THE JESUS PARADIGM

Restoring the New Testament church in the 21st century
  • .: The Jesus Paradigm :.

    Most books tell you how to climb. This one will set you on a downward path ...

    the downward path of Jesus.

  • On Loss, Grief, Hope, and Joy

    Posted By on December 21, 2013

    This post is from site editor/publisher, Henry Neufeld, owner of Energion Publications.

    As you may have observed, most posts on this site come from Dave Black Online. You may wonder why we have a site that produces largely copied material (with permission, of course). The reason is simple. Dave Black’s blog doesn’t allow linking to specific posts, and so material posted here gets a permanent link. It’s also divided up by topic. You’ll find posts here that relate to Dave’s book, The Jesus Paradigm. I read Dave’s blog regularly, and as I find material that I believe would interest readers of this site, I cross-post it here.

    But recently Dave has posted quite a number of things that relate to the home-going of his wife, Becky Lynn Black. He has provided an abundance of personal testimony about this experience that I think is helpful to Christians. After the death of my son James, I found that many, many Christians struggled with the idea of grief and didn’t know how to relate the four little words I put in the title (and a few others). Dave’s personal testimony is tremendously helpful.

    I simply don’t have time to post everything here. I’d suggest heading over to Dave’s blog and check out at least the last few weeks. I think you will be blessed.

    Are American Christians Persecuted?

    Posted By on December 21, 2013

    8:16 AM I have been talking with a dear friend who is about to move to the Middle East as a tentmaking missionary. For anyone contemplating this type of ministry, Jonathan Merritt’s post In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted is a must read. The title is absolutely true. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Xmas.” (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels?,  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?., and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Used by permission.)

    When a Loved One Goes Home

    Posted By on November 4, 2013

    7:10 AM The Celebration Service yesterday on campus affected me deeply. I took away several things:

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    1) I am infinitely more fragile and helpless than even I think I am sometimes. As I watched the video of Becky’s life, I was a basket case. I longed to see her again in this life, to have her slip into my arms for a few minutes in one last embrace. But that was denied. My lover was dead. And I grieved.

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    A Church that Really Cared

    Posted By on October 23, 2013

    10:52 AM In my forthcoming book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church I often refer to the early church as a church that really cared. They taught and encouraged each other, they prayed and read Scripture together, they sat down and ate together. The quality of their fellowship should amaze us today. Even the leaders, who were so diverse, pushed and nudged each other to be all that God was calling them to be. The church at Antioch had a Barnabas from Cyprus and a Simeon who was clearly black and a Manaen who was from the upper crust of society and even a fiery intellectual named Saul. How different can you get? Yet they enjoyed a marvelous fellowship. Their love for each other transcended the barriers of class and education.

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    On Fervent Prayer

    Posted By on September 24, 2013

    11:28 AM Been thinking a lot about prayer these days. I’ve even been writing about the topic for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Here is an excerpt from the chapter called “Fervent Prayer”:

    If a church is to be healthy, it will not happen without this kind of praying. But how is prayer even possible?

    The answer is: It is not. Nothing describes the Christian’s weakness and inability like his or her prayer life. Rom. 8:26-27 is highly instructive at this point. Here Paul conceives of prayer as the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us. Implied is the complete inability of the Christian to pray without divine assistance and participation. In a sense, Paul is saying that prayer is ultimately an inter-Trinitarian process: God speaking to God through us. This is a profound truth and a remarkable paradox. I cannot pray unless the Holy Spirit prays; but the Holy Spirit will not pray unless I am praying! Perhaps this is what Paul is alluding to when in Eph 6:18 he says that Christians are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit.” Some exegetes regard this as a reference to praying “in tongues.” But there seems to be little reason to hold this view. Praying in tongues may well be included, but Paul’s language is broad enough to include any kind of prayer we might offer. Paul’s main point is that prayer must cease to be a do-it-yourself activity. It is the Spirit, and the Spirit alone, who activates, empowers, and enables prayer. There is a fine sense of realism in all this. Do not think for a movement that you can pray without the Spirit’s help. Be sensitive to His promptings. When He leads you to pray, pray! There is no alternative means of prayer. The Spirit is the enabler of prayer.

