What is the church supposed to look like? Is it the club of similar people that many of us know, or is it an outpost of God’s kingdom that consists of a group of people who would never get along if it weren’t for God’s grace? Prolific New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has written a book exploring this question (I call him prolific because I was about to call this book his “latest,” but it came out in February so now I’m not so sure).
The book, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing God’s Design for Life Together, draws on the letters of the Apostle Paul (and the analogy of a salad bowl) to argue that the local church should be a diverse group of people who become a new kind of family that is only made possible by grace and love. He writes, “A good salad is a fellowship of different tastes, all mixed together with the olive oil accentuating the taste of each.” The church is supposed to transcend difference, while honoring difference at the same time.
McKnight further argues that the church shapes discipleship. That is, for ordinary Christians, what they experience at church is what the Christian life is for them. This means that there should be diversity in church. There should be different races, genders, socioeconomic groups, cultures, styles, histories, ages, marital statuses. For churches to achieve this diversity, McKnight writes, the Christian life in those churches needs to be characterized by six themes: grace, love, table fellowship, holiness, newness, and flourishing.
I mentioned above that McKnight is a New Testament scholar, but over the years he has learned to write for a popular audience, not just seminary graduates like me. It is a testament to how successful he has been at this transformation that at various times in the book I wanted to share it with people in my church, as well as people who regard themselves as spiritual but aren’t part of a church. Sometimes I would come across an analogy in the book and think, “Well, that’s corny.” But then I had to remind myself: “Snooty overeducated types like me aren’t the main audience for this book.”
The classic exploration of life in Christian community is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. This book won’t replace that one, but I think it can supplement it for our time. I hope this book does find a large audience among people who love the church, are frustrated by the church, or don’t see the need for a church, and I hope they’re inspired by what God intended the church to be.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.