We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.
So I’ve been trying to think through all this. What does it mean on the ground. What would things be like if we took Scot’s advice seriously?
The part of the book that strikes me as most clearly true — and that really struck me — is the idea that the point of Christianity is not to fix the world but to draw those in the world into the church. To repair the brokenness from which all humans suffer, we have to be part of a community shaped like a cross, filled with the Spirit, and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. This is grace.
Now, the neo-Anabaptist teaching of such men as Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder tends to stop at this point. It’s as though forming the church and getting the church to become the church the Bible calls for were enough. But, obviously enough, if we aren’t careful, we can let this theory push us into the Fortified Church — separating ourselves from the world so much that we have no influence on the world — and at the least, we need to have enough influence to draw the lost into the church. At the least.
So what do we do? Well, it’s well explained by Amy Julia Becker in a recent review of Philip Yancy’s Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? She writes,
Sociologist and researcher Amy Sherman has said that Christians tend to have three models for interacting with society: fortification, accommodation, and domination. To put that in layman’s terms: We hunker down amongst ourselves, water down our witness, or beat down our opponents. For many reasons, those aren’t New Testament models.
So what should we be? We need to create pioneer settlements that show the world a different, grace-based way of living.
And so, when the neo-Anabaptists among us urge the church to be the church, meaning that our focus has to be on building a truly cross-shaped community, many of us hear “fortification.” We are afraid that a focus on the church will cause us to withdrawn from the world — when we urgently need to be in the world.
On the other hand, when so many urge us to tear down the walls of the church and be salt and light in our communities, it sounds like we’re being asked to water down our witness, that is, to give up evangelism and even inviting friends to church because it’s so much better to feed the homeless — as though a choice has been forced on us.
So we have to resist the temptation to be too binary, too black-and-white in our thinking. It’s not either-or. It can’t be. Nor can it be entirely both-and, because both-and gives us no guidance, seemingly allowing us to pick whether we want to head to the homeless shelter or hang around the church gym playing church-league basketball after drinking church coffee at our church coffee shop while reading church books.
I think the household of faith is like a physical household. As a parent, my first duty is to my own family. If I care for the homeless while leaving my family hungry, I’m a bad Christian. But if I care only about my family, I’m a self-indulgent — and very bad — parent. My children need to see me, as a father, be concerned about God’s kingdom and his mission. They need to see me care deeply about things other than my family.
And so it’s not both-and in the sense that I might pick one or the other. Rather, it’s more family and church, but especially family — but never just family because that’s actually bad for my family. In fact, church and family are not opposites or competitors. We can make them be exactly that — we’ve all seen it — but in a healthy Christian family, the church is a part of family life and a very important part — but done in a way that enhances family rather than competing with family.
Just so, in the household of faith, it’s more church as community and mission to the surrounding community, but especially church as community — but never just church as community because that’s actually bad for my church. In fact, church as community and mission to the surrounding community are not opposites or competitors. We can make them be exactly that — we’ve all seen it — but in a healthy church-community, the mission to the surrounding community is part of church life and a very important part — but done in a way that enhances the church as community rather than competing with church as community.
Got it? This should end the tedious debate about being missional vs. attractional, or getting outside the church vs. the institutional church. It’s a false dichotomy. The two are synergistic, and both are necessary for the other.
You cannot have a healthy congregation unless the congregation is deeply engaged in serving the surrounding community. But you cannot effectively serve the surrounding community unless you do so as part of a congregation, in the name of Jesus. Why is that?
Well, it’s because we’ve not been called to repair the world as the world. We’re to call the world into the church so that it’s no longer the world but transformed into God’s own kingdom. A critical, essential, inescapable goal is evangelism, and when people are saved, they are saved into the church, not merely as an abstraction but a real group of people who live together as brothers and sisters in Christ, who love each other in an other-worldly way, who live — imperfectly, perhaps even very imperfectly — the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 13.
And as valuable as it is to dig wells and paint houses and buy goats, if the people we serve are left divided, without Jesus, without the Spirit, without the benefit of the Christian family, well, we’ve not really loved them — or else we don’t really believe in salvation and gehenna and judgment. And if that’s the case, we’re not really Christians.