My first introduction to the work of Scot McKnight came in an undergraduate class in which his book, Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels, was assigned reading. As the title suggests, Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels is a primer for serious study of the text of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which showcases the gifts for which Scot initially became known to many: he is a New Testament scholar who specializes in teaching others how to read scripture faithfully and fairly. McKnight’s work in this and other reference books has shaped me in many ways, transforming the way I read scripture, the way I teach and preach scripture, and the way I think about God.
Perhaps of even greater benefit, though, has been the multitude of works which have resulted from McKnight’s persistent efforts to share with the church in an accessible way the fruits of his labor as a scholar. One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is the latest such offering from McKnight. One.Life opens with a brief autobiographical glimpse into McKnight’s journey of faith. Specifically he chronicles the significant transformation that occurred in the way he answered perhaps the most important question anyone contemplating or claiming faith in Jesus can ask: “What is a Christian?”
To many, the answer to the question “What is a Christian?” will seem to be self-evident. McKnight’s brief autobiographical account, however, demonstrates clearly the degree to which the answer to this question is anything but self-evident. Regardless, though, whether one thinks the answer to the question is self-evident or not, the book serves to provoke in its readers critical reflection which will help them clarify the way they will answer this very important question, “What is a Christian?” Weaving together personal anecdotes from his personal life and his teaching career, stories of students and friends, thoughtful reflections on scripture, and thought-provoking questions, McKnight offers a proposal for how the key question “What is a Christian?” ought to be answered.
His proposal begins with an exploration and explanation of Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom. He then attempts to rekindle the imagination of readers by helping them read and hear Jesus’ parables in a new way. The next four chapters flesh out the themes of love, justice, peace, and wisdom by reflecting on the ways Jesus talked about and embodied them. These chapters are followed by a chapter deconstructing what has become of “church”–consumer-oriented, individualistic, special-interest-driven–and reconstructing an understanding of church rooted in the notion of community, particularly as such communal faith is described in Acts. McKnight then surveys the all-or-nothing expectations Jesus communicates to anyone who wants to follow him, setting the stage for a discussion about how Jesus’ kingdom vision aims to shape both the sexual ethics and the work lives of those who would follow Jesus. As the book enters the home stretch, the focus shifts from life in the present to life in eternity, as McKnight seeks to strip away the accumulated misconceptions about heaven and hell (rooted more deeply in ancient literature, pop culture, and hymnody, than in scripture), and articulate an understanding of eternity that is as clear and concise as possible, while preserving room for mystery. McKnight closes the book with chapters that focus on God’s love, which he contends opens the door to a life of genuine confession, and repentance, which he insists leads to a life that is cross-shaped.
I suppose one might wonder about McKnight’s rationale for choosing to highlight love, justice, peace, and wisdom, specifically. One might wish McKnight had chosen to flesh out the implications of Jesus’ kingdom vision for other areas of life besides sexual ethics and vocation, for instance family life or recreation. Perhaps, though, someone else will be inspired by this work to explore those aspects of life more fully than the space of this book would have allowed. At any rate, focusing on such questions or quibbles is like fussing about the distance of a walk-off home run.
From the very beginning of One.Life, McKnight’s awareness of the moment, his sense of urgency, which is always just beneath the surface of the book, is apparent as he reminds readers, “You have only One.Life to chase, find, and live your dream. Let your One.Life be consumed by the dream.” It is as though he realizes the outcome of the game is on the line, and it’s his turn to step up to the plate. It is this sense of urgency, combined with McKnight’s pastoral sensitivity, ability to articulate Jesus’ vision clearly, and the humility with which he writes, which lead me to the conclusion that if you only have the opportunity to read one book which will shape the way you live your One.Life, then you’ve got to read One.Life.