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Posts Tagged ‘D A Carson’

If being thought generous is more important than being generous, if gaining a reputation for prayerfulness is more important to us than praying when no one but God is listening, if fasting is something in which we engage only if we can disingenuously talk about it, then these acts of piety become acts of impiety.

The fundamental way to check out how sound we are in each of these areas is to perform these acts so quietly that none but God knows we are doing them.

From D A Carson’s meditation on Matthew 6.

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“For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Ps 1:6)

50 billion years from now, if I may dare speak of eternity in the categories of time, no one will be writing learned dispositions on the significance of Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot, but every cup of cold water given in the name of the Lord Jesus will be celebrated.  Because the way of the wicked will perish.

 

D A Carson, preaching on Psalm 1

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Whereas last year I had a hard time naming 5 good books I read in 2009, I’m having trouble keeping it to 5 for 2010.  Actually, I forgot The Cross and Christian Ministry and The Prodigal God last year, so the list would have been pretty good.  I started making my list earlier this year to avoid the same mistake.  As with previous years, this list is comprised of books I read for the first time this year, not that were published this year.  In fact, I don’t think I even read 5 books published in 2010.  Unlike previous years, I’m giving an order to this, in order of ascending appreciation.  Interestingly, despite the fact I reviewed 10 books this year for publishers, none of the books on this list were from them. 

This list does not include revised editions of books I’ve previously read, otherwise Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition would have made the cut. 

5. Conforming to Christ in Community, by Jim Samra

I first mentioned this book back in June, and as I’ve thought back on the books I read this year, this one stood out as a strong one because of it’s usefulness, despite it’s dissertationy feel (because… um… it’s a dissertation).  I’m currently reading Samra’s scaled down book on the value of the church, which is also quite good, but my guess is that I’ll revisit this one when I want to refresh myself on Paul’s teaching on the church and its importance for the maturation of Christians. 

4. The Pentateuch as Narrative, by John Sailhamer

I mentioned this book a couple months back as my new “curveball” book for the Pentateuch.  When I need a slightly different take, or someone to help me make connections within the Pentateuch that I easily miss, John Sailhamer is my guy.  It’s hard to think of the first five books of the Bible as disjointed and boring after reading Sailhamer. 

3. Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World, by M. Tsering

The world of Tibetan Buddhism is a fascinating one, and its worldview couldn’t be much more different from the biblical one.  This book is a wonderful introduction to this worldview, and offers many suggestions how to share Christ with those who hold it.  This book is so well done that I think anyone interested in missions and cross-cultural evangelism would do well to read it because many of the principles are universal. 

2. A Call to Spiritual Reformation, by D A Carson

I read a lot of Carson this year, so much so that I could have done a top 5 just with Carson books and they’d all be very good.  I opted not to include more than one Carson book.  The God Who Is There is outstanding, I’ve benefitted greatly from the two volumes of For the Love of God during my morning quiet times.  I could add Collected Writings on Scripture and make it 5 (Scandalous wouldn’t quite make the cut).  But when I needed a boost in my prayer life, I turned to this book and it delivered.  So I chose this one out of the many because of the impact it had on me personally.  Using the prayers in Paul as a guide to our own prayers seems like such an obvious approach, I wonder why I had never thought of it.  I’ve read a lot of Carson, not just this year but in previous years, but this is my favorite and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

1. Salvation Belongs to Our God, by Christopher J H Wright

Despite also reading The Mission of God, which is Wright’s massive and more detailed book demonstrating the missional character of God, this shorter book stands as my favorite of the year.  As I mentioned in my review, I ended up taking 33 pages of notes on it!  It’s not that I agree with everything in this book, in fact I’d say I agreed more with the previous book on this list than this one.  But Wright captivated me with his ability to place things in the context of the biblical story in a compelling manner.  This is biblical theology done well.

Looking Ahead

My reading load for 2011 will be much smaller due to some major constraints on my personal time.  However, I am currently reading John Jefferson Davis’ Worship and the Reality of God, Jim Samra’s The Gift of Church and will soon be starting Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.  On top of that, I plan on reading David Platt’s Radical and John Piper’s Think, and Ron Jaworski’s The Games that Changed the Game.  The first three will all be reviewed here; the other 3 may get a mention.  I’d be interested to know what books BBG readers enjoyed reading this year, so feel free to leave a comment.

