Category Archives: Books

Reading The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

6:08 PM Today I started reading a wonderful little book called The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, who is perhaps the doyen of American history among evangelicals today. It is masterfully written and brilliantly argued.

the-civil-war-as-a-theological-crisisNoll tries to show how mid-19th century American Christians (both North and South) generally agreed that the Bible was authoritative but they differed on how that Bible should be understood. Not only this, but he shows how “the Book that made the nation was destroying the nation; the nation that had taken to the Book was rescued not by the Book but by the force of arms” (p. 8). He is so right about this! Indeed, how apropos to today’s political climate in the United States. Biblical interpretation in America today, even biblical interpretation by conservative evangelicals, has perhaps never been so divided and chaotic. Just as the American Civil War generated a first-order theological crisis over how to interpret the Bible, so this year’s presidential election is generating a first-order theological crisis over how to understand the work of God in our nation. The church of today has to a large degree become more or less subject to the controlling influence of public opinion rather than shapers of public opinion. The parallels with the 1860s are obvious. “Had white protestants been following the Bible as carefully as they claimed, they could not have so casually dismissed the biblical interpretations advanced by Pendleton and Fee and mentioned by Lincoln. The inability to propose a biblical scheme of slavery that would take in all races reveals that factors others than simple fidelity to Scripture were exerting great influence as well” (p. 56). I suspect that many Christians reading Noll’s book would be nodding their heads in agreement. I’m finding this book a compelling demonstration of this truth. That’s why today you will find leading evangelicals both defending Donald Trump and excoriating him, with both sides using the Bible to defend their actions. For my two cents, I cannot understand how anyone can defend Trump’s candidacy. Yet I want to end by saying that this doesn’t mean that I or anyone else has the right to condemn those who support Trump based on their own interpretation of “forgiveness,” “the God of a second chance,” “the sanctity of life,” etc. I thus have no right to judge my Christian brother or sister in these matters. But neither can I with integrity claim to understand how they can reconcile their views with the teachings of the New Testament. All of this suggests, I believe, that each of us has to wrestle with how to reconcile the facts of this year’s political cycle with the Scriptures. Above all, I hope we can all remember that we do not fight as the world fights — that is, by hatred and violence (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Instead, we are called to fight this battle by displaying God’s love to all people, including those with whom we might strongly disagree politically. My point is not that we shouldn’t have strong convictions about whether so-and-so is qualified to be president of the United States. My point rather is that we need to constantly distinguish between the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and the kingdom of this world. And to do this, we must be more about giving other people Jesus Christ  — not rules, not entertainment, not partisan rhetoric. I have no confidence in the political system but I have every confidence in Jesus.

I encourage us all to keep the Gospel first. It really is a big deal!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

David Alan Black: A New School Year and a Favorite Book

Seven Marks of a New Testament ChurchI’m really looking forward to a fun and exciting fall semester, not least because I’m teaching NT Intro again for the first time in several years. The course covers Acts – Revelation, which means that, if I time things just right, the semester will end before I have to discuss the Apocalypse (wink, wink)! Let me tell you how we’re beginning the class. Day One consists of students reading the book of Acts and then also reading my Seven Marks of a New Testament Church – which, I would remind you, is nothing but an exegesis of Acts 2:37-47, eleven of the most action-packed verses in the entire New Testament. Students will then produce a “reaction paper” to what they have read and I’ll ask for a few volunteers to share with the rest of us what they learned. Thus, from the very first day of class, we’ll be asking ourselves the question: “What does an obedient church look like?” Christian discipleship means placing ourselves under orders. It’s not merely a psychological experiment in self-improvement (along with watching our weight and catching up on our Honey-Do lists). As disciples, we are not on our own. The goal is not self-actualization but obedience to the instructions of the church’s Head and only Boss.

That’s one reason I’m enjoying reading James Thompson’s new book called The Church according to Paul: Recovering the Community Conformed to Christ. Now if that doesn’t sound like an Anabaptist title!

How easily we profess a willingness to do church “God’s way” but forget the first condition of obedience: understanding what the Bible teaches about the church. Thompson’s book contains nine chapters, the final of which is called “Leadership Like No Other for a Community Like No Other.” He argues it’s time for all hands on deck. Alas, “church” for so many today means pastor-centrality rather than every-member ministry. Writes Thompson:

With few exceptions, two unintended consequences have resulted from the professionalization of ministry: (a) a failure to recognize that “member” is an image that suggests the indispensable participation of the body of Christ by each person; and (b) the loss of the focus on the cruciform nature of leadership.

