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Archive for Scot McKnight


A Church Called Tov: part 3

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McKnight and Barringer spend one half of their book discussing what Tov is not. Part 2 of A Church Called Tov outlines seven habits of goodness that shift and shape a healthy culture of goodness in a church.

  1. Tov Churches Nurture Empathy. Citing the authors, “Empathy is the ability to feel what someone else feels, to exit our own feelings and enter the experience of others. Thus, empathy is the ability to see the world through others’ pain.” Churches therefore must keep an eye on the marginalized and disenfranchised in society. (Luke 4:18-19)
  2. Tov Churches Nurture Grace. Grace is the antidote to power through fear because it is focused on mutuality, reciprocity, and giving. It is not primarily concerned with getting and maintaining.
  3. Tov Churches Nurture a People-First Culture. By valuing people as ones created in the image of God, the emphasis on people first takes precedence over the institution. People participate in transforming into Christlikeness versus conforming to the social expectations of the church. In other words, the church invites people to “come be like Jesus,” not “come be like us.”
  4. Tov Churches Nurture Truth. Again, the reader needs to hear the word “truth” through the lens of honesty and authenticity, not doctrinal purity. Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to know the truth, do the truth, and speak truth in love. A commitment to truth on all levels will provide resistance to image maintenance, information management, and spin doctoring.
  5. Tov Churches Nurture Justice. Toxic churches promote loyalty to leadership, whether they be professionals or members of the laity. This means churches must do the right thing at the right time regardless of personal loyalties in order to maintain their position and privilege.
  6. Tov Churches Nurture Service. Recognizing Jesus’ example of one who came to serve and not be served, goodness cultures focus on serving others instead of serving self. Celebrity cultures in toxic churches promote personal perks and privileges for pastors and key leaders alike. When churches are labeled “most important” in a community or denomination, it should be seen as a warning sign. Similarly, red flags should appear when pastors are labeled “visionaries” or “entrepreneurs.” No one is indispensable.
  7. Tov Churches Nurture Christlikeness. The success of any church should be measured on the growth of members in Christlikeness. Pastors have the primary responsibility of developing personal Christlikeness and to lead others to do likewise. When churches make their primary goal numeric growth, they are sacrificing their primary work for a secondary result. Remember, Jesus concluded his earthly ministry with a handful of followers. But those who became like him changed the world.

I think A Church Called Tov is a worthwhile read for any pastor, church leader, or church member. It is a prophetic call to the 21st century American church to rethink and redirect their emphasis in ministry and relationships. The goal, after all, is to please Christ, and to receive his ultimate commendation, “Tov.”


A Church Called Tov: part 2

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Narcissism and power through fear are the entry points for toxic and dysfunctional church culture. When these are active in a church, the soil becomes fertile for increasing levels and variants of dysfunction. Let’s unpack those observations from McKnight and Barringer.

The first step toward dysfunction is narcissism, a personality disorder that couples self love with lack of empathy toward others. This is often manifested in the need for control of the organization and its direction.

Second is power that is maintained by fear of losing one’s status or position in the cultural hierarchy. Fear, in this instance, is passive, where violators are excluded or disenfranchised versus actively oppressed. It’s often said that cultures are developed by the behaviors they reward and the behaviors they punish. In church cultures, punishment is withdrawal and withholding, while reward is promotion and inclusion.

Next is institutional creep, which is the belief that the organization itself is first and foremost over and against the individuals that comprise the organization. Maintaining the brand and brand loyalty would be secular comparisons to this concept.

Fourth is the absence of honesty. McKnight uses the word truth here, but I prefer to think of it in terms of honesty so that no one assumes he means doctrinal purity. Since goodness and truth can not be divorced from each other, it is essential that churches that aspire to goodness make honestly the gold standard. The issue arises when authenticity is enforced on a person or persons without mutuality. And when honesty is demonstrated, it is often punished and shamed. This leads to the development of false narratives, image management, damage control and spin doctoring. The goal is not to be transparent, but to present a version of truth that is palpable to the listener and protects the institution from any appearance other than playing the victim card.

The last three threats McKnight and Barringer point out are directed toward church leadership. They a culture of blind loyalty and allegiance, the elevation of pastor as “celebrity,” and the emphasis on leadership to the exclusion of Christ, who is the true head of the church.

When one or more of these are present, Tov (or goodness) is not embodied. While it looks bleak, there is good news. Next week I’ll delve into the antidotes for each of these dysfunctional traits.


A Church Called Tov

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Those of you who know me will be aware of my appreciation for Scot McKnight as a New Testament scholar and author. His commentaries and monographs are prominently displayed on my library shelves with respect and admiration. His latest work, co authored with his daughter Laura Barringer, is his most prophetic work to date. A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing undertakes the task of understanding how churches that are tasked with promoting the good news of the Gospel become more renown for bad news and bad behavior by sheep as well as shepherd.

