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Book Review: The Jesus Paradigm by D.A. Black

June 23, 2009

I can’t offer a typical book review of Dave Black‘s The Jesus Paradigm, where I coldly stand outside the material to offer the book’s pros and cons. This book left me thinking through and asking many of the basic questions that I often feel I have “moved beyond” – am I really loving my neighbor? Do I use my resources well? Do Megan and I have a place where we serve in our lives?

These are the questions that any reader will be forced to ask. Therefore, I have no doubt that it will be upsetting to many, as it will force them to either make significant changes in their lives or try to scrap from their good works to justify how they’re currently living. Black isn’t trying to leave every reader feeling like a failure, but he is striving to have us “untame the Scriptures.” That we would no longer read the Bible with such an apathy, but we would actually live out radical commands such as “love your neighbor” and “give to all of those in need.” We have domesticated these commands, making them so easy to obey in our own minds that our “obedience” resembles little of the lifestyle of Jesus.  

Here’s what I concluded as I examined my own shortcomings: it’s not that the Scriptures are unclear, it’s that I’m unwilling. My guess is this is the problem in many of America’s churches. Black anticipates this mindset with this pressing question:

Is the evangelical church in America prepared to deal with biblical truth, not just on the intellectual level, but on the level of daily living? (24)

It’s a simple question, but one I think many churches prefer to avoid because they’re “doing just fine, thank you very much.” We have chosen to measure success in a manner that makes us feel comfortable: giving, attendance, etc. Nevermind that the “wildly successful” 500-member church is in a community where 1% of the population has really believed the gospel. This is success? Black offers another way:

It is necessary that we view what we do on Sunday as merely the beginning, not the climax, of our work. In other words, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the ministry of our churches. The question is not ‘how many attended on Sunday?’ but ‘What did those who attended on Sunday do during the week to advance Christ’s kingdom?’ This is what it means to be the People of God. It is a people who understand that the mission of the church is to fulfill God’s redemptive mission. (75)

Amen. There is a desperate need for us to stop defining success in such a way that sets us up to almost always win because our expectations are so low for what the gospel can do in a community.

Here’s the crux, however – will I become self-righteous about this or will I get to work? Will I simply criticize the church for not functioning as the people of God throughout the week or will I be a man of God throughout the week? Will I only preach on “great commission marriages,” or will Megan and I continue to develop our own “great commission marriage,” always asking difficult questions such as “what’s the best use of our resources,” as we lay down a gospel-less “we deserve a life of luxury” mentality. These are the uncomfortable questions the book will make you ask. I suppose if you want to keep on doing what you’re doing you should read another book.

I believe these are the larger questions looming over American evangelicalism and Southern Baptist Churches that are finding themselves increasingly irrelevant in our culture. I fear that most look at this and believe it’s a philosophy of ministry problem; if we could find the right program we can fix the sinking ship. The Jesus Paradigm has confirmed for me what I’ve been thinking for some time: we don’t have a philosophy of ministry problem, we’ve got a philosophy of Jesus problem.

You can buy the book from here.

Thanks to Energion Publishers for the book.

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