As I mentioned previously, I’ve been reading The Jesus Paradigm by David Alan Black. (see my posts “The Jesus Paradigm“, “Summer Reading“, and “Not about me… seriously“.) I read it slowly, mainly because I had several other things going on at the same time. I should make a couple of disclosures before my review.
Second, David Alan Black is my PhD mentor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Black’s purpose in writing this book is to encourage his readers toward “radical discipleship”. He is concerned (rightfully so, I would say) that many believers have forfeited following Jesus, and have instead placed their trust in their traditions, their leaders, or their politics.
This is not a book about the church. Nor is this a book about politics or leadership. However, Black touches on each of these subjects, and in some cases he grabs them with both hands. No, this book is strictly about discipleship – about following Jesus in the simple – yet extraordinarily radicaly – ways in which Scriptures describes and prescribes.
For much of the book, Black uses the radical reformers of the sixteenth century – the Anabaptists – as exemplars for our own discipleship. He explains how the Anabaptists refused to compromise their way of life:
Above all, the Anabaptists believed in obeying Christ’s call to abandon self and follow his example of humility, service, and suffering. The way of Jesus, they taught, is the way of suffering servanthood. It is the ultimate in downward mobility. (39)
Using the Anabaptists’ way of life as an example, Black exhorts every believer to consider him or herself to be a minister (servant) and a missionary. Every believer is responsible to teach, admonish, serve, give, evangelize, disciple, etc. These responsibilities cannot be given to or taken by others, even those in leadership.
However, Black does not want his readers to follow the Anabaptists. Instead, he says, the Anabaptists were simply attempting to live according to the pattern that they found in Scripture. Were they perfect? Of course not. But, they lived their beliefs.
And, Black does not write only to those who follow in the footprints of the Anabaptists historically. In fact, I think any believer from any tradition can benefit from reading this book. Black even concludes by calling all believers to radical discipleship and unity in Christ:
It’s time to summarize and conclude. Are you in a mainstream congregation? In an emergent church? In a home meeting? It really doesn’t matter.Â The paramount question to ask is this: Are you willing to wash the feet of others? Are you willing to use your gifts to enrich the Body of Christ? Are you willing to forego pyramids of power? Are you willing to surrender what is rightfully “yours”? In the end, it doesn’t matter what evangelical church we belong to. What matters is that we faithfully pursue the Jesus paradigm regardless of the religious structures around us. What matters is that we work from the bottom up… And we are to do this whether or not we agree with our brother or sister in every area. (126)
On one hand, Black’s book is an academic work. His years of study in Greek, New Testament, hermeneutics, and history are ably demonstrated in this work. On the other hand, this book stands apart from many works of academia, because Black is unable (and does not desire to) separate this work from his life. In fact, he uses examples from his own work in the seminary in North Carolina, at his home in Virginia, and in countless villages and cities around the world – especially in Ethiopia – to exhort his readers to consider their beliefs and live them out!
I have to admit that I did not first come across these lessons while reading this book. Instead, I’ve spent many hours discussing these concepts with Black. We’ve talked about being servants and ministers. We’ve talked about a church full of priests. We’ve talked about the church relying on the state.
This book is a great reminder of the many discussions that I’ve had with my PhD mentor, and the reason that I asked him to be my mentor in the first place. Everyone reading this book will quickly realize that Black is not writing from an ivory tower. Instead, he’s writing with hands covered with Ethiopian dust.
This is a book that I would recommend to anyone. Read it… and share it with others… then live the pattern of life that you find in Scripture… the pattern of life in which only the Holy Spirit can direct you and empower you.