In his latest book, The Kingdom Conspiracy, Scot McKnight cuts across the grain of both recent scholarship and contemporary ministry practice. Biblical and theological scholarship for some time now has insisted that kingdom and church are two different things, generally seeing the former as much broader than the sociological construct we call church. Through a study of the kingdom concept in scripture, McKnight shows that uses of the word are normally tied to a land, a people, a king, and a law for that kingdom. This commonality of usage in scripture leads him to reject the claim that kingdom simply refers to ruling.
On the practical side, present throughout the book, McKnight also takes issue with what he calls the “skinny jeans” and “pleated pants” approach to the gospel and the kingdom. The “skinny jeans” crowd identify the gospel of the kingdom with “social justice,” the “pleated pants” crowd with “personal salvation.” Going back to his biblical analysis, McKnight identifies both views as missing the biblical use of kingdom language.
If he hasn’t, by this stage, offended enough people, he goes on to challenge the popular talk about doing “kingdom work.” If the kingdom is necessarily tied to a people and a king, that is, according to McKnight, to Jesus and the church, then identifying kingdom work with a Niebuhrian “Christ Transforming Culture” approach, whether from a liberal or conservative approach, is simply misguided. Kingdom work is the work the church does in carrying out its mission, something different from what McKnight calls “doing good in the world.”
Some readers might say, upon finishing the book, the McKnight hasn’t made any profound differences: all he’s done is policed church language. Church language is important, however,in that the way we talk about things shapes how we see things and how we act in the world. Getting straight our understanding of the kingdom, the church, and our role as members of the church, will help us more faithfully follow King Jesus.
There are two things I would change about the book, one stylistically, the other structurally. In terms of style, McKnight has a habit of using too much meta-language, taking time to tell us what he’s doing, done, or going to do. Most of that can be safely eliminated, making for smoother reading. Structurally, McKnight includes two helpful appendices where he deals in greater depth with scholarship on the kingdom. I think readers would profit from having these integrated into the earlier part of the book. The material was helpful and well-written; too many readers might miss out as long as its hidden away in appendices.