Lectionary Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 90:

Psalm 90, the first psalm in the fourth book of the Psalter, is a meditation on the everlastingness of God and the brevity of human life.

It lauds the everlasting love of God (vv. 1-5), laments the current conditions of life (vv.6-12), and concludes with a plea for God’s blessing (vv. 13-17).

The psalm seeks both wisdom in the face of human limitation (v. 12) and the kind of divine blessing that offers both delight and prosperity of the fruit of human labor (v. 14-17).

 

Prayer for reflection:
God of every time and place,
apart from you, our life is brief and meaningless.
In you we experience endless abundance.
Reveal to us all we can comprehend of our place in your design for eternity.
Help us to receive each new day as a gift, and to use your gift wisely and well,
so that we may live in joy and bring glory to Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Who Is Jesus? (an Excerpt from The Drama of Living by David F. Ford)

The following is an excerpt from chapter one of The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit by David F. Ford.

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Who is Jesus? John’s Gospel has perhaps been the single most influential book in the history of Christian theology, especially in Christology, the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ. John’s Prologue (1:1–18) alone has been one of the most discussed texts century after century.

For now, the key point is that, for all the importance of the Prologue, the main way John tells us who Jesus is, is through the rest of the Gospel, and this is in the form of one dramatic encounter with Jesus after another.

It is carefully written to answer the question, who is Jesus? in multiple ways and at many levels, so the reader is constantly led to reread; to make new connections with the rest of the Gospel, the Synoptics, and the Tanakh/Old Testament; and to explore what the meaning might be of capacious, symbolic statements such as “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6), and many others.

Such open, dense descriptions cry out to be meditated on again and again, and no one ever comes to the end of this process. The theological reason for this is simple: Jesus, who is identified through this drama and these statements, is alive and is present as God is present, so the Gospel is actually a means of relating to him in person, and no one ever comes to the end of that.

One of John’s favorite phrases, “eternal life,” is not so much about “life after death” as “life after the death and resurrection of Jesus”—life, with others, abiding in him, loved by him, and loving him (this approach to love and to death will be explored further in chapters 5 and 6). It is, as the title of O’Siadhail’s book says, Love Life.

The way Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel story is the main inspiration for our ideas and images of who Jesus is. It both disciplines our tendency to fantasize and to create self-serving or distorted images, and it frees us to go deeper and further, using our minds and imaginations in prayer, conversation, theology, the arts, relating to creation and other people, and acting in the world.

In other words, it is central in shaping our participation in the ongoing drama initiated by “Follow me!”

 

©2014 by David F. Ford. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: October 17, 2014

Scot McKnight, author of Kingdom Conspiracy, was interviewed by Jonathan Merritt on his Religion News Service blog.

“Hordes of American Christians are far less committed to their local church because they are committed to doing ‘kingdom work.’ Kingdom for many means the bigger things God is doing in this world.

“A proper kingdom theology leads people to the middle of the church, not away from it. So it makes a difference when church is on the decline and people are saying they are committed to the kingdom but not so much to the church. You can’t have kingdom without church.

“What you are doing for the common good should first be done for those in your local church fellowship. Let’s start there, and we’ll have a fellowship revival worth talking about.”

Read the entire interview here.

 

Other Kingdom Conspiracy Media:

Chris Woznicki reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Matthew Forrest Lowe reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Robert Cornwall reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Eric Miller quoted Kingdom Conspiracy.

 

Quick Hits:

The (Un)Common Good by Jim Wallis was reviewed by Conversation in Faith.

Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter was recommended by Matthias Roberts.

Lectionary Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 22:15-22:

[The Pharisees] ask Jesus whether he thinks it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. It is a clever question that is meant to put Jesus in an impossible position. If Jesus says that taxes should not be paid, it would make him a rebel against Rome. If he says that taxes should be paid, he will appear to be on the side of the Herodians, collaborators with Rome, and he will not be a credible prophet.

Jesus is not taken in by their flattery, not only recognizing them as hypocrites but naming them as such. He refuses to respond directly to their question but instead asks them to show the coin used for the tax. Rome, it seems, not only required a tax, but wanted the tax paid in Roman coinage.

