Q Los Angeles 2013
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Scot McKnight on Living the One.Life
Q: Your book is titled
, but you tackle a different expression of that life in each chapter. In your opinion, which of these expressions is most difficult to live in contemporary Western culture?
SM: Perhaps I should mention the major topics first:
we examine the most central themes of the kingdom vision of Jesus, and that means we examine kingdom itself, the imagination (as seen in Jesus’ parables), love, justice, peace and wisdom. In addition, I believe kingdom and church need to be brought together, so we have a chapter on church. Then, we probe topics connected to our response: commitment, sex/love, and vocation. What Jesus teaches matters, so we sketch what he says about heaven and hell – and then appeal to folks to surrender their one and only life to Jesus and to his kingdom vision.
The most difficult one to live for young adults is “church” and that is why I put it last: I wanted to make the case for the kingdom vision, which I find young adults most interested in, before I made the case for church.
But the chapter on the Committed.Life, while it may seem "yada, yada" to many today, sketches a vision Jesus has for us that is anything but "yada, yada." In fact, it is profoundly challenging and I find it challenging every semester when I teach these themes and every day as I live.
If I may add one more: I wrote the chapter on Sex.Life because I think we’ve gotten things horribly wrong: we’re messed up on sex and marriage because we’re messed up on love. Until we see that love is not the dopamine rush we experience when our God-made neurochemicals are set ablaze but something profoundly different, we’ll not the get sex life or the marriage life in order.
Q: Right off the bat, you mentioned the word "justice." So many people talk about justice these days that it's often hard to decipher its meaning. How do you define it?
Justice is defined in Western culture by constitutional rights, by individualism, and by economic theory. So, justice is giving me what I have by right – like happiness and a good life and a good job and nice home – and by what I personally want for personal fulfillment and by each of us having enough money to buy a home and take a nice vacation. Then we have others defining justice as retribution, as in “we’ll bring the criminal to justice.”
Then, we have folks wanting to be more positive so they define justice as restoration, which is yet one more Western theory at work before we even get to the Bible.
So, in just a brief set of words: justice requires a standard whereby we measure actions and conditions. That standard in the Bible is God’s Word, and for followers of Jesus that standard becomes the teachings of Jesus or the guidance of the Spirit (Pauline emphasis) – and I’m more than willing to let Jesus define justice as love of God and love of others. After all, he reduced the entire law to loving God and loving others and the apostle Paul and James both echo that very teaching.
So, justice defined: "justice is a society characterized by the conditions and actions that are established by God as God’s will." Followers of Jesus “do justice” when they embody and work for conditions and behaviors that conform to the teachings of Jesus. Followers do not define justice by the Western doctrines of rights to happiness.
magazine article "Act Justly" by Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma.]
Q: You speak at length about "personal spirituality" in your book. Can you explain what that is and how the phenomenon came into existence?
Personal spirituality, and I tell my own story in the “First Words” section, is framing the Christian life by my own personal growth in intimacy with God. Two books landed on my desk this week about spiritual formation and neither of them has anything to say about what seemed to concern Jesus the most: a kingdom vision for God’s people on earth in the here and now. Instead, the books were absorbed with inner soul transformation. I’m for intimacy with God; I pray daily; I read my Bible all the time … but we have for some reason convinced ourselves that genuine spirituality is about fostering our personal relationship and intimacy with God.
One.Life does not deconstruct that vision; nor does it say intimacy with God is wrong. I believe it is important, but any “theory” of “personal spirituality” that is not first and foremost about building the People of God through the gospel Story is a misplaced emphasis.
Q: Many of the examples you use in the book are people who have given their lives to working among the homeless or in Africa. Can a financial planner or attorney or retail worker also live the One.Life??
SM: I’m tempted to say "Of course!" And, yes, my examples were more about those sort of pursuit of life, and I think because Jesus inspires that sort of dream and seems not to talk all that much about what I would call what I do – an ordinary life. But there are some stories about folks working in the economic sector of life, like my friend TK Johnson who is a contractor – and a mighty good one. And the chapter on Wisdom.Life justifies the daily pursuit of the ordinary as the arena in which most of us conduct our lives as disciples.
[Watch Scot McKnight's answer to "What is the Gospel?" in an interview with Gabe Lyons.]
Q: Actually, one of the more surprising chapters in your book was Wisdom.Life. Wisdom is something we don't hear a lot about today. Why do you feel that attribute was important enough to dedicate an entire chapter to?
SM: I like it that you say “surprising” and it is that word that probably says we need more about wisdom. We dwell in a culture obsessed with youth, and some have called it (inelegantly) the “youthicization” of culture. We glorify the young thin body; we raise to highest significance the strengths and capacities we have when we are at our “physical peak” (we need to think about what this means because it reflects a worldview); we like to wear clothing that says we are “relevant” and relevant means 20something. We gracefully tell ourselves that we are middle aged when we are 50 (which would mean we live to 100). Middle age, to be brutally honest, is between 35-40.
The Bible valued not youth, but age. The gray headed folks and the bald-headed folks were the wise. The elderly – probably 55-70 – were the focus of society. Read the wisdom books, like Proverbs, and you will see wisdom connected to the elderly and teaching the young to learn to walk in the ways of God.
I shift a bit now: wisdom is living in God’s world in God’s way in the way of Jesus. We need to have those who are Wise, that is those who have learned to live in God’s world in God’s way, raised up as those to whom we go for wisdom. We need to have elderly people concerned and devoted to helping the younger adults live wisely. We need to have young adults committed to being mentored by the elderly.
This could easily become a book, but I’m not yet wise enough to write it. But wisdom is one of the most important themes in the Bible and it is one of the least mentioned in our Christian culture. We can do better.
How was does your current understanding of Christianity differ from what you were taught as a child? In your opinion, which of the major topics discussed in Scot's book are most difficult to achieve in contemporary Western society?
Scott in NC
Scot's book was amazing-life changing. I'm working with our youth pastor to organize a class around the book for high school juniors and seniors.
As a teenager and young adult (late 80s), I was taught the 'personal piety' "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges was one our key texts (all good!).
At the same time, I read a lot of articles about the coming of the kingdom, one thousand years of prosperity. It was all very Pentecostal, and it appeared to be a bunch of rich guys trying to bring the kingdom into being 'by human means'.
Thus now, when I listen to this Gabe Lyons type teaching, I'm a bit nervous. One one hand it appears to be very refeshing and it all makes sense. But I'm also keen to ensure that we do not try to bring about God's kingom in our own strength. Jesus was very careful to avoid getting involved in political position, apart from being a critic. Paul instructs Timothy likewise.
I'd like to see the new teaching on God's kingdom contain some reflection on the growth of the church in Acts and also from Paul's teaching to the churches in his letters.
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