I don’t think I’ve been as eager to see a book released as I am for Dave Black’s The Downward Path of Jesus: From Cultural Conformity to Radical Discipleship. Dave tells us on his blog (which doesn’t have permalinks, so look for it at 9:50am on Monday, March 23) that it will be published soon:
I’m excited about this book. It’s been a long time gestating. I’m told that the book will be out sometime in July. Of this year. That would be a record for anything I’ve ever published.
I’m eager to see what happens next. There are many excellent books on discipleship written from the viewpoint of a philosopher or skilled debater. This is not one of them. I don’t offer the thoughts of a scholar or theologian. This is a book written out of my own experiences. It is written for anyone who is dissatisfied with cultural Christianity and who longs for greater unity in the whole Body of Christ. Its plea is that we get serious about following Jesus.
I draw great courage from the fact that a new generation of Christians is awakening to Jesus’ call to a sacrificial lifestyle. I see them everywhere I go. They are willing and eager to move from a "serve us" mentality to a "service" mentality. They are truly the great generation.
I know from having read the essays Dave has written on this topic that the book will provide vital practical help to all who yearn to apply a pure and simple understanding of New Testament ecclesiology to their own circumstances, what Dave calls “radical discipleship.” I agree that this is the need of the hour; not only Christians but those in the world are suffering because the things that fire us up as Christians tend to divide rather than unite us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, however, insists that the essence of Christian community lies in transcending the things that divide us for the sake of the much greater thing that unites us, namely our bond in Jesus Christ. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) As I read that verse, not only will the brethren experience joy and goodness when unity is achieved, but the watching world will behold it, and (I conclude) will themselves see Jesus more clearly in the result.
Later Dave elaborates his idea of radical discipleship (at 12:36pm on Thursday, March 26):
I argue in The Downward Path of Jesus that New Testament ecclesiology is much more than "doing church right." If we are to be true to the New Testament vision of the church as a family, then we must insist upon a more costly and participatory manifestation of the unity and diversity of Christ’s Body.
The patterns that I read in the New Testament lead me to conclude that a successful church is much more than an organization with a hard-working paid staff, a large and expanding membership, a growing budget, and a multiplicity of programs. The church, to me, 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.
This kind of radical discipleship as taught by Jesus and modeled for us by the early church is, in my thinking, the great need of the hour. Being a citizen of Christ’s kingdom involves a commitment to a radical way of living that both rejects the corrosive influences of Christendom and embraces a citizenship status quite apart from political or official church structures in any given time or place. Christian discipleship means trading everything for the privilege of gathering voluntarily around the person and example of Christ and giving all for the cause of Christ’s mission in the world. That’s why I argue that restoration, not reformation, ought to be the goal of church renewal today.
As I mentioned to my publisher yesterday, nobody will really be happy with my book. It will please neither traditionalists nor emergents, neither red Christians nor blue Christians, neither age-integrationists nor age-segregationists (or any other -ists), neither those on the left nor those on the right. I hope, however, that it will appeal to anyone who is prepared to pay any price necessary to develop churches dedicated exclusively to life and faith under Jesus’ authority.
The Jesus way of life is a consistent lifestyle of sacrificial service rather than occasional acts of solidarity with people who cannot give us anything. We are called to be revolutionaries by acting (and not only thinking) like Jesus. Our only loyalty should be to Him and the Kingdom He is building. We cannot have two allegiances. We cannot serve two kingdoms.
Let anyone who thinks that radical obedience is not needed in today’s world come with me to Armenia or India or Ukraine and see the poverty and smell the dung and hear the crying of the people. Let those who champion upward mobility rather than the way of suffering love spend one week with me among the Burjis or the Gujis or the Alabas or the Amharas of Ethiopia. No, the church of Jesus Christ is not the equivalent of the "good life" of Western culture. It’s the exact opposite, in fact, and it alone offers a real-world alternative to the grasping and getting of American society.
The root of the problem? We Americans know the price of everything and the value of nothing. In the end, though, only servanthood and love are forces strong enough to break the grip of human sin.
Amen, Brother Dave. As usual, amen.