Bingo! Paul understood what leadership looked like: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” How odd this seems in the face of our sermon-centered lives. What makes the Gospel life-changing isn’t a message or a concept but the real-life person who has been radically changed by that message. As you and I enter post-Christian America and modernism, we understand that knowledge is no longer king as it was during the Enlightenment. People who don’t go to church don’t go for any number of reasons, but high on the list is probably the fact people no longer automatically assign authority to a building or to a man (whether he is wearing a collar or not). And I write that as someone who loves to give “sermons”! But to be a New Testament Christ-follower is to be a disciple of Jesus and not of any man. There are no two ways about it. Church can never be what its Head designed it to be without Christ assuming the role of “Commanding Officer” in my life and yours. This will involve nothing less than a transformed vision of reality that is able to see Christ as more real and more coveted and more powerful and more lovely than anyone or anything our churches can offer us. I know this is like asking my students to walk on water. But was not Peter able to do just that for those seconds when his gaze was locked on Christ’s, his mind set on things above? It is a profound moment in our lives when we realize that this pilgrimage of ours isn’t just about us or even our churches. My hope and prayer is that my students this semester will have the courage and obedience to launch out into the deep. Because it matters. It really matters.

During the Montreal conference a young man asked me what I thought was my favorite of all the books I’ve written. I replied that I thought the question was a bit unfair — akin to asking, “Which of your grandchildren do you love the most?” I confess to taking pleasure in each of my books, just as I love each of my grandchildren equally. I hope others have enjoyed my writings — and not just those who were forced to read them as required textbooks! Still, the question is a fair one. Without a doubt, I believe my most important book is one that only tangentially deals with Greek. It’s a book that recounts the quiet shift that happened in my heart many years ago now — a shift from law to grace, to freedom over fear, from orthodoxy to orthopraxy (without ever sacrificing my orthodoxy), from, if you will, Paul to Jesus and the Gospels. Like an earthquake destabilizing old power structures, the life of Christ crept into my consciousness. What I had to learn was that God delights in taking messes and making them into masterpieces. He began to open my eyes and allow me to see what He sees when He looks at me — a man forgiven and loved, God’s own dwelling place, a man destined to use his whole being (including his body) as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God alone. It seems too incredible to believe, right? But that’s why euangelion means Good News. Because of our union with this Lion-Lamb, we have a new identity, a new destiny, and a new purpose in life. It all comes down to the question, “Am I following Jesus with no strings attached?” Dallas Willard put it this way in his book The Great Omission:

The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christian” will become disciples — students, apprentices, practitioners — of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.

As I peer into the past, I see now why God led me to write The Jesus Paradigm. He delights in taking damaged goods and making them into trophies of grace. And I pray that this book of mine will impact other damaged people the way it impacted my own life when I wrote it. I was no longer merely a consumer of Christianity. I realized that if I’ve received mercy, I needed to dispense it. Whether you are a plumber or a pastor, your calling (and mine) is a sacred vocation. God wants us to be like His Son — motivated by His glory to worship Him as we go about doing our daily work, whatever that is. Even if we’re not in what we would consider the “ideal” job, we can still do our best for His glory. Jesus fulfilled His God-given assignment with maximum effort. He gave 200 percent. His one goal was to do the Father’s will by serving others.

My friend, pause for a moment and contemplate the words of Jim Elliott: “Wherever you are, be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you are convinced is the will of God for your life.” And remember, as we do this – as we follow the Jesus paradigm – He is cheering us on.

Seven Marks Interview

[Note: Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is a more recent release by Dave Black. Its topic is not the same as The Jesus Paradigm, but they dovetail nicely.]

In other good news, I see that Henry Neufeld has released the first of the interviews I was privileged to do with him in Pensacola a couple of weeks ago.

The topic was my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I think you’ll enjoy the discussion. Frankly, I hope it raises more questions than it answers. In addition, Henry has begun a series of blog posts about the book — the first being on the subject of church pews (of all things). But I think he’s right. Pews are a good witness — to our lack of fellowship. They are designed to make it well-nigh impossible for us to see directly the faces of our brothers and sisters. The problem here, of course, lies much deeper than architecture — a subject that we get into in the interview. But pews are a witness that something is perhaps amiss. At any rate, check out what Henry has to say but remember that he is completely biased as the publisher of my book.

Completely at the Disposal of the King

8:40 AM The Abnormal Anabaptist posts his thoughts about the SCOTUS decision in an essay titled What, did something just happen to change the world?  You simply must read it. It’s important to note that the acceptance he’s talking about is not passivity, fatalism, or resignation. It’s not about putting our head in the sand. It’s not about ignoring reality. It’s not about capitulating to evil or a refusal to do what you can do to change things. Rather, it’s a placing of oneself completely at the disposal of the King and His kingdom. It springs from love and trust. We have been shown the pattern by the non-political Jesus, who deliberately laid down His life and now calls us to lay down ours. There is very different from capitation or Quietism. Where there is no trust, where there is no radical abandonment to Jesus’ upside-down reign, it is not to be wondered at that decisions by SCOTUS easily upset Christians. We forget how the kingdom of God operates. The Anabaptists of the sixteenth century — I devote an entire chapter to them in my book The Jesus Paradigm — saw suffering and self-abnegation as normal. Their heroism lay in their acceptance of circumstances that other Christians would have avoided at all costs. Continue reading Completely at the Disposal of the King

New Book: Except for Fornication

1:58 PM This week I completed the editing of what I believe may well become one of the most important and helpful books ever to have been written on the difficult subject of Christian marriage and divorce. The book is entitled Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage.

