Many will be reading Scott McKnight’s new article in the latest edition of Christianity Today. Here’s some background info on McKnight.
Scott McKnight is a redactional criticism expert who somehow got involved in the discussions over the emerging movement, and soon after considered himself “emerging.”
Actually … it began like this …
After he started writing about the emerging church on his blog Jesus Creed, his readership hits went through the roof, and his students (he teaches at North Park University in Chicago) became more interested in reading his writings. He realized that most people were not really that interested in his technical writings on redaction, but whenever he wrote about the Emerging Church, everyone listened, and he could hardly keep up with the comments on his blog (one of the most well read blogs in the entire blogospheric galactic spectrum).
This led to number of conversations between him and emerging leaders. Now that he’s intimately familiar with the emerging movement, he considers himself emerging (yes … I know about the recent “abandonment” of the term) and by Doug Pagitt’s categories would be considered emergenT (that T is important … you’ll see why if you keep reading). Not that I’ve heard Pagitt call McKnight emergenT, but because Pagitt and other emergenT leaders insist that emergenT is not defined by its theology, but rather, is simply a network of friends in conversation (deconstructive conservation mostly).
HOWEVER … Scott McKnight, although an emerging leader who has tried his hardest to be sympathetic with the concerns of emergenT leaders across the board (even emergent village etc.)–we will see more of this in his upcoming book The Blue Parakeet–has not sympathized with the most controversial aspects of the emergenT movement.
His recent article, “McLaren Emerging,” does several predictable things. Here are a few …
1) He reminds us of the distinctions between emerging (a broad movement of mostly evangelicals) and emergent (a smaller movement of the emerging movement that leans in a post-evangelical direction).
2) McKnight depicts Brian McLaren, perhaps the most influential emergenT leader, as having become disillusioned with the “gospel” he was taught growing up in an ultra-conservative church, and sensing a great tension between the “global” message of Jesus about the “kingdom,” and the “individualistic” message about “salvation,” that he grew up with. McLaren thinks the church’s message is different from the kingdom proclamation of Jesus. The message of Jesus was peace, reconciliation, and love–”not just with God and not just in the heart, but both and more: the peace Jesus envisions is global. … through him, God was launching a new world order, a new world, a new creation.” Sounds a lot like N.T. Wright’s fresh emphasis on the new creation theme. Nothing too crazy here.
3) More specifically, McKnight tells us that McLaren questions the evangelical theology of the cross. McLaren does not believe that the Father was “venting” his wrath on the Son so that believers could have salvation (i.e. penal substitution). Rather, the central message of the cross is the repudiation of violence.
4) McKnight addresses some questions to McLaren in a kind, but challenging, way. They are predictable questions such as …
a) “What role does the Cross play in the emergent kingdom vision”? He follows this up with statement like, “The most stable location for the earliest understanding of the Cross, from Jesus all the way through the New Testament writings, is the Last Supper–and not a word is said there about violence and systemic injustice. Other words are given to explain the event: covenant, forgiveness of sins, and blood ‘poured out for many.’ Insight into the Cross must start here.” Great [point] Scott.
b) “What is the relationship of kingdom to church?” He follows this up with statements like, “According to the Newt Testament, the kingdom vision of Jesus is, it seems, only implemented through the church.”
He closes by saying, “All in All, I am hoping that McLaren’s works will lead to a massive conversation on the meaning of one word: gospel,” and by quoting Mary’s Magnificat from Luke as evidence that “Luke tells of a gospel far greater than most of us are hearing today.”
Thus … he is sympathetic with the deconstruction of emergent leaders, agreeing that the church may have missed the full significance of the message of the gospel of the kingdom, yet skeptical of the reconstruction taking place with respect to theories of atonement and ecclesiology.