Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Jesus Paradigm

Book Review- The Jesus Paradigm, David Alan Black, Energion Publishers, 2009.

First off, I must apologize for taking such an incredibly long time to read and review this book. In order to get an advance copy, I told the publisher I would read it, write a review, and publish it on my blog. Well that was over a year ago, I think, and here I am, finally getting around to it. Before I get to the review proper, I want to say a little bit about why now, after so many months, did I finally read this relatively short book. In a nutshell, the Lord has been teaching me a great deal lately about the need to be a radical follower of Jesus. I listened to some very influential sermons by folks like Paul Washer, Bob Jennings, and others, on the need to be totally devoted to Christ. Also, I have been convicted of the need to live out the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. We as Evangelicals like to say a lot about the innerancy of Scripture, but not much is ever mentioned about the sufficiency of Scripture. I have come to believe more and more that the Bible speaks just as clearly to how we are to live and order our lives as it does to what we are to believe. So, as I was thinking of these things, mainly the question, “How do we work out the sufficiency of Scripture as radical followers of Jesus in 21st century America?” I remembered The Jesus Paradigm, sitting in my office gathering dust, addressed many of these issues. I picked it up last Wednesday evening and decided to read it during my day off. Now I know the reason I never got around to reading it last year was due to the simple fact that I was not ready for the contents on these pages. God had not yet brought me to the place where I saw my great need to be totally and completely different than the world around me. I had yet to embrace the need to be radically different than even most “Christians.” Enter The Jesus Paradigm.
The main theme of the book is the sufficiency of Scripture to order every aspect of our lives. Every chapter seeks to bring to bear the sufficiency of Scripture on a particular topic. I genuinely appreciate the way in which brother Dave continually seeks to call his reader back to his need to decide whether or not the Bible will be his ultimate authority. Several times in the course of the book, Dave points out that the church is at a cross roads: business as usual or radical adherence to the New Testament. If the main theme of the book is the sufficiency of Scripture, the main question is, “How does one follow Jesus unreservedly in the twenty-first century?” (p.15) The solution one finds fleshed out in the various topics addressed through the course of the book is rather simple; in short, by restoring the Scriptures to their proper place in our lives and by following the example of Jesus, the humble, suffering Christ.
Subsequently, in each chapter Dave seeks to address some key areas in which this answer must be implemented in order to see true change in our churches and culture. First, we must return to the eminency of the local church. We can no longer play at church. We must really be the church like the writers of the New Testament and our Savior command us to be. “The church is simply a group of radical Jesus-followers ministering to each other sacrificially and reaching the community about them with the Gospel in word and deed.” (18)
Second, we must make a clean break with Christendom and churchianity in order to follow Christ. Believers today must decide if they are going to follow the Word wherever it leads them or only some places. The church needs to be restored to the New Testament. Will we do what it takes? Or will we be shackled to denominational tradition? On this point Dave utilizes the help of the Anabaptists to show us how this can practically be done. “The Anabaptists greatest gift to the church…was their ability to cut to the core of our problem as Christians: our refusal to repudiate churchianity and to be radically committed to Jesus as Lord.” (21)
Third, we must implement New Testament patterns of body life into our local assemblies. Dave points out the correlation between the majority of American’s abdication of responsibility and husbands’ abdication of their roles as leaders and fathers. Simply put, every member is a minister, but men have systematically abandoned their responsibilities to the pastors, and so we’re left with top heavy, entertainment driven organizations where people come to get felt needs met rather than to function as the body of Christ. What the church needs is a fresh realization that “God’s call to salvation and his call to mission are one and the same.” (75)
Fourth, Dave explains how the church must begin taking leadership cues from Christ and the Bible rather than from denominational tradition and the world. One-anothering and plural, equal eldership are necessities. Because Jesus is the only senior pastor, all church leadership must be non-hierarchical. We are all brothers in Christ and there are no second rate brothers.
Fifth, Christians need to return to the politics of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t anti-political, He was apolitical. He never took sides with any of the ruling parties of his day, never tried to bring about His kingdom on earth, never gave undue priority to kings or magistrates. Instead, He placed all priority on the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not of this world. We too ought to do likewise, “Christians today must maintain an ultimate commitment to Christ and eschew loyalty to a political party—any political party.” (106)
Sixth, by focusing on missions, giving our all to God, and loving our neighbors, we will take the Jesus paradigm to the ends of the earth. In his final chapter, brother Dave makes a heart-felt appeal to believers to be about missions, taking the gospel to those who need it most. Are we going to be Great Commission churches? families? individuals? What will we be known as? Dave’s words are convicting, “Fundamentally, my wife and I want to be known as ‘Great Commission Christians,’ people burdened by the needs all around us, including the ‘ends of the earth.’” (133)
Finally, the book concludes with an afterwards on the future of theological education. In this section Dave briefly states the need for biblical education to be returned to the local church and for local congregations to become the primary training center for pastor-teachers, and the primary sending agency of missionaries. He ends with a challenging word, “Let us confess and cooperate with God by throwing out the stuff that is displeasing to him and recommitting ourselves to a Gospel- and kingdom-driven lifestyle.” (143) I pray the Lord will give me the strength to do this!
On the whole, this is a tremendous book, and I’ve already recommended it to several folks since reading it. I am so thankful for Dave’s emphasis on the sufficiency of Scripture and the priority of the local church. These are two things that have been on my heart lately, and it leapt within me in agreement many times while I read. I also appreciated the candid nature and down to earth writing style Dave employs (there are so many quotable one liners!!)
But, the book is not without its faults. Unfortunately, the entire book has an undercurrent of criticism of the Bush administration and Iraq war that pop up in the most unexpected places and seem to color a fair portion of the discussion. Because of this, the section on the Politics of Jesus is very muddled and difficult to read without getting a bit annoyed. Not that I even necessarily disagree with Dave, but his biases shine through so clearly that you have a hard time believing he’s adopted the apolitical mindset he seems to be advocating. Aside from this, I have no other criticisms.
In sum, The Jesus Paradigm is a timely book that will really challenge you in all the right ways. Are we going to continue to seek success in manner in which the world suggests? Or, will we travel the downward path to Jesus and embrace the better way of Scripture and suffering. The choice is left up to the reader, but one thing is clear: upon reading The Jesus Paradigm, a choice must be made.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jack Everett Burns

