I recently received a copy of Scot McKnight’s newest release, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together. McKnight is one of the premier New Testament scholars of today, yet he also continues to release books that speak to a popular Christian audience. This new book falls in that latter category.
I sense a journeyed theme in McKnight’s 3 most recent major releases from the past few years. From King Jesus Gospel, which lays out a more biblically-rooted and apostolic understanding of the gospel, to Kingdom Conspiracy, which offers thoughts on the intricate connection between the kingdom and the church, and now on to A Fellowship of Differents in which McKnight presents his case for what the local church should consist of and be like – these books flow well together in the themes being addressed.
But what are the particulars of the new release?
McKnight’s great thesis is that the church, that is the local church, is to be made up of the people of God from all sorts of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, musical preferences, artistic preferences, and more. Of course, there aren’t many to disagree with this statement. But, in moving through the pages of the book, one might struggle with the challenge he puts before us.
To get this main point across, McKnight begins by discussing different ways to prepare salad. Yep, salad. In particular, he highlights three ways:
1) The American Way is to fill the bowl with lettuce or spinach leaves, then move on to tomato slices, then carrots, cucumbers, and whatever else one fancies. Finally, to top it off, the salad is smothered with a dressing of our preference.
2) The Weird Way is to separate each item of the salad around a plate and then proceed to eat them as separate items. Those who prefer this method might even take a pass on the dressing.
3) The Right Way is to gather all the “green” ingredients together and chop them into smaller bits. After that, one cuts up and adds those “next” vegetables – tomatoes, carrots, onions, red pepper, etc. Little delicacies of nuts, dried berries, romano cheese, etc, are then added. Finally you drizzle some good olive oil over the salad and voila. This somehow brings the full taste out of each item.
The goal is not to put all the different salad ingredients together and then douse them in salad dressing so that the only taste that pervades the salad is the creamy or tangy dressing concoction. Nor is it to parcel out every single veggie, completely separate one from another. The goal is to mix it all together in prefect proportion, including the dressing. Each has a flavor to offer to the whole.
You can see the relation of this picture to the church. We might say it’s a new spin on the “body” metaphor, which Paul himself used.
Of course, no one will ever deny that the church is to be made up of a “fellowship of differents.” However, I think we generally push this idea into the general and universal church, rather than the specific local congregation. And even if we happen to have “different” folk within our churches, it might just be that they are minimal and therefore easily seen as different.
But what if we really looked like this more proper salad? Perhaps our taste buds would relish the flavor as it was meant to be?
What’s the practical significance of getting the church right? McKnight offers:
“Getting the church right is so important. The church is God‘s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family. (p16, italics his)
I fear that, at times, the world is better at being a fellowship of differents (though I also recognize it can be surface on many levels).
Not only does McKnight argue what the local church should look like, but he also contends that the local church matters. It’s not a secondary society to God. And it shouldn’t be for us. Matter of fact, McKnight believes that everything we learn about the Christian life is learned predominantly through the local church. That’s an interesting thought. Read it again:
Everything we learn about the Christian life is learned predominantly through the local church.
Think about it. In many ways, we are truly products of our surroundings. So, consider the negative angle for the church: If our church only asks us to appreciate that which looks and thinks just like me (or us), then we are being offered the tool of reinforcement that we we already believe is the best and correct way.
But consider the opposite angle: If the church, with its leaders, continues to push us towards the wider embrace of Christ, which includes those who don’t necessarily hold to the exact things we do, then we’ll have better opportunity to be shaped in the image of Christ, challenging our problematic perspectives and practices.
This works with a dyed-in-the-wool conservative approach and a bred-in-the-bone liberal position. We’re all called to the image of Jesus, seen through the self-sacrificing reality of the blood-drenched cross.
To be a fellowship of differents is a high calling.
And once we commit to this New Testament image of the church, once we accept and join in the right salad mixture, McKnight says the church will need to embrace these 6 ideas: grace, love, table, holiness, newness, and flourishing. He fleshes those out in the rest of the book.
As always, I appreciate what Scot McKnight has to bring to the table, including his thoughts on the church. I’m not always sure we want this; I’m not always sure I want this. Or perhaps I want it, but I don’t want to get there through the tool of inconvenience. However, I know this is the way of Christ, one that the world needs to taste so that they might know our God is as good as we say he is.