Posts Tagged ‘D.A. (Don) Carson’

Two weeks ago, Don Carson was at my church as our guest speaker for our Fall Family Conference. I was overheard, at one point, referring to his messages as the theological equivalent of a foot-rub.” Indeed it was. Dr. Carson gave us a three-part lecture called “Making Sense of Suffering” which was as enjoyable as his book, “How Long O’ Lord” in which he originally compiled his source material. As always, listeners of all levels were challenged and encouraged.

During the third session, Carson touched on something that intersected with some things I have been thinking about lately: the importance of the Trinity to the atonement and the hypostatic union of Christ. By the “hypostatic union” I am referring to the doctrine that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully God (Col 1:19, 2:9, Php 2:7, John 1:14, Heb 2:17). It has been a controversial issue in church history as various heresies have involved stripping Him completely of one or the other. The Aryan heresy sought to strip Him of His divinity, for example, and the Gnostic heresy sought to deny His humanity. It is an important issue because the nature of His atoning work on the cross demands that He posses both natures fully.

This issue, intersecting with the importance of God being triune, was placed on the table by Dr. Carson when he brought up the difference between “expiation” and “propitiation”. I think that some got a bit lost at this point, but here is where Carson doesn’t mind putting some theological cookies on the higher shelves. It was entirely pertinent to his discussion of suffering. Let me lay out a few definitions to clear things up, if necessary:

  • Expiation has sin as its object. The goal of expiation is to render justice upon sinners. Sinners sin and God punishes sin. The sin is expiated, punished. God cancels sin, He expiates it.
  • Propitiation has the favor of God as its object. Its aim is to make God favorable toward sinners. Expiation stops short of this. Where expiation goes out from God toward sin, propitiation goes toward God.

To illustrate the importance of this, Carson presented the case of C.H. Dodd, a liberal theologian who argued that God’s act upon Jesus on the cross had to have been expiation because His favorable mood, being propitious toward sinners, was evident in John 3:16. God was already propitious, Dodd said, therefore He have His Son. For God to propitiate Himself was nonsense. You don’t make an offering to yourself, after all.

Dodd was missing a few things, though. First, He missed the fact that as God is holy, he must be angry at sin because the sin has not yet been punished. Before the cross, God must be propitiated. He must be made favorable.

Second, Dodd was likely overlooking Christ’s dual nature. Liberal scholars of his ilk had a problem with Christ’s divinity. But it is Christ’s divinity AND humanity, WITHIN the triune Godhead, that makes sense out of propitiation. Why is this? Because propitiation requires that two parties be involved: the guilty party and the offended party. Because Christ took on human flesh and lived a perfect life, He could stand in as humanity’s representative (Rom 8:3). Because Christ was God, he was able not only to withstand the Father’s judgment against sin, but raise Himself from the dead (John 10:17-18). Propitiation is a closed loop between the guilty and offended parties. Christ’s dual natures allowed humanity to be brought into that loop. As both Father and Son are God, God is in fact making HIMSELF propitious.

Nuclear testing was restricted to underground testing after 1963 due to obvious harmful effects on the ocean and upper atmosphere where the tests had taken place up until then. What would it be like standing inside an underground testing facility at ground zero. I imagine it might be a bit like God’s wrath. The strongest, most “righteous” man on earth would be instantly reduced to ashes. Scripture says that the wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23, 6:23). If this is the case, how do we get man out of the room alive? He must also be God. He must be Christ.

This dynamic of the Trinity was brought to my attention be a book I read this summer called “Pierced for Our Transgressions” by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach. More can be said about the particluar need for a sinless substitute, but for now it somply blows my mind that in Christ, humanity is brought into this circuit of propitiation such that God can mevel His righteous judgment on humanity and yet humanity can survive.


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Here’s the funny thing about worldview: Everybody has one, but it’s not the one they say they have.

Mark Driscoll reminded me of this in “Radical Reformission”, saying that people usually act in contradiction to the worldview they profess.

This fact is at the heart of how we as Christians use worldview as a tool for evangelism. This fact is also at he heart of how we as Christian mis-use worldview as a tool for evangelism. Let me explain.

Coming to understand worldview was a very exciting time for me as a Christian. My first exposures to David Wells, Don Carson, and Frances Schaeffer were unforgettable. I absolutely cherish the increase in wisdom I gleaned from reading these men. They helped me see that Christianity is reasonable and coherent, and that the unbeliever’s unbelief and sin is exposed by the incoherence of their worldview. As I would evangelize from time to time, I found myself analyzing the worldview of the person I was trying to share the gospel with, with particular respect to post-modernism. As I would discuss evangelism with other believers, my emphasis typically gravitated toward unraveling worldview.

