A Conversation with Scot McKnight (Sep-Dec 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Fred Peatross
September – December, 2007

Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). A popular and witty speaker, Dr. McKnight has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly asked to speak in local churches and educational events. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986).

Scot McKnight is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society for New Testament Studies. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete, 2004), which won the Christianity Today book of the year for Christian Living. Recent books include Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us (Paraclete, 2005), The Story of the Christ (Baker, 2006), and Praying with the Church (Paraclete, 2006). His newest book is The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. Other books include Jesus and His Death (Baylor, 2005), A Light among the Gentiles (Fortress, 1992), A New Vision for Israel (Eerdmans, 1999), Turning to Jesus (Westminster John Knox, 2002), Galatians (Zondervan, 1993) and 1 Peter (Zondervan, 1996), Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels (Baker, 1988), and he is a co-editor with J.B. Green and I.H. Marshall of the award-winning The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP, 1992) as well as the co-editor, with J.D.G. Dunn, of The Historical Jesus in Current Study (Eisenbraun’s, 2005). He regularly contributes chapter length studies to books and articles for magazines and online webzines. McKnight’s books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, and Russian.

McKnight’s award-winning blog, Jesus Creed, has been rated by Technorati.com as the #1 site for Emerging Church.


Fred: You’ve written a number of books; The Jesus Creed, The Real Mary, The Sociology of Conversion, A Community Called Atonement. Can you tell the readers a little about each? And which book are you the most proud of and why?
Scot: Jesus Creed: This book emerged from this question: How did Jesus understand ‘spiritual formation’ in his day? After poring over the Gospels for several years, I became convinced Jesus understood the fully developed follower as someone who loved God and loved others. The Jews of Jesus’ day daily recited the Shema (Deut 6:4-5 – Hear O Israel! Love the Lord your God …) and Jesus ‘amended’ that Shema by adding to it Lev 19:18, forming a ‘love God, love others’ kind of Shema, and I called this the Jesus Creed. Careful study of the Gospels reveals the presence of the Jesus Creed in far more ways than most imagine. I think it shapes the Lord’s Prayer and the Good Samaritan and the call to the rich young ruler, and the early apostles all saw the second half of the Jesus Creed (love your neighbor as yourself) as the essence of the Torah.

The Real Mary emerged from a question I myself asked spontaneously in my Jesus of Nazareth class. After reading the Magnificat aloud, with a little gusto to get the students’ attention, I asked, “What kind of woman would sing this song when Herod the Great was on the throne?” That question wouldn’t let me go and I began to explore Mary as someone with Messianic hopes of a typical Jewish nature that underwent dramatic change over the pages of the Gospels. She went from an expectation of a Davidic dynasty with national, earthly hopes to seeing that God’s work would be the Cross and the Community called the church. I unravel Mary’s story, a story we Protestants are simply not interested in enough.

Turning to Jesus emerged out of a class after I sketched how sociologist and psychologists understand the process of conversion. I saw fruit for understanding the conversion process of Peter’s own life while my students wanted to tell their own stories in light of the process others were seeing. The dynamic that occurred in that class is memorable. So, the book combines theory (the six dimensions of all conversions), stories of people, and the Gospels’ stories of conversion.

A Community called Atonement emerged out of a lengthy, academic study I did on how Jesus understood his own death. When I was done with that I wanted to complete the study by examining how theologians have understood atonement, and I became convinced that far too many limit the atonement metaphors to one or two (e.g., penal substitution or exemplary models) and I wanted to show that we need to use all the metaphors. Furthermore, we are called to participate in God’s atoning work by summoning others into the atonement – so I suggested we should become a community called atonement.

