I know, I know, reflecting on Scot McKnight’s book the “King Jesus Gospel ” (Zondervan 2011) is about as close to breaking news as announcing today how many gold medals Canada got at the last Summer Olympics. Sadly, being late to the party is symptomatic of an area of my life that I have been aching to rectify: the need to read more, more often, AND the need to reflect in writing what I am reading.
Today’s post is not meant to be a review of his book but an integration of his idea with some others I’m playing with.
For a few years now Dan Sheffield and I have been talking over the idea of the church as a kind of Open System. Meaning that the church, as it works to fulfill the Great Commission is not separate from it’s environment but is integrally linked with it. The church both impacts its environment and is impacted by it. Is it too extreme to go further and say that failure to meaningfully interact with the world and failure to produce disciples is a failure to be the church? Here’s a quick diagram to outline this idea.
Let’s look at few key features of this diagram.
First, the church finds itself in a context. By context I mean the systems that influence, for good or for ill, both the church and the people she is called to reach. After all, we are not called to a disembodied existence to give ourselves up for undefined people in some general way. We are called to give ourselves up for specific people in a specific place. The context each church inhabits includes both the reign of God AND the reign of the principalities and powers (those systems and forces opposed to God’s reign). These two realities express themselves context specific ways. For instance, I can tell you from personal experience, the way the principalities and powers hold sway and ruin life in Saskatoon is not entire in the same way they hold sway and ruin life in Kitchener. Neither place is more broken than the other and yet they both exhibit brokeness differently. For instance, economic disparity and poverty in Kitchener is not as influenced by the local river as it is in Saskatoon. East and West in Saskatoon mean more than just points on a compass. They represent a very real difference in economic as well as many other terms. Life in Saskatoon, on the other hand, is not as influenced by the GTA rat race as Kitchener is. Life in Kitchener can often mean 7.5 or more hours per week commuting to work. That can affect things like family dynamics, spare time, and environmental footprint. Churches have to take these realities into account as they operate.
Second, as people in our context respond to God’s call they must be able to find a place in our local church. There are many factors that influence the ability of people to find their place among us. Some are in our control. Some aren’t. For instance, while my church in Saskatoon has no official policy against such things, no one who currently lives in Kitchener can be a regular part of life in our church. Location apparently really matters to people in Kitchener. So much so that they are not willing to make the 28 hour drive a few times a week to share life with us. Other factors matter too. Things like a church’s recent history can determine whether or not it is open or closed to new people. What a church values culturally, confessionally, and historically can also affect whether or not people find a place there. Some of these things we can and should change. Some of these things we shouldn’t. In any case it is important for a church to become aware of and manage their boundary filters.
Third, each local “Body” engages in practices (means of grace) in which people encounter God and are transformed. Transformed people become Jesus-followers (disciples) who in turn engage in their context. Through their engagement the whole process starts over again. It is a church’s responsibility to take stock of the quality of Jesus-followers that emerge from their way of life. Churches with a large gap between the kinds of disciples they would like to see and the kinds they actually produce must look back through the process and ask “is what we are doing actually making disciples of Jesus?”
So what does this have to do with “The King Jesus Gospel?” Well, Scot is taking stock of the kinds of disciples the church in North America produces and find us wanting. Here’s his diagram:
Here’s what he has to say,
Now to say this slightly more completely: all Christian traditions — and I’m thinking of all but especially the Catholic and Orthodox traditions — emphasize entrance into the church (The Members). For the more liturgically oriented traditions, entrance into the church begins with the baptism of the infant and continues into catechism. For some this is an all but automatic process: the baptized become the catechized become The Members. In class not long ago I asked one of my Roman Catholic students if he knew of any young adult who was denied “membership.” His response was immediate: “Never.” Making the conversion process automatic — and I’m doing my best to be dead-level honest in saying that — is disastrous for the vitality of faith and church life. This kind of gospel can deconstruct a local church, and I would finger this issue as one of the, if not the, origins of the demise of the church in European cultures. This sacramental process contrasts dramatically with what happens with many Protestants, where, especially among the evangelical types, salvation occurs only if the child/youth/adult makes a (more) personal profession of faith. So the evangelical tradition wants to take a second step. That second step is to become of The Decided. In spite of the obvious and important differences here between the liturgical and evangelical traditions, each has a similar problem. Salvation cultures have struggled, are struggling, and will continue to struggle to get The Members or The Decided into the third category: The Discipled. My contention is that we have to create a gospel culture if we want The Members to be The Discipled, and it means the following example of a pastor struggling to make sense of the gospel’s fullness is the paradigm we will have to deconstruct and reform. McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (pp. 31-32). Zondervan.
McKnight’s diagnosis is that the evangelical church often struggles with getting “the Decided” to become “the Discipled.” In other words, there is something about how we understand and live our lives together that produces the kinds of results we are getting. McKnight’s diagnosis is that we are getting what we are getting because we have a truncated understanding of the gospel. I certainly can’t disagree with that and yet I think our problems aren’t simply limited to bad theology. To bad theology – I would also add deeper spiritual issues (like North American acedia), structural issues (like vague or non-existent discipleship practices) and a frequent disintest in self-examination beyond the usual bucks, butts, and buildings. That being said, what McKnight suggests in “The King Jesus Gospel” is a really excellent place to start our self-examination.
Check out his book. You will not be sorry you did.