Scot McKnight is known as a bridge builder having maintained respect from both sides of the church, conservative and liberal, and it is not difficult to see why. In his book Embracing Grace: A Gospel For All of Us, McKnight begins by stating that “the gospel belongs to the whole Church… We know that none of us has it all right, and we are learning that we need one another.” As the saying goes: “We don’t have it all together but together we have it all.” I think McKnight would agree.
He believes that the one thing we do have in common is the basic gospel which he defines as:
“The gospel is the work of God to restore humans to union with God and communion with others, in the context of community, for the good of others and the world.”
His point in the first chapters of his book are to uncover the truth that we are saved in community for the world. I believe he is trying to remind us of the point of Jesus’s prayer in John 17 “Father make them one so that the world may know that You sent Me.”
McKnight says “The gospel is designed to create this cycle of grace” and gives the following trajectory:
God embraces you and me and
God embraces others and
God embraces the whole created order.
You and I embrace God back and
We embrace others and
We embrace the entire created order. (pg xiv)
Even though dated, (2005) Embracing Grace continues to be a timely book on so many levels but what I would like to show here is how Scot McKnight as a traditional theologian offers us remarkable descriptions of God’s universal love and redemption. I frankly don’t know how one could face qualifications at the end and give up all the hope that was dished out and consequently stored in one’s heart.
From chapter 5 we will continue to observe how Scot McKnight delivers a breathtakingly hopeful gospel. He begins the chapter with:
“Only the Ending of a story makes the Beginning clear…endings explain beginnings…there is an unbreakable connection between Eden and eternity, between Genesis and Revelation, between The Beginning and The Ending.”
“Death may be the last enemy that emerges from the sea, but it does not have the last word. The last word is Life with the Lamb on Zion.” (pg 52-53)
So what are we told is the ending to the Gospel Story? Is it not that a few fortunate folks will have the blessing of enough faith to make them believers and live the abundant life folding into eternal life when they die while the others not so fortunate to have found saving faith end up in eternal conscious torment? Does the Story end with a Hero who is unable to woo His bride nor save her from her deadly peril? Or if you are following a Neo-Calvinist storyline you would have to say that the Hero passes over most of the lost and broken and captive and chooses to save only a few. Is this the Ending that will help us understand the Beginning and give us power and vision to “fight the good fight” in the meantime?
McKnight continues to fill out his description of the Ending of the Story:
“There are two deep dimensions to the Ending. Humans will be in union with God and in communion with others for the good of others and the entire created order. It is Eden all over again, only better. Eternity is the unleashing of the cycle of embracing grace. Which means that Eternity is absorption into the perichoresis (fellowship of love) of God and perfect communion with others.” (pg 56)
How does one move backwards from McKnight’s beautiful descriptions of God’s desire to be all in all to reducing the vision to that of applying to only the few born lucky enough? Especially in light of the promise in Scripture that He will indeed be all in all! (1 Cor 15)
I must skip many powerful quotes that paint a global restoration plan by God but I will share a few more before closing:
“Because the tohu va bohu [chaos] has penetrated into the very fabric of society, state, and culture, the gospel is holistic. It is for every part of each person — heart, soul, mind, and strength — and it is for every part of the whole world — the economical, political, legal, and cultural realms. It is for all of us in the sense of each one of us and every part of us.” (pg 78)
“Creation, it should be observed, longs for humans to be restored to God and to others because it knows that only then will it be what God made it to be.” (pg 80)
“…the long term direction of God’s embrace will benefit the whole world. Somehow we are suggesting, we are to be a “blessing” to the world. Let’s all admit something: the enormity of the task makes a much smaller gospel, one tailored for individuals, so much more attractive. It would be easier to promise forgiveness from sins and heaven when we die, But that is the one thing, Jesus tells us in His kingdom vision, that we cannot let happen. As followers of Jesus we are stuck with a big gospel with a big claim.” (pg 91)
“In the Bible, grace is who God is and what God wants to do for us…grace, says my friend Keith, is the absolute and unrelenting goodness of God toward humans. It is the word ‘unrelenting’ that I like so much.” (pg 127)
And finally in reference to our title Mcknight explains that life is not ultimately a tragedy:
“…the gospel makes the claim that life is ultimately a “comedy,” a comedy of grace. It is the Divine Gospel Comedy. The last word in the gospel comedy is not death, but life. the last word is not the Cross, but the Resurrection, because Good Friday finds its “comedic” answer in Easter morning and Pentecost.” (pg 111)
How do you square the above proclamations with a theology of eternal conscious torment for most of humanity that is on account of either their stubborn free-will or on account of a predestined destiny to that end?
It appears that the hope of “all things new” is seriously leaking out of our hearts into our books and pupits. And I haven’t heard too many people or even other theologians asking for qualifications to make their gospel smaller in order to line up with their traditional theology!
Thank you Scot McKnight for helping establish the hope that truly the “last enemy to be destroyed is death” and that Jesus actually did “destroy the works of the devil” making “all things new.”
Scot McKnight Ph.D. is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University. Read Scot’s blog at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/
Testimony of student of Scot McKnight interacting on the subject of Biblical Justice reveals the “deconstruction” of McKnight’s paradigm of a final eternal hell: http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=440
(Note regarding the Evangelical Universalist Forum: It is a forum and so all thoughts are freely expressed. Not all ideas found on this forum reflect our Statement of Faith.)