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A Significant, Popular Shift: Looking Back at Scot McKight’s Kingdom Conspiracy

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On a Saturday morning a couple weeks ago, I dragged myself out of bed early to attend an event at dedicated to introducing and engaging Scot McKnight’s latest book, Kingdom Conspiracy.

THE EVENT

The gathering was sponsored by Missio Alliance and Northern Seminary, where the event was held. Over the course of the morning, McKnight presented, explaining his view of Kingdom and tackling the question of how to teach kingdom theology in the church. A panel of practitioners provided reflection on the outworking of Scot’s views at street level. Brazos gave out copies of Kingdom Conspiracy and there was free food. The event was a great introduction to McKnight’s take on Kingdom and well worth the time (Similar events are being held in other places so keep an eye out on the Missio Alliance blog).

THE GOAL

The motivation for Scot’s work on Kingdom comes, at least in part, from persistent reductionism in using “kingdom” to refer to social justice or any redemptive movement. While there’s a lot of competition, McKnight things Christians misuse “kingdom” more than any other Biblical term. This untethering of “Kingdom” from its Biblical meaning not only reduces it to a meaningless buzzword, but, according to McKnight, often means that it can actually be used in ways that contradict its Biblical meaning. McKnight is tired of hearing Kingdom contrasted to the church, where church winds up on the losing end of the comparison. He hopes his project will help renew a Biblical understanding of Kingdom that is robust and tightly connected to the mission church. Ultimately, Scot’s work on Kingdom is about the church.

THE THEOLOGY

McKnight’s kingdom theology will be familiar to many. According to McKnight, the Kingdom is both now, and not yet, an inaugurated reality as suggested by George Ladd. In its most basic form, McKnight sees Kingdom as a people governed by a king. His survey of the Biblical theology suggests a composition of five elements; King, Rule, People, Law, and Land. The last two, which don’t appear in his shorter definition, are less obvious, but McKnight thinks the Sermon on the Mount and Law of the Spirit effectively replace the Old Covenant Torah as a means of exercising the King’s rule over his people. He admits the continuation of the Land promises into the New Testament is complex, but sees enough evidence in Revelation 21:2 to avoid jettisoning it. On the relationship of Israel to Church, McKnight argues that the church doesn’t replace, but expands Israel. McKnight thinks the theme of Kingdom is so significant in Scripture that the whole should be read through this lens. Instead of the common Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration storyline, McKnight suggests, “The big narrative of the Bible: theocracy, monarchy, Christocracy.”

THE JUICY STUFF

Ghandi didn’t do Kingdom work. At least according to McKnight, if it’s not connected to the Lordship of Jesus, it can’t be dubbed “kingdom.” As McKnight sees it, the kingdom is expressed today as the church. He says, “If you use the word Kingdom and can’t substitute the word church, you’re probably not using the word Kingdom right.” He argues that the present-day fetish with influencing society, culture, and politics distracts us from the mission of God: to build the local church. Now, McKnight does affirm an interest in justice within broader society. He spoke to loving neighbor, extending justice and peace from the church into community, and doing good works. But his comments are still striking when he makes statements like, “The world is not a place to redeem. It is a place to redeem people from.” In today’s church, this is McKnight’s most controversial assertion. McKnight also charges the church with too often reading the Scripture in a way that erases Israel. McKnight thinks the background is important for getting this chapter of the story right.

THE PRAXIS

Mel Lawrenz, Sandra Van Opstal, Earl Lavender, Phil Jackson, and Tara Beth Leach sat on a panel and spoke especially of the need to reclaim the value of the church and her mission. Lavender noted with concern that Christian college-students are abandoning church-focused majors for social justice. He challenged church leaders to engage all of young people’s creativity and giftedness in service to the church. Lawrenz called for balance noting the ongoing need for believers to express their gifts outside the church. Van Opstal talked about the church as a place for diverse people to come together in unity and dreamed about the possibility of a community on mission which would reshape perceptions. She critiqued the common assumption that minority churches were a place to do mission, rather than critical partners in mission. Leach talked about the value of gatherings where the people of God meet the Holy Spirit. McKnight also spoke to practical implications, calling the church to being with and for people unto Christlikeness and encouraging leaders to press into the question of what communal disciplines might foster the type of church described.

REACTION

A significant, popular shift from church to Kingdom has occurred, perhaps without many of us quite naming it. McKnight has done the church and kingdom a service by bringing Scripture to bear and reminding us of the relationship between the two. While this theological framework is not innovative, that is hardly a critique. Scot has provided a fresh articulation and application of Kingdom theology. McKnight’s contribution is probably most significant when he applies the model to praxis. The renewed emphasis on church is welcome. The only critique, however, also lies here. McKnight’s claims about the mission of the church rest on beliefs about the nature and mission of the church. McKnight seems to limit Kingdom mission to ministries which are based from local churches (excluding for instance parachurch ministry). Those who don’t share his Neo-Anabaptist lens may be less willing to focus church so narrowly on congregational life. Some will think that when Christians witness to the King’s reign through acts of justice in broader society, this too falls under the church’s mission (Perhaps even if retaining the rest of Scot’s theological framework?). Minor tweaks, notwithstanding, Scot’s contribution is significant.

Scot is right. The church is fundamental to God’s plan and we should all use Kingdom more Biblically.  

I’m looking forward to digging into the book more in the days to come.

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