Scot McKnight: review of the interview about the book

Frank Viola has an interesting interview with “New Testament Scholar Scot McKnight”, who is all over the place at the moment, about his book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. Scot makes the point in the interview that it is impossible to do justice to the book in such a short space—and it is, of course, equally impossible to do justice to Scot by addressing his argument in such an indirect fashion and for frankly ulterior purposes. But in order to answer a question regarding how his position relates to my post on Brian McLaren and evangelicalism and to clarify some rather limited areas of disagreement with Scot (for those who are interested) I will make a few cautious comments.

Kingdom, discipleship and community

I very much like the emphasis Scot places on discipleship and community. I like his definition of the “kingdom” as “the society in which God’s will is done” and of justice as “living the kingdom vision with one another as a church of local believers”. I think that the New Testament language of the “kingdom” focuses more on a coming historical bouleversement than on the state of affairs that results from it. (The French word seems to me perfect. It’s difficult to find a good English equivalent. Disruption, transformation, upheaval, a turning-upside-down?) But Scot’s book is no doubt more useful than anything I’ve tried to write when it comes to actually living out the consequences of that bouleversement (I intend to use this word more often), and I would read it for that reason if I could get hold of a copy.

Oh, hell

I would express my views on hell both more precisely and more decisively than Scot does in the interview—hoping that this doesn’t fall into the category of “bad, bad ideas” about hell that he mentions. Jesus’ “hell” (actually there is no equivalent to our notion of “hell” in the Gospels) was the looming war against Rome, the dreadful loss of life that accompanied it, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Paul has in view a rather different type of event with respect to the pagan world—the destruction of a system, a civilization, that fiercely opposed the people of the true God. And in the background to all of this is the “anthropological” judgment of death as the final destruction of “sinful” humanity, culminating in the symbolism of the finally destructive “lake of fire”, which is “the second death”.

Rome and the “second advent”

The main point of disagreement with Scot eschatologically, however, is that I think the victory of the church over paganism has to be factored into our understanding of New Testament eschatology, and that it soaks up the rest of the parousia language. If Jesus could speak about the “Next Event… in God’s program” as a “Final Event”, why couldn’t Paul? In terms of the whole biblical narrative, the victory over pagan imperialism is arguably more significant than the events of AD 66-70.

So I do not think that the New Testament leads us now to expect a “second advent” of Jesus, which is why we do not have the symbolic language of “coming”, “clouds”, “Son of man”, “glory”, parousia, etc., at the moment in Revelation when, following the long reign of Jesus and the martyrs at the right hand of God, the old earth and heavens flee away from the presence of the Creator and a final assize is held. Jesus’ “coming” (as judge, as one to whom kingdom is given, as deliverer from persecution) has reference to the vindication of the suffering community vis-à-vis Roman imperial paganism.

Partial preterism?

I wouldn’t have admitted to being a “partial preterist”. I find that sort of labelling unhelpful and misleading because it evokes an old and mostly irrelevant debate about the fulfilment of prophecy. The real issue is perspective, which is what Scot highlights when he rather boldly states that Jesus was “limited in what he knew of the future”, though I would put it slightly differently: Jesus was focused on what mattered to him in Israel’s future. I regard myself as a realist-historical perspectivist—or something along those lines.