Fred: I think I read somewhere that after listening, meeting, and talking with Brian McLaren you discovered that much of the conversation among emergents you already believed and felt comfortable with. Can you maybe refresh…or should I say, “correct my memory?” And then spend a little time elaborating on this?
Scot: It actually began with my blog. I sat next to Brian at a meeting one time but my real initiation into the movement was by blogging through DA Carson’s book and the chase that book and reading other emergent leaders sent me on. The more I read them, the more I said, “This is the sort of thing my students are asking and it is the sort of answers I am giving to them.” So, I said, “I’m in.” Tony Jones once wrote me and observed that I had shifted from “they” to “we” on my blog when referring to emerging. I know the days; to me it was a bit of a confession.

Fred: The Scriptures mandate that we preach the gospel to the poor. Your thoughts on how well we’re doing. And what do you fell have been the influencing factors in whether we have or have not?
Scot: On the poor. I think it is a mistake to “target” the poor. I don’t think Jesus went looking for the poor. Jesus offered the gospel of God to everyone and found the poor receptive and in need of compassion. Because he was a compassionate person and because the poor were marginalized, his compassion “showed up” the purity parties of his day. The call of Jesus is to love others as ourselves, and whoever the others are who show up in our lives – and it begins at home and moves to our neighborhood and community – are to be loved. Many today are seeking for the poor and missing those around them who have needs.

Having said that, yes, I do think we are missing it in some ways. We have given far too much of the task of social service to the government and we are spending too much time fighting for which political party will get the job done the best, when the churches ought to gather together, divide up the chores, and get the job done.

Fred: Sometimes the issue of the poor gets lost in all the left vs. the right crap in this country. How do you cut through that? Serving the poor is not a new message.
Scot: Well, I’ve kind of answered this in the previous. I am hearing far too much confidence in voting for the Democrats so we will have a more just society. I have very little confidence these days in the political process. Republicans voted for Republicans for years to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision and once in they’ve done almost nothing. Democrats are prone to the same forgetfulness when they become elected. Instead, I think we out to let “faith work” and begin in our neighborhoods reaching into the neighborhood to change the community.

Fred: If Jesus were around today, what emotional or political questions do you think would be asked to test Him and what do you think His response would be?
Scot: He’d be asked about political parties and he’d say the same he did in his day: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. “The sons are free but so as not to scandalize them, pay the tax.” I’m sure he’d see political leaders today as “foxes” as he saw Antipas as a fox – one who robs and steals and preys on others. Instead of operating with an eschatology of politics (hoping in the next election), Jesus would begin tackling the problem in the daily grind of relationships. He’d call us to “do” instead of “talk” and “fight.” He’d urge us to live in the kingdom of God.

He’d be furious with the divisions among Christians and recklessness of Christian morals and the busy-ness and materialistic pursuit of life.

Fred: Is there anything you have the ability/desire to do but hesitate? And why?
Scot: Our life right now is the fullest it has ever been. With our children now grown, married, doing well, and Kris and I empty nesters, we have found the ministry of public preaching and teaching and traveling to other churches to be about all we can handle. At times I sense I could start a more emerging church, but as much as we are gone, I’m hesitant even to raise the issue. We just aren’t here enough.

Fred: Is truth relative or absolute? Or both? And if both- which flows from which? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? What is the criterion for determining Truth’s certitude?
Scot: God is Absolute Truth; only God is Absolute Truth. Language, our language, can never be Absolute Truth but only tells the truth about Absolute Truth. Every statement about truth is “relative” to whether or not it corresponds to God who is Absolute Truth. I believe our language strikes home and tells the truth, but it is always limited to what language can actually pull off. The Bible tells “stories of the Story” and all we have are the “stories” that tell of that Story. Are they true stories? Yes. But we need all of those stories telling their stories to grasp more completely the Story itself. But only in the Eschaton will know the truth in completeness. Until then, all of our knowledge is – to quote Paul in 1 Cor 13 – “in part.”

Fred: When the epitaph is written on your ministry, what do you want it to read?
Scot: He loved God, he loved Kris, and Laura and Lukas, and his neighbors and his friends and his students.

Blessings,
Scot
The Jesus Creed BlogNew Wineskins

Fred PeatrossFred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.

Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei - In the Crisis of ChristianityMissio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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