Those who sought, like the devil, to entrap him brought the required coin to him. He asked them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered that it was the image of the emperor’s head. Jesus then told them that they should give to God the things that are God’s and to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s. When they heard this answer, they were amazed and left him.

Unfortunately, through much of Christian history, Christians have not been amazed by this answer. Rather, they have assumed that they know what Jesus meant when he said we are to give to the emperor what is the emperor’s and to God what is God’s. It is assumed that Christians are a people of a double loyalty to God and the state. Christians are told that they should never let their loyalty to the state qualify their loyalty to God, but they never seem clear when and if such a conflict might actually happen.

Jesus requests the coin, minted to pay the tax, to be given to him. He does not possess the coin. He does not carry the coin, quite possibly because the coin carries the image of Caesar. Jesus’s question is meant to remind those who carry the coin of the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exod. 20:4–5).

Jesus’s answer that the things of God are to be given to God and not to the emperor is a reminder to those who produced the coin that the very possession of the coin makes them idolaters. Jesus is not recommending in his response to the Pharisees that we learn to live with divided loyalties, but rather he is saying that all the idolatrous coins should be sent back to Caesar, where they belong.

Just as Jesus knows no distinction between politics and religion, neither does he know any distinction between politics, economics, and the worship of God. Those who have asked him whether they should pay taxes to the emperor are revealed to be the emperor’s faithful servants by the money they possess.

That God and the emperor cannot both be served is, moreover, not solved. For many, this account of Jesus’s claim that we are to give to the emperor what is the emperor’s and to God what is God’s creates an insoluble problem because they do not see how followers of Jesus can then live in the world as we know it. But to recognize that we have an insoluble problem is to begin to follow Jesus.

 

©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

This Just In: Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight

Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
by Scot McKnight

 

“Over the past decade, McKnight . . . has emerged as America’s theologian. . . . His works provide an extra layer of theological undergirding for pastors and lay people who wish to go deeper in Bible study and live more consciously under the rule of ‘King Jesus,’ as he refers to Jesus Christ. McKnight’s writing is vivid, occasionally a little quirky. His book is valuable because he begins with the present state of churches: divided between what he calls the ‘skinny jeans’ and ‘pleated pants’ approaches. . . . This is a must-read for church leaders today.”
Publishers Weekly

 

According to Scot McKnight, “kingdom” is the biblical term most misused by Christians today. It has taken on meanings that are completely at odds with what the Bible says. “Kingdom” has become a buzzword for both social justice and redemption so that it has lost its connection with Israel and with the church as a local church.

McKnight defines the biblical concept of kingdom, offering a thorough corrective and vision for the contemporary church. The most important articulation of kingdom was that of Jesus, who contended that the kingdom was in some sense present and in some sense in the future. The apostles talked less about the kingdom and more about the church. McKnight explains that kingdom mission is local church mission and that the present-day fetish with influencing society, culture, and politics distracts us from the mission of God: to build the local church. He also shows how kingdom theology helps to reshape the contemporary missional conversation.

 

Scot McKnight (PhD, University of Nottingham), professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, is a world-renowned scholar, writer, and speaker. His blog, Jesus Creed, is one of the most popular and influential evangelical blogs. He is the author or editor of fifty books, including The Jesus Creed,The Blue Parakeet, The King Jesus Gospel, and Sermon on the Mount.

 

 

Praise for Kingdom Conspiracy:

“Scot is relentless in his focusing our attention on Jesus’ Messiahship and what the identity of Jesus means for orienting us to the reality of the kingdom. His desire to ask the right questions of the biblical text is refreshing in that he is constantly bringing us back to Jesus as the central figure. . . . Kingdom Conspiracy is a book that challenges some commonly held beliefs and assumptions among evangelicals. Scot McKnight will rile up people on both the left and the right, as brilliant Anabaptists always do. . . . Kingdom Conspiracy‘s primary goal is one that I appreciate. It offers an ecclesio-centric view of the kingdom that refocuses our attention back on the church as the centerpoint of God’s plan in our world today.”
Trevin WaxThe Gospel Coalition

