Scot McKnight, interview…part 1


Last week, my fiance and I blew into Chicago for some fun at Shedd Aquarium. They have an amazingly beautiful facility and some nice fish too, which is a plus when you’re talking aquariums. The purpose of the trip, however, was a priviledged interview on emerging/emergent soteriology with Dr. Scot McKnight of the Northpark University.

Dr. McKnight is the author of the Jesus Creed Blog, widely read by all those connected to and involved in emerging intercourse — as well as by those of us fundamentalists, who lurk in the darkness behind all the comments. Scot has also written a new book entitled A Community Called Atonement.

As Emiley and I entered his office, I had no doubts we were in the right place. In emerging style, his office sported a well-used coffee maker in the corner, rosary beads on the wall, as well as an almost life-sized poster of the Beatles. We met in the middle — three nice chairs surrounding a small coffee table on which I placed the audio recorder and my notes. Scot is quite a nice man and more than willing to engage in passionate conversation (as evidenced by his gracious willingness to allow an interview) — whether it be golf, coffee, Chicago culture and attractions, quality food, wholisitic redemption, Rob Bell’s Sex God, Jesus action figures, the rampant drinking problem at the university, or how he pasted MBBC (my school) in athletics when he was at Cornerstone in Grand Rapids — Scot likes to communicate.

I want to be careful on this point, so I’m not misunderstood by my own movement. I understand that fundamentalism has its problems. That’s not a shocker — within the broadest definition of the movement, we have people who elevate miniature issues to the place of cardinal doctrines — people who believe that for a woman to wear pants is a sin — people who crucify others from their pulpits because they don’t use a particular version of the Bible — people who hold a Keswick view of sanctification — people who stand on street corners and yell at unbelievers — people who have completely swallowed the hyper-calvinist and ultra-dispensationalist kool-aid and consequently do not engage in evangelizing the world because after all, if God wants to save the lost, He will do so apart from our witness; the great commission was given to the disciples, not us, etc.. I understand the problems raised represent a minority in fundamentalism; I am not trying to characterize it an ugly way (I am an unashamed fundamentalist) — rather, I am being blunt because I am about to get more so.

I will cover the interview (hopefully with sound clips) and the book in future posts. I am still debriefing myself. However, these are my initial thoughts about that particular sphere of evangelicalism…

It’s scary. Scot isn’t even sure that some of his friends in the conversation have the gospel right (I’m pretty sure they don’t). Scot was careful about characterizing everyone in the conversation with one broad brush (and rightly so, as they all believe differently). However, that’s my problem: he isn’t sure that they all agree on the gospel!

Read his blog. He’s not sure if McLaren and others are even getting the problem right. The problem is sin — Scot defines it in a four-fold fashion — at least one of his facets is against God. His friends, however, are missing it completely; the problem to them is merely social chaos and injustice (McLaren)! If we don’t get sin right, then we don’t get the gospel right.

If we don’t have the gospel right, then what do we have? Paul calls it a matter of primary importance — that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was burried and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (I Cor. 15). It is the basis of all Christian unity; there is no unity apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil 1). It is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1). Furthermore, attempts to save the world from social injustices and social chaos, apart from regeneration, is absurd.

If we get the gospel wrong, then we get eternal life wrong. If we get eternal life wrong, then we don’t get abundant life now and we certianly don’t get heaven in the future.

So my thoughts on the emerging movement are these:

1). I’m not sure any of them are right on the gospel.
2). Even if some of them are (and I will grant that for this discussion), then why are they in fellowship with others who may not believe the gospel?

Try to see it clearly_

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  1. #1 by Michael Ames on October 18, 2007 - 12:12 pm

    David,

    let’s hear the audio.
    unplugged version sounds like it would be worth a listen.

    Want help?

  2. #2 by clearly on October 18, 2007 - 12:26 pm

    Michael,

    I didn’t get the whole interview because I was inept on the recording device. However, I should be able to get some of it up in the next week or so.

  3. #3 by Phil on October 18, 2007 - 6:46 pm

    Dave,
    That sounds like a pretty cool opportunity. I’ve liked Scot McKnight’s stuff so far.