From Jack!

First off, Lisa and I want to say thank you everyone for all of your prayers!!! As I told Lisa and the rest of the family, it’s no coincidence that we have been reading a book for the past several months about missionary endeavors in China funded and sustained solely by prayer! One thing we have been reminded of throughout the past couple of days is that the Lord answers the prayers of His people. There is simply no other explanation for Jack’s amazing turn around.
Now, for the details. Lisa began early labor around 2:30pm on Saturday the 19th. The contractions continued to increase in frequency and severity for the next few hours until finally at 8:00 we decided this was it and headed for the hospital. When we arrived Lisa was examined and the nurse confirmed she was definitely in labor. Lisa was admitted and the doctor was notified. We moved to our own room around 10:30pm and began the long process that would eventually lead to Jack’s birth a few hours later. Around 4:00am Lisa the effects of Lisa’s epidural began to wear off and the nurse was considering calling the anithesiologist about repositioning the tube. But, just to be on the safe side, she checked Lisa one last time. Good news! Lisa was fully ready to begin pushing, and so, we did. At 4:16 and with the first set of pushes, we saw a little bit of Jack’s head emerge. Cindy, our nurse, was absolutely amazed, stating that most women push for an hour or so before seeing such progress. After about 4 or 5 good contractions, Cindy decided we’d better take a break until Dr. Gray could get up there or she’d be catching the baby herself! So, we waited until Dr. Gray arrived and got prepped, and she helped Lisa deliver Jack, a wonderful experience that was completed only a few minutes later. Jack was born at 4:43am and placed on his mommy’s chest. Praise the Lord!
I was able to cut the cord and end the 9 month long dependency for a new type of relying on mommy. It was truly a joy to watch him experience life outside the womb for the first time. He was cleaned up and weighed as we all watched and Dr. Gray began attending to Lisa. Jack tipped the scales at 10lbs 2oz. and stretched the tape to 22 ½ inches!!! Who knew such a big boy could be hanging out inside Lisa?!
Pretty soon the doctors and nurses noticed that Jack’s crying didn’t sound right. He was struggling much too hard to breath and the mucus coming up out of his lungs did not look very good. They took him up to the nursery to see about getting his lungs cleared out and observing his breathing. Lisa was taken to another room where we dealt with complications of her own. After about 4 hours or so a nurse practitioner came down to our room and informed us that Jack was not doing well at all. At this point they did not know what was wrong with him, but had three possibilities in mind 1) pneumonia, 2) something with a long name I can’t remember, or 3) a problem with the plumbing of his heart. An x-ray was performed in order to check for the first two, and a pediatric cardiologist from UNC-Chapel Hill came over to read a EKG on his heart. The rest of the day was spent in prayer and anxiety as we waited to hear the news. Around 9pm that night we learned his heart was ok and the hugest weight was lifted from our shoulders, it seemed. As you’ve seen in the pictures, at this time Jack spent all day on an open bed, head under an oxygen hood, as doctors and nurses tried to saturate the air with as much pure oxygen as possible. Attempting to keep the atmosphere around his head as close to 100% pure oxygen as possible, Jack still struggled to get his blood oxygen saturation to 75%. The doctors officially decided it was pneumonia that was causing Jack’s breathing problems and they began administering a 10 day course of antibiotics. And so, Father’s Day ended with the greatest present a father could ever ask for, and at the same time barely a day into the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced.
