Category Archives: Study

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.

Linguistics and Interpretation

8:15 AM I’m taking a scheduled break from writing. (Okay, okay, so I didn’t really schedule in this break. I’m really a pretty spontaneous guy.) Anyhow, I’ve got a couple of thoughts roaming around in my brain right now — not that there’s anything earth-shattering about them. First of all, I argued in our LXX class this week that if anyone should be interested in linguistics — the art and science of how language works — it should be students of the Bible, and especially students of the biblical languages. Not all would agree, of course. To some, linguistics remains a “secular” science, one that can hardly be “evangelicalized.” Not surprisingly, I’ve been taken to task for suggesting that biblical scholars have much to gain from the science of linguistics. But when I study Paul, I do not see him despising or excluding the world of creation from his theology. A dualistic tension between faith in God and the scientific perception of the nature of creation has no place in his thinking. God was responsible for creating heaven and earth, and He made all things good (Gen 1:31). Far from being a threat to modern exegesis, I believe the facts show that the immense problems facing modern exegetes are sometimes best resolved when they are treated from a linguistic point of view. The discourse structure/theme of Philippians is a case in point (see my Novum Testamentum essay called The Discourse Structure of Philippians: A Study in Textlinguistics). Hence Paul’s juxtaposition of worldly and divine wisdom in 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16 need not be construed as a contrast between faith and reason. What Paul is fighting against in this passage is not science per se but man-made religion and hubris. Translated into modern diction, though all human endeavors can clearly become futile and hostile to the honor of God, they are not necessarily evil.  I’d like to think that my students would be open to learning a thing or two from modern linguistic science. If you would like to as well, there are a number of places where you can start. My own Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek will give you a basic overview of the field, while Logos has bundled numerous resources that will help you dig a bit deeper (Studies in New Testament Greek). If you take me for Greek 3, we take a linguistic approach to exegesis and work though some of the major works in the field. Steve Runge’s On eclecticism in linguistics is also very helpful. Listen, some trends in biblical studies, like some fashion trends, are questionable. I suspect that you, like me, are cautious about new approaches to anything. Still, there’s some good work being done today by New Testament scholars in the field of linguistics, and I’m fairly sure you can benefit from being exposed to it.

Alright, now let’s talk about the letter to the editor that’s been making the rounds on the ‘net. You can read about it here. The letter gives a very realistic glimpse into a slice of America many people are perhaps unfamiliar with. The only question I would ask is, Do we see the face of Jesus in the homeless and refugee population (Matt. 25:34-36)? Few things capture the spirit of Christ better than the way we welcome the stranger into our midst. After all, God is a God who is beautiful not because He’s cutesy and looks like Santa Claus. He’s beautiful because He adopts into His family His enemies and then lovingly transforms them from the inside out. Personally, I think I’ve had enough of cries for vengeance/caution/national security to last me for at least a couple of million years. Let’s try taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and loving our enemies and then watch what God can do. If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you join me in praying for the Syrian refugees who come to our country, praying that God will use us Christians to follow the example of Jesus and be willing even to give our lives for the sake of the gospel? Yes, I know that this model of transformation I’m calling for doesn’t exactly fit the politically-oriented paradigm of modern social conservatism. But if significant numbers of Christians were to engage in this kind of sacrificial service, I believe that the church could have a transforming impact on our culture that social activists could only dream of having.

Anyway … like I said, I’m taking a break from writing and my “schedule” says I need to get back to it. Trying to write a book about my life is not an easy thing, so keep me covered, will you?

And start studying linguistics!



(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Pastors are not the Ultimate Authority on Bible Teaching (and Who Is)


(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

8:30 AM This morning I was reading several blog posts that basically said that the pastor is the ultimate authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The essays extolled the “teaching office” of the church and asserted that laypeople are essentially to hang on every word their pastor says. I plan on getting to the problem of biblical illiteracy in my book Godworld, but today I want to note my concern with such notions. Actually, I agree that formal teaching in the church is an absolute necessity. I’ve been teaching in local churches since I was 16. (Unusually what I do is called “preaching,” but I prefer the term “teaching” in accordance with Eph. 4:11 and 1 Tim. 3:2.) I also agree that many Christians in America have unfortunately become their own sole authority in interpreting the Bible. But could anything be more contrary to the teaching of the New Testament than to say (or imply) that pastor-teachers are the ultimate authority in interpreting the Bible? One thing we learn from reading the New Testament  is how varied the teaching ministry of the early church was. I doubt if there was the pulpit-centricity in these early congregations such as we find today in so many of our churches. Formal teaching undoubtedly existed. But this does not mean that the leaders did all the talking. To say this is not to belittle the ministry of pastor-teachers. I have trained a good number of them during 38 years of teaching Greek. Nor am I pleading for an “anything goes” mentality when it comes to our gatherings as believers. I am simply pleading for such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that it should not be impossible for the Holy Spirit to get a message across to the people through any member of the congregation He should inspire to speak. This is no pipe dream on my part. I have seen it happen in many congregations, my own included. I believe that most churches could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. In this way many in the congregation will be prepared to put into practice the teaching of Heb. 10:24-25. The gathering would move from being a time of passive listening to an opportunity to engage in mutual edification.