“There is so much talk these days about ‘the kingdom of God,’ and yet there is so much confusion about what this phrase even means! For many, it simply represents whatever theological, political, and/or cultural ideals they deem best. The result is that a beautiful, powerful concept that should be uniting the church is now contributing to its fragmentation. This is why Kingdom Conspiracy is one of the most important and timeliest works to be written in recent years. Using airtight arguments solidly anchored in Scripture, McKnight brings much-needed clarity to what ‘kingdom of God’ means–and doesn’t mean–and how it relates to the church and its mission. He writes in a clear and informal style that is accessible to all. And that is a good thing, because this is a book that needs to be read by everyone–scholars and laypeople alike–who wants to understand and consistently live out what it means to be a follower of King Jesus.”
Gregory A. Boyd, senior pastor, Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul, Minnesota; author of Repenting of Religionand Benefit of the Doubt

“The misappropriation of faddish terms can be an unfortunate reality for American Christians. The casual manner in which we toss around phrases like ‘kingdom theology’ and ‘missional churches’ can have an adverse effect on our efforts to form a robust ecclesiology. Evoking ‘kingdom’ language has become the new vogue among missional communities–almost as in vogue as the word ‘missional’ itself. With prescient analysis and pastoral insight, Scot McKnight succeeds in providing a scriptural and theological text for those who have heard the word so often but failed to think through its meaning. McKnight offers a fresh take on the kingdom that will serve as a primer for followers of Jesus who seek first the kingdom of God in our own context.”
Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary; author of The Next Evangelicalism

“Unlocking what Jesus meant by ‘the kingdom of God’ is essential to our witness to the gospel. If Christians today are going to live in the world as the church, we need to understand the message of this book.”
Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.; author of Unfinished and The Hole in Our Gospel

“As both a pastor and an activist, I can say that the punches Kingdom Conspiracy throws are as important as they are infuriating! At times it had me yelling ‘Amen!’ and at other times it just had me yelling. But if you keep wrestling, this book will inspire you to a greater vision of the church–greater than self-focused seclusion, greater than the coercion of a new clandestine Christendom, greater than personal social action. Scot is a kingdom pacifist picking fights with pastors and activists alike until we bleed with passion for what the local church is graced to be: where God’s will is done, where the kingdom has come, where the incarnation is continued, where God’s future is happening, now!”
Jarrod McKenna, Australian Peace Award-winning activist, pastor, and cofounder of First Home Project

“In Kingdom Conspiracy, McKnight critiques those of us who have reduced the kingdom to social action or personal salvation. He then issues an invitation to embrace a kingdom theology rooted in the church; it’s as simple as gathering and doing the things the church is called to do.”
Sara Barton, university chaplain, Pepperdine University; author of A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle

“Scot McKnight’s pastoral heart and concern for Jesus’ bride, the church, will bring tears to your eyes. The implications of Kingdom Conspiracy will move you to practice what it teaches! This is essential reading for the church in a post-Christian America. Do someone a huge favor; buy them this book, which needs to be read by every Christian.”
Derwin L. Gray, lead pastor, Transformation Church

The Weekly Hit List: October 10, 2014

Scot McKnight, author of Kingdom Conspiracy, was interviewed by Paul Pastor for PARSE: Ministry and Culture from Leadership Journal.

“Kingdom is misused because we all assume we know what it means. Like the word ‘gospel,’ which I examined in King Jesus Gospel, which constantly is used for ‘how to get saved’ or the ‘message that can be shaped into the plan of salvation.’ This is not how ‘gospel’ was used in the New Testament. So with the word ‘kingdom,’ which has become nearly synonymous with two different standard uses.

“For some ‘kingdom’ means acting in the public sector for the common good in order to create a world with better conditions, and for others it has come to mean little more than salvation, or what I often call ‘redemptive moments.’ If we care to shape our theology and our use of terms like “kingdom” on the basis of what the Bible says, then those two definitions are gross reductions of what the Bible says.

“Yes, of course, kingdom includes ethics (though they are not to be secularized as progressives sometimes do) and it brings redemption (as many Christians are prone to say), but those are only two aspects of a much fuller story about kingdom in the Bible. Until we get each of the elements into play we are not looking at what the Bible is saying.”

Read the entire interview here.

 

Other Kingdom Conspiracy Media:

Publishers Weekly included Kingdom Conspiracy as one of their October 2014 Religion Books of Note: “Over the past decade, McKnight has emerged as America’s theologian . . . . This is must reading for church leaders today.”