Monday was spent trying to catch up on some much needed rest, with frequent trips up to Jack’s new home, the Special Care Nursery. Monday was a much better day for our son, as he continued to improve, he gradually got his blood oxygen saturation up while nurses steadily decreased the amount of pure oxygen being pumped into the hood. A feeding tube was put down into his stomach and Jack received milk instead of intravenous nourishment for the first time since being born.
Tuesday morning I couldn’t sleep and so I rode the slowest elevator in the world back up to the SCN at about 6:25am. I was allowed in for a few minutes before the nurse’s shift change at 6:30am required all visitors to leave. As I entered the Pod, I noticed a dramatic difference in Jack’s appearance: no oxygen hood! I spoke with the nurse on duty and was informed that they had gradually weaned him off of pure oxygen until at last he was able to breath room air and maintain 90-100% blood oxygen saturation. Also, late Monday night he removed the feeding tube on his own, and a nurse decided to try a bottle rather than replacing it, as his breathing had slowed to a safe rate. He ate like a champ and hasn’t looked back!! Tuesday was spent with more trips up and down the elevator, going back and forth between the SCN and Lisa’s room. Two wonderful developments took place: I was able to hold Jack for the first time and Lisa was able to begin nursing him. Late Tuesday night, Lisa was discharged and we made the (seemingly) long trip home to Wake Forest. Being home was great and difficult at the same time. We were overjoyed to be in our own bed again, but it was no fun leaving Jack at the hospital.
The rest of our time here has been thankfully uneventful. Aside from the IV lines and monitor leads, Jack is much like any other baby. We’ve been able to hold him, change his diaper, try to figure out why he’s crying, and rock him to sleep. We’ve brought him some of his own clothes and blankets, in an effort to make the SCN feel a little more like home. Tomorrow, I go back to work... But we’ll be over here every day until he gets out.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support. We’ll keep you updated of anything else that happens.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Matt Chandler Chapel Message at Southern

So I'm at home sick with H1N1 and wanted to finally watch this video that I've seen posted over at The Gospel Coalition's website. Chandler is a great guy. His preaching is always encouraging to me and this message is no exception. I hope you will find the time to watch this, or just listen to it. If you're pressed for time, skip to about the last 15 minutes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Paul Washer Video

As many people who know of Paul Washer, I'd say 80% of them know about him as a result of his message at a 2002 youth conference, largely referred to as the "Shocking Youth Message." The good folks over at I'll Be Honest have interviewed Washer about that message and his very thoughtful insight can be found here.

The video of the original message is here.

And the audio is here.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time Management

I’ve been convicted lately of my poor habits in the realm of time management. I find it incredibly easy to waste many hours reading blogs, watching television, movies, etc. and so very hard to discipline myself to spend considerable time in study, prayer, and meditation. I think the value of time is paradoxical in this microwave generation. We are too impatient to wait a few minutes for our food at a restaurant, we get bent out of shape if we’re stuck behind a slow driver, we expect web pages to load in nano-seconds, and the list could go on and on. And yet, in spite of this apparent understanding of the preciousness of time, we are content to waste hours upon hours “surfing” the web or sitting in front of the television. What if we got a proper understanding of the preciousness of time and actually began “redeeming” it? Listen to these words from Charles Bridges’ Christian Ministry:

