This book will be a challenge to some, a blessing to some, and others might want to throw it against the wall. However, I highly recommend this book. It will take you places you may have never been. For me, it was a book that reinforced many of my thoughts on ecclesiology and challenged me in other areas.
I cheered brother Dave on in his chapters on "The Liberated Church", "The Priestly Kingdom", and "The Community of the Spirit," but struggled through chapters on "The Radical Reformation" and "The Politics of Jesus."
I loved his statement,
"The dysfunction of our institutionalized churches seems all too obvious to me."
If you don't believe the church has problems and has strayed from the original intent set forth by the apostles, you will have a hard time with the rest of the book. But read on. Dave Black is not bloviating here. He has a genuine message that needs to be heard by the church. He has the unique platform of being a seminary professor at a Southern Baptist Seminary.
He says that instead of needing revival and reformation we need restoration to what the original Twelve taught about church life. He introduces the original apostolic herald for "every member ministry" and the concept of highly participatory meetings.
"Never in the New Testament do we see the pastor as the "key man" upon whom rests the burden of speaking for the Body in a way that no other person can."
"...there is very little in the New Testament that would support the thesis that the church is to have a special class of Christians who rule over the church in the place of the Head."
"Jesus' model of leadership has nothing to do with status or office."Dave Black will challenge your thoughts on age-segregated ministry, clergy titles, and clergy/laity distinctions. He says there is only one "Senior Pastor" and that is Jesus! He makes note of the absence, in Paul's salutations in the epistles to the churches, of addressing leaders, elders or pastors. Philippians is the only epistle in which leaders are mentioned in the salutation: "saints...with the bishops and deacons." So is Dave Black saying that leadership is not important in the church? Absolutely not! He asserts that it is out of balance in today's church. When there is a preeminence of leadership, it takes away from the every member ministry and reciprocal or "one another" ministry that Paul highlights all through his epistles.
"The church has only one class of members: blood-bought, born-again believers. Jesus explicitly forbade honorific titles among his people."
Dave uses plentiful scripture reference to back up his thoughts. These are not just idle opinions. However, he makes a multitude of references to the Anabaptists and their lifestyle during the reformation. I found this a little distracting. The chapter on "The Radical Reformation" was specifically about the Anabaptists. However, at the end of the chapter Dave makes it clear he is not promoting Anabaptist as an alternative to the Word of God. He is a great admirer of the Anabaptist tradition, but does not "sugarcoat" their weaknesses. He points out without apology where he felt their ecclesiology lined up more with scripture than did the reformers. What was distracting to me was that I didn't think he needed to do that. The scripture is evidence enough for me. I did not know much about Anabaptist tradition before I read the book, and there is the potential of losing readers here.
The last concern I had was his chapter on "The Politics of Jesus." Since I met Dave almost a year ago he has challenged me on this subject. I have thought through and am beginning to see some of his points, but I think he opined more questions than answers in this chapter. He brought up points about the "just war" tradition and pacifism. This will in my opinion be the toughest part of the book for most readers. If you are a red-blooded, flag-waving, Christian American, you WILL be challenged on your thoughts on these subjects. I came away with no clear thoughts and am not sure what the point was. But, it could be as in the rest of the book, Dave is seeing something the rest of us are missing. I have enough respect for his heart to serve the Lord to give it some more thought.
In summary, this book could and should change your life. Put it the top of your reading list. It will do one of three things: reinforce your beliefs, challenge your beliefs, or make you write it off as rubbish. But do read the book.