    One question for you – what exactly do you mean by “in fellowship” here. I mean Emergent isn’t a denomination, it’s simply a non-profit Christian group. In my mind, it’s somewhat similiar to the “thinktank” groups that are prevalent in politics. They don’t hold the power or money of a political party, but they offer ideas to the parties. Of course some of the ideas are crap, but sometimes there worthwhile.

    Does “in fellowship” mean “in relationship”? Does it mean being on friendly terms? Agreeing on a statement of beliefs? I am genuinely curious as to what you mean by it.

  4. #4 by clearly on October 18, 2007 - 7:51 pm

    Phil,

    My point is this: if you and I were both in this loose association/movement called emergent and if you believed the gospel, but I did not, what does that say about the association/movement?

    It means that the leaven needs to be purged out — it means that Galatians 1 type confrontation needs to take place.

  5. #5 by Phil on October 19, 2007 - 4:57 am

    Dave,
    I guess I still don’t follow you. How exactly would someone be purged from a group like Emergent? There are no requirements for becoming involved in the group as far as know. No one is credentialed through the group. No one pays tithe to it.

    If we were talking about a local church, I understand the need for having strict guidelines for leaders in that congregation. You can’t have a body that working against itself. Emergent to me seems just like a bunch of leaders from different backgrounds getting together and bouncing ideas back and forth.

    My dad is a pastor. Every now and then, the pastors from our community would get together for lunch and prayer, etc. I know some of them were from very liberal churches and didn’t have an understanding of the Gospel. Should they have been kicked out of this meeting?

  6. #6 by Justin on October 19, 2007 - 12:05 pm

    I think I agree with Phil here. I think that some of us are bound by our structural/institutional thinking. Emergent is attempting to be something other than that, and because of that, it is hard to define with any traditional structural/institutional understanding.

    It is a group that says, hey, you’re searching for a more authentic spiritual life than what you have experienced in the mainstream Church or in your personal life apart from the Church. We have a place that we can connect you with many “cohorts” in your area and you can go to try them out.

    EV was founded on the understanding that there is 1) a transition in world views
    2) that traditional Christianity wasn’t fullfilling people’s need who fit into this emerging world view
    3) That everything must be questioned, and reexamined in light of the postmodern emergence and to de-modernize our faith, structures, and understandings of God/the gospel.

    When you begin a “think tank” as mentioned above, like that, you are going to have people try on some new radical opinions. Some of those will work for some people and some won’t. Even those that work for a time, will prob. eventually change. That’s the way faith works. Something that you may believe strongly in today can change tomorrow because a new life experience happens and it informs your beliefs differently!

    The amazing thing is that EV leaders may disagree, but that’s cool, because they have respect for each other’s opinion. That is exactly what EV is trying to accomplish.

    So no one should be kicked out of this informal organization because the organizational itself refuses to establish “core beliefs”. That would be contrary to their origin. You can’t have an open organizations that’s closed to people having opposing views! But that’s a hard concept to grasp when one thinks that their version of “the gospel” is right and all others are wrong!

    You know, I think that there is something about hearing and considering differing views like what would happen in Dave’s dad’s meetings. You may not change your view, but you learn respect for other people’s beliefs. You learn tolerance, and, dare I say, acceptance of those different than yourself. I know that this is when I grow most! When my personal beliefs are challenged and I have to rethink and (re)own my beliefs, or change them because someone has pointed out new wisdom to me.

    This is what EV is supposed to be about. One can’t come from outside that understanding and criticize intelligibly because they have no understanding of what the group is working to accomplish in the first place. Not because of ignorance, but simply because unless that person already understands the postmodern mindset (and lives within it), then they can’t wrap their brains around an idea as outside of the box (because no box exists in postmodernity) as EV.

    your poke @ McLaren is case-in-point… It’s easier to attack someone and have a “Gal. 1 type confrontation” than it is to try to understand and converse within their views. EV/POMO leaders are trying to take the hard road of understanding, questioning and exploring, because criticizing and forcing people to conform or leave is a lot easier.

    I don’t mean this post mean, just my 2 cents. Dave, I’m sure your dad got a lot out of those times spent with other pastors!

