What is it like to encounter one of your favorite writers and thinkers in person?
Instead of the usual Sunday morning sleep-in, I rose early and brought my 18-year-old-about-to-move-out daughter with me to a church in Atlanta. When I go to churches, I am usually the speaker, so it was a nice change to go with no responsibility.
From my home in Snellville (far east suburb of Atlanta) we headed to Alpharetta (far north suburb) to the mightily famous North Point Community Church, home of Andy Stanley. According to this website, North Point has more than 22,000 attendees at their three campuses, making it the largest church in Georgia. I believe it as I sat in a crowd of three to five thousand in the 9:00 a.m. service.
I arrived early, on a mission to hear in person a writer, blogger, theologian, professor, and Biblical scholar whose books have been a source of inspiration and information for me: Scot McKnight (The Jesus Creed Blog). We were so early, people were waiting for the auditorium doors to open. As soon as they did, my daughter and I headed to a seat. In typical Leman style I went for the front seat, closest to the middle as possible (the middle front section was reserved for staff).
After a short wait, I had a brush with celebrity as Andy Stanley and Scot McKnight came and sat . . . next to me. How do you like that? And I didn’t even intend to arrange that. Okay, there was an aisle between us, but still how cool is it to have Andy Stanley sitting next to you? He has an unusual, but interesting way of getting into the music during worship, by the way, and it was fascinating watching Andy in action.
I came to hear Scot because I’ve read a ton of his books, I read his blog five days a week, and he and I know each other and have had email dialogues about theology.
Scot didn’t recognize me by sight, but when we had a second to greet each other, I said my name and we were connected.
What is it like to encounter someone you admire in person? Would he live up to the hype I had generated in my own mind? Would he be a disappointment?
First, his appearance, in spite of pictures I have seen online, was not exactly what I expected. Lesson, headshots online don’t tell you everything. He has a bit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer thing going on: close-cropped, mostly balding head, wire-rimmed spectacles, and an air of intellectualism. His voice, which as a reader I felt I knew, was different than in my imagination. But it was him, North Park professor and Jesus Creed blogger in person.
Scot was speaking about the Jesus Creed, which is not only the title of his blog but also of one of his numerous books in print. If you haven’t read it, why not?
The idea is a Christian professor is suggesting that the Shema, as expanded by Jesus, is something all Christians would benefit from reciting morning and evening. McKnight posits that the twice-daily practice of reciting Shema was around in Jesus’ time (I suspect he is right, though our sources are later than first-century). The idea of the book is simple: to have Christians adopt a Jewish practice amplified by our Messiah (Jesus added Leviticus 19:18 to the standard Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
The implications of Christians reciting the expanded Shema are profound. Commandments have certainly not been an emphasis in many schools of Christianity. The Shema and the command to love one’s neighbor add a tangible dimension to Christian faith. The big payoff for the discipline of reciting the creed is to see all people as neighbors and to see the love of God in practical actions like sharing encouragement or a cup of water with someone.
At one point in the presentation, Scot recited the first part of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). My daughter blushed and my ego enjoyed its heyday as Scot asked (in front of maybe four thousand people), “How did I do Derek?” Okay, that felt good, I thought as I raised a thumbs up. Note to self, if Scot is ever in the audience, I will not attempt to pronounce Greek. He then said, “We’ve got a Messianic Jewish rabbi sitting on the front row.”
Though Andy Stanley did look over at me sitting next to him at that point, and though I did get to briefly thank Andy afterwards for having Scot as a speaker, I am here to say no one asked me for my autograph after the service (this in spite of the fact I stood at the exit door with my pen in hand).
It was a fun day and getting called out in front of a giant crowd is a nice feeling, I’m not ashamed to admit. More so, I am thrilled at the openness to reading Jesus in his true context, as a Jew.
This is a welcome development and may it continue to increase. As Messianic rabbi friend, Rich Nichol, says, “For final redemption to occur, Jewish and Christian people must come together as never before.”
May it be so. And thank you, Scot, for your part, and Andy, for yours. Now let’s go love God and neighbor.