Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight
I’m a little late with a review on this one but Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy has definitely given me food for thought. The central idea of the book is that a lot of people use the word “Kingdom” or phrase “Kingdom of God” and we all just have our own definitions of it. These definitions are usually loosely based on Scripture and Church tradition, but I have never personally seen an exhaustive attempt to define what the phrase means. Until now, that is.
Here I’ll just hit on 3 major ideas he covers which form a lot of the basis for the rest of the book:
Skinny Jeans and Pleated Pants
The first chapter of the book was a bit of a slap in the face for me and I mean that in the best way possible. What McKnight refers to as the “skinny jeans Kingdom” is the kind of perspective toward the Kingdom most common among those under 40. We emphasize social justice and the common good, and from that often define Kingdom of God to mean anything good that happens right now in our physical universe. Those are undoubtedly good things but can be too far centralized to become a problem, McKnight argues. I definitely fall into this category, or at least closer to this end of the spectrum, even though I have never and probably will never wear skinny jeans.
The second chapter examines the other common emphasis: the Kingdom as a series of individual redemptive moments, which McKnight refers to as the pleated pants Kingdom due to its popularity amongst the older crowd. This commonly reduces the Kingdom to being about a legal framework salvation for an afterlife in Heaven. If the skinny jeans emphasize relationships between people, sometimes even to a fault, the pleated pants emphasize the relationship between the individual and God, sometimes even to a fault.
McKnight is clear, though, that both have a lot of good to contribute. We run into trouble when we completely reject one in favour of the other. It’s a big generalization, but I can mostly agree with this idea.
The Bible’s Story Arc
From there, McKnight offers an interesting way to read the story arc of the Bible. I have been a big fan of N.T. Wright’s 5 act play model to sketch out the biblical narrative. McKnight gives credit where it is due for that model, but then offers something that he thinks is more helpful, at least in terms of a discussion on the Kingdom.
This is the A-B-A’ model. To oversimplify, God starts with Plan A in the Garden where he directly rules over his people. He temporarily accepts Plan B in 2 Samuel 8 when the people demand a King, giving them one to serve as mediator. With Jesus, God returns to Plan A, extending his rule over his people directly through Jesus. It is undoubtedly a helpful framework for this discussion, but I would have a hard time using that over Wright’s as the overarching story arc of the Bible.
The People of the King
The main conjecture of the book could be a controversial one: Kingdom must mean the ruling of a King over his people. This can equally offend the extremes of both the pleated pants and the skinny jeans crowds. For the pleated pants crowd, we remember that social dynamics are part of what it means to be living the Kingdom. You cannot reduce the Kingdom to “me and Jesus” going to Heaven when I die.
On the other hand, and the part that I’m wrestling with the most still, us skinny jeans proponents need to remember that there is a King. For example, I would use the phrase “kingdom work” – as many would – to mean virtually anything good that would align with what God wants of the world, as demonstrated by Jesus. If somebody who has no interest whatsoever in Jesus but does the kind of things Jesus would do, I would call that kingdom work. McKnight disagrees and claims repeatedly that Kingdom should be synonymous with Church, particularly focusing on the local level.
His perspective makes perfect logical sense. To be a Kingdom, there has to be a King (or ruler, to be gender-inclusive) and people over which he or she rules deliberately submitting to him or her. Beyond that, though, I didn’t feel like he really gave any reason why Kingdom is the same as Church, and this claim would form the basis for a lot of other things he goes on to say.
Update: here’s Drew Hart on this idea, which captures my unease with it very well.
And so much more
With that basis in place, McKnight covers a lot of ground touching on a variety of theses about the Kingdom. I’m not going to try to outline them here for space constraints – if you want to read them, you can buy the book.
The book definitely made me think, which has to be the ultimate goal of a good book, at least of one more academic like this. I agreed with many points and wasn’t so sure about many others.
I’ll happily recommend this book on one condition: read liberation theology, which McKnight casually dismisses as another form of Constantinianism, as well. The big problem in the book for me is that he doesn’t really give the perspectives he is arguing against much of a voice. His arguments may be tight, at least if you can accept his claim that the Kingdom is the Church, but I would be very hesitant to recommend to anyone who hasn’t encountered the counterpoints since he definitely does not provide them in any substantial way.
Final rating: 2.5 out of 5.