We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.
Scot challenges the Pleaded Pants and Skinny Jeans assumption that Christians should be about changing the culture of the world as Kingdom work.
[James Davison] Hunter’s study [To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (required reading to be a serious student of such things)] reminds us all of fundamental issues at work in any attempt to change culture.
He argues that culture changes from top down and not from bottom up; that evangelicals on the Left and Right do not have enough social and cultural capital to change culture; that culture is resistant to any intentional change; that most Christian groups today are too politically activist in grasping for power; and that the gospel does not valorize power but loving service.
He offers a deeper understanding of the world, and he concludes that the wisest approach for Christians is to back away from public agitation and to move into what he calls “faithful witness.”
In essence, Hunter’s strategy of “faithful presence”— to each other, to our vocations, and within our spheres of influence— calls into question the transformation and liberation models that dominate Christian activism today.
(p. 16) (paragraphing added throughout to ease Internet reading).
As awful and depressing as the world’s culture can be, Hunter argues with conviction — and lots of facts — that we are neither called nor able to change the culture. (Obviously, it is within the power of God; but it’s not within the power of a great sermon series or thousands upon thousands of well-digging trips to Africa.) And it’s hard to find evidence in the scriptures that we are saved to go about repairing the culture that surrounds us. (We covered this book in detail in this series.)
The culture and the “world”
Scot also notes how the Bible treats the “world” very differently from how the Skinny Jeans and Pleated Pants crowds want to treat culture.
A second observation: not only have our efforts at culture’s transformation far underachieved the goals (except on paper), but this word “culture” seems to be replacing the Bible’s word “world.” Put less discreetly, just sprinkle some baptismal water on “world” and we can now call it “culture.” In this sense “culture” becomes the redeemed elements of the world, but often with the connotations of world dismissed.
Why say this? Because the word “world” does not come off so well in the New Testament. Notice these potent lines from the Gospel of John:
“Light has come into the world but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (3: 19)
“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (8: 23)
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (15: 19)
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. . . . They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (17: 9, 16)
“My kingdom is not of this world.” (18: 36)
This selection of texts from the Fourth Gospel represents the New Testament posture toward the “world” as the unredeemed realm of human affairs, a realm into which Jesus is sent and out of which he saves his own.
The point I am making, then, is that Jesus didn’t come to make the “world” a better place or to “influence” or “transform” the world. He came to redeem people out of the world.
(pp. 16-17). Scot concludes,
There is no kingdom that is not about a just society, as there is no kingdom without redemption under Christ. Yet I’m convinced that both of these approaches to kingdom fall substantially short of what kingdom meant to Jesus, so we need once again to be patient enough to ponder what the Bible teaches. To borrow words from Marilynne Robinson, what these two approaches provide “is a straight-edged ruler in a fractal universe.” It will take more than a few chapters to get this “fractal universe” called “kingdom” in view.
(pp. 18-19). And up to this point, I have to stay I find myself vigorously nodding my head. Amen.