Toward a Kingdom Vision in the Classroom (Guest Post by Scot McKnight)
Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). The author of numerous books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed, Scot is the author of One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan, 2010). He is presently researching the meaning “gospel” in the earliest Christian communities.
A student approached me after class and asked me if I had any “extra” copies of One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. She said she and her friends wanted to use it in a Bible study they were doing. I asked them why they wanted to use One.Life and she said, “Because if it’s like your Jesus class, we want to talk about that stuff more than we can in class.”
A professor friend told me that she was using the book with her students for spiritual formation because she explained to me that her students no longer saw spiritual formation as simply praying and reading the Bible but as doing “deeds of mercy.”
These two experiences, one with a student and one with a professor friend, perfectly express what One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is: it’s the guts of my Jesus of Nazareth class, which I’ve taught yearly for fifteen years, and many times twice a year. To be sure, the class lectures have been recast and reframed and illustrated with stories, but this book is my heartbeat: it is what I have lived to write since I discovered the teachings of Jesus as a seminary students more than thirty years ago.
At the same time, the book reframes how to understand the Christian life. For too long far too many of us have permitted others to define the Christian life as little more than our personal relationship to God, and the more intimate (or mystical) the better. But Jesus is after more than our own inner and personal development.
One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow casts a vision for the Christian life that is the most adventurous and challenging sketch I’ve ever faced and I’ve ever written. Out of our prayer life and in light of our Bible study, Jesus wants us to give ourselves to him and to his kingdom vision. But what is a kingdom vision?
Here again we have to rethink what is going on today. Far too many of us have left unchallenged the identification of “kingdom” with “justice,” and then we’ve allowed to go unchallenged the equation of “justice” with “civil rights.” When we let these two equations go unchallenged we create nothing more than a liberal civil religion. Jesus wanted more. He wanted us to give ourselves to him and to his kingdom vision, a vision about justice, about peace, about love, and about wisdom – all expressed in following him in the context of a local church.
Fifteen years of teaching students leads me to say this: students respond to this message because they think the church is too soft and too introverted and spends too much of its money on itself. They want the church to live up to the kingdom vision of Jesus.
Next week I will be talking with these students about their Bible study. I promise you they will have fire in their eyes. It’s the greatest thing I experience as a teacher.