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Special thanks to Connie at Crossway for a review copy of this book.

For all the time I’ve spent studying Scripture, I hate to admit that I have a fairly weak theology of Scripture itself.  The truth is that I’m probably not alone.  It had been a long time since I had read something about the nature of Scripture, particularly of a more technical bent.  Enter D A Carson (I know, I’ve read a lot of Carson this year- I have many years of catching up to do).

Collected Writings on Scripture by D A Carson is just that, collected writings on Scripture written by D A Carson.  Included are 10 articles; the first 5 covering a variety of topics related to the Bible and the study of it (originally published between 1983 and 1997), the last 5 being a collection of book reviews of 9 books released from 1981 to 2007.  It may seem odd to some that one would include a series of book reviews in a collection of writings, but they reveal as much about Carson’s understanding of Scripture. 

The first chapter, “Approaching the Bible,” is probably the only one that could be read with relative ease by a layperson (despite Carson’s claim to the contrary in his preface).  It was originally written as the opening essay for the New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, released in 1994.  This essay would be the most broadly useful, one that could be passed around to church members wishing to understand better the nature of the Bible and how it is best interpreted (note: it can be downloaded as a pdf here, although it looks a bit awkward). 

The next four chapters are a bit of a tougher read, though still quite rewarding.  I’ll admit that I found my eyes crossing a bit during chapter 2 (“Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture”)- though don’t ignore the warning to evangelicals at the end of the chapter-, but was reinvigorated during chapter 3, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology.”  The latter chapter is a must read for those of us who find ourselves suspicious of systematic theology (myself included).  Pastors could easily take the insights from this chapter and make them more digestible to their congregations.

I found chapter 4, “Redaction Criticism: On the Legitmacy and Illegitimacy of a Literary Tool,” to be my favorite, surprisingly so.  “Surprisingly” because chapters on methodology, specifically a method I’ve found to be used with far too much confidence by some scholars, are rarely the most exciting.  Yet after giving 20 reasons to be cautious of redaction criticism, Carson still argues that it has its place in Gospel study.  (Side note: the extended Morna Hooker quote on page 160 is worth multiple readings.)

In the fifth chapter, entitled “Is the Doctrine of Claritas Scripturae Still Relevant Today?,” Carson jumps into the worlds of historical theology and epistemology in admirable fashion.  For those familiar with his works on postmodernity, such as The Gagging of God, this chapter will cover familiar territory. 

The book reviews deal with a handful of books I’ve never heard of, and a few more well known authors (Marshall, Enns and Wright).  After offering a summary of their contents, he interacts (often critiquing) their contents in rather entertaining fashion.  For the most part his reviews would be seen as “negative,” meaning he has serious concerns with the books reviewed.  The notable except is Jeffrey Sheler’s Is the Bible True?.  His disagreements doesn’t lead him beyond the bounds of appreciation, however.

One of my concerns about this book is in these book reviews.  It’s not that I find them unworthy of their inclusion in this collection of essays; on the contrary I find them to be brilliant.  Carson writes with candor and wit, deconstructing false premises, refuting historical revisionist tendencies and kicking over sand castles built on bad logic.  Considering the vast majority of book reviews I read in the world of biblical scholarship are formulaic and predictable, I appreciate Carson’s willingness to forego convention and get to the heart of the matter.

My concern lies not with Carson’s reviews themselves, but that readers from my generation (roughly 40 and below) may skip over the more dense chapters on methodology and the nature of Scripture to grab a ringside seat for the fight.  My generation is one that loves to pump our fist in the air, rallying behind our champion as he goes toe-to-toe with the “bad guys.”  My concern is that the scholars, both actual and wannabe (my choice of the latter term over “aspiring” is intentional), of my age group are more adept at poking holes than patching them.  We have been taught to think critically, engage thoughtfully, examine assumptions, etc.  And I’ve seen firsthand many who were quite skilled at doing just that.  Unfortunately, many of those in my generation are cowards.  They can point out the flaws of others, but won’t stick their neck out long enough for anyone to return the favor. 