  7. #7 by Justin on October 19, 2007 - 12:07 pm

    sorry, when i put dave in the end, i meant phil. sorry, scrolling up quickly caused me to misinterpret what i was reading:) apologies!

  8. #8 by clearly on October 19, 2007 - 9:11 pm

    Phil,

    So was your Dad evangelizing the unbelieving pastors of liberal churches? Were they praying for the gospel to go forth with power in your town? My point is this…the gospel is the main thing. If even a loose group like emergent doesn’t agree on it, then they can’t strive together to reach any certain goal besides talking and conversation — in this case conversing is the end and the means, unless of course the real goal is not the gospel as delineated in the Word, but rather explaining away the gospel so that we can all get along and cooperate in the battle for social equality. Have you read the Secret Message of Jesus (McLaren) carefully? Phil, that’s exactly where Brian is going with his message — I have ordered Everything Must Change and from the reviews I have read, he is pushing this idea even harder now.

    Justin,

    You wrote, “So no one should be kicked out of this informal organization because the organizational itself refuses to establish “core beliefs”. That would be contrary to their origin.”

    I agree that they shouldn’t kick anyone out. However, a true believer shouldn’t be in the group in the first place!

    There are multiple interpretations of the gospel; I understand that. However, so did Paul. He uses the word gospel at least 4x’s in Galatians 1:6-9. He also uses two modifiers which are both translated “another” in our English versions of the Bible. However, in the original language, one “another” means “another of the same kind” while the other “another” means “another of a different kind.” With that in mind, go back and read Galatians 1 and you will discover that we are to be aware of the possibility that some will come and preach what looks like gospel — even bearing the name — but yet is another of a different kind! It’s not the real deal — in that case, we don’t join hands and discuss it. We grow a backbone and we stand for truth regardless of how narrow-minded people want to make us sound…

    Guys, I hope this helps

  9. #9 by Verity on October 20, 2007 - 4:20 am

    Chronological snobbery. I think it’s a disease in the emerging church…. There is talk about needing to meet our culture, of language changing, of us advancing as humans, of technology and progress; all of which really addresses the fact that our situation may have changed – but it ignores that man’s heart has not.

    The following is a Pagitt quote:
    “I hold that a reading of history ought to instruct us to create ways of thought that are useful but temporary. Complex understandings meant for all people, in all places, for all times, are simply not possible.” also “Our understanding of humanity will shape our understanding of spirituality.” (I’m sorry, what? Not our understanding of God will shape our understanding of humanity?)

    Scripture is no longer being viewed as the ultimate authority. And if it is not, what is? When even the church no longer proclaims a grip on absolute truth, what hope can we offer the world? I never thought I would see a day of such relativism in the professing Body… shows how naive I am….
    It’s okay to say “There is truth. Here is truth. I believe I have truth.”

  10. #10 by Phil on October 20, 2007 - 6:16 am

    Dave,
    I did read “The Secret Message of Jesus” when if first came out. I liked it, honestly. I am in the middle of “Everything Must Change” right now.

    Personally, I’m not convinced that most Evangelical churches have the gospel right, either. I mean if just getting people to come to an altar, say a prayer, sign a card etc. is our goal, I believe we strip the gospel of it’s real power. Salvation saves people from sin, but there are physical, social, and relational dynamics which the Church has overlooked.

    The problem is this we have boiled down the Gospel to a message – words. We have come up with airtight presentations using apologetics, movies, music, whatever. The problem is we are answering questions people are no longer asking. If we were living a life that was in and of itself a proclamation of the Kingdom, evangelism wouldn’t be a separate thing we do. It would be part of who we are.

    I was just reading in Acts 3 the other day when Peter and John were heading to the temple (they may have been going to offer sacrifices still, according to some commentators), and the meet the lame guy begging. They heal the guy, and a crowd gathers because of this. Peter preaches and several thousand people come to know Christ. The thing of it is – this was totally unplanned on Peter’s and John’s part. They were just obedient to the Holy Spirt. This is the kind of stuff I long to see happen.

