TITLE: A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life TogetherAUTHOR: Scot McKnight
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (272 pages).
The hope of this book is that history will be reversed by a renewed commitment to be the church God designed, a church that flourishes in a salad bowl fellowship of differents.
Community is not about conformity toward sameness. It is according to popular author, Scot McKnight, a “fellowship of differents.” Using the metaphor of a salad bowl, McKnight argues passionately that the Church should look like a “salad” of different tastes, different ingredients, and different mixes. In fact, the Church is “God’s world changing social experiment” for bringing all sorts of different people together. Differences are not to be despised but welcomed. Alternatives should be celebrated. This refers to not only gender or ethnicities but also status changes like widows and widowers.
In light of recent events in the United States, both recently and in the past few years, there can be no denying that there is a struggle when it comes to our differences. This is only further perpetuated by our desire for sameness that keeps us from bridging the gap in our differences.
McKnight’s research on the life of Paul and the house churches he established is clearly presented throughout the book to show how this is not a new idea but one marked by a counter-cultural way of relating to others which Paul and the early house churches were known for. In order to facilitate the fellowship of differences, McKnight proposes six ideas to keep different people together.
GRACE: The first is “grace” via the gospel of yes. For if God says YES to us with such emphasis, why should any of us do any less? In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we have been promised God’s yes over and over again. Through grace, we have been offered both a “place and a power.” A “place” is in terms of an identity to be able to sit at the same table with God and fellow believers. A “power” is in terms of overcoming all kinds of odds and differences in order to be united as one people. Through grace, we turn from “God-fighters into God-defenders; Jesus-haters into Jesus-lovers; and Spirit-resisters into Spirit-listeners.” After comparing with some definitions of grace by several prominent speakers, McKnight settles on Anne Lamott’s “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us there.” Beautiful.
LOVE: The second is “love” which we are encouraged to define love according to what we see in Christ instead of simply looking it up on the common dictionary. For in Christ, we learn that love is about 1) rugged commitment with; 2) commitment to a person; 3) commitment for a person; and 4) commitment unto that person. These four prepositions provide a direction in which we can love people different from us. Love works for a community of differents. Love also shares and aims to benefit others.
TABLE: The third is “table” in which McKnight contrasts individual lives with a community living. One of the challenges of cultivating a community is the tendency among people to overemphasize the need for “personal devotions” over and above Church life. Learn to get a new mind with regards to see from God’s perspective and to live in the Spirit in letting God transform our relationships. We commune not by eradicating differences but by celebrating the uniqueness in each of us at the common table. What is really helpful is the celebration and participation at the Eucharist is essentially declaring our common identity in Christ who died for us. We realize that by ourselves we are small. When we realize we need one another, we avoid barking up the wrong trees of chasing a perfect church or to trust only in ourselves.
HOLINESS: The fourth is “holiness” which essentially means “devoted.” Devotion to the truth of God, to God’s work of redemption, and to one another. McKnight informs the reader that Biblical salvation is salvation times three. Past: We have been saved (Romans 8: 24). Present: We are being saved (Philippians 2: 12). Future: We will be saved (Romans 13: 11). It takes, one might say, a lifetime and beyond to get saved. It is in this understanding that McKnight ties to it a 3rd way of relating to each other in the process of God’s ongoing work of redemption in various areas of our lives.
NEWNESS: The fifth way to facilitate a “fellowship of differents” is through a sense of “newness.” We are all new creations. We are free not based on Western definitions but free in terms of the biblical truth. This means freedom to explore and to discern things according to how freedom can lead toward deeper fellowship, holiness, love, justice, wisdom, peace, and so on. Not only are we free toward accomplishing something, we are also freed from enslavement to things of the past.
FLOURISHING: The sixth way is through “flourishing” in which McKnight highlights the Church as God’s “grand experiment,” through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can all be full of the Spirit to be the transforming organism that God has called the Church to be. This comes by what we are exposed to: the flesh or the Spirit. We are urged to flourish in exercising our spiritual gifts through our jobs, our vocations, and the realization of our identities by flourishing in whatever we do.
I cannot help but feel that the six things mentioned by McKight has some form of order to it. Put very simply, the first three set the tone for the coming together of the fellowship of differents. The next three set the direction in which to proceed. While some of us may tend to skip over the words “grace,” “love,” “holiness” and so on, simply because they are too familiar, I encourage readers to take time to reflect on how the author has nuanced them. Like in “Grace,” God’s yes is the only yes that ought to truly matter to all of us. In “Love,” we learn about the order of prepositions that point out that love is not the freedom to do anything we want, but the freedom to limit ourselves within the boundaries of commitment to one another. In “Table,” we learn about our common identity in Christ’s death for us, and how we can all learn to move beyond status quo and to live toward a future reality set out for all of us.
By moving from a present to an eschatological hope, we can avoid the stagnation of individual opinions or positions and journey toward a future God has envisioned for us. It is in the traveling that will facilitate our living together. It is in the common direction that we are moving toward that unifies us. It is in the celebration of differences that is anchored in Christ that will form us to be the community that the Spirit of God has called us to become. Church is still very much a work in progress and we must all remember that. Lest we become proud or complacent and miss out on the grace of God in the Spirit.
This book is a wonderful contribution to how a “third way” can be realized, to give a fresh breeze of hope for the weary and a renewed sense of purpose in accepting one another not simply because we are different, but because we are all in Christ. There is no single common denominator than to build the church on Christ.
Rating: 5 stars of 5.
Will have to check it out! I’m a small groups pastor myself and always looking for some good reads!
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Josh, thanks for the follow and comment! While this book wasn’t related just to small groups but the church in general there is much transfers to it. Any reads you would recommend?