    Just now I prayed a prayer like I’ve never prayed before. It’s as if the words were placed on lips by Another. Fervent groanings, you might say. I pray that I would pray like this more often!

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

    Writing about Prayer

    Posted By on September 14, 2013

    Today I was guilty of allowing little petty annoyances to get to me and rob me of my joy. That’s just plain stupid, but when you’re a bit on the tired side it’s just something that can “happen.” Right now I’m writing the chapter called “Fervent Prayer” for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I am a little surprised at how easily this book is coming to me. At the same time, I often ask myself, How can I write anything about prayer? I’ve still got so much to learn about it! Pray for me that I will be able to see all this through God’s eyes. Becky has her race to run, and so do I, and I want to finish well.

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

    Cessationist or Continualist?

    Posted By on August 2, 2013

    8:32 AM Are you a cessasionist or a continualist? I want to go on record and affirm that I am a passionate continualist.

    • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of simple, radical, life-style evangelism begun in the book of Acts. After all, it worked for the early church.
    • I believe we ought to continue bearing a humble, faithful, and consistent testimony to Christ, as the early believers did. Let moderns appeal to the sensational and spectacular; even the early church knew of signs and wonders. But the greatest work of the church has not been the spectacular but rather the faithful day-in and day-out living of normal everyday Christians.
    • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of church discipline as practiced by the early church and call out “play Christians” that only go through the motions thinking they are Christians but unaware they are only pretending. When the secular press begins to mock our inflated membership statistics, isn’t it time we did something about it?
    • I believe we ought to get out of our cozy churches and put Christ on display in the world’s darkness where we are needed. For the early Christians, the field was the world, and the corn of wheat had to die if it was to please God and bear fruit. Why, then, do we sit around debating theological puzzles when we ought to plant our lives in the ugly soil of the world?
    • I believe we ought to continue the emphasis of the New Testament upon every-member ministry, since we are all priests – every one of us – of the Most High God. No church in the New Testament had a single pastor who did all the work. If you have such a leader in your church, fire him – and then hire him back immediately as your CEO, “Chief Equipping Officer” (Eph. 4:12).  
    • I believe we ought to continue the early church’s rejection of blind patriotism. The only Christian nation the Bible knows is the blood-bought, born-again purchased people of God.
    • I believe we ought to follow the example of the apostle Paul and eschew the excellence of human oratory and any appeal to human wisdom. Nothing about the Gospel pleases this world – nothing! – and we are never so foolish as when we try to dress it up in the garish garments of this age.
    • I believe we ought to continue the example of the early church and reject position and power as the measuring sticks of success. Why should we seek prominent seats in the kingdom when our Lord promised us not seats but suffering? Obedience cost John the Baptist his head and Jonathan Edwards his pulpit. What has it cost us?

    So … are you a cessasionist or a continualist?

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

    Worship, Service, and Mission

    Posted By on July 14, 2013

    9:06 AM My good friend Craig Bennett is back from a transforming retreat. He tells all in his latest post called Stripped away. Craig notes:

    I have to say that at this point in time, I am ruined for the lifestyle of traditional church. Our modern churches are too safe. They are too “ME” centered. While its true, most churches proclaim Christ and him crucified – it seems to me that most neglect the important part of living out Christ and him resurrected within the midst of our communities. There is little sense of the importance of mission in the midst of our community.  There is little sense of the importance of those who we walk on by.