Most of this is good. It involves listening and interaction with the people we evangelize. And yet I can’t help but think that most of the time, I’ve made things too complicated. It’s not that I’ve been lecturing people about their worldview, wagging my finger at them about their epistemological dilemmas. It’s more that I was spending too much time trying to move them out of their worldview and into mine, when most of the time they were already there.

I mean to say that when the discussion is philosophical, post-modernism is the flavor of the day, but when we’re walking down the street, we’re all good, old-fashioned pre-moderns at heart. Pre-modernism held that truth could be known, that God (or gods, or at least the supernatural) existed, and they revealed truth to us for which we were accountable.

We are all pre-modern when we look for meaning in our life, when we demand justice, when we help little old ladies across the street, when we expect others to correctly understand what we say, and even when we grab a coat because it’s cold outside.

istock_000004313258xsmall.jpgTruth is like gravity. I literally holds the moral universe together. We can all deny that it exists, but that only makes us out to be fools. We assume truth just like we assume gravity, And in the end we’re all grateful that our feet are planted firmly on the ground.

The practical results of denying truth would be like removing gravity from the universe. Imagine our feet leaving the ground. Imagine the atmosphere dissolving into space. Imagine planets leaving their orbits around the sun and dying. Imagine the universe itself dissipating. Nobody wants to live in that universe.

Now imagine someone coming to your door to take what’s your because they want it and they’re stronger that you. Imagine having no grounds for objection. Nobody wants to live in that world. Nobody does…yet.

So we see that people are not willing to live with any worldview other than the pre-modern, Christian, Biblical worldview. They only depart from it as long as it serves them. While it eases their guilt and permits their sin they’ll say that anything goes. When their own pursuits are obstructed, their true colors are revealed. And even while they deny the Biblical worlview, they assume it.
In the course of evangelism, I think it’s important to remember that it is the gospel that saves people. I certainly know and believe that, and yet I find myself trying to grease the wheels for the gospel by deconstructing their worldview first. Make no mistake: it is important to listen and understand where people are coming from. Worldview helps you figure that out in a hurry, just avoid the pitfalls of over-thinking and misuse.

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I remember a few years ago when Don Carson come to my church for a conference. I had recently read his book “The Gagging of God”, David Wells’ books “No Place for Truth” and “God in the Wasteland.”, and Ian Murray’s “Evangelicalism Divided”. My head was buzzing with my new-found understanding of worldview history and the evolution of epistemology (the study of how we come to know truth) and the influence of of these two factors on the church. I was eager to ask Carson what he thought was next. At the end of the conference I got my chance when several of us were chatting him up.

The answer he gave me was humble. He said he didn’t really know what would come after post-modernism and deconstruction. Had I been clever enough I might have asked him how these things would impact the church. I would bet money that he would have forecast something like the Emergent Church movement, especially since some of the earliest prototypes were already in play.

Personally, I dialogged a bit with one of the readers here about where the whole Emergent things was going. In my opinion, I said, the movement was moving toward churches without Bibles. In her response, the reader (Dani) observed that Saddleback (Rick Warren’s church) members often didn’t bring Bibles. This is probably because, as the Irish Calvinist has observed, Scripture is provided on overhead displays and in the printed programs. No doubt, as Dani noted, Saddleback’s foundation is built on some of the ideas common to the Emergent, such as a de-emphasis on Christian academics, doctrine, and theology proper. (Dani, I hope I’ve repped you properly!)

istock_000003593234xsmall.jpgWhat I meant was something even more terrible. When I said that I saw the Emergent Church shedding the Bible, I meant the pastors.

Since the Emergent movement is basically post-modernism gone to seed in the church, the Bible with all of its truth claims and dogma will eventually find its way out of the ‘church’ entirely. Already Scripture is not much more than a starting point, so its disappearance will be gradually and mostly unnoticed.

These churches may also end up without pastors, at least as we know them. Post-modern foundations instantly undermine the purpose of a pastor, at least as a teacher of some kind. Most likely, pastors will devolve to being paid cheerleaders and administrators. When truth claims are deemed oppressive, that aspect of the pastor’s job (preaching the Word) is pretty much unwanted.