And what of 1 John 2:27? Here the apostle John is emphasizing the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit when it comes to knowing spiritual truth.

But the anointing that you have received from the Holy Spirit remains in you, and you do not need for anyone to teach you.

Do we as evangelicals truly believe this statement? It is the Spirit who grants us understanding of the Scripture. It is He who allows us to grow in knowledge and in spiritual stature. It is He who illuminates to our hearts and minds not only the person of Christ but His will for our lives. The Spirit is thus the supreme interpreter of God’s word. Once you understand this, Bible study will become an important part of your life, a discipline that you can hardly afford to neglect. This means that once we come to faith in Christ, we need never be dependent on human teachers to lead us, helpful though they may be. As our “anointing,” the Holy Spirit not only teaches us the truth of God but guides us as we seek to live out that truth in our lives. We have in the Spirit a teacher who is resident within us to show us the mind of the Lord. Little wonder that increasing numbers of Christians today are finding they have a new love for personal Bible study.

Put all this together and you arrive at the conclusion that God has provided multiple teachers in His church: gifted leaders, our fellow Christians, and ultimately the Holy Spirit Himself. I “preach” regularly in churches. But to be honest with you, I would never want anybody to hang on my every word. I would rather point them to the only infallible source of knowledge about God and His will for us, and that is the Bible. It is this Bible that we are to teach one another. We need each other, not least when it comes to understanding and obeying God’s word. I urge you to find a church home that encourages this kind of mutual edification. If there is a strong teaching ministry where you attend (and hopefully there is), make sure the teaching is sound and feedback encouraged. (A monologue need not exclude audience participation.) Make a point too of participating in small group Bible studies. Remember that believers are all on a par with each other: teachers and taught alike are fellow-sinners and fellow-learners. If possible, make room for more formal courses in the Bible. If a local church is to make a significant impact in its community, it must become a learning center, a place where truth is valued and taught. (In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I devote an entire appendix to the theme of “Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church.”) My prayer is that God will use His word to prepare all of us to fulfill the vital role He has for us in the kingdom movement He’s inspiring in our day.

On Hermeneutics and Praxis

5:46 PM Good Wednesday evening to you, thoughtful bloggers! I’ve been preparing for my course on hermeneutics at Odessa Theological Seminary next month in Ukraine. For what it’s worth, I’ve been jotting down some initial thoughts about hermeneutics. I’m calling them “Tentative Tenets of a Course in Hermeneutics.” I want to be clear that I’m exploring this train of thought. Here goes:

1) In studying hermeneutics, the emphasis must always be on “praxis” as opposed to mere abstract thinking. We need to “do” theology and not just teach it.

2) This means that theology must be incarnational, must be brought down to earth, must always be oriented to the pastoral needs of the church.

3) In my view, missions and theology belong together. As Paul says in Rom. 12:1, we must present our “bodies” to God as living sacrifices because deeds can be done only through bodies. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, His heart and mouth.>

4) Thus hermeneutics — the science of interpreting Holy Scripture — is an eminently practical discipline. The Bible itself stresses the importance of practicing the truth. The apostle Paul places an extraordinarily high value on deeds (see Eph. 2:10).

5) That said, hermeneutics, as I understand the task, is a high-risk enterprise. We study so that we may love and obey Christ. And He promises us trouble.

6) In short, hermeneutics is from beginning to end a way of life. Great theology must always produce relevant Christianity. Once this is recognized, we can begin to separate ourselves from the dark seductiveness of modern-day Gnosticism. At the heart of hermeneutics lie sacrifice and service, endurance and suffering, and above all fidelity to the Great Commission and a rejection of any lesser cause.

Anyone taking my class in Odessa will be faced with these questions. These are monumental issues. I trust that my students will leave the class championing the inextricable link between theology and spirituality, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, knowing the truth and practicing it. We need to rediscover the fact that hermeneutics does not mean merely the study of Scripture but rather the relational activity of trusting, living, obeying, serving, and glorifying God, through death if necessary. Knowing Scripture, in other words, involves obedience. It is the chief function of hermeneutics to unleash the power of the Lord in the midst of His people so that we do His will and thus bring glory to His name.

Friends, we need constant vigilance against substituting knowledge for action. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” To live this way is to revolt against everything in our lives that is inconsistent with the reign of God. To honor the King rightly, we must never forget this.

Long live the King!


(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.)