    Where I am getting is this – yes, some the stuff coming out of those associated with the EC is crap. So is a lot of stuff coming out Evangelical churches. I believe it is the height of arrogance for critics to not even consider the fact that they might be wrong on some things. Taking a stand is fine and necessary on some things, like identity of Jesus and the fact that He was rose again. I believe there is still room in the discussion to talk about what that fact means to us today.

  11. #11 by Justin on October 20, 2007 - 9:04 am

    Phil,
    once again, I agree with you. What you said:

    “Personally, I’m not convinced that most Evangelical churches have the gospel right, either. I mean if just getting people to come to an altar, say a prayer, sign a card etc. is our goal, I believe we strip the gospel of it’s real power. Salvation saves people from sin, but there are physical, social, and relational dynamics which the Church has overlooked.

    The problem is this we have boiled down the Gospel to a message – words. We have come up with airtight presentations using apologetics, movies, music, whatever. The problem is we are answering questions people are no longer asking. If we were living a life that was in and of itself a proclamation of the Kingdom, evangelism wouldn’t be a separate thing we do. It would be part of who we are.”

    and

    “Where I am getting is this – yes, some the stuff coming out of those associated with the EC is crap. So is a lot of stuff coming out Evangelical churches. I believe it is the height of arrogance for critics to not even consider the fact that they might be wrong on some things. Taking a stand is fine and necessary on some things, like identity of Jesus and the fact that He was rose again. I believe there is still room in the discussion to talk about what that fact means to us today.”

    IS BEAUTIFUL. Well stated!

    None of us have it all right. If we did, there would be no use for God anymore (practically speaking). If we knew all about God then dare I say, we would then be gods our selves? Seems there’s a story somewhere about someone trying to partake of the tree of knowledge against sound advice to the contrary…can’t remember where that is though?

    That’s the problem I think people have with this idea of Absolute Truth. I’m not saying that GOD isn’t Absolute Truth, but I AM saying that your version, and my version, and EV’s Version of how we view that Absolute Truth is all probably faulty. That problem is that when we think we have THE Answer, or all the answers we no longer feel a need to truly search for God. God is unknowable! We will never grasp him completely. That is why our journeys never end! Unfortunately, for too many people who can confine God/faith/being a Christian into words; a paragraph, a prayer, a tract, or even a 12 set volume of Systematic Theology (which in my humble opinion God can’t be systematized… It id hard to accept that God can fit into nice neat little categories), they have stopped their journey. They don’t dare to question because it has the possibility to uproot what they “know” about God and ourselves, and that’s just too dangerous. Why? because it produces people like those in the EV….people who are searching for something far more authentic than what they grew up with. The answers that they were GIVEN, no longer fit the questions. That’s what happened to me, I grew up strict fundamentalist SBC… then, over time, My God got bigger than what the SBC churches were telling me about God. Life got more complicated than the reality that was being presented from the pulpit and Sunday school classes. I’m not ragging SBC or Fundamentalists, just stating my experience. Unlike clearly, I don’t see the point in publicly poking at people that I disagree with. (not being judgmental, just stating a point).

    Phil, I really like the statement “stripping the gospel of it’s real power.” I would like to take that one step further. When we reduce God to our language; when we confine God to a simple prayer and canned presentation or tract, we not only strip the gospel of its power, but strip God, and more specifically, the HOLY SPIRIT of its power. I think that is one of the reasons I lean more towards the Emergent side. Not because they have more right, no one has it all right, but because they allow God to be God again. They Free the Holy Spirit and TRUST the Holy Spirit to do it’s work. That’s another reason there is no “gal. 1 type confrontation,” because they believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict. They know that there are planks in their own eyes, and believe God is big enough and powerful enough to convict those that are straying too far away from who God is without their personal intervention.

    That’s what I dislike about posts like this… too many people want to “play God” and cast the first stone, when, clearly, even you admit that your own personal group has problems. People like McLaren, Jones, Bell, and others that have been publicly criticized are simple pilgrims trying to figure out a new understanding/aspect of God and Christianity, because those we have now no longer work for them! So when you criticize one of them for not having the “true gospel” (which translates into this: they don’t have the gospel message that I (the one who is doing the criticism) accept to be the ONLY true understanding of the Bible), you are criticizing MANY other people who are out there searching for a better understanding that “your gospel” allows (by you I again mean the person doing the criticism).

