“Resolve to be Known for Gentleness”

Carson on gentleness (nailed me again):

What do m41jbjfe--sLost of us want to be known for? Do you want to be know for your extraordinary good looks? Do you want to be known for your quick wit, for your sense of humor, for your sagacity? Do you want to be known for your wealth, for your family connections? Or perhaps you are more pious and want to be known for your prayer life or for your excellent skills as a leader of inductive Bible studies. Many a preacher wants to be known for his preaching.

How appalling. The sad fact is that even our highest and best motives are so easily corroded by self-interest that we begin to overlook this painful reality. Paul cuts to the heart of the issue: Be known for gentleness.

The “self-sins” are tricky things, damnably treacherous. In one of his books, A.W. Tozer writes:

“To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy… Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.”

That was written almost a half a century ago. What would Tozer say now? He goes on:

Self can live unreduced at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight of the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.” (The Pursuit of God, 45-46)

Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 107


“Bringing Up the End of the Pack”

81sHqHE9VGLDon Carson on racial reconciliation from his book Love in Hard Places. The entire section (pp. 87-108) is a classic Carsonian treatment of the subject–historically informed, logically thought through, with deference to multiple perspectives, and willingness to say true things–all reasons why Carson is so great to read on so many subjects. Anyway:

Although the ways in which we will live out the gospel mandate of becoming one new humanity may take somewhat different shapes in different subcultures, we must be doing something to realize that gospel goal; certainly we must not be perceived to be knee-jerk reactionaries who are dragged into racial reconciliation kicking an screaming, bringing up the end of the pack, the last to be persuaded. For we constitute a new humanity under the Lord who insisted, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

p. 108

Quote: D.A. Carson on Democracy

I’ve had this thought in scattered glimpses over the years, never as cogently as Carson puts it here.

From Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson, p. 127

“Christians cannot possibly view democracy as “the cure” for the world’s ills.  For many pragmatic and moral reasons, we may concur that, granted attendant structures and liberties, it is the form of government least unaccountable to the people and least likely to brutalize its citizens without some eventual accounting.  It is a form of government most likely to foster personal freedoms, including, usually, freedoms for Christians to practice and propagate their faith.  But it has also proved proficient at throwing off a sense of obligation to God the Creator, let alone the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is another way of saying that it is proficient at fostering idolatry.

Review: Christ and Culture Revisited

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson

good analysis and critiques, lacking a clear prescription

Christ and Culture Revisited is rigorous and academic, dealing with complex philosophies and cultural analysis across a wide spectrum. Carson deals with a wide range of relevant literature, and this is a thorough, if somewhat difficult book to read.

He takes his springboard from Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, and his famous five part paradigm for understanding how Christians relate to their surrounding cultures. Carson is convinced “that the famous Niebuhr typology, as useful as it may be for some purposes, drives us toward mutually exclusive choices we should not be making.” (vi) This is because some of Niehbur’s categories are “too broad, if one is trying to limit oneself to the forms of confessional Christianity that explicitly and self-consciously try to live under the authority of Scipture.” (10) The deeper problem is that Niehbur presents the Bible as offering “a number of discrete paradigms,” (41) that is, different options to choose from depending on who you are and where you live. The Bible, however, is a unity, and “we should be attempting a holistic grasp of the relations between Christ and culture, fully aware, as we make our attempt, that peculiar circumstances may call us to emphasize some elements in one situation, and other elements in another situation.” (43) Carson then sketches out the main points of a unified Biblical Theology, emphasizing that a correct view must take all into account, not pick and choose.

He deals specifically with post-modernism, and the post-modern view of cultures, especially “perspectivalism,” agreeing that there are only two kinds of people on the world, those who acknowledge their perspectivalism and those who don’t.

He deals with more “church/state” related issues in the chapters on “Secularism, Democracy, Freedom and Power,” and the longest chapter on “Church and State.” He concludes with an analysis of several different options being proposed today, and subjects them to his analysis.

I found that most of the book was a thorough, detailed way of saying “it’s complicated,” and trying to demonstrate that a Christian view of culture can and must be incredibly nuanced. This is sometimes in criticism of too sweeping of a view (Niebuhr’s) or in defense from post-modernism’s claims that we are not sophisticated enough. Although he does offer his sketch of Biblical Theology as the template for a unified view of how to relate to culture, I walked away from this book thinking “okay, it’s nuanced and complicated,” but without a very clear idea of exactly how to engage.