“The secret of this efficiency seems to have much consisted in a deep sense of the value of that most precious of all talents—time; and of an economical distribution of the minutest particles for specific purposes. Mr. Alleine would often say, ‘Give me a Christian, that counts his time more precious than gold.’ Mr. Cotton would express his regret after the departure of a visitor—‘I had rather have given this man a handful of money, than have been kept thus long out of my study.’ … But here we should be, like the miser with his money—saving it with care, and spending it with caution. It is well to have a book for every spare hour, to improve what Boyle calls the ‘parenthesis or interludes of time: which, coming between more important engagements, are wont to be lost by most men for want of a value for them: and even by good men, for want of skill to preserve them. And since goldsmiths and refiners are wont all year long to save the very sweepings of their shops, because they may contain in them some filings or dust of those richer metals, gold and silver; I see not, why a Christian may not be as careful, not to lose the fragments and lesser intervals of a thing incomparably more precious than any metal—time…’”
This section really made me ask, “Am I treasuring my time? Am I using it wisely? Am I focusing on things that have eternal value?”

How does one focus on things that have eternal value? Well, it means that you spend more time reading Scripture than you do watching television! It means you spend more time reading books on Theology or Apologetics, or at least Pastoral Ministry than you do watching movies! I’m not saying that we can’t spend any time being entertained or relaxing with our families and friends. But, I don’t think many Americans have any trouble budgeting in time for entertainment. So what will you sacrifice? Well, you probably won’t be up to speed on the latest news. You probably won’t be as knowledgeable about your favorite sport team as you could be. You won’t be able to follow the storyline of the latest season of your favorite television program. But, you will gain eternal rewards in heaven! You will have a deeper understanding of Scripture and God. You will be better able to give an account when someone asks of you. You will be better able to shepherd the flock of your family. You will be better equipped to minister to the saints in your local church. Sure you may give up some “Social Currency,” but I submit that it is worth it, and you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Mean" Thoughts of God

I read a sermon by Jonathan Edwards last night entitled, "The Sole Consideration, That God is God, Sufficient to Still All Objections to His Sovereignty." In it Edwards critiques many of the misunderstandings and sinful attitudes that cause men to doubt the sovereignty of God. Of the many great portions of this sermon, I found one quote to be particularly noteworthy:

"If you had not mean thoughts of God, you would not find fault with him for not setting his love on you who never exercised any love to him. You would not think it unjust in God not to seek your interest and eternal welfare, who never would be persuaded at all to seek his glory; you would not think it unjust in him to slight and disregard you, who have so often and so long made light of God. If you had not mean thoughts of God, you never would think him obliged to bestow eternal salvation upon you, who have never been truly thankful for one mercy which you have already received of him.--What do you think of yourselves? what great ideas have you of yourselves? and what thoughts have you of God, that you think he is obliged to do so much for you though you treat him ever so ungratefully for the kindness which he hath already bestowed upon you all the days of your lives? It must be from little thoughts of God, that you think it unjust in him not to regard you when you call upon him; when he hath earnestly called to you, so long and so often, and you would not be persuaded to hearken to him. What thoughts have you of God, that you think he is more obliged to hear what you say to him, than you are to regard what he says to you?
It is from diminutive thoughts of God, that you think he is obliged to show mercy to you when you seek it, though you have been for a long time willfully sinning against him, provoking him to anger, and presuming that he would show you mercy when you should seek it. What kind of thoughts have you of God, that you think he is obliged, as it were, to yield himself up to be abused by men, so that when they have done, his mercy and pardoning grace shall not be in his power, but he must be obliged to dispense them at their call?"

Monday, October 12, 2009


The following is a short position paper I had to write for an elder training program I am a part of at my church. The question being addressed is, "What is your role and the church's role in calling/sending?" I think that the issue of "discerning one's call to ministry" is fairly common, especially in the seminary environment, and therefore I believe this short article might get some people thinking, or perhaps get further discussions started.

The question, “What is the individual’s role and the church’s role in calling and sending?” is difficult to answer due to the sheer multifaceted nature of the topic. When one begins asking such questions, more immediately arise, such as the legitimacy of various models of church polity, the role of the Spirit in subjective experience vs. the role of Scripture in objective instruction, the very hermeneutical quandary of “descriptive” versus “prescriptive,” and scores more. Therefore, I will only endeavor to present my convictions on the subject while openly admitting that they will be narrowly presented, largely out of context, and grossly underdeveloped. Throughout this paper, I will be assuming my roles in calling/sending in the description of the responsibilities of both a man desirous of ministry and of a member of a congregation.