Those who follow McKnight are aware that for some time he has served as a prophet who speaks truth to power especially with regards to the dismissal of Bill Hybels, pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. He and his daughter both had been a part of the congregation, lending a great deal of credibility to their words. They do not write as ones who are launching artillery safely behind the front lines. The reader can feel the depth of personal pain as they deliver this labor of compassion.

McKnight begins with pointing out that every church has its own unique culture that has the power to transform those within its boundaries. He quotes David Brooks, who in The Sacred Mountain writes these words:

Never underestimate the power of the environment you work in to gradually transform who you are. When you choose to work at a certain company, you are turning yourself into the type of person who works in that company. Moreover, living life in a pragmatic, utilitarian manner turns you into a utilitarian pragmatist. The ‘How do I succeed?’ questions quickly eclipse the ‘Why am I doing this?’ questions.

Most of the people I know have experienced some form of injury at the hands of the church they attend or used to, at least. These injuries can range anywhere from a variety of abuses to emotional manipulation, exclusion, and shaming. Interestingly enough, most of the pastors I know have also experienced similar things from the churches they have served. McKnight’s point is not to pit the pastor against the people or vice versa. His point is that many churches have lost their way, and it is not that hard to do. Toxicity and dysfunction is not the result of theological aberration or denominational disloyalty. Neither is it rooted in organ music versus guitars and drums. It comes from an insatiable thirst for control and the love of oneself. Modern day Diotrephes’ if you will. (3 John 9)

The remainder of part one of the book deals with how churches become toxic and dysfunctional, primarily through narcissism and power through fear. That will provide my outline for next week’s post.


Preaching Difficult Topics

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I have a Pastor friend that claims that once a year he likes to preach a sermon or a short series of sermons that is way over the heads of his congregation. His purpose is not to impress them with his theological knowledge or to show off his education. It’s not intended to be condescending. His purpose is to simply cause his congregation to spiritually strain at the content.

Now that sounds somewhat counter productive, given that modern preaching tends to be results oriented. But when I think of it, its really not a bad idea at all. I think congregations need to be challenged, or at least to have their safe assumptions challenged. I think its healthy every now and then to take our common assumptions and create questions that challenge the status quo. Especially if they lead us to deeper places in our faith journey.

This year I’m doing that with a new series titled “What is the Gospel?” My purpose is to challenge our basic assumptions about what the gospel is, and in so doing, hope to create positive conversations about a familiar yet often misrepresented subject. The idea came to me last year as I read Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. I wrote a REVIEW on McKnight’s book but haven’t been able to put it away. I’m using his book to frame my series over five weekends. I hope you’ll check it out.

Categories : Books, Gospel, Scot McKnight
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Politics and Our Eschatology

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I read a very limited number of blogs on a daily basis, one of which is Scot McKnight’s blog on Patheos.com titled Jesus Creed. A New Testament professor by trade, McKnight often offers helpful cultural insights as they intersect with faith and theology. This morning’s post, titled Politics and Our Eschatology serves as an outstanding Christian reflection on yesterday’s election. I hope you’ll find it compelling if not helpful.

Categories : Politics, Scot McKnight
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The Value of Deborah

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One of the blogs I follow on a daily basis is Scot McKnight’s page at patheos.com titled Jesus Creed. Today McKnight has offered an excellent post on Deborah and the value she brings to the ongoing conversation regarding women in leadership and women in ministry. You can find the post here.


Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

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Depending upon the poll results you read, as many as 83% of Americans profess to be Christian in their personal faith. That simple statistic is troubling because I just don’t see that statistic reflected in our churches or in our culture.

Sometime ago, I became concerned that evangelical Christians were focused on getting decisions for Christ and making converts to Christianity, but not fulfilling the very core of the great commission: making disciples of Jesus Christ. Evangelism felt somewhat like “bait and switch.” There was a genuine desire to not add anything to the simple message of God’s grace and His provision of eternal life. But then came the ensuing frustration that new converts were not always “converted,” often leaving the church through the back door as gingerly as they came in the front door. There was and continues to be plenty of intellectual assent but little evidence of true transformation.

Scot McKnight has taken broad strides in addressing this issue. In his new book, The King Jesus Gospel, McKnight undertakes this topic with surgical precision. McKnight argues that what we are experiencing in western culture is not so much the gospel of Jesus unleashed as it is the plan of salvation explained and acknowledged. In other words, the gospel of the Jesus has become reduced to “the plan of salvation,” the purpose of which is to solicit commitments to Christ.

