About a dozen years ago, Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at North Park Seminary and the author of 24 books, was sitting in church and heard the pastor say some things about Jesus and the Jewish world that didn’t sound quite right. “We can do better than this,” he thought. McKnight started digging to find out what kinds of books pastors were learning from, and he discovered they were “reading John Ortberg [Who Is This Man?] and not E.P. Sanders [Jesus and Judaism],” McKnight says. In other words, pastors were not reading scholarly books about Jesus and his world, but popular theology they could take to the people in the pews.
It was then McKnight knew he wanted to write books that would speak to both pastors and laypeople. In The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete, 2004) he encouraged Christians to live according to Jesus’ simple creed: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. As an academic, McKnight admits it was hard work to write accessibly for a broad audience. But The Jesus Creed has sold 100,000 copies and is celebrating its 10th anniversary, so clearly McKnight had found his voice.
“That book changed my life,” he says. “I’ve been all over the world because of it, and I have pastors asking me to come speak in their churches.” McKnight says writing The Jesus Creed impressed on him the significance of love in the New Testament: “It made me aware of the absence of love in much Christian life.” He was inspired to tap into the desire of ordinary churchgoers to learn more about Jesus and his vision for humankind.
The four books McKnight has published in the past four years reflect that quest, covering Bible study--The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2010)—discipleship—One Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan, 2010)—personal evangelism—The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Zondervan, 2011)—and the Christian life—Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us (Paraclete, 2012).
The ideas in his newest book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Brazos, Oct.), have been percolating since the 1990s, McKnight says, because of how often he hears people misuse the biblical concept of “kingdom.” In the Bible, the kingdom of God is a complex of people (the church), king (Christ), and law (the law of Christ, or love, and life in the spirit). It is both present and future. Writes McKnight, “the kingdom’s future entails a flourishing fellowship of people following final judgment and the establishment of righteousness, and that kingdom sets the tone for kingdom living now.”
Biblically, kingdom and church are synonyms, but McKnight points out that today many view “kingdom” as synonymous with social justice. He points to two versions of kingdom talk: the “skinny jeans kingdom theory” of social progressives, who are focused on activism and justice; and the “pleated pants kingdom theory” of social conservatives who are focused on spiritual redemption. In Kingdom Conspiracy, McKnight emphasizes that neither of these views fully reflects the biblical concept, arguing that Jesus’ view of the kingdom holds together both redemption and social justice.
The kingdom mission, McKnight writes, is “the local church mission: evangelism, worship, catechesis (wisdom), fellowship (love), edification (advocacy), discipleship (nurture), gifts (Spirit unleashed).” By illuminating Jesus’ view of the kingdom, Kingdom Conspiracy fleshes out the ideas McKnight wrote about in The Jesus Creed: that the church must be all about loving God and neighbor, and that those simple principles are the foundation of a loving kingdom community.