In his new book. The Jesus Paradigm. Dr. David Alan Black issues a bold challenge to the church. His fundamental premise is that the Church lost its way around the time it became allied with the Roman Empire following the rise to power of Constantine. and for the most part has been doing things wrong ever since.
While the reformation was an important corrective. it still retained many of the errors. and thus was still locked into a pattern for the church that was based more on the world’s way of doing things rather than the biblical pattern. For Dr. Black. what was needed was not a reformation but a restoration more in lines with the approach taken by the Anabaptists. a restoration of the Church back to what it originally was and was meant to be. A Church not based on the way the world works and views things. but a church that follows the model found in the Bible. a church truly centered on the teachings of Jesus. not just in theology and morality. but in its organization. structure. and practice as well.
My view of The Jesus Paradigmis best summed up by Proverbs 27:17. “As iron sharpens iron. so one man sharpens another.” Calls for change are never easy. and calls for changes so large as to constitute a paradigm shift are extremely difficult. Dr. Black’s challenge is no different. In fact many will find much they disagree with. I certainly did. But the true value in Dr. Blacks’ book is not the suggestion he makes. but the effective way he calls. and even challenges. the reader to think deeply and seriously about the Church. its structure. and its role in both the world and the life of the believer.
As Dr. Black writes. “Churches today have to make a choice to follow contemporary patterns of ecclesiology or use the early church as a model.” (p 40) He believe that the division between church leaders and members is far to stark. Not only being unscriptural. Dr. Black argues that this has resulted in a “responsibility redistribution.” For example. the Bible is fairly clear that parents have the responsibility to bring up their children “by training and instructing them about the Lord.” (Eph 6:4 ISV) Yet the current church structure has encouraged parent to abdicate their responsibility turning it over to church leaders to deal with.
Rather than the current structure that is so common and widespread as to be taken for granted. Dr. Black believes that churches should move towards an “every-member ministry” where “most jobs that are currently salaried positions will be filled by volunteer help”(p 2). and where “new believers will be asked to specify a regular community involvement… in addition to their commitment to a ministry in the church.” (p 3)
Such suggestions are such a stark departure from the norm. that many might be tempted to reject them out of hand. But the way Dr. Black lays out the biblical and historical evidence in support of his position will permit no such kneejerk rejection. In some respects. there is nothing new in Dr. Black’s biblical evidence. For the most part he simply quotes familiar verses. But again this is one of the strengths of the book. for often these verses are so common that we have passed over them without much thought as to what they are really saying.
For example. in 1 Thess 5:14 Paul writes “We encourage you. brothers and sisters. to admonish the unruly. comfort the discouraged. and uphold the weak.” As Dr. Black relates. “I well recall how shocked I was when I first realized that Paul was exhorting. not leaders. but the brothers to ‘admonish the unruly.’… Every time Paul wrote to a church in order to deal with its problems. he never appealed to the leaders. Instead. his constant request was for the whole church to deal with its trouble.” (p 70)
Perhaps the weakest part of the book is Dr. Black’s comments on the relationship between politics and the church. But this was not because I disagreed with Dr. Blacks general position that “Christians today must maintain an ultimate commitment to Christ and eschew loyalty to a political party.” In many ways I agree there must be some sort of separation. even if I do reject the recently developed constitutional concept of a strict separation of church and state. This is why I do not write about political issues on my consider.org blog.
Nor is it because I disagreed with some of the political positions he took. which I do. Rather it is because he did not remain consistent with his own position. Thus if I were to attempt to rebut some of the positions he takes. I would need to do it on my political blog (Hushbeck.com/blog) and not on my Christian blog (consider.org/blog).
Still. overall. while I found much to disagree with in The Jesus Paradigm. the process of working through the book. of struggling with and considering the criticism Dr. Black has concerning the state of the Church. the corrective measures he suggests. and most importantly the biblical and historical evidence he lays out. helped clarify many of my lingering doubts and nagging problems I see in the modern church. It moved my thinking. and my understanding forward. And what more could one ask for in a book other that the Bible? In short. it is an important book that should be not only read. but seriously considered by anyone interested in the state and direction of the modern church.
Note: as a matter of full disclosure. Dr. Black was my professor of among other things NT Greek. and The Jesus Paradigm was published by Energion. which also published my three books.