To find resolution to this dissonant, McKnight suggests that the time has come for the church to return to the full gospel of Jesus, beginning with the story of Israel. Christ is the fulfillment and resolution to the story of Israel, and through his death, burial, and resurrection is enthroned as Lord of all. Those who surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord are invited into the larger story of the gospel, sharing and pursuing the common goals of the Kingdom of God. In God’s design, recipients of the gospel are at once participants in the gospel. Those who respond to the gospel do not merely make decisions for Christ. Responders make commitments to a life of discipleship, taking on the character of Christ and emulating his behaviors as enabled by the Spirit of God.

Christianity therefore is not an ego-centric choice where matters of faith are individualistic and self fulfilling (e.g. “When He was on the cross I was on His mind…”). Rather, Christianity is about becoming part of a broader community where life is shared with those who take on something far bigger than oneself.

McKnight’s book points to the obvious problem then defines and defends a more holistic means of understanding the gospel. He concludes the book with some clear thoughts on how churches can develop a culture that is gospel based and how believers can undertake evangelism with this new understanding of the gospel.

As a whole, McKnight’s book has identified a critical issue in the American church. He deals with it honestly and with theological integrity. The King Jesus Gospel is compelling and convincing. McKnight is one of the top New Testament scholars in America today, and because of his successful academic background I wish he would have bent more toward his fellow academicians and professional clergy. (I believe he could have written 100 pages on how the Book of Hebrews fits the motif.) But instead he wrote to a general audience, benefiting them with his insights as well as the addition of some practical applications for the local church.

Therefore, I highly recommend The King Jesus Gospel to pastors and members alike. Some books are to be commended because they are good, and others are commended because they are important. Good books encourage and inspire readers, while important books become catalysts for change. The King Jesus Gospel is definitely the latter, and my prayer is that it will begin a conversation that will change our lives, our churches, and our culture.

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I picked up Scot McKnight’s latest book, One.Life, for a couple of reasons. For one, I like him. I first became familiar with his academic side, collecting each volume of the IVP Theological Dictionary series that bears his name as an editor. I own several of his commentaries, and as a pastor have benefited from his sensible observations on the biblical text. It was only then that I learned he had authored several popular books such as The Jesus Creed and The Blue Parakeet. And then there are my daily visitations to his high traffic blog site, Jesus Creed. Over the past year or so I’ve turned to McKnight through several pathways to find compelling theological conversations. Our world is losing some heavyweight New Testament scholars (Bruce, Stott, Morris, et al) who have helped bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern world. McKnight seems equipped to step into that kind of role, but I digress.

The second reason I picked up One.Life is because I was looking for an answer to a big question. I think the big question for the established churches in America today is “How do we go about the process of producing followers of Jesus Christ?” For decades churches have relied upon programs to produce such creatures. When I began ministry 28 years ago, there was a uniform pattern for the practice of making disciples. People would convert to Christ, then make commitments to attend worship and Sunday School with faithful regularity. Those who were able to develop these practices were encouraged to attend Sunday evening church services and Wednesday night prayer meeting. Special classes were offered weekly that we called “Discipleship Training.” We had outreach night to train them to share their faith with the lost. As people “matured,” we pulled them from the bleachers onto the playing field and encouraged them to pursue discipleship through singing in the choir, serving as an usher, teaching Sunday School to adults, youth, or children, and serving on a committee. Those who achieved mastery at these levels were elevated to the summit: the Deacon ministry.

I don’t mean to sound pious, but after a year or so of reflection on this process I’ve come to the conclusion that we weren’t really producing followers of Christ as much as we were producing “churchmen” who would keep the church running and maintain its programs. People were busy to the point of burnout, but what was strangely absent was life change. Disciple making was more about sustaining the organization and its programs than it was creating avenues for transformation.

To say that the established church of the 21st century is in trouble is perhaps merely stating the obvious. What worked in the last half of the last century isn’t working now, and the lives of our sheep bear this out. You can find any number of surveys today that will bear out one tragic fact: the lives of American Christians are, for all intents and purposes, no different than the lives of their un-churched counterparts. We are as prone to addition, depression, obesity, divorce, crime, dysfuncton, and debt as anyone else. We are just as materialistic and given to pursuit of the American dream as our neighbors who sleep in on Sundays. And, those who do not attend a local church are just as committed to volunteer activities to charitable organizations as those who invest their time in their charitable organization. Therefore, based on those observations I think that I (we) need to discover and recover the ancient practice of how to develop real disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s why I one-clicked One.Life.

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Who Tithes These Days?

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Interesting research from the Jesus Creed blog by Scot McKnight. Check out his post titled
Who Tithes These Days?

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