25 May 2011

church in the present tense 4/4

Scot McKnight, Peter Rollins, Kevin J. Corcoran, Jason Clark.Church in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What's Emerging. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011.

This review is divided into four parts, one for each major section of the book. Here we discuss Part Three: Bible and Doctrine.

The final two chapters of the book are authored by our friend over at The Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight.

Chapter Seven is entitled, "Scripture in the Emerging Movement." It begins with a bit of autobiographical background to explain McKnight's entrance into the emerging church discussion. As his blog discussions and his placement in this book demonstrate, he has become one of the more significant voices in the present discussion. (I think this is the case because he is willing to both commend and critique other voices in the movement, based not on sentiment or desire but on truth.) Regarding the questions surrounding emergent: "What attracted me? The willingness to question things, even sacred things. The desire to get Christianity back on track with Jesus's vision for the kingdom" (106).

The remainder of Chapter Seven is thus designed as a miniature introduction to the identifiable methodologies of approaching and applying Scripture from emergent groups. To accomplish this he leans heavily on his larger (and outstanding) book, The Blue Parakeet (2008). Those who are unfamiliar with the book will find the chapter to be a good introduction to the larger discussion. Those who have read the book will most likely shift into a skimming mode through a lot of the chapter.

Following the brief discussion on how the Bible is read (and noting that there does not exist a single type of reading among the emergent groups (111)), McKnight does draw some fresh conclusions and even issues some warnings to the new movements within the church. One such is quite appropriate for Christians of any stripe: ". . . commitment to the linguistic turn and its profound impact on hermeneutics and Bible reading dare not lead to arrogance. It leads one to drink form a well that cannot be drained, to an ocean that is too vast for words, and to a God who is so distant and holy and unapproachable that reverence is the only proper entailment of an emerging understanding of Scripture" (114).

Yet, in support of the movement which introduces diversity into hermeneutic he writes, "No single story, not even Jesus's, can tell the whole story. We need them all" (117). It is imperative to recapture the context of Scripture, with all of its twists and turns, and apply it to ourselves in the same way it was intended. This is a point which is built upon in the final chapter as well.

Chapter Eight is simply titled, "Atonement and Gospel," and is one of the best offerings in the entire book. Mostly I say this because it seeks to read Scripture in context as a means of cutting through layers of theological discussion that are more grounded in philosophical-theological thought than in the biblical text. There is a good amount of effort in the front half of the chapter devoted to understanding the concept of gospel in contemporary usage. Biblical studies have shown how this term is quite different in first century contexts than in contemporary ones, and McKnight applies the discussion well to the state of the church.

This discussion leads McKnight to examine Acts, for he believes that ". . . none of these atonement theories is at work in any central manner in the gospel preaching of the book of Acts. Something else is at work" (131). Herein lies the other piece of high value to this chapter - its survey of the first century church's message as demonstrated in Acts. This is driven by a response to the notion that, "Atonement theories are driving the meaning of gospel" (129).

Eight points are given to draw out the emphases of gospel preaching in the book of Acts, guiding the reader towards the notion of story as gospel. Simply stated, the early church told the story of Israel and the story of Jesus as a way of explaining the impact of messianic death, resurrection and exaltation. That story was not weighed by theory, but was told as a new reality which has broken into the world. McKnight suggests we return to that as a starting point in the church's (both emerging and otherwise) proclamation (cf. 138).

Having spent much time and energy in exploring the New Testament texts and contexts, I must say that I strongly agree with McKnight's analysis here. This chapter goes further in presenting that material in a manner relevant to today's church.

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