you’re the one refusing to submit to the authority of that white line in the middle. Love you for your challenging false authority. Much better than being a sheep in a flock other than Jesus’.

  • I don’t feel compelled to dominate. I’m an egalitarian; as it is written, all men are created equal, or in the revolution that soon followed, liberté, égalité, fraternité. Liberty is simply the individuals perspective of living in an egalitarian society, where no one Lords over another. Of course, that egalitarianism isn’t perfect, but what we’ve worked out is better than the hierarchical kingship model the Bible pushes. To hell with kings.

  • If you’ve read Altemyer, submission to a deity and pastors is a hallmark of right wing authoritarianism. How do people become holy authoritarians?

    Interestingly, virtually everyone said she had questioned the existence of God at some time in her life. What did the authoritarian students do when this question arose? Most of all, they prayed for enlightenment. Secondly, they talked to their friends who believed in God. Or they talked with their parents. Or they read scriptures. In other words, they seldom made a two-sided search of the issue. p. 80 (Altemyer, 2006)

  • Herm

    I understand your attitude relative to all but one example of a king on Earth and in the Bible. The biblical Messiah is synonymous with the promised king. Jesus the Messiah is serving in a hierarchy relatively the opposite of human kings that demand being served first. My King wears a crown of thorns and carries a cross that I might live. My King commands that we must love each other and do unto all others as we would have them do unto us. Jesus led out by example on Earth as how to do unto others first. You seem to be reading about all those other kings in the Bible who are now dead and gone and not seeking a living and reigning king Jesus. The only King in the Bible who would die first for His people rather than demand his people die for him is Jesus the Christ. I’m not sure what model you egalitarians have worked out that could possibly be better than the model Jesus has established. You’re not the first group of kids so certain they’ve got a better model of parenting than their parents who love them until they become loving parents responsible that their children will live. I wish you a good life!

  • Herm

    What then is submission to mothers, fathers, federal/state/local law, and love?

  • King George III and King Jesus mean the same thing to me, another authoritarian hierarchy to be rejected.

    I suppose you’re like a Tory, who is recorded as saying, “Suffice it to say, this man stands accused of rebellion, not only against his Sovereign, but against his God.”

    Yep, that’s me! I reject self-styled Kings, divine or earthly. I count myself in with these sort of rebellious fellows, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the original tea partier:

    The Original Tea Partier Was an Atheist
    Remembering America’s forgotten founding father.
    By MATTHEW STEWART | September 01, 2014

  • There is no need to raise children in an authoritarian style; a democratic parenting style is quite workable. Laws? I am the law, because I vote as a part of a democracy, and voluntarily support the law. It’s a concept called self-government.

    “The voluntary support of laws, formed by persons of their own choice, distinguishes peculiarly the minds capable of self-government.” –Thomas Jefferson to Philadelphia Citizens, 1809

    “Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government.” –Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Residence Bill, 1790.

    It doesn’t work perfectly by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s better than monarchy.

  • Herm

    Deism: … is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a Creator, accompanied with the rejection of religious knowledge as a source of authority.

    To claim independence from any knowledge as a source of authority is to disavow any reasonable value in our specie’s evolving science and parental nurture. Reason and observation is available to the youngest of infants who in fact will not in any way survive if left to their own authority in the natural world.

    I actually saw the hand of God working to coordinate and unite our infant efforts to survive as mankind when sincerely observing the natural world. Without a library containing the imperfect past and present observations of many other different observers and researchers studying in the fields of physical, social and spiritual sciences I would have had to start from scratch to inform my mind and heart just what I was witnessing.

    You are proposing majority rule of citizens who must educate themselves from total ignorance to at a minimum of adequately knowledgeable in order to be able to vote responsibly regarding healthcare, education (?), transportation, relations with other sovereign nations, food/clothing/shelter distribution and much, much more rejecting all touted authoritative knowledge from all written past observations. Think about it, please. If a deity exists as reality just how do we go about understanding how to relate from observation limited to this Earth and our proven imperfect observational skills? This would be no different than at one month old we determine the full reality of existence of our parents through reason and observation of the natural world from only our crib and now calling that sufficient to now function fully in their image.

