November 19, 2017

Embracing God’s Dream

By Chaplain Mike

This week, in addition to the daily “Stations of the Cross” posts, I will lead us in considering ideas from some good books I am reading. We will continue exploring James Davison Hunter’s brilliant, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In addition, beginning here and now, we will consider some of Scot McKnight’s challenging and encouraging teaching from his new book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow.

I am a self-described “post-evangelical.” Nevertheless, I still believe this movement which formed the context of my life for thirty years gets some things right. One concept they grasp well is MISSION. The evangelical groups with whom I have been involved have been committed to participating in the Missio Dei, God’s mission in the world. Now, they have sometimes narrowly defined that mission, and at other times they have perverted participation in God’s mission into a programmatic style of activism centered around the institutional church that misses the mark, in my view.

However, today, younger and more progressive evangelicals in particular are attempting to restore some balance and breadth to our understanding of the church’s missional activity. Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life, encourages that. In fact, he sets this missional identity as the framework for the entire Christian life.

Scot McKnight describes his early Christian life in two words: Saved, and Instructed. His training taught him that: “A Christian is someone who has accepted Jesus; and the Christian life is the development of personal (private) practices of piety, separation from sin and the world, and a life dedicated to rescuing sinners from hell.” (p. 13)

However, a third stage in his development, “Discipled,” led him to study Jesus and the Gospels and respond to Christ’s summons to follow him.

I was a Christian alright. I was a devoted Christian. I was serious about theology. I was into personal practices of piety. But I wasn’t into Jesus, because I was a legalist. I was asking who was in and who was not, rather than simply … who is Jesus? And I was focusing on what I should be doing, rather than asking what Jesus taught, if I was following him, and if I was his disciple. (p. 15f)

He came to the conviction that Jesus defined the Christian life differently. He defined it as “following him,” and Scot came to realize that following Jesus is bigger than a single moment of accepting him and then following a plan of personal pious practices. Jesus is calling us to follow him into the divine dream he came to bring to pass in the world—he called it, “the Kingdom of God.”

McKnight calls Jesus, “A Dream Awakener.” When he came proclaiming that the time had come and that the Kingdom was at hand, when he called people to repent and believe the Good News, Jesus was calling us to join him in something much bigger than personal piety. The first hearers of that announcement would have thought of a King, and a land, and citizens living in that land, with influence that spread to the ends of the earth. When Jesus taught disciples to pray, he told them to say, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And so the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is about something that is meant to be accomplished here, in this world, in a society that his followers are called to embody.

And so, Scot McKnight came to embrace a new definition of what it means to be a Christian: “A Christian is someone who follows Jesus by devoting his or her One.Life to the kingdom vision of Jesus.” (p. 34)

A Christian is not just someone who experiences personal forgiveness of sins and learns to practice private acts of piety, who separates himself or herself from sin, and participates in church and religious activities. A Christian is one who has heard the call—“Follow me!”—and has, by grace, responded by joining God’s mission in the world, becoming part of his new society, following Jesus into the world as an agent of the Kingdom of heaven.

Comments

  1. I just read how Christianity ceased to be a threat once it became a matter of personal experience or feeling, and that literalism and fundamentalism is equally impotent.

    I think McKnight may be onto something, that faith is a call. Another way to say it may be to be seized by the Ultimate. Everyone is dealing with ontology, the messy business of being. The scientist and the atheist are not enemies of faith, because they, too, are in search of the ultimate. That may be the best way to break free of the search for those who are in versus those who are not. The common ground is right there under our noses.

  2. Maybe I just need to read the book but I’m curious as to how Scot defines “following Jesus” with respect to the kingdom vision. Is it feeding the poor? Clothing the naked? Helping the widows? Visiting the prisoners? Is the sum total of the “Christian life” simply about doing the things that Jesus did and obeying his commands? I hope to read the book soon but to any of you who have done so already – how far off base am I?

  3. I’ve always appreciated Scot’s work but haven’t read this book yet. Those of us who claim to be God’s people need to be re – “awakened” by the One whose name we bear. I love your closing paragraph as much as any for a broad stroke statement of what it means to be a Christian. May we learn to live into it.