The most important question to answer before any others can begin to be addressed is, “What is meant by the term ‘calling?’” I submit that this term is largely used in an unbiblical manner. The idea of “calling” to a vocational ministry smacks of Old Testament patterns and practices, in which the Levitical Priesthood, Davidic Monarchy, and the Prophets were Divinely called out from among their brethren to mediate, rule, and speak God’s Words to the people.

In the New Testament, the word “call,” from the Greek kaleo rarely refers to God “calling” a man to do ministry on His behalf. The word, when used of God calling men, almost always refers to the call to salvation (Rom. 8.30ff). Paul speaks of himself as being “called to be an apostle” (note that Paul’s call to apostleship was simultaneous with his call to salvation) (Rom 1.1; 1 Cor. 1.1; Acts 9.3ff; 1 Cor 15.8) and of his readers as “called to belong to Jesus Christ,” and “called as Saints,” or more simply just as the “called.” (Rom 1.6, 7; et. al.) Thus, it is my conviction that the term “call” ought to be only used to refer to the call to salvation and that we ought to dismiss with the terminology “call to ministry.”

The closest thing we see in the New Testament to the idea of an inward, subjective “call to ministry” is seen in 1 Tim 3.1, “The saying is trustworthy: if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” I feel that much of what young men talk about today as “God’s call on my life” would be better described as “what I want to do.” I am in no way seeking to undercut the role of God’s sovereignty in influencing circumstances and situations in order to produce such desires. I am simply saying that there is a great deal of mysticism and not a great deal of biblical wisdom present today. What is Paul’s assessment of a man’s desire of the office of overseer? He states plainly, “He desires a noble task.” How then does Paul instruct those who feel such desires? He immediately lists certain character qualifications they must possess if they are to make their desire a reality. Therefore, the best course of action would be to begin cultivating the character traits listed in 1 Tim 3.2ff.

As an aspiring man begins to develop the necessary character traits, those in the local church to which he has joined himself will begin to take notice. As he matures in Christ, he will naturally begin to exercise his gifting for the edification of the body, which will also be noticed. It then becomes the local church’s responsibility to recognize him as one who may possess the character traits and the gifting required of an overseer or deacon. If the church congregation is so large that they cannot get to know him in the course of regular body life and pastors must step in to make the identification, so be it. However, I believe this necessity speaks more to the need for smaller congregations than it does for elder oversight during the identification process. In the selection of the proto-deacons in Acts 6, the congregation was exhorted to pick men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” These men must have been well known to the congregation in Jerusalem, else they would have been breaking the Apostle’s instructions by appointing men of questionable (that is, unknown) character.

Once the man has been recognized as a potential leader, a time of testing must then ensue. The length ought not be set in stone, as no passage of Scripture mentions this time, though practicality demands it. During this time of testing, the congregation ought to examine the man’s life more carefully than they did before. Simultaneous to the time of testing, the potential elder should begin (or hopefully continue) his theological training. It is the church’s responsibility to train its upcoming elders well (Acts 18.26; 2 Ti 2.2). It is unfortunate that this responsibility has been passed on to para-church organizations such as seminaries and Bible colleges. After the time of testing is completed, if he is found to be without any disqualifying character defects and if he is still desirous of the task, he ought to be appointed officially by the leaders of his local church. Robert Reymond notes an interesting nuance in the Greek of Acts 14:23, “they had appointed cheirotoneo) elders for them in every church…” cheirotoneo literally means “choose, elect by raising hands,” thus implying that though Paul and Barnabas appointed the elders, they did not do so without the input (show of hands) of the congregation. Thus, it is up to the man to seek to qualify himself through character development, and it is the responsibility of the church to recognize him as a potential elder.

Once the man is appointed as an elder, he and his fellow elders must determine whether he will stay at the local church or whether he will be sent out to do national or international church planting. The congregation ought to be involved in this process as well, still identifying gifting and making recommendations, though this is not as essential as before. If it is determined that the brother should be sent out, the main role of the congregation during this time is “fasting and praying” for the work, and then sending him off (Acts 13.3).

If the elder does go, the local church should partner with him by committing to pray for him and his family, the new church plant, and to support him financially and administratively (Phil 4.16; Acts 8.14ff, 11.22ff, 15.1-35). This partnering may continue indefinitely, and should not be shunned as infringing upon the autonomy of the local church.

I have not dealt with the issue of “calling” and “sending” of missionaries specifically because I believe that missionaries, unless they are joining a church that has already been established, will in effect be church planters, and thus ought to be sent out as elders; in which case, the above process applies to them as well.