Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2010
Because I'm a high school teacher and a pretend New Testament scholar, certain things pique my interest. One of them is the intersection between an analytical reading of the New Testament and the lives of young people. Most devotional material for young people is fairly poorly written. If the authors of this material were trying to produce what they have written, then they were trying to misread the New Testament while being boring and unhelpful.
Now, when a book that meets those concerns is released and it is written by Scot McKnight, I get fairly excited. One Life is a very helpful book, it has some flaws, but I will get to those later in the review. All in all, the author's goals are admirable and they are met. He aimed to write a book that explained what it means to be a Christian around this definition, “someone who follows Jesus” rather than, “someone who has accepted Jesus and the Christian life focuses on personal practices of piety. (pp 15)”
The book follows a fairly simple format. Each chapter ends with a recapitulation of its content, there is a one page interlude, then the next chapter begins: wash, rinse, repeat. For the first 106 pages the Christian life receives an extended definition at the end of each chapter. The topics under which it is examined in Jesus' teaching are helpful: kingdom, imagination, love, justice, peace, wisdom, and church. All of these are under the heading of you one life. One life functions as a technical term for the entirety of your life, abilities, talents, relationships, and time. At this point the nature of Christian faith is touched upon in the chapter on commitment. The next section of the book applies the nature of the one life lived for Jesus to issues of sexuality. After that, other aspects of Christian thought are related to the Christian life, namely, the resurrection and crucifixion of Jesus and what those mean for Christians today. The book concludes with a five part summary of how to grow as a Christian (this is my summary of the summary):
- Pray with frequency.
- Listen to God by learning the scripture, all of it, and relate it back to Jesus and his teachings. Then listen to promptings you experience that are related to the teaching of scripture.
- Ask God's Spirit to empower you and begin participating in a local church that commits itself to Jesus and his ways.
- Recite Mark 12:29-31 and Matthew 6:9-13 out loud daily to recall the priorities of living in God's kingdom.
- Tell others the good news about Jesus.
The book is excellent because it is easy to understand and it seeks to explain the Bible in two notes that create a wonderful harmony: Jesus and his setting and the modern readers who wish to obey Jesus and their setting. To write about Jesus without recourse to obedience to him is to miss the whole reason that the gospels were written at all, but to write about Jesus without sensitivity to what he and his biographers meant is tantamount to disrespect and scholarly irresponsibility. McKnight sides with neither Scylla or Charybdis and gives an adequate account of what Jesus demands of his followers in the gospels.
Of special note is that his treatment of the parables is very creative. He uses the metaphor of imagination and refers to the parables as dream builders. They inform us of how things could be now and will be when God's kingdom work is complete. It is a very considerate reading of the parables.
McKnight also gives the reader insight into the kind of wisdom Jesus wanted his followers to learn (pp 87-95). He must have seen the lack of focus on good sense in many college ministries and churches, but this chapter is gold. He focuses on how to apply Jesus' teachings to our skills, talents, and capacities to find our vocation and to seek it daily with a God-ward orientation. You will find no 'head in the clouds' spirituality here, but an earthy, hard-work, discipleship in the process of the daily grind. I love it. This chapter also includes this advice: “I'm going to ask you not only to find a mentor and listen to a mentor, but do everything you can to do what the mentor advises you to do. (pp 88)”
Other gem quotes from the book include:
- I wasn't into Jesus because I was a legalist. p 15
- Here's how to determine God's will for your life: Go where ever your gifts will be exploited the most. p 23
- We have to go back to Jesus and the gospels and we have to ask how Jesus understood this word kingdom. p 24
The book does have some bad parts. McKnight has seemingly created a new literary convention and what he does is prefix the word 'life' with various words, followed by a period. For instance: sex.life, commitment.life, one.life, kingdom.life, God.is.love.life, etc. I do not mind the convention, but I have a high tolerance for things of that nature, my guess is that the average reader will be annoyed by it, even if it is helpful for creating technical meaning out of an otherwise ordinary word “life.”
Also, the word perichoresis is used (pp 150) to talk about the Trinity. This is good and well, it is even defined well, “mutual indwelling.” This may be nit-picky, but a I do not like the relationship that is made between this word and dance, because they do not mean the same thing. Though McKnight does not say that the word means dance, he makes the connection by calling the Trinity the Dance of Eternity. That's not really a problem, just a pet-peeve.
Finally, his use of pop-culture references is sometimes jarring. I won't give examples because for many these references are likely to be helpful, but I predict that others will find them funny because they feel out of context.
This book has no significant flaws and is a helpful guide to understanding how the four gospels relate to the Christian life. I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to understand the Bible and the nature of discipleship with Jesus Christ. *