If there was a topic I avoid like the plague it would be “angels.” Not because I’m not interested, but rather because I have read far too many books on cosmology which have left a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the books would stretch Bible texts about angels/demons to the max while others simply bore me to death, and as a result I have no books on angels in my collection. But I thank Scot McKnight for filling this void in my library by providing a book which is both biblically-based and fun to read. Here are some reasons why I enthusiastically endorse The Hum of Angels.
A Challenge to ‘Enlightenment-Sensitive’ Christianity
I find it interesting that around the same time that Adam and the Genome (co-authored by McKnight) is released, Scot McKnight comes out with The Hum of Angels; while Adam and the Genome deals with how Christians need not reject science if it contradicts their interpretation of the creation account, the Hum of Angels offers a serious critique of Christians who have given in to the spirit of the Enlightenment by not taking seriously the legitimacy angels.
“…many…people in this scientific age are afraid to talk about their experiences, thinking they won’t be believed. One man has seen angels hovering every Sunday during services at his church, but when he told his priest about it, the priest ridiculed him” (p. 7).
While some books on angels seem to have their heads in the clouds and were written by non-exegetes, on the other side of the spectrum you’ll find books which seem to completely downplay the activity of angels. You’ll also find books which, though full of great exegesis, are for a more academic audience and will therefore go over the heads of many readers. McKnight’s book isn’t one of them: though full of Scripture and great exegesis, it is not at all a dry read.
In 2016 Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul commented on the fact that the word for angel occurs in the New Testament “more often than the word for sin and love-so there’s no excuse for not talking about angels” (see here for video; Sproul’s words are after the 3 minute mark). Interestingly McKnight points out that in the Reformation, Luther (weary of those with bizarre supposed angel visitations) gave angels a bad rap, and we are still feeling the effects of that. Now McKnight insists that Luther was reacting to bad theology, but simply points out that he (and his followers) over-reacted, swinging the pendulum hard in the opposite direction of imbalance. McKnight strives to not go too far in either direction.
Promoting of Experiential Christianity
Some may not like the sound of this, and yet the New Testament church was one that experienced God; we don’t find any Bible verses that state that angelic activity will decrease when we’re outside of the “Bible times.” The question then becomes, are we afraid of what the Bible teaches?
The Hum of Angels asks the hard question of Where Have All the Angels Gone? as McKnight points out that angels are disappearing and in the flocks. Now this may be expected of a culture becoming more and more irreligious, but why is this sentiment found within our churches too?
“If angels are absent from sermons and seminary education, a message is being sent loud and direct: angels are not for public discussion. We could call this the “de-angelification” of the Bible, the church, and the faith” (p. 8).
A Rugged Commitment to what Scripture Says
McKnight insists that angels are more central to Christian theology than we think but points out that we seem to give mere lip-service to the idea of angels. Yet angels are so intertwined into the fabric of the Bible story that we risk tampering with the foundation of the Biblical narrative when we take them out of the picture. They are on more pages of the Bible than we realize, and though we try to outrun them them when we skip over such verses, this is simply something we can’t afford to outrun.
McKnight utilizes Karl Barth who says that we cannot take God and then proceed to dismiss angels; both are taught by Scripture, and therefore we cannot have one without the other.
“The Bible challenges the flat cosmology of the moderns with a thick cosmology” (p. 59).
While some authors with a PhD under their belt have forgotten how to think, speak, and write like a non-academic, this has not happened to McKnight who doesn’t write from the clouds in an “unintelligible tongue,” but rather he has shown us once again that he can navigate both the world of the academy as well as that of the layperson.
Scripture never tells us that God will do away with frequent angelic activity after the cannon is closed. Therefore the book at hand provides a much-needed critique of the notion that angels are a thing of the past, a thing for “Bible times,” a thing that humanity has outgrown its need for.
McKnight has skill, yes, but he also cares very much for the state of the church, and this new release seems to overflow from this desire. How we think about God (and angels!) will spill over into our mundane everyday life, and that’s why this book is important.
The Hum of Angels has made me feel excited about angels, something that no book or sermon has ever really done. Dr. McKnight, thanks for making angels “fun” again.
*I received my copy from WaterBrook Press in exchange for an honest assessment.