Hearts & Minds Books reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Alvin Rapien reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Claude Mariottini recommended Kingdom Conspiracy.

Chris Woznicki quoted Kingdom Conspiracy.

 

Quick Hits:

Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins by Dennis Okholm was reviewed by Dr. Conrade Yap.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was reviewed by Aleah Marsden.

Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K. A. Smith was reviewed on Bookwi.se.

Nonviolent Action by Ronald Sider (February 2015) was mentioned by Preston Sprinkle.

Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner was quoted on Stilling Learning.

 

Ebook Specials:

Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters Most in an Age of Distraction by Arthur Boers is only $2.99 (85% off) from participating retailers through October 15.

Ebook Special for Living into Focus by Arthur Boers

Now through October 15, the ebook of Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters Most in an Age of Distraction by Arthur Boers is only $2.99 (85% off) from the following participating retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

CBD

 

Recipient of a Word Guild 2013 Canadian Christian Writing Award

“[Boers] offers a needed antidote to the way of life he maintains has hijacked our humanity: technology addiction. . . . He defines the distraction of technology as low-threshold activity (or better, non-activity) that diminishes humans and breaks down connectedness to people and one’s sense of place. . . . The commitment to reverse this fragmentation is what he calls ‘eccentric faithfulness': stay connected to those in our families and communities face to face, heart to heart. That takes ‘focal practices’ that demand more but render intangible returns–the ballast of authentic belonging. . . . The book is lengthy and tightly written, and makes demands of the reader for patience. But that, one presumes, is precisely the point.”
Publishers Weekly

“Boers does an admirable job of translating Borgmann’s theories in a way that honors their complexity. . . . Living into Focus is . . . the most potentially transformative book on technology and faith that I’ve read, and it is one that individual readers, small groups, and churches should not ignore, in part because it moves beyond diagnosis to ask the question of how we should then live. . . . Pastors will find Boers’s reflections on worship technologies, e-mailed prayer requests, and parishioners’ technology-saturated lives especially thought-provoking.”
Christian Century

In today’s high-speed culture, there’s a prevailing sense that we are busier than ever before and that the pace of life is too rushed. Most of us can relate to the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time for the people and things we value most. We feel fragmented, overwhelmed by busyness and the tyranny of gadgets.

Veteran pastor and teacher Arthur Boers offers a critical look at the isolating effects of modern life that have eroded the centralizing, focusing activities that people used to do together. He suggests ways to make our lives healthier and more rewarding by presenting specific individual and communal practices that help us focus on what really matters. These practices–such as shared meals, gardening, hospitality, walking, prayer, and reading aloud–bring our lives into focus and build community. The book includes questions for discernment and application.

Arthur Boers (DMin, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor and R. J. Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario. He served as a pastor for sixteen years and is the award-winning author of numerous articles and six books, including The Way Is Made by Walking and The Rhythm of God’s Grace. He speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and retreats.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 22:1-14:

A king gives a wedding banquet for his son, sending his slaves to call on those who had been invited, but they would not come. He sent other slaves to tell them that a great banquet has been prepared. But those invited made light of the invitation and went about their daily business. Some even seized the king’s slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops to destroy the murderers and burn their city.

Again he sent his slaves into the street, gathering all who were found there, both the good and the bad, and the wedding hall was filled. When the king came to see the guests, one man was not wearing a wedding robe. The king asked him, “friend”—the same address of the owner of the vineyard to those first hired—how did you get in without  a wedding robe? The man was speechless.

The king had the attendants bind him and throw him into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus concludes that “many are called, but few are chosen.”

This parable reprises Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has come to feed us. He has fed the five thousand and the four thousand. The kingdom is about food and, in particular, food for the poor. But the food given by Jesus is not only to feed the hungry but to stage a banquet.

This is a feast of God’s abundance. Yet many seem to think that they have all they need and refuse to take the time to attend the king’s banquet. They act as if they need no king, consumed as they are by their daily lives. Some, insulted by the persistence of the king’s invitation, even kill his slaves. Jesus, just as he had in the parable of the wicked tenants, suggests that the way the king’s slaves were treated is the way that Israel had treated God’s prophets.