    The difference is that again, I am allowing you to believe in “your gospel” without attacking your beliefs in that. That would be cruel, and well not “loving your neighbor”. I am simply asking the same in return.

    Thanks for your contributions phil! again, stated beautifully!

  12. #12 by clearly on October 20, 2007 - 9:52 am

    I am saying this with a smile on my face and without rocks in my hands: Justin, you sound like a raging liberal.

    Are you trying to say that there should never be separation over the gospel (or one’s interpreation)? Where are you going to draw the line? What if my interpretation of the gospel is that I need to be circumcised a second time in order to be saved? Is it cruel to say I’m wrong? Is it cruel to break fellowship with me?

    You guys have well pointed this out — emergent isn’t a church — there are no rules for discipline. Maybe they like it like that so they can continue to deconstruct the gospel into simply another avenue for social goodness.

  13. #13 by Justin on October 20, 2007 - 12:35 pm

    that’s another thing about postmodern people…we don’t fit nicely into ANY label or category (sounds like the argument I made about God huh?). I understand what you are doing…anyone who doesn’t accept what you believe (and I haven’t said I don’t accept the same gospel message as my PERSONAL belief at any point, just giving a differing point of view, just saying that I UNDERSTAND and can RELATE to what EV people are going through/doing) HAS to fit somehow in your modern binary structuralist mindset…therefor if I am not THIS then I am THAT. Thus, if you do not perceive me to be a fundamentalist/conservative evangelical, then I must be a “raging liberal”. In the postmodern world, words carry a lot of meaning. Labeling someone (even with a smile and no rocks) is still at least shooting spitballs at them. Dude, to quote the theologians Black Eyed Peas, where’s the love? That was my point, it is not being displayed by your critiques/comments.

    There is actually a definition of “liberal” both in the dictionary, and a theological definition. The definition is NOT “one who does not conform to my more conservative beliefs” or “one who challenges my thinking/stance”. You will find that very few words are defined by WHAT THEY ARE NOT! In fact, I do not fall under the Def. of a classical liberal in any way. Thanks for trying though.:)

    you say, “there are no rules for discipline. Maybe they like it like that so they can continue to deconstruct the gospel into simply another avenue for social goodness.” That’s jugemental and just plain harsh. If you truly want to reach people with the “gospel message” (which I assume is telling them about the love of Christ and his sacrifice for the atonement for their sins), then your statement shows what? What would others read into your words? Not what you are saying… you really should google the book “unchristian”, a research event done by the Barna Group, and backed by many Christian leaders across the board. Yes your boy McLaren is in it giving his opinion, but so is Josh McDowell. So it’s credible! It talks about the percentage of people that perceive Christians to be harsh, mean, and Judgmental! What perception are you giving off?

    Again, I accept your beliefs! However, I do not respect you approach. Lack of sensitivity is perhaps what makes EV so sensitive to other beliefs/ thoughts! Everything is usually in reaction to something that came before it. The more that you react in a judgmental way, the further you push people that are reacting to that kind of experience away from the “gospel message”.

    I’m not saying that to be mean, I just think there is a better way to get your/our message across. I think it comes with being more Christlike in our approach… and swallowing a humble pill or two. I know I don’t have all the answers. You might in fact be right in your beliefs (although again it goes back to the question is God truly knowable), I dont’ dismiss that, and thus am not attacking your beliefs, or you personally. I’m pleading with you to try some other way. I’m sick of being ashamed to label myself Christian in front of non-Christians because they expect me to be judgmental and shove my version of the Truth in their face, when in fact, I truly just want to love them! I’m tired of a small group of opinionated people who are so harsh towards others of the same faith (and they are Christian (meaning followers of Christ–actual definition) whether you or I say so or not!) No wonder people are drawn to them… I mean if this is the alternative????

    please take that as being kindly said. You are welcome to your opinion, but perhaps there is a better way to communicate that opinion? One that is better for all involved.