    This is so right on! In recent years I have come to view church in a vastly different way than I used to view it when I was a younger teacher. I have, in fact, adopted a new set of theological assumptions that color my theological world and the way in which I view church and missions. My former worldview was deeply shaped by twentieth-century evangelicalism. In my experience, to be an evangelical Christian was to be a good church goer. Christianity was fundamentally about us. What was lost in this view was both the missional dimension of the church and the cruciform nature of Christianity. Today my definition of discipleship has shifted considerably from that of being “a good church goer.” Discipleship means following Christ in obedience. It means participating in God’s mission in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is exercised primarily in the broader culture rather than within the church. Missional theology, understood through the framework of the book of Acts, invites us to express our discipleship not only in doctrinal formulations (though these are vitally important) but also in missional practices and concrete acts of service.

    For this reason, like Craig, I can’t be content any longer to talk about a missional theology without at least exploring its implications for its transformation potential. God’s concerns are much bigger than the typical church’s concerns. Take worship for example. Understood biblically, worship is not a gathering of individual Christians seeking an intimate experience with God. Rather, worship is the offering of our lives sacrificially to Him daily (see Rom. 12:1-2). Worship is not merely an occasional activity of the believer. Instead, it defines the core of Christian discipleship: We are called to be worshippers in every sphere of life by participating in the Triune God’s mission in the world. This can take place only through intentional “neighboring” practices and in relationship with non-Christians. The key is for ordinary Christians (like you and me) to develop their capacity to serve their neighbors in love. The work of the Spirit is crucial to this renewed participation in society. Christians are to embody the ethics of Jesus before a watching world, providing it with a limited but powerful glimpse of what it means to be a bearer of God’s image. The Gospels clearly present Jesus as constantly moving into unfamiliar territory across cultural barriers and social lines. And at the heart of it all is the cross – the profound need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, in whom God has acted to overcome the enmity of human sin. True Christian discipleship always means taking part in Christ’s ministry in the world in a dynamic yet concrete fashion.

    Thus, when we speak of worship today, a much wider definition is needed. The church does not gather in order to worship. Believers gather as worshippers who have found their vocation in sharing in the community of Christ as He sends them like sheep among wolves to minister to the needs of others. This, as I said, represents a major paradigm shift in my own understanding of Christian worship. As I see it, too much of what passes as Christian worship today is unaffected by the world. It stands aloof, isolated, and ingrown. The incarnation and crucifixion are sung about but the realties behind these truths are rarely put into practice. Rather than participating deeply in the life of the world, the church holds itself apart from the world. This leads, in turn, to a highly individualistic conception of discipleship – a kind of anthropocentricism focused solely on an individual relationship with Jesus that fails to take into account the wider fabric of the Christian community, not to mention the Triune God’s life and activity with all creation. What remains is a watered-down, emasculated version of worship in which the vocation of the church as a missional, worshiping Body is severely diminished.

    One of the key trends in the world of seminary training today is the struggle to understand what a “missional” church looks like. I would suggest that a good place to start might be our understanding of New Testament worship. Such an understanding may well open up new possibilities of thought in matters such as congregational polity, leadership, and even missional theology.

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

    Of Christian Scholarship and Missions

    Posted By on July 11, 2013

    8:37 AM Good morning folks! Got time for a “missions moment”?

    I’ve been teaching fulltime now for some 36 years, beginning with my alma mater, Biola University in Southern California. But for the past several years I’ve also been a fulltime “missionary.” This is not merely a matter of semantics. By mediating scholarship and service, I’m trying to cope with the incessant tug-of-war between the classroom and directly facilitating the Great Commission.

    Are you going abroad again?” is a question I’m often asked by students and colleagues. As part of my equipping ministry, I spend most of my so-called vacation time each year taking the Gospel to the nations as a tentmaker. My “scholarship,” no doubt, has suffered as a result. I should not want you to feel sorry for me in the least because of this, however: there is no sacrifice involved. Strangely enough I feel a bit like the apostle Paul who said, “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Because I have been entrusted with this commission, and since there is really no choice for me in the matter, there is no sacrifice.