But Carson is not like my generation.  To be sure, the first portion of the book devotes plenty of space to critiques.  But the function is not merely negative (why so-and-so is wrong).  Carson offers positive arguments for how to approach Scripture.  In other words, he isn’t simply arguing against something, he’s arguing for something.  Building a strong case often requires both, though I fear many can only do the former.  Thankfully, Carson provides a model for making a case, not just deconstructing one.

I do recommend this book, particularly for students and pastors who need some assistance thinking through their understanding of Scripture, both its nature and the study of it.  The first chapter and the review of Sheler’s book would probably be the only sections easily read by a layperson, though with time and a knowledge of theological terms one would benefit greatly from it.  In all, D A Carson’s Collected Writings on Scripture is worth the time and effort.

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In yesterday’s review of D A Carson’s The God Who Is There I mentioned being struck by the echoes of Exodus 32-34 he found in the prologue to John’s Gospel, specifically John 1:14-18.  For those interested, I’m listing the 5 he discusses on pages 111-117.

1. Tabernacle & Temple: John 1:14 states, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  “Made his dwelling” can also be literally translated as “tabernacled.”  In the next chapter of John (2:19-21) Jesus refers to Himself as the Temple.  The choice of wording in both places is not accidental, as the Tabernacle and Temple were where God’s presence dwelt.

2. Glory: John writes in v14, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son.”  This recalls Moses’ prayer, “Now show me your glory” (and Moses only sees the “backside of his glory,” to use a Caedmon’s Call lyric).

3. Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness): John, again in v14, describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth.”  When God passes by Moses, who is hiding in a cave, he is described as “abounding in [or full of] love and faithfulness,” (the bracketed portion is Carson’s insertion) which could also be translated “grace and truth.”

4. Grace and Law: In vv16-17, John writes, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  This recalls the given of the law to Moses (which first happens in Exodus), which was a gracious gift, but surpassed by the grace that comes through Christ.

5. Seeing God: John writes in v18, “No one has ever seen God,” which recalls Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”  The implications for Jesus’ divinity are strong.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, of course, because John already said the “Word was God” (v1) and “the Word became flesh” (v14).  Jesus is God in the flesh.  This is why Jesus can later say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

It would be a fun exercise to sit down and come up with all the echoes of the Old Testament in John’s Prologue (1:1-18) as there are many.  While his discussion was relatively brief, Carson encouraged me to think more deeply as I read through these familiar passages and look for ways the writer is pulling from the Old Testament.

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Special thanks to Adam of Baker Publishing Group for a review copy of this book.

By now readers of this site should not need an introduction to D. A. Carson.  He’s about as prolific an author as there is in the world of biblical studies, as well as a high-demand speaker.  In fact, this book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, stems from a series of talks he gave at Bethlehem Baptist Church in February 2009 (The Gospel Coalition has generously posted the audio for free, as well as short video clips from each talk). 

I’m at a loss for how to categorize this book.  It is a work of theology, in that it’s subject is the God of the Bible.  It is a bit of a Bible introduction, for it is written with someone who has little-to-no knowledge of the Bible in mind.  It is evangelistic in nature, in that one of the target audiences of the book is the non-Christian (who ought to know, in Carson’s words, about the God in whom they disbelieve) and they are encouraged to find their place in God’s story (as the subtitle indicates).

The book itself is divided into 14 chapters weighing in at about 225 pages.  The chapter titles (e.g., The God Who Made Everything, The God Who Dies- And Lives Again) give the reader a clue about the content of each chapter.  Coming as no surprise to anyone who has read him, Carson handles each chapter with great care and clarity.  He anticipates questions and objections well and answers them, even if briefly.

