Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Defining “Mission” in Kingdom Terms, Part 3

KingdomConspiracy2We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

Seventh, kingdom mission as church mission means the kingdom citizen is compelled by love to “good deeds” or “doing good” in the public sector.

(p. 111).

To disconnect the biblical idea of kingdom from social activism and to claim that the location of God’s work in this world is not the state but the church does not entail withdrawal. It is, to use the words of someone else, “leaving without departing.” But the church is the church, and the world is the world. Distinguishing the two, even radically separating them, however, does not mean withdrawal. Instead, when the church is the church it is fully engaged in loving everyone as neighbors. As such, the church becomes the most lovingly, compassionately, justly, peacefully engaged segment in all the world.

(p. 111). And so, Scot argues, the good works we do must be good works from within the church — meaning local congregations. And this means, I’m sure, that our congregations need to change and change quite a lot.

On the other hand, Scot is very much in favor of good works that serve the common good, so long as we don’t imagine that this is necessarily kingdom work or what we’re ultimately called to do.

What I am not in favor of is assigning the word “kingdom” to such actions in order to render that action sacred or to justify that action as supernatural or to give one the sense that what she or he is doing is ultimately significant. When we assign the word “kingdom” to good deeds in the public sector for the common good, we take a word that belongs in one place (the church) and apply it in another (the world). In so doing we run the risk of diminishing church at the expense of the world.

(p. 115) (emphasis in original). Now, I struggle with this concept just as I’m sure my readers do. So here’s where I wind up. I wind up thinking in terms of Abraham Kuyper, the great Calvinist thinker who taught us about common grace.

You see, God gives a special grace to Christians. We receive salvation, spiritual gifts, relationship with God, and countless other gracious benefits of being Christians. This is grace.

But those who have never heard of God or who are even enemies of God also receive a type of grace: common grace.

(Mat 5:43-48 ESV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

God doesn’t give good gifts to just his children. He does good for everyone, even when he knows he won’t be appreciated or thanked. But he goes out of his way to do far more for those in the kingdom.

Just so, it seems that Christians and the church must prioritize kingdom work — work that actually builds and extends the kingdom over our doing of common grace. But to be like God, we can’t say “no” just because we won’t get credit. But we can and should emphasize the work that does the most good — which is work that brings the lost into the kingdom and builds up the kingdom into the image of Jesus.

Eighth, doing good means disciples are missional in their vocation.

(p. 115). Therefore,

Only to the degree that a person has turned his or her focus in life from the world toward the kingdom/church is a person doing kingdom work. What’s more, on the basis of a kingdom life being lived, only to the degree that a person is pointing others to live under King Jesus, guiding others into the fellowship of the kingdom called church, and encouraging others to follow the moral vision of Jesus is a person doing kingdom work. Vocation, then, is kingdom mission, as long as kingdom mission is seen as gospel-shaped church mission.

(p. 117). That is, contrary to Luther’s teaching (among many others), merely doing good because it supports your family is not “kingdom work.” Rather, you have to take your work to another level — the level of expanding or building up the kingdom — that is, the church.

Obviously, supporting your family is godly and good. It’s just not in fulfillment of kingdom purposes. Even the pagans support their own families.

The kingdom is over and above the goodness common to all mankind.

Ninth, kingdom mission means that social justice activism, the social gospel, and liberation theology are important paths for Christians to express love to those in need.

(p. 118). Now, these are not unfamiliar terms in the Churches of Christ, but we’ve always treated these ideas with great suspicion. As does Scot — but for very different reasons.

Scot argues that these kinds of good works are indeed good works but not kingdom works.

[T]he public sector and systemic elements of social activism are not kingdom mission but instead Christians “doing good” in the public sector for the common good. As such, this activism is good— very good and inevitable — but good works are not the same thing as kingdom work. Good works are the overflow of love toward those in need.

(p. 118). Therefore,

it is not good or just for the Christian to do this kind of social work at the expense of striving for kingdom conditions in his or her local church.

(p. 120). Hence, Scot sees local church work — kingdom work — as paramount. The foundation is building up and expanding the kingdom. Secondary to this are good works in general. And this nicely parallels the nature of God’s grace as we’ve discussed earlier.

(Gal 6:10 ESV) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

This verse was horribly abused by some in the Churches of Christ back in the 1950s, when it was argued that it was wrong to do good for those outside the Churches until all needs within the Churches had been met — and this is obviously not the type of priority Paul has in mind. “Especially” does not mean “only.” It means “more than the other.” It’s a point of emphasis and priority, not exclusivity.

And so we don’t have to take this verse to an absurd, even abusive, level to honor its teaching. The household of faith is entitled to a measure of grace not provided to anyone else. And we must first love each other before we love others — because we can’t truly love others if we can’t manage to love our own brothers and sisters.

Scot offers a stunning interpretation of Matthew 25:40 —

(Mat 25:40 ESV)  40 “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

Who are “my brothers”? Well,  Scot points out that in previous uses in Matthew, “brothers” refers particularly to those who are in the kingdom.

(Mat 12:48-50 ESV) 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 

(Mat 23:8 ESV)  8 “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”

(Compare Isa 58:7.) The Pillar, Tyndale, New International, Word, and Matthew for Everyone commentaries agree. The use of “my” brothers is Jesus’ language for his disciples. Obviously, as all the commentaries also agree, this does not exclude doing good for anyone, whether or not a disciple, but care of Jesus’ own is paramount.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Defining “Mission” in Kingdom Terms, Part 3

  1. John says:

    It seems to me that the arguments similar to those of McKnight to separate the works of the Kingdom and those of social and political activism have become “necessary” for some who do not like the left leaning direction that society has taken. Yet, back in the day of the “rising radical sixties” when concerned preachers, teachers and Christian college professors were using the pulpit and the class room to lay out their understanding of how the scriptures uphold capital punishment, war, racial segregation, free enterprise minus Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, I do not recall hearing or reading of the need to keep separate the works of the Kingdom and the works of politicians and community leaders who wanted to keep the status quo; these were accepted as maintaining that which was “Biblical”. Indeed, I was just a teenager then; but I heard a lot of preaching, as well as discussions of articles in church papers and journals.

    Yet, when the stream of society changes direction we suddenly hear, “Let’s not confuse the desire for social, charitable and peaceful works with the whisper of God”. But, as we are often reminded, if we keep our eyes and ears open, the voice of God we thought we once recognized so easily in protecting what is and always has been, can come back to us in ways we never dreamed of in announcing what will be.

  2. Dwight says:

    It would be nice to have a scripture that argues for the church or kingdom to do good, which I have never found. There are scriptures that point towards the saint to do good Gal.6:9-10 “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” One of the prime examples that Jesus gave was of the Samaratin and how we are to do good towards our neighbor, but as Gal.6 points out while the fellow saints come first, we are not to leave out those who aren’t saints.
    The Kingdom is simply the reign of the king and thus would include those within the congregation of God. Those who are of the congregation are the saints and they are to edify each other within the congregation and do good, when they are assembled or not. This is not a church issue, but a Christian issue as it fulfills the character of the saint.

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