Carson says in the preface :”The release of this book in paperback format coincides with the publication of The Intolerance of Tolerance. I envisaged the two books together from the beginning. In many ways the Intolerance volume builds its argument on the assumption of many positions defended in the book you hold in your hand: it won’t hurt to read the two together, the first one to establish a framework for thinking faithfully about Christ and culture, the second one to tease out practical implications along one exceedingly sensitive axis.” (vii)

Perhaps my feeling of something lacking is due to this, and I just need to read Intolerance to finish the picture. I do recommend this book as a very challenging read, forcing one to think deeply about philosophy, culture, and the Bible.

Review: The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D.A. Carson (ed. Owen Strachan, David Mathis)

“with all your heart, and with all your mind”

On April 23, 2009 John Piper and D.A. Carson each gave a talk at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Those talks were then edited and expanded into this book, with an introduction by Owen Strachan and a post-script by David Mathis (of Desiring God).

This book was of particular interest to me: first, because of my own interests in both pastoral ministry and scholarship, and second, because of the example and impact of these two men in these areas. The book did not disappoint.

Piper’s chapter is largely biographical, and it is amazing to see how God took a young man who physically could not speak in front of people, and made him into one of the most useful preachers of our day. He really loves to take the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and to glorify His power in so doing. After the autobiography, he lays out “from the Scriptures that God’s purpose for right thinking (scholarship) is to awaken and sustain satisfaction in God that glorifies him,” (p. 52) and does so in nine points.

D.A. Carson’s talk starts with a 5 point introduction, with a 12 point body. He too tells some of his own story, from the chemistry lab to the pastorate, and how God then pulled him into scholarship. He retitles his portion “The Scholar as (Frustrated) Pastor.” After his autobiography, he lists his 12 “Lessons for the Scholar as Pastor.”

The strength of Piper’s chapter is in the telling of his story. The strength of Carson’s is in his 12 Lessons. On display here are two different men with different gifts that God has used greatly for His own purposes. What an example! Throughout, both men exalt Christ as supreme above scholarship, accolades, or anything else. They expose false dichotomies between “head” and “heart” and propose rigorous use of the mind in the care of souls, each according to his gifts.

If you have a chance, track down the audio to this event. The audio from Piper’s talk is bursting with energy that doesn’t come through in his chapter. There is also a Q/A session not represented in the book.

I recommend this book as an encouragement to love and serve Christ with “all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”

Review: The Holy Spirit (TGC Booklets)

The Holy Spirit by Kevin DeYoung (ed. D.A. Carson, Tim Keller)

A good, basic, brief introduction

This is intended to be a brief introduction to the Holy Spirit, expounding on The Gospel Coalition’s doctrinal statment. DeYoung starts with “Who is the Holy Spirit,” and discusses that he is a Person, that he is God, and distinct from the Father and the Son.

The Work of the Holy Spirit takes up the rest of the booklet: convicting, converting, applying salvation, glorifying Christ, sanctifying us, equipping us, and being the seal of the promise of our future inheritance.

He briefly touches on the “controversial gifts,” and doesn’t take any sides (TGC doesn’t take sides). Here’s his conclusion:

“I believe both sides have come to see that they agree on more than they once thought. One of the encouraging signs in the evangelical world is how cessationists and continuationists have been able to partner and worship together in recent years, realizing that their commonalities in the gospel are far greater than the issues that separate them with regard to the spiritual gifts.” (p. 22)

I certainly hope for more of this!

The book is loaded throughout with biblical references to look up if you want. There are glimpses of DeYoung’s style and humor, but it is largely subdued and he is focused on his topic. I didn’t laugh out loud, like I have in The Hole in Our Holiness, or Crazy Busy, but that wasn’t the point.

This is a good, basic, brief introduction. To go in depth from here, I heartily recommend J.I. Packer’s Keep in Step With the Spirit, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit.

One Hundred Percentism

Broughton Knox, formerly the principal of Moore Theological college… told his students, “God is not interested in one hundred percentism.”

