“Nobody will really be happy with my book.”
That’s quite something for an author to say to a publisher. Normally, prospective authors inform me of the tremendous sales possibilities of their manuscript, how many people will love it, and why I ought to be willing to invest substantial sums in bringing it before a soon-to-be adoring public, certain to make them (and me) rich. Generally they’re very wrong.
But Dr. David Alan Black, author of more than 20 books, said: “Nobody will really be happy with my book.”
And that is a book that I choose to publish. This is not because I object to selling books or want to make people unhappy. It’s because for me, Energion Publications is a ministry, and ministry means service.
The bottom line is that I think that every Christian, especially in America, would do well to read this book. I have just made my first complete run through the manuscript, and that conviction grew stronger with every chapter. Do I agree with everything said? No. Did each and every page give me a glowing feeling inside? No. Do I think you’re going to love every minute of the time you spend reading it? I don’t.
The fact is that this book hit the spot for me. Now “hit the spot” is an expression we use to refer to comfort. After a good meal, we might say, “That really hit the spot.” But there’s another kind of spot-the one you find in the center of a target. You know, that big red circle surround by all those concentric rings. The arrow of conviction hit the spot.
There are a huge number of things I agree with in this book. There are a few things with which I disagreed. But the important ones are the ones I’m going to have to look at again. There are things in my life and my ministry that I need to hold up to the light of the gospel. There are ways in which I do ministry that I need to examine in the light of the New Testament record of Jesus and the church.
I’m hoping that arrow will hit you as well. Perhaps it’s not a nice thing to say. Perhaps I’ll drive some readers away. But if I do that by telling you that you will be convicted, then I need also to ask you to prayerfully examine your reasons. If you’re not going to read this book because of your schedule or because you feel God is directing you elsewhere, that is up to you. But if the word “conviction” scares you away, that spells danger.
I’m going to tell you about some ways this book connected to me and the way I do ministry.
First, I am a strong believer in the incarnation. I view everything through that particular lens. I tell Bible students to put on their Jesus-colored glasses.
There is a particular point I make, and I do so when someone asks me why Jesus had to die. Now there are many theological answers to that, and many different ones shed light on it. But I like to start by saying that Jesus had to die because that was what happened to someone who spoke and lived as he did in 1st century AD Roman occupied Palestine.
Now some people immediately leap to the conclusion that I don’t believe he died for my sins, or that the crucifixion was somehow tacked onto an otherwise successful ministry. But bear with me for a moment. I’m not denying all those other powerful truths. But for Jesus to be fully human he had to live and die, overcoming the power of death (Heb. 2:14-15). I believe that if someone lived fully like Jesus at any other time or place he would encounter the same result.
Now you, Christian reader, along with many others, are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). So what does that mean for me? If I’m going to allow myself to live like Jesus, I’m headed somewhere I might not like to go. Yet that is what it means to “take up my cross” and follow Jesus. In the Roman world if you saw some guy walking along carrying a cross, you didn’t think he was celebrating something. He was headed off to die.
Now I can hear that message 50 times per day, and it’s still going to convict me, because let me confess to you that I’m not as fully dead as I’d like to be.
Second, this book hit the spot because it talks about the involvement of all the members in everything about the church. I remember one woman who stopped me in the church hallway shortly after I joined my first Methodist congregation. Everyone knew that I had degrees in Biblical languages.
“I’d really like to learn how to study the Bible,” she told me. That was a sentence to warm my heart! But she continued to explain. “You see, I keep reading the texts, and then I read the study notes in my Bible and I can’t figure out how they got the note from the text! I need to learn how to do that!”
She, like many others, had learned to look, not at what the Bible said, but at what people said the Bible said. She was shocked when I suggested that the note might actually be wrong. I looked at the edition she was using and was able to honestly tell her that I owned a dozen study Bibles that would likely disagree with her note.
I’m the last person to downplay expertise. It’s very useful to have subject experts around to help us, but in the body of Christ, teachers need to teach others how to learn from the Master, and not merely to tell them, “Believe me because I’m smarter, more educated, or higher in rank than you.”
If you’re a teacher, this book should convict you about your task as a pastor or teacher in the church.
Finally, this book hit the spot because I’m frustrated with the professional church. Practically every pastor I know is frustrated as well. They are wondering why church members don’t get to work, why they don’t serve one another, why they don’t share their faith, and why they fill pews (occasionally, even!) rather than getting involved.
The problem is that we haven’t shifted to the Jesus paradigm. To find out how to do that, read The Jesus Paradigm.