Sidetracked from Our First Love

Saturday, February 23

8:46 AM Hey there folks!

This morning I read a very interesting book review over at the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary blog. The reviewer was Bob McCabe, and the book was Peter Enns’ commentary on Ecclesiastes. Bob extols the book because it succeeds, in his opinion, in doing what every good commentary should do — bridge the gap between exegesis and theology. But is that the only gap we must bridge today? I noted that the heading at the DBTS site is “Theologically Driven.” Is that what drives us or should drive us?

For what it’s worth, I offer a few random reflections. I think we’ve gotten sidetracked from our first love, Jesus. We all too often lack a hunger and thirst to be His faithful disciples. How different would we think of theology if Jesus in human form were sitting and talking and walking with us every moment of every day. “The one who claims to abide in Him ought himself to live even as He lived” (1 John 2:6). And how did Jesus live? He was never satisfied with orthodoxy. He was never satisfied with fulfilling externals that may be prescribed by an organization or any other traditions of men. To live for Christ and follow Him we must surrender our desires and plans for our lives. That’s the only sure way to avoid the trap of an intellectualized form of Christianity. We must yearn to become like Christ. How different is this kind of self-sacrificing faith from the the comfort-seeking, self-serving, cognitive-oriented religion that is so often preached and practiced in our churches. The only way that Christ is incarnated today to a lost world is through us — people who carry on and extend His presence, His Word, and His works to a new generation. This glorious “ministry of reconciliation” is now ours as we reveal the heart and mind of the Savior to the lost all around us.

As you know, I have been asked to teach Advanced Hermeneutics at Odessa Theological Seminary next month. You also know that I am calling my approach a “hermeneutics of obedience.” My thoughts are still very much in the formative stages at this point, but let me close this post with a few axioms that I believe the Lord has shown me through 36 years of teaching and writing:

  • Christian education must be more than abstract and theoretical. We learn best by doing ministry instead of from a textbook or in a classroom.
  • The current model of Christian education takes a Sunday-centric approach to ministry for granted. I believe this to be a grave mistake. Discipleship is abstracted from Gospel living, leaving an abundance of Christians thinking that church is all about a Sunday morning monologue. Worse still, current models of church leadership tend to obscure our vision for the church as a witnessing community and our purpose as one of preparing all of God’s people for life and ministry unencumbered by the trappings of our Christian subculture.
  • The primary task of Christian education must therefore center around discipleship understood as an invitation to enter into God’s kingdom and mission in the world.
  • Finally, my approach to Christian education insists that it must be praxeological in orientation and supported not mainly by traditional academic scholars but by missionary theologians (like the apostle Paul) — i.e., those whose teaching is modeled by their own missional lifestyles. These will be teachers whose main concern will not be the dissemination of information but the mobilizing of every believer for participation in God’s mission in the world.

What all this implies is that if we are to move from the classroom to real life we will have to prize what we learn and view it as a life skill and not merely as an educational attainment. Of course, this is not easy. Almost all of us feel tremendous ambivalence as we wrestle with the question of just how to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. Obviously, knowledge of Greek is essential if we are to have a firm foundation upon which to build our exegesis of the New Testament. On the other hand, I must say forcefully that facts, no matter how brilliantly taught or diligently acquired, are nothing more than the raw building blocks of life. How we put them together, and for what use (and whose glory), is another matter altogether.

In my book The Jesus Paradigm I told about my life-changing encounter with this Jesus who loved lost souls so desperately that He was willing to spend His ministry reaching out to sinners of all kinds. He saw what was of ultimate importance in life. No wonder He could live for others as a selfless servant. This is also, I believe, the acid test of any seminary that claims to honor Christ. Does what we do square with the Great Commission? Or is our institution just another tangent that detracts from the other-centeredness of the Gospel? It is when we realize that we are building the kingdom and not our own little ministries that the great growth really begins in our lives. When we stop focusing on ourselves, we are free to act on the really important questions. Plainly, I did not always view the purpose of graduate theological education in these terms!

Please pray for me as I smooth out these rough-hewn thoughts. In the meantime, let’s keep thinking, praying — and obeying!


(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.)