A Fellowship of Differents: A Book Review
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intensions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together
Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents is a book about the church. Arguments for a particular view of the church fill up stories shelves and range from popular to academic. Some argue that we need to get back to the way it was in the first century, assuming of course that the early Christian communities didn't have their share of problems or were not in a process of trying to figure things out. By contrast, McKnight’s book doesn't so much try to persuade the reader to adopt a particular vision for how to do church, but instead shows the beauty of the unity and diversity of the people of God or as McKnight puts it, the church is a fellowship (unity) of differents (diversity).
The starting point for McKnight begins with the idea that the local church shapes our understanding of the Christian life. In other words, we learn what it means to be a Christian by what is emphasized, neglected or demonized by the culture of our churches and traditions. Some may come from backgrounds where prayer and holiness are the measuring rod of christian spirituality but may altogether neglect the sacraments and social justice which other church communities find fundamental to spiritual formation. Following this observation McKnight sets off to answer the question; what is the church supposed to be and what does the Christian life look like?
The leading metaphor throughout the work is that of a salad bowl. Summing up the picture McKnight concludes that “If we want to get the church right, we have to learn to see it as a salad in a bowl… For a good salad is a fellowship of different tastes, all mixed together with the olive oil accentuating the tastes of each.” The point being that, the people of God are meant to be a mixture a diverse individuals of different genders, races, ages, backgrounds and social status’. What we normally see, however, are fellowships of sames and likes, so that fellowship becomes a matter of conformity in order to achieve unity.
For anyone not convinced, consider that Paul’s ministry was one of building communities that united people across diverse backgrounds. Ephesians 2 is a good example of how Paul saw the power of the gospel at work in reconciling Jews and Gentiles into what he calls “one new man” (Eph. 2:15). Again in Galatians 3:28, Paul equalizes people across ethic, gender and class distinctions when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free nor is there male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If then the church is a fellowship of differents, what does the Christian life look like? The book continues by focusing itself around six themes that are what McKnight calls, “central to the Christian life.” These six themes are; grace, love, table, holiness, newness and flourishing. These themes are what make up the bulk of the book as McKnight attempts to ground the call to unity and diversity in these New Testament motifs. I cannot go through each of these themes in detail, but I want to encourage the reader to give A Fellowship of Differents a read through and be challenged. Also, if you are a fan of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Dietrich Bonhoeffer then you will enjoy their company throughout your reading since they are constant companions of the author throughout the book.
To be sure, there are some points in the book that I would disagree with or would like to have further clarification on. But an exercise in reading something that you might not agree with 100% is apart of what it means to be in fellowship with those who think differently then yourself. McKnights main point is on target as far as I can see, especially since he draws the majority of his proposal from the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles. For God desires a people from every tribe, tongue and nation. A diverse group of men and women who have experienced the grace of God which has transformed them into individuals who love each other, share with each other and pursue devotion to God with one another unto the age to come. - Dan Marino