That Powerful, Prophetic Pen
Within the kaleidoscope of my memories is the image of an IBM Selectric typewriter at whose keys my wife is carefully tap-tapping, typing my doctoral dissertation for the University of Basel in Switzerland. This dissertation, eventually published as Paul, Apostle of Weakness, was my first book. At the time I thought it would be my most significant literary contribution. Of course, it has turned out to be the least important thing I have written.
The influence of the printed media upon us all is continuous, insistent, and pervasive; and no modern medium is more powerful than the codex (the only possible exception being the Internet). Is all this literary output beneficial, harmful, or neutral – or perhaps all three at different times? Throughout my teaching career I have produced books that have fascinated, delighted, provoked – and sometimes infuriated – my audiences.
The publication of Paul, Apostle of Weakness in 1984 told the world what I had been doing for three years as a doctoral student, while in my next book, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, my students were exposed to what I had really been learning all those years in school – that language is beautifully and wonderfully made. And why shouldn’t I have said so? God is the Creator of language, and everything God produces is done “decently and in order.” Of course, had there not been a Tower of Babel, there would also have been no need for Greek professors like myself. Little did I realize when I published Linguistics in 1988 that it would still be used as a textbook in Bible Schools and Seminaries today, in a second, expanded edition.
Though I never planned it this way, most of my subsequent books also dealt in some way with New Testament Greek, rather than with more “popular” themes. (Don’t wait for the movie version of Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation or Scribes and Scripture.) My intention is not simply to dispense information, however. My desire is that students of Greek might emerge from reading these books aglow in head and heart, fresh from a honeymoon with the Greek language. A book like It’s Still Greek to Me even uses silly puns and cartoons to try and get the point across – and here I drew inspiration from those brilliant models of engaging writing found in the Idiot’s Guide to… series. Motivating people to continue their Greek studies has always been one of my main purposes for writing, especially if grammar is not their cup of tea.
At any rate, of one thing I am sure. My least important literary contribution (and easily the least readable book) was my dissertation. I empathize with the author who once complained to a critic, “I have written ten books, and each grows worse than the one before.” “Not at all,” rejoined the critic, “it is simply that your taste is improving.” My literary taste may have improved through the years, but I always remain painfully aware of the many shortcomings in my books.
I often wonder whether that is the reason some scholars publish their dissertation and then leave it at that. We teachers, tending to be perfectionists, are not very eager to release a book to the public that we know could be better – sometimes a lot better. I, too, have a tendency toward procrastination but have forced myself to say, on countless occasions, “Enough is enough.” Thankfully, once a scholar has been published a few times he will often have the opportunity to revise his previously published works.
Unleashing the Church is the tentative title of my latest literary effort, drawing upon 45 years of involvement in the local church. For myself, I want to appeal to the rising generation of Christians, that they will get into their churches and into society in general and salt them. If we Christians will only become what God intended for us to be and refine and reform and rescue the church from its own ignorance and infidelity, a future generation of believers will rise up and call us blessed.
Today there is an urgent need for Christian leadership that will see things, in Blake’s phrase, “through and not just with the eyes.” We need a generation of prophets to be voices crying out in the wilderness through their writings – men who will denounce iniquity and sound an alarm while the church and the nation are peacefully sleeping, while at the same time having deep compassion for the nation and the culture which they are criticizing. I can sum it up like this: I believe that in the reckoning of God, prophetic faithfulness is more important than comfort or worldly acclaim.
For those of you prophets out there for whom my writings might strike a positive cord on occasion, I hope very much that you don’t mind living in animal skins and munching on locusts. As Christians debate with one another what their attitude to the world and the church should be, I want to appeal to you to keep sounding the alarm bells that modern-day John the Baptists have been ringing so loudly through their writings. Lash yourself to the reality of Christ, like sailors in a stormy sea, and hang on for dear life. That powerful, prophetic pen still has work to do!
January 31, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.