    How is this self-educated majority rule working out with today’s present day Tea Party? You seem to be out on a quest to educate the majority of this proudly right wing Tea Party to what you have learned on your own with no study of religious knowledge as to what is exactly wrong with their flat planet, with a sun revolving around it, with no climate change and an elected President from Kenya when you have no clue how they got to these conclusions they would die to protect. How do you ever expect to teach about the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago and the balanced world for 25 million years prior if you insist on reinventing the wheel for each separate individual of mankind? What if there were a solution to the destruction by ISIS you don’t know about because you haven’t even studied documented religious counters? Why do you keep redirecting to other supporting logic and conjecture that hasn’t even stood the test of 500 years of application. Why do you also propose that we should be learning for ourselves without studying any other touted authoritative support to refute? Upon what foundation do you insist that I submit to your authoritative knowledge above my own?

    Mankind, as with all children who are immature and beginning with a foundation of ignorance, wants to be and very often is so certain they are even more exceptional than their parental source without the work and study of all available seeming authorities that their parents struggled through to even begin to responsibly nurture them. If we have a living creator deity today with an age relative to no beginning and no end just how comparatively mature is mankind (possibly in that deity’s image as we each are in our parents’ image) relative to our source? Mankind might be 6,000, 10,000 or 25 million years old and each age is but a wisp of mist when view in the spectrum of eternal and infinite. Women and men don’t live much longer than 120 years each. How much of infinity and eternity have we each, even the smartest, learned to govern and manipulate in that period of time?

    If you were to glean what you could from studying the Bible, Koran, Torah, and any/all other chronicled sources for mankind’s spiritual research throughout that last 6,000 years you would be more equipped to be an authority as to where the religious and secular went so destructively wrong in governing themselves. As it is you clearly aren’t aware that there is a viable alternative to the pre-Messiah structure of government that has no human priest, king, dictator, president, governor, congress, school master, father or mother necessary to rely on as a final authority over how we grow together, learn together and can possibly survive eternally together as men and women of mankind.

    Keep sincerely asking, seeking and knocking and you will find what I say is true. Jesus did not leave us orphans from His Family for He gave us the law of our Creator’s nature written in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit who bonds us in love to the unified hearts and minds of the entire family of God. There is only one final all time authority and that is the Father who provides for us all as His children whom He loves in the example of Jesus the Son of Man begotten of God, the Word.

    If your father and mother were employed as biology researchers when would you know exactly what it took for them to do their job in order to provide for you? Might you need to study other differing authorities over time to step into their jobs effectively and actually have your own children to provide responsibly for before you really understood your parents?

    Sincerely ask for the Holy Spirit to guide your heart and mind further to understand the job of and the nurture provided from our Creator and you will receive, no authoritative priest necessary. If you aren’t that far yet in trusting our Creator’s existence then sincerely challenge Them to show themselves to you. Then you will begin to understand how incapable of self-rule and self-teaching we are separated from the loving efforts of the Family of God in our behalf. I cannot give you truth for my perspective is from the same crib as you but I can point to the living Truth I have tested and fulfilled faith in through one on one Divine relationship. I can only testify this is so in my life knowing that you would have to find it so in your life before you too could testify to the Truth of it all before others not knowing such is possible.

    I wish you nothing but the best and very much respect your daring and inquiring mind.

  • You are conflating hierarchical authority with—well, whatever is at hand to grasp. Even the authority ability of an infant to take care of itself, which requires no authoritarian hierarchy. Evolution proves that much.

    Humans evolved to be egalitarian band animals. Biologists use physical traits, i.e., sexual dimorphism (evolving less and less in humans) and sexual dichromatism (completely absent in humans) to objectively measure where a specie stands on the egalitarian hierarchical (authoritarian) continuum. Evolutionarily, you are egalitarian, whether you like it or not.

    Christopher Boehm (1999) Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press.

