Engaging with different voices is always important. In blogging it is so easy to concentrate on your own view, and let other views orbit around it. “Four Questions” is a series on Everyday Liturgy which looks to authors & artists to ask them four questions about their craft.
Today’s guest is the prolific Scot McKnight. Similar to N.T. Wright, Scot has the wonderful ability to take complex academic discussions and present them in concise, accessible prose. His writings on fasting, Mary, hermeneutics and the atonement have all been formative in my own thought and practice. I wanted to ask him some questions about his new book, The King Jesus Gospel.
Everyday Liturgy: In your new book The King Jesus Gospel you talk about how contemporary evangelicalism is a “salvation culture” instead of a “gospel culture.” What are some examples of contemporary evangelical worship that are rooted in “salvation culture”?
Scot McKnight: First, think of many of our songs, which are rooted in our personal experience of salvation instead of in the glory of God, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and our empowerment by the Spirit. Many think Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 are early Christian hymns, not to mention the rich hymns of Revelation, and you will see a remarkable difference between our experience-based music and their Christ-focused lines.
Second, how much of our worship is focused on Christ? Notice again the art of ancient churches: they all had wonderful art that found its focus in Christ. I’m thinking of Hagia Sophia’s famous depiction of Christ, or even the cross-shaped York Minster. What is the “shape” of our churches?
Third, think of how the ancient liturgy led us to the Table. That was the focus and the climax of the “service” while ours is focused either on a sermon or on an invitation. There are huge theological factors at work here, and we are losing theology and not gaining it.
EL: What are some of the changes churches can make to their worship that would make their worship services a cultural expression of the gospel?
Scot: The major shift is simple and yet will prove itself difficult because we unfamiliar with it: we need to readjust everything so that our entrance, our music, our readings, our sermons and our sacrament all lead us to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, all known most clearly in Jesus Christ.
We could go through our hymnals and cut out all songs that aren’t focused on God.
EL: What are some spiritual disciplines that people can begin to practice that will help them live out the gospel of Jesus?
Scot: Bible reading. We need to become mastered by the Bible’s Story and to let that whole Story—Genesis to Revelation—guide us to Jesus Christ.
Spiritual disciplines make me nervous at times, mostly because they are often too focused on “my own” spirituality. They tend to draw attention to how we are growing, our own condition before God, etc. Genuine spiritual disciplines will draw us into God and then into the world where God is accomplishing his mission. So I would urge us to reconsider some of our disciplines, and begin to see other-directed praxis as discipline: evangelism, service, compassion, visiting the marginalized and unempowered…
EL: In your book you discuss how the sermons in Acts are the best example of the gospel of Jesus. These sermons are pretty different than the sermons heard from many pulpits today. How should pastors look to preach a two thousand year old message to our contemporary culture?
Scot: Evangelism needs to be reshaped from a persuasive rhetoric designed to precipitate decisions toward a declarative rhetoric designed to exalt Jesus Christ. The essence of the sermons in Acts was to tell us stuff about Jesus and not to persuade sinners to accept Christ.
Good evangelism takes us from creation to Christ and to the consummation, but one doesn’t need to do the whole each time, esp if a congregation or a person has no clue. The center of evangelism, and all good preaching, is Christ — we tell people about Jesus. That Story of Jesus has the power to awaken faith in sinners and the saints. So, we need to become people who are most concerned with presenting Jesus.
If you want to know more about Scot McKnight you can read his blog, Jesus Creed.