Confessions of a Missional Greek Prof
As I have been thinking and praying about my plans to travel and missionize abroad this next year, I have been forced to reflect again upon my own raison d’ętre.
Although I am perhaps known for my criticisms of much in the church’s practical life, I seek above all to be a churchman rather than a theologian or a scholar. For me, theology can be distinguished but never separated from the Christian life. I myself have sought to study and emulate the apostle Paul’s theology because it takes seriously the experience of Christianity. The mystical presence of Christ (Paul’s “in Christ” formula) forms the undertow of daily life. It affects everything we do – getting up, sitting down, eating, working, even sleeping. Nothing in our lives is “profane” if we live to know Him and to make Him known, as Paul did (Phil. 1:21).
Thus I like to think of my own teaching as preeminently missional. If we really believe in the Gospel, what should we be doing to advance it? What is the church, and how can we help it transform society? Although I dislike the term “missionary” (the expression itself is not found in the New Testament), I admit candidly that I feel “called” to be one. Hence I always ask myself when I read Paul, “How did this letter contribute to his work as a church-planter and disciple-maker? And what can it teach me about doing the same?”
By and large, I have shied away from systematic theology. Instead, I have produced separate theological investigations of specific biblical texts – say, of Rom. 12:9-21 or Phil. 2:1-4, to take but two examples of passages that are replete with “practical” theology. I did this, I think, because of the time required of a person to do a larger investigation of a theologoumenon step by step and passage by passage. The closest I’ve come to doing that was my doctoral dissertation on astheneia and its cognates in the Pauline literature, which was published in 1984 under the title Paul, Apostle of Weakness. Today, if I wished to work on a similar project, I would naturally have to pay very close attention to the texts under consideration. In fact, I don’t think I will ever write another book like my work on Paul because the task obviously exceeds what I can do with my heavy teaching and travel schedule, in addition to numerous other obligations I have here on the farm. There are even days when I write nothing at all because God has not given me the opportunity to do so. I have simply tried in all of this to accept myself as I am, to acknowledged my own considerable limitations, and to take satisfaction in what I can without comparing my literary output with anybody else’s. Thus the quantity of my work has never posed a problem for me.
Not long ago I took the wholly unthinkable step of deciding to publish a book on politics, which, while it didn’t excite the general public terribly, rubbed many Christians the wrong way. However, I make no apology for questioning the unconditional loyalty that American evangelicals pay to the god-state, especially in its GOP manifestation. Similarly, while not a church historian per se, I am completing a study of the sixteenth century Anabaptists who took incredibly dangerous steps to restore the church to its New Testament patterns. The importance of Anabaptism within Baptist ecclesiology is often overlooked, even though their writings had a considerable and noticeable affect on the development of Baptist polity vis-ŕ-vis the state.
But my primary concern is with the evangelization that the church is required to carry on throughout the world. I still remember how enthusiastically Lloyd Quast taught us the book of Acts when I was a student at Biola University in the early 1970s, and I suppose that his lectures were a milestone on what has become a long and exciting pilgrimage.
Do I really believe in the Great Commission? Do I really depend on the Holy Spirit alone for the salvation of souls? I must then continue to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send me out, and I must go, depending not on my own worthiness and merits, but on the ground of the merits and worthiness of the Lord Jesus.
April 1, 2008
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.