From the author page:

Dr. H. Van Dyke Parunak is currently the Chief Scientist at Vector Research Center with Jacobs Engineering Group, Michigan. He has an AB in Physics from Princeton University, an MS in Computer and Communication Sciences from the University of Michigan, a ThM in Old Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary and his PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. Dr. Parunak has over 100 publications in journals and highly-refereed conferences.

This book strikes me as a model of exegesis and interpretation. Not all will agree with its conclusions, but few, I believe, will be able to ignore its biblical arguments.


(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus Paradigm, and Why Four Gospels?. Used by permission.)

John Glas

6:45 PM I have a very good friend named Jon Glass. He’s served with us in Ethiopia on several occasions. He and his wife Matthea are super people. Jon was even kind enough to review my latest book over at his blog (Why you should read “Why Four Gospels?”). Yes, I like Jon Glass! But have you ever heard of John Glas? This “Glas” lived from 1695 to 1773. He was an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. That is, until he was stripped of his ordination in 1727. His misdeeds? Continue reading John Glas

On Constantinian Sacralism in the Modern Church

From Dave Black Online:

Thanks so much, Eric, for raising again the perennial question about the Reformers’ insistence on maintaining medieval ecclesiology. I attribute today’s neo-sacralism directly to the Reformers and their faulty theology of the church, against which the Anabaptists inveighed. Under the tutelage of such sacralism church leaders today continue to accommodate biblical Christianity to the Constantinian distortion. Not least is this seen in the return to medieval theology in which “the Son of Man goes forth to war, a kingdom to subdue.” I continue to maintain that the Anabaptists were not indebted to the Reformers, were indeed not even a part of them. I spend a whole chapter in The Jesus Paradigm on this subject mostly because missions cannot thrive in a climate of sacralism. The Anabaptists were oblivious to national borders, and so am I. The New Testament plainly teaches that every Christian is a fulltime minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, a missionary even, and that every true believer will experience something of the cross. To this day there is a hesitation, even on the part of Christians who plainly acknowledge a debt to the Anabaptists, to import biblical ecclesiology into their churches. I say shame on us. We should know better.

(Dr. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Christian Archy.  This extract from his blog is used by permission.)

Last Day for Blogging/Essay Contest Submissions

Today is the last day to submit your entry for our blogging/essay contest.  Entries will be accepted up to midnight eastern time tonight, based on the sent date/time from your e-mail.  If you are posting on your blog, please make sure to e-mail us as well at the same time.

Links and/or entries will be posted here tomorrow, and the judges will begin their work.  We will be including one additional prize which was not announced (no changes to the awarding of the original prizes), and will announce that tomorrow as well.

Blogging/Essay Contest – 21st Century Church

Energion Publications will host a blogging/essay contest.  Entries are open immediately and will close November 2, 2009 when Dr. David Alan Black’s new book Christian Archy is released.  Judging will take place during the first week of November, and winners will be announced by November 16.

To enter, simply write an essay in answer to the question: What should a congregation following Jesus Christ in ministry look like?

If you are a blogger, post the essay on your blog and link back to this post, then also e-mail just to make sure.  We will add your post to the list of those participating.  If you are not a blogger, e-mail your essay in either Word document or Open Document Text (OpenOffice) format to and indicate in the e-mail that you are entering the 21st century church contest.

Entries will be judged in the following areas, with each area receiving a score of from one to ten:

  1. Biblically rooted
  2. Historically aware
  3. Complete
  4. Clear and Concise
  5. Overall impression, including appearance, discussion generated, and anything one of the judges wants to include

Note that 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 may conflict in the approach of some people.  That is why there will be three judges, who come from different theological traditions:

Alan Knox (The Assembling of the Church), a doctoral candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Geoffrey Lentz (, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Pensacola, FL, doctoral student at Drew University, and author of The Gospel According to Saint Luke: A Participatory Study Guide.

Elgin Hushbeck, Jr., author of Evidence for the Bible, Christianity and Secularism, and Preserving Democracy, (all from Energion Publications), and owner of Aletheia Consulting, Inc.  Elgin is a member of a Christian Reformed congregation.

Each judge will rate the entries independently.  One of our copy editors will also rate the essays, but that rating will only be used to break a tie.  Judges will not consider whether or not you use or quote from Energion Publications products or web sites in your post.

The prizes are:

First prize – Free copy of The Jesus Paradigm + two other Energion Publications books, with a $25 gift card for Barnes & Noble

Second prize – Free copy of The Jesus Paradigm + one other Energion Publications book, with a $15 gift card for Barnes & Noble

Third prize – Free copy of The Jesus Paradigm with a $10 gift card for Barnes & Noble

(If you have previously received and reviewed a copy of The Jesus Paradigm you may choose any other book in our catalog as an alternative.)

All other participants get the joy of participating in the discussion, and hopefully a fair amount of link love.  All posts regarding this contest will be cross-posted to, and you can comment/link there to enter as well.  Feel free to participate in the discussion even if you don’t want to enter the contest.

Note: All prizes will be awarded.  Prize winners have no obligation to Energion Publications other than the necessary steps to enter the contest.  Judges will be instructed to disregard use or non-use of Energion Publications books and web sites in judging the entries.