I’m starting to understand why writers always post things about getting rejected a zillion times before they are finally published. This is the second Reading Report I wrote for class. Extra effort. More explanation. Better grammatical structure. Less sleep. More focus. 2 percentage points lower.
The mere fact that I am posting it anyway given my gunner tendencies should tell you how much I loved these books – highly recommend both.
Arriving at a destination requires planning, intentionality, and a clear sense not only of where one is coming from, but where it is they wish to go. This is as seemingly simple as it is obvious. Landing on definitions of the means of transportation for the trip, however, can be a challenging task. Both The Faith of Leap: Embracing A Theology of Risk, Adventure & Courage (“Faith of Leap”) by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch and Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (“Kingdom Conspiracy”) by Scot McKnight set out on their own explorations of challenging readers to rethink the purpose of their own [missional] lives. Is it about us, or is it about God? The answer ultimately shapes not only our personal journeys but our corporate missional journey as well.
Kingdom Conspiracy takes an ecclesio-centric view of the kingdom in an effort to refocus our attention back on the church as the crux of God’s plan. McKnight immediately plunges into an extremely thinly-veiled and dichotomous stereotype of “Skinny Jeans Kingdom” (social activists) and “Pleated Pants Kingdom” (evangelicals), luring the reader into his point that “Kingdom theology” is on the rise. But this statement begs the more pressing underlying question he asks and answers throughout the book… what is the kingdom?
In fact the more granular question both books seek to answer is this: what is kingdom in this world as it relates to the church and its mission? McKnight argues that if we fail to understand the kingdom’s connection to the church, we will get lost on our journeys as we look to find the place of redemption. “There is no kingdom outside the church,” he writes. (McKnight, 2014, p. 87). Frost and Hirsch agree: “The Christian community, at least as Jesus intended it, is one of the most exciting aspects of the gospel experience: the church is the frontier of the kingdom” (Frost & Hirsch, 2011, p. 22).
To illustrate his Skinny Jeans-Pleated Pants viewpoints, Scot McKnight recounted a dinner conversation among a group of pastors, whereby one pastor indicated that each of the seven mission trips he had been on “had nothing to do with telling people about Jesus or establishing a church or teaching the Bible, but with service projects like building medical facilities” (p. 3). When McKnight asked that pastor if the young man leading those mission trips used the word ‘kingdom’ for what he was doing, the pastor responded affirmatively: “Over and over” (p. 3). Admittedly, McKnight says that the last thing the pastor uttered in summary was the most haunting to him: “These young adults, God bless ‘em, think ‘kingdom’ has nothing to do with ‘church’” (p. 3).
How anyone can miss this is an almost affront to the three authors; yet while in agreement over that conundrum, the approach of the books varies somewhat. Kingdom Conspiracy does a fantastic job of pointing out what we all know but are perhaps afraid to say for fear of being socially/politically or hypocritically unacceptable, and that is – the Skinny Jeans activists are all about redeeming society while the Pleated Pants folks are all about redemption for the individual. The brilliance of McKnight is that he says both are looking in the wrong place! “The primary locus of redemption is in the local church” (p. 85). And, he further asserts in a bold reproach to the evangelical consensus (of “the kingdom of God” referring to God’s redemptive rule and not His people) that au contraire, you Pleated Pants wearers!…”The kingdom of which Jesus speaks is a people governed by a king” (p. 74).
When critics and scholars lay out two opposing viewpoints, they typically compromise in the middle after pointing out each side’s strengths and weaknesses. Scot McKnight doesn’t take that approach whatsoever. Instead of arbitrating, he basically calls out all the players by telling them to get in the [right] game: the one which exemplifies the storyline of Scripture, precisely Israel’s story and what “kingdom” meant to the Jews.
To that end, while Kingdom Conspiracy goes on to discuss how the conveying and spreading of the kingdom story in an effective and contextual manner ought to be done, Faith of Leap primarily conveys how those doing it ought to live (adventurously, courageously). McKnight’s opinion is that our understanding of the biblical storyline affects our mission insofar as it requires conversion (i.e. repentance and faith are described as a “surrender” to King Jesus) and discipleship (being mastered by the Scriptural story). For him, spiritual growth is linked to the kingdom’s inauguration. “To the same degree that the kingdom has been inaugurated in Jesus, the kingdom can be realized among us. To the degree that the kingdom has not yet been realized, it cannot be lived out in the present” (p. 39). Frost and Hirsch meanwhile, continue to pump us up by playing to the inner adventurers and believers that we all are, or could/should desire to be by having courage and “learning to live for something that is more important than our own safety” (-Scott Bader-Saye, PhD, Duke University; p. 34).