    What started humanity down the road to increasingly intensified hierarchical behaviors, such as a “King,” is the oppressive horror show we call agricultural civilization, which (a) requires huge amounts of authoritarian coercion and (b) benefits only some.

    “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” ~Stanley Diamond (1981) In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization. Transition Publishers., p.1

    “…we chose the latter [agriculture] and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.”
    ~Jared Diamond. (May 1987) The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66.

    “The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.”
    ~Thomas Paine (1795) Agrarian Justice

    Hierarchy isn’t required for human survival, it is only required to maintain hierarchy that is beneficial to the few at the top.

    At least one theologian has come to the conclusion that hierarchy began at the neolithic revolution, and explains the myth of the Fall of Man.

    Ched Myers. (2005) The Fall. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor. NY: Continuum.

    I don’t serve a King, King anybody, including King Jesus. To do so would be to perpetuate what some call the original sin.

    And I’ll even tell Jesus so, if it so happens in some fantasy afterlife I find myself mistaken, using his own words. For he specifically said to “call no one your padre” (father, pastor, elder, shepherd, or any hierarch) [MT 23.9] and also issued a general warning against hierarchy: “Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” [MK 10.42]

    If Jesus disagrees with himself elsewhere, sobeit. Not much of a godman (or ghost-writer), eh?

  • Herm

    Jesus the Christ is not an author, He is the Word, nor does He require a ghost-writer to communicate, He made available the Holy Spirit to your and my hearts and minds to enable sharing personally as we need and are ready. If you wish to use a snippet from the Bible to justify your argument please use the complete justified command: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:8-12

    This discussion is very strange and welcomed, thank you.

    The tenets of your argument actually seem to be exactly what Jesus has been teaching me. The phobia you have that keeps you from understanding this is the word “king”. Please read the last sentence Jesus is quoted to have said from the segment of Matthew that you drew attention to. He speaks with authority to equality among His disciples exactly in an egalitarian model as versus the opposite that would be a tyrannical model placed on a continuum from despotic to egalitarian. Thanks for pointing that out! I win! … just kidding because this is not a I win you lose discussion, I hope … we’re simply sincere equals here, right?

    It intrigues me that anthropologically the first signs of attempts at egalitarianism is about 10,000 years ago which is also the time of the first signs of agriculture’s rise and the previous 25 million years of hunting/foraging’s beginning to decline. After my recent research in the last year I am convinced that Genesis is a fireside story passed down through generation after generation for as much as 6,000 years before actually written. I believe with that possibility in mind it doesn’t take much further thought to be fairly certain the story more relates to the observations of the hunter/foragers than those of the farmers (Cain) and ranchers (Able).

    Some present day proponents of this scientifically supported perspective are certain this is an “ah ha” gotcha moment that in a true anti-Christ fashion finally breaks the destructive stranglehold Christian influence has on the throat of mankind. You seem to be a disciple. I am a disciple, student, of Jesus in real time so I can accept anthropology and know Jesus as my Teacher. If anything the intervening why of Jesus on Earth then and now in our hearts and minds is answered when we realize the increased out of control of self-centered secular and religious tyrannical rule, the ever greedier hording of food in trade for service and the gross misrepresentations of God being vindictive, tyrannical and abusive prevailing among His touted self-centered chosen. Jesus was clearly the antithesis to all who could choose to separate our Creator from love. The anti-Christ probably would be more suited to Christian authorities giving Caesar Constantine what was God’s. God already governs the uncontested kingdom and does not seek to be misrepresented by any comparatively puny empire of self-aggrandized despots secular and/or religious.

    In pack animal terms to become egalitarian the pack has to form morality based coalitions (like labor unions, the AARP, the PTA, and, oh yes, churches). In the animal world no other specie than mankind has sufficient recognition of morality to overcome the alpha members’ authority to manage and regulate resource allocation or exploitation to facilitate the pack’s survival or extinction.