This book is, as I said, a theology book, specifically theology proper (about God Himself).  But it is unlike many other theology books out there, or at least systematic theology.  First of all, Carson follows the basic story line of the Bible itself as his approach to teaching about the God of Scripture.  Thus, it is no surprise that his first chapter is on God as Creator and so on.  Carson does deal in terms of categories (Creator, Judge, etc) and characteristics (wrath, love, etc) like systematic theologies, but they rarely seek to follow the Bible metanarrative.  I, for one, much prefer Carson’s method.

Second, unlike most systematic theology, Carson’s work is text- and context-driven.  Each chapter focuses on a specific text, sometime multiple biblical chapters, and its context rather than prooftexting his way through a given topic.  That is not to say he never refers to other places in the Bible in a given chapter, but he only does so to make clear how it fits into the story of the Bible.

Overall, I think Carson does an admirable job explaining how God is portrayed in the Bible.  I appreciate that he did not shy away from the more difficult images of God used in the Bible, as many are prone to do, in order to make Him more palatable to our culture.  God is who He is, and Carson is content to let the Bible speak for itself.  He does attempt to answer some objections and common questions along the way, and occasionally suggests further reading (and more, I’m told, shows up in the Leader’s Guide- if I would have known there was one I would have asked for a review copy of that, too).

The God Who Is There is also, in some sense, an introduction to the Bible.  He explains very basic points (how many books are there, the original languages, etc) and when he refers, for instance, to Romans he explains it is the 6th book of the New Testament, coming after the Gospels and Acts.  I wouldn’t say this book should be used as an introduction to the Bible, as it is uneven.  For instance, it gives some quick guidance to reading certain books (such as the Wisdom books), but not most others.  This isn’t a knock on the book, since Carson’s goal was more to introduce the God of the Bible rather than the Bible.

Carson is a master expositor, and his skills shine throughout the book.  He seeks to explain the text, not just the original meaning but the implications for the reader.  He explains difficult concepts, draws out important points and shows how they fit in the Bible and what they reveal about God.  For a book written with a biblically illiterate audience in mind, Carson doesn’t mind digging to make his point.  I was humbled on more than one occasion by not noticing something in Scripture that I had read over many times before (like the echoes of Exodus 32-34 in John’s Prologue).

My only real complaint is that Carson is a bit weak on the prophets.  Given that Isaiah through Malachi makes up a dominant portion of Scripture, I would have liked to have seen more said about them.  I made this same critique of an otherwise wonderful OT introduction, so I’m starting to wonder if scholars just aren’t sure what to say about the prophetical books in their lay-level writings.

Like I said above, Carson’s book is partially evangelistic.  It is not, as you can probably guess by now, evangelistic in the same way the 4 Spiritual Laws are evangelistic, or even the “Romans Road.”  It is evangelistic in that it seeks to tell the reader, who may not be a Christian at all, about God.  Carson tries, as much as is humanly possible, to capture the essence of the God who created and sustained all things and who has revealed Himself throughout history, especially in the pages of the Bible.

But more importantly, Carson seeks to show how the revelation of God is most supremely seen in the person of Jesus.  It is Jesus, God incarnate, who died on a Roman cross and rose again 3 days later, who is the centerpiece of the faith.  The gospel is not a cool story for children’s book, or a doctrinal point to check off.  It is the message of Jesus- His life, His work and His return- that the reader is encouraged on these pages to meet. 

I should note that this is probably one of the more intellectually engaging attempts at evangelism out there (aside from the debate circuit).  Whoever gives this book to an interested friend, or leads a small group based on this book, ought to expect many questions along the way.  But if you have friends who are genuinely interested in knowing more about the Bible, and even more so about the God of the Bible, then Carson is probably the best pick around.  And the truth is, plenty of Christians desperately need to read this book as well, and learn more about the God we worship.