    and I’m not saying there shouldn’t be separations sometimes, but in the majority of cases that shouldn’t be our gut goal! Unity should be tried until all else fails, then perhaps a peaceful agreement on separation will come out of respect of both parties. sound like a pipe dream, but I’ve seen it work, and at the same time draw even more people into the church(es) that I’ve seen this happen to! just a thought!

    thanks for allowing my voice
    justin

  14. #14 by clearly on October 20, 2007 - 1:44 pm

    Justin, this isn’t going anywhere. I said you sounded like a liberal. I didn’t call you a liberal. I don’t know you and have only read some very emotionally charged, poorly punctuated paragraphs. You use the word judgmental so frequently to describe me when I have taken the time to interview the people I am graciously criticizing (go back and read my article — it’s gracious). You have me pegged from reading some blog posts where I am passionate for the purity of the gospel?

    I don’t usually write this kind of thing on my blog — but just know that my blog is a very small part of my life — you don’t have the opportunity to interact with me on a personal level — you probably have never heard me preach. You have never heard me passionately plea with a homosexual to be reconciled to God. You have never seen me share a meal with a homeless man as we sit together over an open Bible.

  15. #15 by Verity on October 20, 2007 - 2:12 pm

    “I think it comes with being more Christlike in our approach… and swallowing a humble pill or two.”

    That’s a little harsh Justin. Is this the same Jesus who challenged the Pharisees with: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:25?

    Jesus is God. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, who speaks of wrath, and anger, and hatred (Romans 9). Jesus is supremely concerned with His own glory, and we are whittling Him down to someone who does not respond in any way but in love. The EC God reminds me of a glorified hippy.
    And, I wonder, where is the “tough love”? Love for my son is not letting him run after his ball in the road just because that is what he wants to do… sometimes love is discipling him for chasing that ball when I told him not to.
    We are loving one another, and accepting one another, and encouraging one another to feel safe in their own views, at the cost of eternity. We are loving them to hell, if we do not say “You know what? Buddha is not going to cut it my friend. Jesus promises that He is THE way, THE TRUTH, and The life. You will not find eternity anywhere else but in Him.” That is love. Sometimes tough love.

    Phil, I agree. The evangelical church has proven much more interested in making converts than disciples. The putting off of the old man, and putting on of the new; the dying to self and living for Christ… this just is not happening as it ought. But, we do not need a new gospel, we need revival. We need to return to an understanding who God is.

    Justin, God has revealed Himself in Scripture. And He uses His inspired Word to speak to us today. Man is naively looking for some new, fresh word from the Holy Spirit, and neglecting what God already promises is inspired.
    We have 1100 pages of God, and talk as though He is so mysterious, we must rethink 6000 years of history. I do not know all there is to know. Edwards, one of the world’s greatest theologians, contended that we would spend an eternity not ever fully knowing Him. My God is not small. But that does not mean He has not revealed Himself in part.
    “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” 1 Corinthians 13:12.

    How do you know the Spirit is guiding? If you cannot trust His Words on paper, how on earth can you trust the voice in your head? How do you know it is God? Why would He choose to speak today, when we have chosen to ignore what He has already said?

    “They know that there are planks in their own eyes, and believe God is big enough and powerful enough to convict those that are straying too far away from who God is without their personal intervention. ” Sounds like a hypercalvinist. Romans 10:13,14 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

  16. #16 by Rick Frueh on October 23, 2007 - 1:55 pm

    You say some do not even have the gospel right, well what message did they believe to get saved? The gospel is simple and making it so profound only college grads can understand it is changing it. We all need to go deeper in our walk, but it should be deeper into the established truths of Scripture not new ideas even about the nature of the written revelation.

  17. #17 by clearly on October 23, 2007 - 6:05 pm

    Rick,

    Scot himself says that the “problem is the problem” when it comes to defining the gospel. If we don’t have an accurate view of sin — if the only personal aspect of sin is an individual’s contribution to social chaos, and it is no longer primarily “between thee and thee only have I sinned” then are we really defining depravity? I think we would both agree that a correct doctrine of sin is essential to defining the gospel.

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