    The Messiah Jesus teaches that all children in the image of the Creator are equal and loved accordingly by His Father. Jesus taught the only working morality that could possibly stand for an eternity. Jesus authoritatively commands me and practices himself to love by doing to, with and for all others as I would have all others do to, with and for me, without exception. Tribal rule prior to 10,000 years ago did not practice anywhere near such an egalitarian model of morality.

    I intentionally merged family relationships with authoritarian hierarchy to illustrate a proven constructive model of governing necessary to facilitate the longest survival of the carnal family possible. I did in no way discuss the whys of gender and sexual physical differences between the responsible adult propagating partners, the parents. You’re resisting the top down rule necessary (when the top is the most adequately experienced, coordinated and educated) as though all models of such must be some abhorrent form of tyrannical rule. The single ingredient necessary to a productive and healthy authoritarian hierarchy you seem to be blind to is “love”. Every loving parent I know actually begins their first physically realized relationship by seeing their defenseless, puckered up, quadriplegic, and winy new born as the most adorable treasure that they would gladly give up their life that their child might live. It is that love that separates the occasional authoritative “no”, that must be consistently enforced by the parent for the child’s good, from those who would command “no” for their self-indulgent good. The commands that loving parents issue such as “you will do or else” are always intended to enhance the best chance of survival for their child substantiated by experience, maturity and training that the child has yet to earn or understand.

    Let’s keep this response to you as short as possible. The Father loves you. You can communicate with the whole Family of God anytime not just after your first death (some kind of afterlife you’re waiting for(?)). Tell Them whatever you wish, in any language you wish and make sure to challenge Them to come back to you with verifiable fact that you can trust. God is real and loves just like the most perfect family we would create if we could. The most historically perfect productive and constructive government models we have the results to know and compare against all others are benevolent dictatorships. The only problem is truly capable benevolent dictators are extremely rare and much too short lived to sustain their charges forever. God the Father is eternal and is the most perfect of all ruling authorities ever. He is truly the alpha and the omega of all benevolent dictators. Today the Son of Man, only begotten of God, is reigning Lord of mankind in the benevolent example of His Father over the rest of the Kingdom.

    I ran across this perspective out on the Web and immediately thought we both might need to consider the “I know better for you than you do for yourself”:

    “Another word for ‘cult’ is ‘authoritarian hierarchy’. ‘Authoritarian’ meaning “I know better for you than you do for yourself” and ‘hierarchy’ meaning there is a top-down leadership structure, placing the cult leader at the tippy-top and the one person whose word can never be questioned.”

    The only defense I can come up with is, “I don’t know better for you but I’m certain I know Who does and is available”. Love you and whatever God knows is best for you!

  • Herm, you’re one of the few people here on Patheos worth his salt. Since you truly understand the anthropology behind the agriculturalist Cain and pastoralist Able mythology in Genesis, we have but mere details upon which we disagree.

    We humans now have the demon hierarchy, conjured by agricultural civilization, that we have to deal with as certainly as we have nuclear weapons to deal with. Our species is constantly in crisis mode, and your workaround the 800 pound gorilla who got his nose in the tent isn’t too bad. Admirably, you recognize the problem, hierarchy, which we must constantly attenuate.

    I took a gander at you link. Cult does indeed imply “authoritarian hierarchy,” simply because the concept stems from agri‧cult‧ure. To add to that link, you’ve heard of “raping the soil,” I assume, or even “soil mining.” The Greeks recognized this with the mythology of the rape of Demeter, the goddess of grain/harvest/farming (which sometimes is told as the rape of Persephone, her daughter.) Rape is always about domination (i.e., authoritarianism.) The cult of culture has been very hard on women, who are always pressing for better equality, as John Zerzan notes in his essay Agriculture: Demon Engine of Civilization..

    The detail upon which we disagree is the divinity of Jesus. I’m equally divine as Jesus. I think Jesus actually taught that.

    A couple guys I admire have realized that. Robert Heinlein did in his novel “Stranger in a Strange Land.” But the fellow who explains Jesus best follows:

    “I am a son of God,” well there’s the whole thing in a nutshell. If you read the King James Bible… You will see in italics, in front of the words “son of God,” the “son of God.” Most people think the italics are for emphasis. They’re not. The italics indicate words interpolated by the translators. You will not find that in the Greek. In the Greek it says, a son of God.