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A conversation over at Marcus’ blog reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time.  I’ve wanted to do a list of must-read scholars for a while, but have never been sure how to approach it.  Do I do a list of the best?  Most influential?  Most interesting?  Do I restrict it to OT scholars?  NT scholars?  Theologians?  Do I go completely subjective and list my favorites, or do I include those with whom I’m less enamored?  Will anyone even care about my stupid list?  These are the questions in my mind…

I’ve opted to consider my main audience for this blog: the average churchgoer.  I know people from my church read this blog who are not academically trained but are still interested in learning from Bible scholars.  They may not know Greek and Hebrew, but they desire to glean from the insights of those who do.  So I’ve decided to tailor this list to this (somewhat imaginary) group.  Because of this, I will leave off scholars who have made a major impact on scholarship but are less helpful to the layperson (the Rudolf Bultmann types).  I’m also sticking to my area of “expertise” (if I may be permitted a moment of hubris), which mostly NT & OT scholarship (so no systematic theologians).  The list is presented in no particular order.

Allow me to make a couple other notes:

  • I’m weighing more heavily toward the NT side of things.  This is for 2 main reasons: 1) I know NT scholarship better than I do OT scholarship, and 2) most of my favorite OT scholars have written little for the layperson in mind (I’m thinking of Gordon Wenham and guys like that). 
  • I’ll give a couple reading recommendations for each scholar, in case my reader(s) want(s) to dig deeper.
  • The scholars on this list are invited to mention their inclusion on their resume or CV.  You’re welcome. 
  • If you think this is just an excuse to talk about scholars and books, you know me very well.  =)

(1) Gordon Fee.  Come on, if you’ve been reading this blog for more than 5 seconds you knew Fee was making the cut.  In fact, I’d have to turn in my charismatic membership card if I didn’t include him.  I appreciate any man who writes the book on exegesis, but insists that exegesis is merely the first step in applying the Bible to the life of the church.  I also appreciate any scholar whose lectures are more like sermons.  I heard a line from his daughter, theologian Cherith Fee Nordling, about Fee that sums up what I appreciate about him (paraphrase): my father loves the Lord and loves the Bible, but never in reverse order. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(2) Christopher J H Wright.  It’s funny, 6 months ago I may not have included Wright.  But the more I read his stuff, the more I want to give him a high-five (see my previous post for an indication).  In some ways, he’s an interesting bird- how many OT scholars are also missiologists?  A Cambridge PhD who trained church planters in India and now heads up John Stott’s ministry organization?  This is my kind of guy. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions

(3) Richard Bauckham.  Bauckham has actually written less for the layperson than the rest of the scholars on this list, but I wanted to include him anyway because he’s one of the few scholars refered to as “groundbreaking” that may actually deserve the title.  Mind you, no one is really groundbreaking.  When I mentioned in a class at my church that Bauckham had written a book defending the eyewitness connection to the Gospels, I was met with “no duh” stares.  It’s not his conclusion that is groundbreaking, it’s the manner in which he makes his case that sets him apart from so many others.  Bauckham is the toughest read on this list, but may well be worth the trouble.

Reading suggestions

(4) D A Carson.  This is not Carson’s first appearance on this blog.  There are few scholars who have made so much of their work accessible to the church, as you can see here on his resource page at The Gospel Coaltion website.  This son of a church planter in French Canada has planted churches, travels around the world every year speaking in churches and conferences, teaches and advises students, yet still finds time to write somewhere around a million books a year.  He cranks out a book faster than I write a blog post.  If I had to pick one scholar on this list for the average layperson to read I think Carson would be it, not because he’s the best scholar but because he does the best job of communicating to the audience I’m aiming for.  Note: this list of books is highly selective, there are many more I could include.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

(5) N T Wright.  I’ll confess, I’ve been debating whether or not I should include Wright on this list.  If we’re talking about most interesting, he’d easily make the list.  Everything he writes is worth reading, even if he’s dead wrong (note, over 1100 people went to a conference at Wheaton centering on Wright’s scholarship).  Wright is brilliant- sometimes brilliantly right, and sometimes brilliantly wrong.  I’ve put it this way: Wright is a classic pendulum swinger.  He’ll notice an over-emphasis on something, then in attempt to correct this problem he’ll go too far in his emphasis.  If you know that going in, you’ll do well in reading him.  Anyway, I love reading his stuff, but you must always read with discernment.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

So there’s my list; maybe on another post I can give my “near miss” category (I’m at 1300+ words already though).  I’d love to hear thoughts from others out there, either about the people on this list or others you think should be included.

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