Scot Mcknight is a NT scholar whose work I respect. His book on the Atonement is the best in print (see link at the end of the interview). Scot has just released a new book called One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow I interviewed Scot on the book recently. Here’s the full interview.
1) I enjoyed reading your new book. One of the things I noticed coming out of the gate is that your early introduction into what “the Christian life” encompasses is identical to mine (as well as scores of other believers who got saved in evangelical churches). It seems to me that a large part of your book is a presentation of what was “missing” from the gospel with which you were presented when you became a Christian. Can you distill those “missing elements” in a paragraph or three?
Scot McKnight: Yes, in some ways this book fills in what was missing in the gospel and Christian life that I embraced as a young adult. I don’t want to summarize the whole book because it won’t do it justice, but I’d say the big missing elements were:
(1) an embracive understanding of what it means to embrace Jesus. He was embraced in my tradition too much as Savior-from-sin and not much more. The more I read the Gospels and the New Testament the more I am convinced that just doesn’t describe anything recognizable in what Jesus or the apostles taught.
(2) Jesus’ vision was for a new and radical community – one marked by justice, love, peace, wisdom and holiness. Too often the first three of those terms are seen as what we do in society (social justice) but it seems so powerful to me that Jesus saw that as the way his followers were to live amongst themselves, and thus create communities – churches is what we call them now – that were just and loving and peaceful and wise and holy.
(3) The big thing missing for me was community; the gospel was about me and God (bad grammar but you get the point). But Jesus’ vision was about a community and he invites me (and you and you and you and you) to join and enter in on what God is doing in this world.
Finally, (4) Jesus’ visions the Christian life in ways I never heard: it wasn’t just about pious practices, like Bible reading and praying, but about bigger and better things that take our pious practices and put them into community (of faith) service.
2) If readers could only read two chapters in your book, what would they be and why do you feel they are the most important?
Scot McKnight: Frank, why do you do me like this? It’s like asking me to choose one of my two children! OK, I’ll bite. I loved writing chp 3: The Imagined Life and chp 14 The Cross Life and Resurrection Life. But I liked them all – and think I have a few suggestive points to make about heaven and hell in that chp.
3) There are many books on “discipleship” today . . . the subject is getting resurrected once again among believers. How is your book different from the other books being written on discipleship today?
Scot McKnight: Discipleship too often is about pious practices or about programs or about spiritual formation. This book sets discipleship into the context Jesus gave it: kingdom living. In other words, a disciple is someone committed to what Jesus was committed to. How many discipleship programs are shaped by the Lord’s Prayer?
That is, by pursuing God’s holy name, God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread for all of us, forgiveness and forgivingness, and being led away from what will destroy the kingdom? Not many. Why? Because we are using programs we’ve created instead of the vision Jesus gave us.
So, let me boil this into one expression: Our discipleship programs need to be reframed into vision programs, kingdom vision programs.
4) You discuss the issue of hell in the book. Give us a sketch of your view of hell and eternal punishment.
Scot McKnight: Frank, this is just too hard; too hard because it requires so much sensitivity to talk about these topics. I want to believe in the hell Jesus believed in, and he believed in a judgment that was fiery and that was destructive and that was horrific and that was real and that was final. But too many use hell as a hammer and not as a warning by someone who has the best alternative possible: kingdom of God.
5) You talk about the new heaven and new earth near the end of the book. What’s your view on the second coming of Christ? Do you believe as N.T. Wright seems to, that all the texts where Jesus refers to about His coming in the Gospels refer to what happened in 70 A.D., and thus we must look to Paul to learn about Christ’s coming at the end of the age? Or do you take another view?
Scot McKnight: I’m a partial preterist. I think most of what Jesus talked about in the future, what we would call his eschatology, is about what was to occur in one way or another in 70AD. But, he saw the Next Event (70AD) in God’s program to be the Final Event, and in this he was like all other prophets in Israel.
They spoke of the next big event as the end event because they wanted their listeners/readers to see it as having ultimacy. Jesus wasn’t mistaken, but was instead limited in what he knew of the future – and our Lord says that very thing in Mark 13 when he said he didn’t know the hour or day on which these things would occur, he just knew what would happen.
6) In connection with the above, where do you stand on what will happen at His return? Both before, during, and afterwards.
Scot McKnight: The contemporaries of Jesus were dead wrong when the First Advent occurred, and I assume we’ll be wrong in what will happen at the Second Advent. So, I’ll keep quiet because I don’t know. What I do know is that it will be glorious and all eyes will turn to Jesus and the World will become what God wants for this world.
7) What was the most difficult part of the book for you to write and why?
Scot McKnight: The Heaven and Hell chp. Why? Because the topic is so volatile and there are so many bad, bad ideas about both – heaven isn’t ethereal and hell isn’t fire. It’s all about God’s presence and our presence in God’s presence, or (tragically) utter absence in God’s all-consuming Presence. Those are not easy ideas to communicate, especially when some people seem to want God to torture people forever – believing too much in what Dante wrote in the Inferno.
8) Who is your target audience and what do you hope to see changed in them (specifically) after they finish reading One.Life?
Scot McKnight: I wrote this book for a stage in the journey, not an age group. It is for those who need to hear that the summons to discipleship is for them. That discipleship Is not an option. Some people need a kick in the “Old Testament” and that’s what this book might do. Others need to hear the resolve Jesus expected of them, and this book can do that.
Others need to hear all over again – as if for the first time – that covenant relation with God is not some casual “I’ll sign up for that too” program. Instead,it is an all-consuming summons to give our OneLife to Jesus Christ.
9) You talk a lot about the kingdom of God in the book. What’s your best definition of the kingdom, and can you explain how that definition becomes practical in the lives of every believer?
Scot McKnight: Frank, people get mushy on this one, so here it is: The kingdom is the society in which God’s will is done. You simply can’t say “kingdom” in the 1st Century and not think of a King, and a Land, and a citizenship and a Law that governs the citizens. You can’t get by with thinking it is nothing more than the personal experience of God as my king. The word “kingdom” has to refer to society. It’s the society around Jesus living as Jesus wants it to live.
10) Justice is a recurring topic throughout the book. There’s a lot of high-abstract talk about justice today in certain Christian circles (mostly a re-packaging of liberation theology from years past). If a Christian wanted to “do justice” in her or his city right now, what are some very practical, “do-able” ways they can be doing justice in your opinion?
Scot McKnight: There is only one way to do Jesus’ vision of Justice: living the kingdom vision with one another as a church of local believers. Justice is not what we do in society and holiness what we do in the church. Justice is behavior and conditions that conform to God’s will as taught by Jesus, and it is begins in the local church.
11) If you would, give us a listing of all of your other books with a one or two-sentence summary of the main points they make.
Scot McKnight: Frank, my bibliography is too long. Here is a listing of some recent books:
The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (an explanation of discipleship through the lens of the Jewish Shema)
A Community called Atonement (an expansive understanding of the various metaphors of atonement in the Bible)
The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (a sketch of how to read the Bible as Story and an explanation of women in ministry that affirms and expands what women need to be doing in the church today)
Fasting: The Ancient Practices (what the Bible says about fasting; it’s not about denying food in order to get but a denial of food as a response to grievous situations)
The Real Mary (an attempt to offer a Protestant, Bible-shaped view of Mary)