    It seems to me here perfectly plain. That Jesus has got it in the back of his mind that this isn’t something peculiar to himself. So when he says, “I am the Way, no Man comes to the Father but by me.” This “I am” this “Me” is the divine in us.

    We are sons of, or of the nature of God. Manifestations of the divine. This discovery is the gospel. That is the Good News. But this has been perpetually repressed throughout the history of Western religion…

    Alan Watts | Jesus and His Religion
    youtube {.} com/watch?v=s42V8BGBvTk

    I fully realize there are other verses that disagree. But, as you said, Jesus isn’t an author. Just human observers. I am willing to pick and choose the things I like, and discard the things (which everybody does, but I’m being honest about it) I don’t like of what they imperfectly recorded.

  • Ali Wilkin

    I am curious to know how much McKnight understands about liberation theology, whether he understands it within its proper cultural/racial and economic context and analysis, and whether he recognises the oppression out of which liberation theology was born. There seems to be quite a shallow understanding of it, and a pigeon-holing of it as ‘political’; for example, of Guitierrez (who clearly frames his theology as a reflection on praxis) – how is the church working to liberate the poor from the oppression of their poverty not ‘Kingdom’ work? How is it not redemptive? And that’s before one even considers Moltmann, Cone and so on.

    I would also question what McKnight understands ‘church’ to be since I see no diminishing of the church in Guitierrez, quite the opposite in fact.

  • Herm

    I am worth no more “salt” than a speck of lint attached to an electron orbiting within a sodium atom. I have been graced this cognitive life, traced back through all the uninterrupted choices to propagate and nurture of each of my hunter/forager/farmer/rancher ancestors, for up to but not to exceed 120 years of orbits around a very insignificant sun in the overall scheme of the universe that I physically can see.

    Should I find after savoring this life I want more I have been offered an inheritance to enter into a full relationship of supported Family life that will continue on with no end filled with loving, sharing and an infinite array of adventure ahead. I understand that to inherit this opportunity, that I could never be worth enough to earn, I have to die to my allegiance to carnal familial pride, especially found in adult achievement, and be reborn into the spirit, by the Spirit, of childhood in the Creator Family of God.

    It is so important to understand the plurality of one God at the creation of mankind in their image as told in the book of Genesis. How did that slip by so many editing scribes?

    A Family all “worth their salt” only because the Father loves them all equally and all together greater than any can ever reciprocate. I am a new born child presenting naked, wrinkled, quadriplegic, helpless, and crying loudly to grasp all the new spiritual air I am just now beginning to savor before the adoring hearts and minds of my entire Family of my perfectly benevolent creator God. I am joyfully at peace to be stupid, ignorant, loved, adorable and dependent upon Their providing all my needs as I grow in the love of struggling for and with my Family the whole infinite and total reality before me.

    At what point in the full spectrum of spiritual reality, within which the physical is only a fleeting speck of mist, do we mathematically begin to compute where we are, what we are and quantitatively/qualitatively the worth of each of us? Is it not a gift enough to be able to savor that we are and are apparently loved enough to be given what we couldn’t possibly have known we needed? When my diapers are full I helplessly cry for relief and not at all because I’ve figured out there is someone available to change them.

    If I were able to define what I am privileged to be called to do today (my Family chore (?)) I would say I have been groomed to be a purposeful wandering mystic led to intercede by and for the hand of God. There is much that has happened in my life that validates that reflective observation. I have learned to value very highly the efforts realized from those of my siblings on this Earth who are called and groomed to plant and maintain our Father’s physical, spiritual and cyber structures of sanctuary for His children to meet, question, state, worship and share our unique relationships with and within the Family of God. I value very highly each vulnerable participant I have met within these walls who nakedly has risked to worship, question, state and share before us all.

