The church is increasingly being understood from a global perspective. Looking backwards and summing up his two volumes on church history, Justo González says:
A twenty-first [century] history of Christianity must be global.
…The new narrative must be global both in its horizontal, geographic dimension—covering all lands and peoples—and in a vertical, sociological dimension—acknowledging the faith, the lives, and the struggles of those whose story is too often excluded.
–The Story of Christianity Vol. 2, p. 528-29
What González and others such as Philip Jenkins are doing for the history of the church, Scot McKnight attempts to do for the future of the church. In A Fellowship of Differents, McKnight casts a Biblical vision for the church as God intended. So how does he fare?
While his authority on New Testament interpretation, background, and context shines through admirably at times, A Fellowship of Differents is an uneven offering that does not live up to McKnight’s ambition for it.
There is an excellent book buried somewhere within AFoD. McKnight just hasn’t quite found it yet. This published version is itself a shorter version of a much longer initial draft (247). There are some excellent bits scattered throughout, but AFoD could still use some more editing/revising. McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus and has authored many books. I own his commentary on 1 Peter in the NIV Application Commentary Series and it was his name that initially interested me in the book (as I’m sure is the case with many).
This familiarity with and authority on the New Testament gives the book a great boost. McKnight is at his finest when discussing the apostle Paul’s experiences as related through the Pauline epistles and connecting the dots between the historical contents of the letters and their literary and theological content.
But he is much less at ease applying those contexts to modern issues or relating to the reader. Particularly distracting was his repeated insistence on referring to the church using the metaphor of a salad bowl (a fine metaphor, but one that is stretched much too thin by the end of the book) and relating personal stories (such as the difference between tomatoes and maters). Not everyone will agree with his stance on women in ministry, but that is the closest he comes to “unorthodox” views (at least in my view).
I still found the book worth reading once, specifically for the ideas of love as a commitment to be with a person, advocate for that person, and directed unto a person (chapter 5). In other words, if you want someone to listen to your loving input into their lives, you have to be present with and dedicated to that person first.
For someone whose bread and butter is church growth, theology, planting, etc, A Fellowship of Differents is at least an interesting read that will challenge you on various counts and provide good opportunities to reexamine your various beliefs and practices. But for most everyone else, this is not a must-read.
3 out of 5 stars
Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. 272 pp. Paperback.
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Thanks to Zondervan and BookLook Bloggers for the review copy!