    What is it, you may wonder, that led to this shift in perspective in my life? (I am often asked this question.) It is simply this. The more I study the New Testament, the more I am faced with this reality: If we are truly Jesus-followers, we cannot refrain from giving our lives for the world. Tertullian’s oft-quoted testimony shows how the church’s essential function is practical service in Jesus’ name: “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another…. Look how they are prepared to die for one another.’”

    I claim, then, that service in the world is the apex of Christian living; it is the center, not the circumference. One sad aspect of the professoriate is that scholarship and missions are sometimes divorced. (Not in my seminary, of course – wink.) Truth is disconnected from life. But the church’s mission to give itself for the world – the world that God loves – belongs to the academicians and theologians among us as well as to the accountants and salesmen. After all, the point of teaching Greek and Hebrew and church history and theology is not to make our students dependent on their teachers but dependent on the Head, so that each of them, and all of them together, might allow Jesus to live among them and in them and through them.

    In other words, a seminary is designed to help Christians be Christians. Not just to talk “Christianese.”

    It would be fascinating to comb through the entire Bible to discover how many commandments it gives us. Yet two commands sum up all the Bible’s demands on believers: Love God, and love others. To return, then, to my point: Every Christian is called to share in the evangelization of the world. I see no reason why academics should be given a pass. How foolish to think that we are exempt from living for the Gospel. I am not against attending academic conferences or writing books or giving lectures – I have done all of them – but much current scholarship, I feel, is a laid-back, pleasure-oriented, “hot tub” pursuit (apologies to J. I. Packer). I recall Kierkegaard’s warning that there is nothing quite as dangerous as the abuse of Christian scholarship (Provocations, p. 201):

    The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

    No, my friends, we cannot evade our responsibility. Missions is the work of the church. That work is for all believers. It is for all the regions of the world. Only as a missionary agency does the church justify its existence.

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

    Co-Opting God for Our Political Agendas

    Posted By on May 31, 2013

    6:04 AM Much is being written in the blogosphere these days about American exceptionalism, voting, military service, the pledge of allegiance, etc. The discussion reminds me of another conversation that took place between the 16th century Anabaptists and their Reformed forebears. (History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.) Perhaps I should tell you where I stand.

    Claiming God’s special blessing for our nation (or race, or class, or group) is nothing but hubris. We co-opt God for our political agenda whenever it suits us. As Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural:

    Neither party [North or South] expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained…. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other….

    Radical Christianity pursues a different path. Rather than trying to get God to be on our side, it tries to be on God’s side. This means, among other things, putting God’s purposes ahead of our own group or nation’s self-interest. This is the original NT message called the Gospel. It is a practical vision that creates a people who transfer their human identities from national loyalties to a new identity as the global people of God. Their mission is both to proclaim and live the kingdom of God, in contrast to the selfish kingdoms of this world. This “new nation” of Christ-followers does more than preach the Gospel. It lives it. Wherever you see Christians welcoming Muslims into their community and befriending them for the sake of the Gospel, wherever you see pro-life churches going beyond mere words of protest and actively supporting pregnant women financially so that they can carry their children to birth, wherever you see believers offering hope where nobody else does – there you will see kingdom of God in practice.

    In his book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reveals how the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. “This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel.

    Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of modern American evangelicalism. Today God and conservatism have practically merged into one. The “wonder-working power” of politics now drives a large segment of the Christian right. But sin is our trouble, not liberalism in government. To treat cancer by temporary measures is to endanger the victim still worse. David Kuo will probably be considered a neurotic pessimist by his cheery fellow-preachers, but he is right and they are wrong, even if he learned his lesson the hard way. Modern political machinations – whether by the right wing or the left wing of evangelicalism – are nothing more than fads that work up mere optimism and positive thinking. Whenever government tries to make men good without being righteous – something the devil would love more than anything in this fallen world – the professing church becomes cluttered with hosts of superficial saints who never sell out to Christ.

