Scot McKnight and the Anabaptist Kingdom?

smkcThe more I run across Scot McKnight’s writings I see the primitive or radix spirit of the Anabaptists becoming more evident with time. I find it amusing that an Anglican thinks and behaves in a fashion more akin to Anabaptism than many today that choose to carry that designation.

I would like to initiate my return to blogging by addressing some thoughts contained in McKnight’s new book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. In it he first provides a critique of how a group he calls the “Pleated Pants” crowd predominantly comprised of “bible scholars and theologians”.[1] This group essentially reduces the kingdom to some theoretical, abstract, insubstantial concept that “is nowhere and everywhere at the same time”.[2] To McKnight “When this is what ‘kingdom’ means, ‘kingdom’ means nothing because it means everything”.[3]

Next McKnight talks to something that is a reality to me and I see almost on a daily basis. He calls the next group the “Skinny Jeans” people (most likely progressive Neo-anabaptists) that defines the Kingdom of God by way of activism and good deeds in the public sector by professed believers and nonbelievers alike. The activities of these individuals are qualified as kingdom work. McKnight writes regarding the Skinny Pants folk:

For many today, it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up from the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church. I hate to put it this way, but I must: it is easier to do the former because it feels good, it resolves some social shame for all that we have, it creates a bonded experience, it is a momentary and at times condescending invasion of resources and energy, and it is all ramped up into ultimate legitimation by calling it kingdom work. Not only that, it is good and right and noble and loving and compassionate and just. It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard. It involves people who struggle with one another, it involves persuading others of the desires of your heart to help the homeless, it means caring for people where they are and not where you want them to be, it involves daily routines, and it only rare leads to the highs of “short-term mission” experiences. But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.[4]

I am in total agreement with Scot McKnight’s observations on both accounts for as mentioned above I see this line of thinking on both accounts daily and it is bothersome to say the least.

Now at this time I want to focus on the aspect of McKnight’s new work that has everyone upset especially in the Neo-anabaptist community. In the work Mcknight argues that the kingdom is one and the same as the church or ekklesia. He explicitly states “There is no kingdom now outside the church”.[5] Alternatively as McKnight states it elsewhere, “the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom—that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term—kingdom, church—gives off slightly different suggestions”.[6]

The above statements are authentic Anabaptist thought on the part of McKnight. I wrote on each of these subjects from the perspective of a radix comprehension of Anabaptism.  In the blog article Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus I addressed how one cannot acquire redemption in isolation:

The gospel that die Täufer preached was not a soterian gospel but one that focused outside of oneself. It did not concentrate on “my place” in the Kingdom but on welcoming others and making sure that, their fellow brothers and sisters maintained their place it in. In Anabaptist thought “[r]econciliation between individuals belongs as much to the essence of salvation as does reconciliation to God; the two dimensions are inseparable.” To them “man cannot come to God except together with his brother” but not just one’s spiritual sibling but also “the neighbor”, these “constitutes an essential element of one’s personal redemption.

In an earlier post I also talked to proto-Anabaptism’s thinking on this matter called The Core Message of 16th Century Anabaptism: The Gospel where I essentially argued that the Gemeinde (the preferred German term that was the equivalent in the minds of the Anabaptist of the Greek ekklesia) was the equivalent of the Kingdom on earth. Putting it in the words of Robert Freidman the Gemeinde or “brotherhood-church” to him was “a gathering of the reborn, an attempt to translate the kingdom idea into practical forms of everyday living—if not in terms of the fullness of the kingdom itself, then at least in what it foreshadows.”[7]

As was mentioned in the opening Scot McKnight is looking at the matter from the perspective of radix or primitive Anabaptism and even though he is Anglican now I appreciate that at least someone on the internet and in academia that defines Anabaptism properly.


[1] Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 9.

[2] Ibid., 13.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Ibid., 96-7.

[5] Ibid., 87.

[6] Ibid., 206.

[7] Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 43.