The Downward Path of Jesus: Moving Beyond the Sunday-Centric Church
Like other authors I’ve known, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking up appropriate book titles – what publishers sometimes call “truth titles,” that is, titles that quickly reveal (rather than obscure) the contents of a book. Learn to Read New Testament Greek was a no brainer for me. B & H Academic asked me to write it, and four months later the manuscript was in their hands. After all, I had been teaching Greek this way for many years, so it was a fairly simple thing to sit down at the computer and let my fingers do all the work. The title was intentional: Don’t think that you can order a burrito in Athens once you’ve finished my grammar. The goal is to read New Testament Greek, not speak it. Then there was Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. This book grew out of a heartfelt, gut-wrenching reexamination of the facts about the Gospels – and why there are only four (and not three or five) of these accounts in our canon.
In my career as teacher and writer I’ve only had to struggle with two titles. The first was It’s All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic. I don’t like putting the “content” in the sub-title (instead of in the main title where it belongs), but using the age-old saw about Greek being so hard was just too good to pass up. The other book was The Jesus Paradigm, which I had originally called The Downward Path of Jesus. Both titles actually mean the same thing but approach the subject from two different angles: One is less specific (The Jesus Paradigm – “Just what do you mean by ‘paradigm,’ and what in the world is it?”), and the other more specific (The Downward Path of Jesus – “Oh, so you’re saying that Jesus’ humiliating lifestyle is to be the model for our own lives?”). Either way, Jesus is central to everything we do as Christians. Theological reflection is always to be guided by the paradigm of His life. In Jesus we see what mankind was intended to be from the beginning. And the church is to be a corporate witness to what a reconciled humanity looks like. To live as an extension of Jesus in the world – this is what the church is all about. The church, then, is simply a counterculture that evokes a completely different vision of the world than the vision given to us by the world itself. I am finding that more and more evangelicals (especially younger evangelicals) are getting this. They are keenly aware that they live in a post-Constantinian world, a world in which church and state are separate entities. They recognize that the efforts of both the Christian right and the Christian left to lobby moral legislation have turned out to be colossal failures. As Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (former leaders of the Moral Majority) wrote in their book Blinded by Might, “We think it is time to admit that because we are using the wrong weapons, we are losing the battle.” If we ask, then, what the Jesus paradigm looks like, our answer will include at least a reference to a church that has no agenda other than Christ’s agenda. The church clothed with the Jesus paradigm seeks only to be the embodied presence of Christ in a postmodern world. It rejects the political “solutions” to our culture wars offered by both right and left. Above all, post-Constantinian Christians are committed to a missional lifestyle in their own neighborhoods and throughout the world.
I am constantly having to ask myself if I am being true to this paradigm as an educator. True education is more than knowledge. It is knowledge lived out both individually and in community. As never before, I view my calling as one of helping others see how their faith and knowledge need to be expanded beyond the classroom. After all, Jesus was looking for “followers,” not mere “believers.” The only true model of the Christian life is the servant model. Ministry is not a job but relationships. Believers who follow the Jesus paradigm know how to humble themselves and be servants. They seek a biblical-based church, not a CEO model or superstar pastors. For more and more younger evangelicals, team ministry is what matters. Moving beyond a Sunday-centric mentality, they are eager to be the embodied presence of Christ in the world. For them, the church’s mission is simple. It is to show the world what it looks like when people live under the reign of God.
It is this “reign of God” (or “Godworld,” as I am now calling it) that motivated me to write The Jesus Paradigm, although I wish now that I had used the more explicit title, The Downward Path of Jesus. A lost world desperately needs the church to be the church – a countercultural community that is against the world even as it is for the world. For this reason, the true church does not merely teach an upside-down kingdom, it is an upside-down kingdom. Today, I am more committed than ever to reclaiming this paradigm and going back to the politics of Jesus.
July 20, 2015
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.