McKnight, Scot. The Hum of Angels. WaterBrook, 2017.
Key idea: “The Bible challenges the flat cosmology of moderns with a thick cosmology.”
When we go to the Bible for knowledge of angels, we often conclude from one passage (or maybe a tiny sampling) that that is all there can possibly be known about angels. That idea is foreign to the entire history of the church before modernity.
Thesis of the book: If you believe in God, then you must also believe in angels.
Objection: “Oh yeah, how come nobody experiences angels today?
Reply: They do. Here are some examples.
Objector: They don’t count.
The Dilemma: We cannot abandon the notion of angels, since the Bible clearly teaches it. On the other hand, we don’t want to embrace a traditional angelology because that feels too Catholicky.
I found the anecdotes generally uplifting and encouraging. They won’t convince any deists, so take them as they are. His take on angels follows standard systematic accounts. I will repeat that, since I am often accused of promoting wild views on angels: his account follows standard systematic accounts. If you want a robust, no holds-barred account of angels, read the late 19th century Dutch theologians. Bavinck, Kuyper, and Schilder make McKnight seem like a deist.
Every chapter focuses around Christ and is anchored in God’s love. I normally don’t say stuff like that because it is a cliche. Everyone intends to “point to Christ” or “be biblical,” so by itself that doesn’t mean all that much. McKnight’s arguments, though, always lead back to Jesus. It’s hard to fault him on that point. The thrust of his argument is thus:
McKnight begins with an excellent treatment of heaven: Heaven is superior to earth because “God chose to indwell heaven, to make decisions about earth from heaven, and to send his angels to earth from heaven.” As McKnight nicely puts it, it is “God’s throne room, God’s board room, and God’s courtroom.”
McKnight knows that you really can’t combine all good supernatural beings into the category of “angels.” A cherub, for example, isn’t an errand boy. On the other hand, the cultural river in which we float is so strong that we probably won’t get a good taxonomy across the popular level any time soon.
He has a good section on “guardian angels.” We have to avoid two errors. On one hand, we have no warrant to say with Rome that we each have a personal guardian angel (or even worse, an angel and a devil on each shoulder). On the other hand, we can’t simply dismiss the category altogether. Jesus said angels watch these children.
Granting that, do Jesus’s words mean that each human has a personal guardian angel, or do they mean that each Christian has a guardian angel? The text isn’t clear. I think the idea the text (and other texts where God sends an angel to his corporate people) promotes the general context of “guardian” without committing us to a personal guardian angel.
God’s use of angels is one way he communicates his presence to us. McKnight has a neat argument. Angels attend to Christ. Christians are in Christ. Therefore, sometimes (at the very least), we participate in the angels’ presence with Jesus. This makes sense of ancient (and some Protestant liturgies), “Therefore with angels and archangels….”
McKnight missed an interesting opportunity. Meredith Kline (I think) suggested that God’s glory could is filled with angels and that’s why it looks like a cloud. Could be. It’s a neat idea.
He covers other facets of biblical data: angels judging, angels harvesting, angel’s revealing, etc. This has been covered extensively in good (though not all) systematics.
Even Reformed people can experience angels:
He has a good appendix interacting with Ps. Dionysius’s celestial hierarchy. McKnight correctly notes that Paul gives no such hierarchy. On the other hand, Paul also doesn’t collapse all celestial beings into “demon” or “angel.”
I’m not so sure about his use of Barth. True, in those passages quoted Barth asserted a belief in angels. I always got the sneaky suspicion, though, that Barth was far more ambiguous on the topic than was presented here. It’s the same with any use of Barth: does Barth mean that the angels are in “historie” or “geschichte?” He never says (and I don’t think Barth really intended to say).