There is a sense, of course, in which that is the only thing God is interested in.  He wants us to trust and obey him wholly; he wants us to serve him with 100 percent loyalty.  But then the focus is on him.  What Broughton Knox meant is that very often what we call “one hundred percentism” is not unrestrained allegiance to God and his gospel but merely a reflection of a perfectionist personality.  For some people, unless they tackle whatever they are doing with 100 percent of their energy and competence, the task is not worth doing at all.  They cannot live with themselves unless they work that way. Frequently they are the high achievers.  But from a Christian perspective, this attitude may turn out to be nothing more than another form of self-worship – in short, a form of idolatry.

In all our pursuit of excellence, we must never worship excellence. (p. 138-9)

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

How Pathetic

As someone who has taught seminary students for more than fifteen years, I worry about the rising number of seminarians who, when asked where and how they think they might best serve, respond with something like this: “Well, I think I would like to teach somewhere.  Every time I have taught, people have told me I have done a pretty good job.  I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of teaching the Bible.  I think I could be satisfied teaching Scripture.”

How Pathetic. I know pagans who find satisfaction and fulfillment by teaching nuclear physics.  In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue.  The issue is service, the service of real people.The question is, How can I be most useful?, not, How can I fell most useful? The goal is, How can I best glorify God by by serving his people?, not, How can I feel most comfortable and appreciated while engaging in some acceptable form of Christian ministry? (p. 82-83)

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

“The Blessing of God on Our Christian Dreams”

But Paul goes further.  At this point Paul prays that God by his power may “fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”  That is simply marvelous.  Assuming that Christians will develop such wholesome and spiritually minded purposes, Paul now prays that God himself may take these purposes and so work them out as to bring them to fruition, to fulfillment.  We may have all kinds of wonderful ideas about what we as Christians might do, yet somehow never get around to doing any of them.  Alternatively, we may immediately proceed to organization and administration, and ever seek, except in sporadic and accidental ways, the decisive approval and blessing of God on our Christian dreams.  The truth is that unless God works in us and through us, unless God empowers these good purposes of ours, they will not engender any enduring spiritual fruit.  they will not display any life-transforming, people-changing power. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Ps. 127:1) And unless the Lord fulfills our good, faith-prompted purposes, they will remain arid, fruitless – either empty dreams or frenetic activity with no life, but in either case spiritually anemic.

From: A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

Review: A Call to Spiritual Reformation

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers by D.A. Carson

This is one of the best books on prayer I have ever read. Carson starts with what he sees as “the one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom: a deeper knowledge of God.” (p. 15) And then focuses his gaze more narrowly: “This is not a book that directly meets the challenge to know God better. Rather it addresses one small but vital part of that challenge. One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer.” (16) “Where is our delight in praying? Where is our sense that we are meeting with the living God, that we are doing business with God, that we are interceding with genuine unction before the throne of grace? When was the last time we came away from a period of intercession feeling that, like Jacob or Moses, we had prevailed with God?” (17) His final narrowing of focus comes to this, “on Paul, and especially on Paul’s petitions… We shall constantly try to grasp not only the rudiments of Paul’s prayers but also how Christians can adopt Paul’s theology of prayer in their own attempts to pray.” (18) He then takes the rest of the book and goes through several of Paul’s prayers from 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.

At its core, this book is exegetical. This Carson’s particular expertise, and it is extremely helpful here. These chapters were originally messages that he preached in Wales in 1990, and they are thoroughly biblical. Each chapter begins with scripture, and then expounded at length. When a passage touches on larger theological issues (the sovereignty of God for example), Carson explains them, especially as they relate to prayer. Throughout, he is extremely practical in application to our praying, and often painfully piercing as he puts our typical ways of thinking under the ray of biblical light.

This is very different than E. M. Bounds on Prayer. Where Bounds offers short pointed bursts of insight, Carson offers extended exposition of Biblical text. Where Bounds often uses Scripture to punctuate his point, Carson develops everything he says directly from the text he is using. Carson is somewhat akin to Pink’s A Guide to Fervent Prayer, but where Pink is, well, Pink in his extended expositions, Carson is thoroughly exegetical.

This stands as one of the best books on prayer I have ever read. I commend it for developing a more biblically structured framework for your praying. I’ve heard also, that for the granddaddy of them all on prayer, see Carson’s Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World.