This is an extraordinary parable that makes for uneasy reading for those who want Jesus to underwrite a general critique of elites in the name of creating a community of unconditional acceptance. To be sure, just as the previous parables had been, this parable is meant to make those in power and the well-off uncomfortable. Most of us, particularly in the commercial republics of modernity, refuse to recognize that we are ruled by tyrants or, worse, that we have become tyrants of our own lives.

We believe that we are our own lords, doing what we desire, but our desires make us unable to recognize those who rule us. We have no time for banquets prepared by the Father to celebrate Jesus’s making the church his bride. We have no time for the celebration of that great thanksgiving feast in which we are “living members” of the king’s “Son our Savior Jesus Christ” (Book of Common Prayer 1979, 365). Such a people are right to be challenged by God’s hospitality to those who must live in the streets.

Yet this parable also makes clear that those who come to the banquet from the streets are expected to be clothed by the virtues bestowed on them through their baptism. If the church is to be a people capable of hospitality, it will also have to be a community of holiness. Jesus expects those called to his kingdom to bear fruit (Matt. 21:43). He has made clear in the Beatitudes how those called to his kingdom will appear.

To be poor and outcast may well put one in a good position to respond to Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom, but Jesus expects the poor and downcast to live lives worthy of the Lamb who will be slain. Only a people so formed will be able to resist emperors, who always claim to rule us as our benefactors.

 

©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Learning to Tell the Kingdom Story That Makes Sense of Jesus (an Excerpt from Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight)

The following is an excerpt from chapter three of Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Scot McKnight.

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Kingdom’s first word is “story.” Proverbs says, “Without a story [or vision directing one’s plan in life] the people perish” (29:18, paraphrased).

Israelites made sense of life through the story they learned to tell themselves. So Bible scholars today are searching for the best way to tell the Bible’s story.

For the Pleated Pants approach to kingdom, since it focuses on the redemptive-rule dynamic, the Bible’s central story is about individual persons whose crisis is their sin and its consequences, and the resolution is the atoning work of Christ that both ends the consequences of their sin and offers them a new life and hope for the kingdom. This approach to the Bible’s story clearly has all the necessary elements of a story: characters, events, tension, and resolution.

The Skinny Jeans story is about participating in the direction of our world by lending a hand so the world will become a better place. Life’s theme, then, is about being significant, and significance is usually wrapped up in things like justice and peace.

What we know is that both the Pleated Pants and Skinny Jeans approaches lead to a mission: the first leads to evangelism and to church while the second leads to social activism and a better world. Kingdom story creates kingdom mission, but it leads us beyond evangelism and social activism.

It all hangs on which story we tell. I lay down an observation that alters the landscape if we embrace it—namely, we need to learn to tell the story that makes sense of Jesus. Not a story that we ask Jesus to fit into. No, we need to find the story that Jesus himself and the apostles told.

To use common idiom, If Jesus was the answer, what was the question? I suggest that if we leave it at that, the “question” can roam across the entire Christian theological spectrum.

So I want to narrow that idiom to this: If Jesus was the answer, and the answer was that Jesus was the Messiah/King, what was the question? This answer changes the question, and that question leads to the right story.

 

©2014 by Scot McKnight. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: October 3, 2014

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight was reviewed by Michael Bird on Euangelion.

“In a nutshell, McKnight argues that there are two predominant views of ‘kingdom’ operating in and around evangelicalism. First, the skinny jeans view, which equates kingdom with social justice. Second, the pleated pants view, where kingdom equates to God’s redemptive work.

“McKnight wants to affirm the good of social justice work and the necessity of proclaiming salvation to the lost, but he wants to bring kingdom in closer proximity to church. . . . 

“This is a tremendously useful book. He forces people to think and re-think what kingdom is how it applies to the local church. It also dispels the view that non-Christians do ‘kingdom work’ by their philanthropic works.”

Read the entire review here.

 

Quick Hits:

Chapters 1 and 2 of Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight were reviewed by Josh Graves.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was quoted as a daily meditation on Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral‘s blog.

Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner was recommended by Best Books First.

 

Ebook Specials:

Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, Revised and Expanded Edition by William D. Romanowski is only $2.99 (87% off) from participating retailers through October 9.