    I am so very happy to have been able to choose this potentially eternal life opportunity. If life ceased right now I have been abundantly satisfied and am happy for this opportunity to have become a contributing member of this Family founded upon divine reciprocal love.

  • Scot’s argument, as I understand it, is not that liberation from any kind of oppression is not a good work and a manifestation of God’s goodness in the world, but rather that it must have an additional element to be properly “kingdom” work – namely, it has to be rooted in and aimed at faith in and worship of the king in the context of the church. Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom had conscious submission to the king’s rule (by faith) as the defining element. Holistic liberation is kingdom mission, but not without drawing people to the king in repentance and faith through the church.

  • Ali Wilkin

    Indeed – but the praxis of liberation theology, when done right, in fact does exactly that.

    I think the issue here is that liberation theology seeks to draw whole systemic institutions (governments, societies and so on) to the king in repentance, rather than just individuals. Within that, the individual is invited to enter in to reflection on how they have internalised those structural oppressions, on how they play those out, but McKnight to seems to miss completely the deeply redemptive nature of liberation – for the oppressor as much as the oppressed. And bear in mind that is an incredibly simple précis of one aspect of one of the liberation theologies.

    I guess I rather blanch at a critique of something that is not properly understood and is therefore caricatured in such a clumsy way.

  • Don’t want to speak too much for Scot, but I think he’d say that when liberation (theology or praxis) is centered on the life of the church and drawing people to worship the king, then it’s kingdom work. At the same time, thanks for bringing clarity around liberation praxis “done right” – that seems really important :).

  • David Borger Germann

    I’m a pastor, and I feel a bit anxious when church folks say “there’s not enough church in their kingdom theology.” How much is “enough”? And who gets to say? This is why the critique of liberation theology by white rich Americans just has to stop. In the end, it’s powerful people advocating for their ideas and positions that (surprise!) further supports their positions of power. Whatever we make of the NT’s development of “kingdom” and “church,” it all must start with the crucified god. And that’s not white, rich men talking about how much more church needs to be central.

  • mjastudios

    So, finishing up another N.T. Wright book, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” Vol.1 right now…it seems the intention and premise is similar in that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything God has promised since the beginning and then through Israel and the prophets, about setting everything right…Jesus is proclaimed as that King, Messiah, Christ, figurehead about whom all the O.T. pointed to and declared through whom these things would be fulfilled. That “kingdom” is universal (every knee shall bow,” “His name has been set above all other things in heaven and on earth, named and unnamed,” “All authority has been given to him, in heaven and on earth,”…So, how does this kingdom rule only extend to the church? Seems to me it rightfully applies to every living creature, incl. all men whether they choose to rebel against it or not, whether they “Kiss the Son lest he be angry” or not. This implies a “kingdom” beyond a people willfully accepting his rule.

    Jesus gave this parable about a people “who will not have this man rule over us” in Luke 19:14 – Note that it says, 14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

    15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. (Their response or choice did not matter. It wasn’t a democracy or up for a vote.)….27 But as for those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

  • mjastudios

    What I see in the O.T. was God reigning over the expanse of the earth, but most nations under the sway of the evil one, under his “dominion” by choice and by sin, however God is still “reigning.” In the N.T. that usurped authority and the power/legitimacy of the evil one has been broken, will now be overthrown/”hold sway no longer” because God has given that rule/authority/power/dominion to Jesus (rightfully), that had been claimed/counterclaimed up until that time. The kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdom of Christ (Rev. 11:13, based on Daniel 2:44-45). So this understanding of the Kingdom (over all the earth but realized only in Israel by God’s people, is I am thinking, the same model of the church and the world. The church is where we see God’s kingdom coming. Realized. (Hopefully) In it’s fullness. Question: Can one be appointed King (have a kingdom) even if the people he is ruling over are in rebellion and strife? Would it make any difference to Caesar or his rule if people in his kingdom rejected his rule? Wasn’t that par for the course? Did it make his kingdom any less real when it was contested? I surmise that “Kingdom” has more to do with authority, than whether it is reflected or accepted by (all of) the subjects.