    Anyone who reads the New Testament will see that Jesus refused to identify Himself with any of the politico-religious parties of His day, whether they were called Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, or Zealots. Likewise, Christians today must maintain an ultimate commitment to Christ and eschew loyalty to a political party – any political party. It is indeed a decadent citizenry that rejects sound doctrine and heaps to itself politicians to tickle its itching ears. Yet who will deny that this is happening? Mr. Kuo is undoubtedly aware of the risks he is taking in airing his criticisms. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered the 1978 commencement speech at Harvard, one newspaper said, “Prophets are not popular. They are uncomfortable people; they make poor house guests. Not only are they not honored in their own countries but sometimes not even in their own times. The greatest of them have been labeled as arrogant, self-righteous, presumptuous, unpatriotic.” Mr. Kuo’s experience is a reminder of how easy it is for well-meaning Christians to substitute political activism for genuine compassion. As long as good people try to remedy conditions with temporary palliatives there will be a need for prophets like David Kuo. That’s because lostness – not liberalism, not libertarianism, not “compassionate conservatism” – is our problem. We are sinners, blind, even lepers, and to try to make people religious without making them righteous only makes them harder to reach with what they need most.

    If there is to be today a new politics of faith based on the cross of Christ, it will have to meet critically these issues. This means for me personally that it is not enough to question the just war tradition or to condemn the Constantinian compromise in the abstract. Nor is it enough to rail against the Christ-washed militarism being offered in His name by our politicians. Nor can I merely exegete Jesus’ mandate in the Sermon on the Mount disinterestedly. The only responsible Christian ethic is for me to become an active participant in service and sacrifice for the sake of the Prince of Peace. I must discover what it means to rid myself completely of the baggage of self-will and to plunge into the tranquil sea of God’s will where alone I will find joy. There are countless situations in my life in which I must decide to put the interests of others above my own life-interests. The power of nonviolence is an important step on the downward path of Jesus, but only if I deliberately chose such a path can “peace on earth” begin to be realized. At the very least, this means for me:

    • rejecting the mindset of Western imperialism
    • refusing to support the notion that Christian missions benefits from the spread of empire
    • preaching the cross instead of the protection of the sword
    • placing love of enemy at the heart of the Gospel rather than at its periphery
    • affirming an allegiance to Christ that transcends national boundaries or roles
    • bearing witness of sacrificial service in the name of Christ
    • helping to move peace toward the center of the church’s witness in the world
    • teaching about the alternative model provided by the historic peace churches
    • living a life of radical discipleship
    • being willing to suffer in the spirit of the cross and to undergo a literal baptism unto death if need be
    • focusing on the cross as the center of my faith and life
    • manifesting the firstfruits of the kingdom of peace in mutual aid and love with the community of faith
    • repudiating any coercion or manipulation of faith by the state
    • praying constantly that God would move to ameliorate the hatred and pride that provide the occasion for war
    • struggling to perfect my life by the Holy Spirit in the confidence that the Lord is at work
    • being nonconformist yet involved in attempts at reconciliation worldwide
    • preaching the Gospel persuasively and powerfully in deed as well as in word
    • maintaining warm Christian fellowship with all who sincerely follow the guidance of conscience with regard to military service, including those who feel obliged to render such service

    In the end, while I cannot say that I am currently a peace church pacifist, this is irrelevant since pacifism, unlike the just war tradition, is not as much a dogma to be believed as a lifestyle to be practiced. The work of a genuine peacemaker must be to call civil governments to account and to help limit the violence when conflict is actually in progress. At the very least there is never any reason to glorify revolution or war or to utter blatantly warmongering statements such as were made by candidate John McCain in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. The downward path of Jesus to which the Gospel calls us requires both peacefulness and peacemaking, and the history of the church shows our urgent need to be reminded of these twin emphases again and again in view of the church’s compliance with violence.

    (From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)