  4. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    I think McKnight was recently interviewed on Steve Brown Etc. for this book. It was a good interview, if I recall.

  5. I think I agree with virtually everything Scott said, and yet a “radical” call to Kingdom oriented missional living might need the kind of warning that Sky Jethani gives in a recent Out of UR post:

    Are our calls to radical missionalism, to use Gordon MacDonald’s word, simply making younger son into older sons? Are we exchanging one false gospel for another? And might this explain the weariness felt by the suburban mom I encountered? Consumer Christianity is a pandemic in the American church, on that I agree. But a prescription of radical activism is not the remedy. It robs people of their joy, burdens them with guilt, and fails to draw people into a passionate communion with Christ.

    It’s possible to make of radical missional living what we made of radical pietism: just one more hamster wheel on the religious treadmill. I would gladly read Scott’s book, but I think Skye’s words have some traction as well.

    GregR

    • i read both articles and they are right on; healthy warnings about turning this emphasis into something it should not be. Isn’t it amazing how prone we are to do that with everything?

      I was planning on commenting on those articles in the future. Thanks for the reminder, greg.

  6. this quote from the book is so true it hurts:

    “I owe my primary commitment to my local church, not because it is what I want and not because it is the ideal place, but because the only way for Jesus’ dream kingdom to take root is when local people commit to one another to strive with one another for a just, loving, peaceful, and wise society, beginning at home, with friends, and at their local community of faith.”

    this sounds like it belongs in an IMONK post.
    GregR

  7. To repeat, i AGREE with Scott’s major points, all of them (as far as I understand them); here’s some counterbalance from a poster KAREN @ Out of UR

    Good reflection, Skye.

    In my observation, putting activism ahead of developing a real and deep personal communion (with God), whatever form it takes–mission or evangelism–not only runs the potential of turning God into a means to an end, but also turns the convert or believer into a means to an end. Too often, this has the effect as well of reducing her to a mere “tool” in God’s hands, rather than allowing her to recover her full personhood in an ongoing experience of Christ’s healing love through a real existential encounter with HIm in His Church

    I think this is a BOTH/AND tension: we are to have solid, “radical” mission…..AND this is the fruit produced by a root of JESUS centeredness and dependancy.

    GregR
    If you devalue the KING, what you get is a CAUSE, not a KINGDOM

    • Again, good points. Try to keep in mind our context here at Internet Monk, Greg. I’m still post-evangelical, and your cautions are among the reasons why. Evangelicalism has the missional impulse right, it doesn’t always mean they have it grounded in the proper context of worship. It also doesn’t mean they act on this impulse in the best ways, and I mentioned a couple of those outworkings in the post. Unfortunately, for many evangelicals, missional equates to “church-sponsored,” “church-centered,” or “programmatic” rather than vocational living in the context of daily life. In addition, it also often leads to the equivalent of “holy orders” in other traditions, where “full-time service” or extraordinary devotion to participating in some “big” work in an exciting locale that can produce measurable “fruit” is preferred over the daily faithful practice of love.

      Now, so far in my reading, I think Scot balances these things well—”Jesus Creed” helps him here. He even tells a story of a student whom he asked, “Why is it that young people are so excited to go on mission trips, but don’t get excited about serving in some of the local ministries?” The student answered, “Because we want experiences.”

      How sad that serving can spring from such self-centered motives. But we all know it can, don’t we?

      • Evangelicalism has the missional impulse right, it doesn’t always mean they have it grounded in the proper context of worship.

        Really agree with this; as well, for all the blather I’ve heard about the KINGDOM and “doing the works of the KINGDOM”, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these things are talked about often, but not necessarily understood at a deep level. I look forward to Scott’s nsights on that, I think a KINGDOM mindset can do a lot to keep the focus on the main thing, and not our small parochial pyramid building schemes.

        GregR

  8. I’m just enjoying listening to you two. It’s true that we can take any element of our life, be it evangelism, study, prayer or any other facet and warp it out of all proportion.

    • Your post , and Chap Mike’s, are on target. That’s probably the force behind the wisdom of why we need the body of believers. I have a tough time singing “All I Need is JESUS” at church, when it is absurdly obvious I need HIM, yes, and a whole lot more.

      Pax
      GregR