Today I am thrilled to share Scot McKnight's responses to YOUR questions as part of our ongoing, reader-generated interview series. There are few modern-day biblical scholars who have influenced me more than Scot McKnight. His Jesus Creed blog was one of the first I followed religiously, and books like The Blue Parakeet, The King Jesus Gospel, and A Community Called Atonement remain among some of my most recommended. A professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, Scot is a world-renowned scholar, writer, and speaker. He is the author or editor of fifty books and he writes and curates of one of the most popular evangelical blogs on the Internet. Scot’s newest book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church is already making waves, generating quite a bit of conversation online and among evangelical leaders and thinkers. Scot's responses are thorough and gracious. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
From RHE: Scot, you're one of those writers/theologians/biblical scholars that keeps me in the evangelical conversation. Every time I think to myself, "That's it! I'm through with evangelicalism for good!" another interior voice says, "Well, Scot McKnight's an evangelical. If it works for him, maybe it can still work for you." So my question is: What would you say to young evangelicals disenchanted with the label because of all the political and social baggage that comes along with it? What does it mean to be an evangelical, and why might it still be worth identifying as such?
Rachel, I’m honored for you to say that about helping you see the breadth of evangelicalism.
Let’s agree that evangelicalism is almost uncontainable in a definition. But we can give a ballpark generic-package, lump-into-one-ball idea: evangelicalism affirms the necessity of personal faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior; it affirms the primacy of Scripture in forming beliefs and convictions; it affirms the centrality of Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection and rule.
Yet evangelicalism transcends its core beliefs and has a history of its people and that means there’s some sociology or social description in this term so that it refers to America’s Calvinist and revivalist and holiness and Anabaptist impulses. Some are very evangelical and some are barely.
I love that diversity and that breadth; there’s lots of room on evangelicalism’s village green. There’s so much to be proud of, too: So many people have been transformed by the gospel, so many moms and dads have become better parents and so many kids better kids and siblings; there are so many institutions formed – hospitals, schools, missionary organizations, NGOs, etc – and I’m proud to say this is my family. I’m proud too of how evangelicalism is shedding its anti-intellectual heritage and we are seeing scholar after scholar arising in so many fields, not just Bible or theology.
But we are all short-sighted so we remember what has happened most recently. How so? evangelicalism is now seen by many as Jerry Falwell and James Dobson and GOP orientations and that means political baggage is strewn around the platform. I’ll leave the progressive evangelical voice to the side, but it too has politicized the faith at times.
So I’ll tell you how I cope: I’m sometimes embarrassed by the in-bedded-ness of many evangelicals with Republican and Democrat politics. I’m embarrassed much more by its choice to aggrandize itself through the machinations of power and power-mongering and politicking and wooing and buying of voice and authority. I’m embarrassed that evangelicalism sought the way of culture war rather than the way of a cruciform-shaped life embodied in churches.
I cope by saying “I’ve got some crazy uncles and come crazy nephews and some crazy aunts and some crazy nieces.” I cope by reminding myself that I’m not all that good myself and that some see me as one of those crazy uncles or nephews. I cope by knowing that we all need the cross and routine celebration of eucharist by confession. I cope by saying we are broken and the brokenness will not end until kingdom finally comes. I cope by reminding myself that every group or denomination or affiliation has problems. No group has got it all right.
And I would urge this: For some reason, many who grew up in evangelicalism want to say they are evangelical when they are not. I don’t understand this. I know some folks who say they are evangelical and they are not remotely close but seem unwilling or afraid to confess aloud that they are no longer evangelical. There is more to Christianity than evangelicalism.
From Liz: I realize you are a parent and a grandparent. As I sort through my (primarily painful) experiences in evangelical settings, I feel very protective of my two young daughters. For the most part, we have avoided church, and on the rare occasions we attend, I don't allow them to go to the children's program because I don't want them to hear the same violent messages about God-ordained genocide and worldwide flooding that were so cheerfully recited to me as a child. As a parent and grandparent, how do you navigate evangelicalism and sort through the positive and negative ways it might impact your loved ones?
Our Bible tells those stories and I want my grandchildren to hear those stories. I don’t want to shield them from those stories. Those stories are part of our story if we are Christians who believe the Bible.
But I want them to learn that the sacking of cities in violence and the flooding of the earth leading to death is preliminary to the end of violence and the undoing of violence and the reversal of violence in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
Liz, I don’t want to purge the Bible of anything. I don’t want to snip out any lines or verses. I don’t want to pull out my favorites and teach only those. I want the Bible’s whole story because that whole story, ironically, makes sense only by including each of those voices – the same voices that are alive and well in our churches today. I once made my case for this by saying it is the “blue parakeet” passages that lead us to think deeper about how the Bible works as a story leading to Jesus.
From Adam: Scot, you and a bunch of others I am aware of are moving toward Anglican ordination or at least membership. Do you think this is a broader movement or does it just happen to be a number of people on my radar? What do you think is drawing you and others toward Anglicanism?
Adam, good question, and sociologists will almost certainly tell us this number is marginal and not anything like a major shift. So it’s probably folks you are in contact with.
Now that question about drawing is interesting. I once did some research on why some evangelicals shift into Catholicism and I found that the emphasis on history and liturgy was one element. But this is what I hear when I listen to my fellow Anglicans: Many have tired of the constant upbeat drum beat of what’s new and what’s the next big thing and what we have just learned. Some have been wounded by church life as they know it among “low” church folks and perhaps most wonder if Sunday morning is mostly about a 45 minute sermon.
Many have learned that a lectionary-based and liturgy-shaped church service has amplitude, that a shorter sermon can get the job done, and that everything finally leading all of us to the cross and eucharist is the noblest way to complete our Sunday worship together.