In light of recent events in the United States, both recently and in the past few years, there can be no denying that there is a struggle when it comes to our differences. When we differ in our ideology and our beliefs, what do we let that difference do to us? Are we motivated to bridge those differences and find commonality or do we simply seek sameness?
In his book “A Fellowship of Differents,” Scott McKnight examines the differences between us. He looks at what the church is supposed to be and what the church has become. McKnight presents a salad bowl as imagery to what the church should be. We are to be mixed up, combined together into a glorious mess, a conglomeration of different working together with their similarities.
McKnight presents his own experience of church as well as the experience presented us within the biblical narrative. He reminds the read that there has never been a “golden era” of church despite the fact that many will try to convince you that the church in Acts and the early 1st century was perfect or near perfect. He asks questions to get us to look at what we see to determine whether or not it is what we should be seeing. Carrying out the salad analogy, he wonders whether we have smothered our differences and become ingrown, rendering invisible, ignored, shelved, or AWOL any who don’t fit into the norms that we present.
In seeking to come together as a fellowship of different, McKnight calls the church to this its biggest challenge. In seeking to become this salad, this fellowship of different, McKnight calls the church to six themes that are to be central in order to live out the Christian life: grace, love, table, holiness, newness, and flourishing. He divides the book into these six sections and thoroughly unpacks them.
McKnight writes that, “Christians are too often addicted to stories of dramatic and extraordinary grace. We love the big story such as Paul’s – but grace isn’t just found in the dramatic.” He explains that grace is meted out in the everyday miracles, in the transformative affect that is seen in the common and mundane. Grace is God’s love reaching us because of what he has done rather than what we have done. It is God’s big “Yes” to us.
Beyond grace is love, a love that has been distorted in our societal definitions. There is the love which is thrown around in our everyday language and then there is the love of which we read in Scripture, the two of which are distinct and different. Love is simple when we are called to love those like us, but what of live when we need to love those unlike us?
Since our culture dominates the definition of love, it is no wonder that Christians within the church struggle to understand it in their marriages, their families, their relationships, and in their salad bowl churches. Love, as described in our dictionary, “has no final goal other than perhaps the personal happiness of the one loved or the one who loves – as long as that lasts. But Christian love has direction.” Christian love is both directional and sacrificial and, as C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Love is seldom easy and it seldom comes without a price.
When it comes to the witness of the Church in the world, McKnight asks, “Is the lack of power in our witness because the church is so divisive, so un-unified, so out-of-step with Jesus’ prayer? Is it because we’ve spread out the items in the salad onto the plate in separate piles instead of living together as a mixed salad in God’s salad bowl of unity?” Are we missing the blessing of our differences because we are seeking to accomplish what we are accomplishing in our own strength rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit which has been given to us? We come together with our differences, not eradicating them, but embracing them, “for difference is the vitality of our fellowship.”
Many point back to the Constantine’s conversion and decision to make Christianity the public religion as a momentous occasion in the life of Christianity. While that momentous occasion may have held some positive aspects, it is more often than not pointed at as a misstep that elevated Christianity in ways that may have led us to this place of comfort, norms, and homogeneity. Knight points to Roger Williams and Henry David Thoreau as two other influencers of what Christianity in the United States has become. These two individuals, McKnight posits, have contributed to the individualism and “Me” centered ideology of the American church. This individualism takes away from the “We” language that we see throughout the New Testament as the Church was established.
The individualism of Christianity in America has changed our focus and tainted our views. As McKnight writes, “We are given in America the power of choice, and religion has become a smorgasbord to choose your own church based on its ability to live up to your own preferences.” In seeking to truly become a fellowship, we need to remember that we are simply called to share life with one another. Sharing life with one another does not simply mean that we find those who look, think, believe, and act like us and circle up the wagons. McKnight asks whether or not our churches are representative of our communities, or whether or not they are mono-ethnic
McKnight delves into a discussion of holiness and how that word garners fear and criticism from many. He cautions to not turn the grand idea of holiness into a legalistic list of “Don’ts” while leaving off the “Do’s.” He adds that, “Holiness cannot be reduced to separation or difference.” Holiness is not something that we make ourselves into but something that we are made into by God. We seek to live lives that avoid sin and is devoted to God.
McKnight enters into a discussion on sexuality because it is hard to engage in a talk about the modern church without addressing this issue. In my opinion, he presents well the argument in favor of biblical marriage and promotes the ideas of celibacy and faithfulness which Paul supports. McKnight makes it clear that love is not based on whether or not you do what I want nor is it based on toleration, leaving one another alone. Love, he suggests, involves presence, advocacy, and companionship over time, it is a long-term commitment.
McKnight proposes a third way when it comes to sexuality, suggesting that our salvation and sanctification are processes which we will not complete until we have fully arrived in glory. We must seek to allow ourselves to be transformed by grace and in holiness in order that we all might become what God wants us to be. He says, “We are washed, we are waiting, and in the meantime we are striving to be holy and loving.” While much more could have been said about the subject, I understand that McKnight was limited within the context of this book. However, his brief discussion is helpful to stir up conversation and pondering rather than to act as a gauntlet thrown in victory and defiance.
We seek liberty which does not necessarily mean license. Instead, liberty of the Christian kind is constrained by love. Knowing that we are all in a process and that are redemption is not complete until the kingdom, we look to love one another not as we are but as we will be made when we are in that kingdom together for eternity. As I see it, it’s not a statement of passive toleration from McKnight but rather a call to embrace each other as we walk together towards sanctification and transformation.
We, as the Church, need to be a people who are counter-cultural in our lives because we are led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We only live and serve as an example when we are led in and by a power that is not our own. McKnight challenges the church to expose themselves to the Holy Spirit because the single biggest influence in our lives is that which we expose ourselves to the most. Exposure to the Holy Spirit helps to birth the fruit of the Spirit within us.
Ultimately, as followers of Christ, we are called to suffering and trials. Being a culture and fellowship of different may very well mean that we are called to those sufferings and trials of which Christ spoke and which Christ, Paul, and many others have experienced. But those sufferings and those trials actually give us opportunities to exhibit a counter-cultural love, a love that is sacrificial, a love that calls us to look at others before we look at ourselves.
While I have not read all of McKnight’s work, I have read enough to have constantly marveled at his gift of communication. I find myself nodding my head in agreement with him as I read through what he writes. I find myself challenged by what he writes in a way that convicts and spurs me on, not leaving me bristling because of his gracious way of asking questions and challenging.
As I read “A Fellowship of Differents,” I felt myself being stirred within. Much of what McKnight has written aligns with where my heart has been in recent months and years. I am grateful for McKnight’s gift if challenging while sharing of his own challenges in a humble manner.
If you have struggled with the sameness which seems pervasive within the evangelical American church, “A Fellowship of DIfferents” is a must read. You will be challenged, you will be encouraged, and most importantly, you will be changed and transformed.
(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)