Contextually, McKnight shows how Jesus’ kingdom story set him against five competing stories (including the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots) and surmises that likewise, faithfulness in the kingdom mission means we must embed kingdom realities in our own context, purposefully countering the ruling stories at work in our world today. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch call that “holy urgency,” and they could not be more adamant about its importance in the combined realms of living, learning, and leading in all areas of missional orthopraxy.
Faith of Leap has one primary focus as it relates to kingdom and church – the inhabitants. Frost and Hirsch bravely venture into relatively uncharted waters by exploring the risk, adventure, liminality and the absolute necessity of communitaspeople are willing to take for church, discipleship, mission and themselves. Between examples of men from Abraham (his somewhat “unbalanced” action put him and his large household at risk) and J.R.R. Tolkein (his Lord of the Rings Trilogy exemplifies the struggle of good vs. evil and requires nothing less than everything, the “giving up” of our lives in favor of a quest that is never a matter of one’s own desire but rather one’s calling), their book inspirationally screams to its readers that we have become complacent in the church today because the church today is not in crisis. There is no tension. The Western church and its inhabitants have been cruising along at such a big, safe, fictitious-growth-results rate that it has not only become stagnant, it has become the most vulnerable it has been in longer than anyone living today can remember. The real outcome (and rub) of that vulnerability is that we find ourselves right now, in this day, in the position “of the utmost missional importance for church (people) to be as we are meant to be, yet we live in a post-Christian, post-Christendom world, and the result is that seventeen centuries of “Western church” have effectively inoculated our culture against the gospel (p. 21).
That prevention of gospel-spreading, Faith of Leap (and I) would argue, stems from the absence of any real tension or liminality in people. It is exactly what is rendering church, kingdom, people and mission paralytic. Hearts are unmoved. Where are our hearts? They are bored, they are selfish, they are safe, and they are uninspired. Thus, we are unable to breathe any new life into anything or anyone. There is no [communitas] quest which requires a “by all means necessary” sacrifice, which in and of itself is mind-boggling. How can we know the gospel message and NOT employ that mentality to share it with those who don’t? As Frost and Hirsch say, “it is clear that opting for more of the same is not going to resolve our problems. We must be willing to dream again, to innovate, and to risk the rejection of peers who think that the status quo is sufficient to the task” (p. 24). Crisis in some real sense was normative for the church of Jesus, just as it is today where gospel growth is highest – in persecuted churches in persecuted countries.
“Rediscovering the meaning of the word “movement” and relinquishing being administrators of a stifling status quo, or worse, purveyors of fine religion,” is what Faith of Leap urges us to do, because if we do this, we will experience the same spiritual renewal and passion pervaded in the New Testament (p. 24). Frost and Hirsch further remind us that we are people born of the missio Dei, which means that the church is a result of the missionary activity of God and not the producer of it (p. 21). Thus, the church is defined by its mission and not the other way around! The mission of redemption is not yet fulfilled; therefore, we are still on the Journey and we had better get a move on, i.e. actinstead of sitting around doing more of nothing.
Summarily, perhaps the best statement to describe the heartbeat of both books is as follows: “In order to rediscover church as missional adventure, we will have to start by reJesusing the church” (Frost & Hirsch, p. 24). As we have seen, the church equals kingdom equals people; thus people – as in we, the communitas “we” – need to start by reJesusing ourselves. We need to stop asking ourselves the wrong question of where the church fits into society. Why would we want to fit into society anyway…has anyone seen it lately? Seriously, do we even have any vision?
Instead we should be asking how society is summoned into God’s society (McKnight, p. 111). We must risk ourselves to the truth that we believe is true, and we must stake our lives on the person and promises of God. For in order to take a proper Faith of Leap, we have to have the courage to see things differently and step out into the unknown with little more than a commitment to the vision of what Jesus wants from His world.
Is it about us, or is it about Him?
Frost, Michael and Alan Hirsch. The Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure, & Courage. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011.
McKnight, Scot. Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014.