I have just completed Dr. Dave Black's latest book - The Jesus Paradigm. As I expected, it made me uncomfortable. The reason for my discomfort is that Dr. Black makes every effort to be as biblical as he can and does not mind ruffling feathers as he does so.
Rather than give a chapter-by-chapter review, I've chosen to interact with four primary issues that came to mind as I was reading this text: hermeneutics, discipleship, ecclesiology, and politics. Since Dr. Black deals extensively with these issues, I'll discuss them one-by-one.
Although some readers may think differently, I believe the bedrock issue Dr. Black addresses in this book is biblical hermeneutics, or interpretation. The reason I say this is that Dr. Black (while writing about issues such as discipleship, ecclesiology, and politics) believes that what we read in the New Testament is not just descriptive, but is also prescriptive. In other words, when we see individuals - in particular Jesus - or the church as a whole in action, what is described is how we should function. To put it another way, as Christians we are to follow not just the commands of the bible, but also what is modeled for us in the bible.
On page 33 of this book, Dr. Black quotes Steve Atkerson, who is the director of New Testament Restoration Foundation. Atkerson says, "...we believe that the patterns for church life evident in the New Testament are not merely descriptive, but are actually prescriptive." Dr. Black seems to agree completely with Atkerson.
I commend Dr. Black for being consistent in the way he interprets the bible. He gives no ground in assuming that the New Testament is prescriptive in the way it describes the life of the church. This applies to all areas of church life (suffering, teaching, gatherings, political involvement or lack of it, giving, etc.).
There is a reason that Dr. Black's consistency makes me uncomfortable. The reason is that it points out to me my own inconsistency regarding biblical interpretation. I, like most Christians, seem to pick-and-choose which sections of the New Testament we want to be descriptive and which we want to be prescriptive. We do this quite frequently with regard to the book of Acts. Luke spends a good deal of time in Acts describing the early church. As we read Acts, we tend to interpret the places where the early church matches our current church practices as prescriptive. However, when the early church functions differently than we do, we call it simply descriptive. At best, this is ignorant on our part. At worst, it is downright dishonest.
Dr. Black has shown how important it is to be consistent when interpreting the scriptures. If we are not going to treat everything in the early church as prescriptive, then we should reject all descriptions and only feel a need to follow what is commanded. It seems, however, that it would be better to simply try to emulate the life of Christ and the life of the early church as closely as possible.
Thank you, Dr. Black, for the reminder that the way we interpret the bible has a radical impact on how we live our lives and function as the church.