Imagine that: churches without Bibles OR pastors! And yet, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

That is a scary thought. When churches empty themselves of their authority, the Bible, and the stewards of that authority, the result is that Christ’s churches will be primed to be filled with something other than Christ. What’s more, I believe that eventually the world will reject the silly conclusions that we come to when we cut out the legs of truth. They will realize that relativism demands that we be permissive of every form of perversion. the free pursuit of perversion will lead to anarchy, and anarchy will encroach on their ability to pursue their own good. Post-modernism WILL be rejected.

I don’t know how long this will take., but the vacuum left by post-modernism, in this penny-prophet’s opinion, will be one who offers peace through an authoritarian rule. People will be thirst for direction. It could take 100 years, but people will turn from the absurd conclusions of post-modernism, and there will be one who gives it to them. I think you know of whom I speak.

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Hear ye! Hear ye!

In case you want to hear how badly I botched Don Carson’s story, quoted below in “He who makes the game makes the rules.”, follow the link below:

Don Carson – Omaha Bible Church, 2002

It is the third of the three messages, dated 10/4/2002.

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I had the opportunity over the last two weeks to fill in as teacher for our adult’s Sunday school evangelism class. We were discussing the major elements of the gospel, and to my pleasure I saw that the curriculum called for a discussion of the role of creation in the gospel. Creation is a critical element in establishing the context of the gospel, but it is something that is almost always overlooked by everyone. Ask anyone who has shared the gospel with someone recently if they referenced Genesis, and you probably get a look like you just asked them to unscrew their heads.

Why is this? It’s a simple but vitally important connection. A few years ago I heard D.A. Carson (Christian scholar, author and all-around uber-genius) tell a story that I’ll never forget:

The story, as best as I can remember it, involves an Irish (English? whatever) religious-school teacher who gets “stuck” teaching the Bible class to young boys. Seems the teacher was new, and Bible class being considered the most cumbersome to teach and uninteresting to the students, fell to the last in the pecking order. So the teacher begins by having the children all make gingerbread men. Interesting way to start a Bible class, they’re probably thinking. They are told to give the gingerbread man a name. Then they make a world for their gingerbread men to live in (yes, out of order, I know…), and even make rules for their gingerbread society. Finally the teacher asks the students, “Now what would you do if your gingerbread man looked up at you and said ‘You know, I don’t think I’m going to follow your silly rules. And waht’s more, I’m not sure if I even think you exist.” One of the students replies, in his little British accent, “I’d break his legs off!”

“Open your Bibles to Genesis chapter one.” says the school teacher.

Cute? Yes. Profound? Even more so. Even these young boys understood that creation equals authority. You bring this little man made out of cookie dough into the world, and you’ll take him out if you have to. The creator owns what he has created, and out of this springs authority.

God, our Maker, made us. The gospel makes stringent calls on our conduct, calling us to repent and trust in the atoning work of Christ for our salvation. Why does everyone have to be saved this way? Why does everyone even have to answer to this God who makes such specific demands?

Because He created you, He owns you, and you are therefore accountable to Him.

Do not overlook this critical element of context of the gospel. In this post-modern age many people you will talk to lack basic Christian vocabulary. Failing to establish God authority in creation is like getting a call from a total stranger who says you are late for work. Huh? Oh by the way, this is your BOSS! Oh yeah, be right in. Get it?

No you don’t have to read to them from Genesis 1-3, but you do need to be clear that God is calling them (not you) and that he has a rightful claim, not of moral superiority, but of ownership.


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Pray it like you mean it.

Just a few thoughts on prayer. Prayer is an intensely personal practice. At least it should be. In a lot of ways, no-one can really tell you how you ought to pray. D.A. Carson, author of “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” and all-around uber-genius, says quite a bit on what the content of our prayer should be like, echoing the thoughtful theology of Paul’s prayers, but he says very little regarding style.

And well he should (or should not). Prayer is a personal conversation between two, well, persons. Nobody should tell you exactly how you should pray anymore than they should be dictating your personality.

At the same time, I think that many of us are guilty of doing what D.A. Carson call “aping the idiom.” By this he means that people’s prayers are often a bi cut & paste of what they’ve heard other people say. Praying in King James English, with all the “thee”s and “thine”s is one example. Copying Biblical vocabulary without really understanding it, like referring to everything being for “God’s glory,” is another example. Sure some people know and own that verbiage, but often it is just cut & paste.

That said here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Be personal. You are talking to God, another person. He is the almighty Lord of the universe and all, but we still call Him “Daddy” (Abba) because of the work of Christ. Personal prayer should sound like you’re actually talking to somebody.
  2. Be self-critical. Ask yourself “Why do I say that?” or “What does that really mean, anyway.”
  3. Rephrase. Do you actually know what that expression means? Try putting it into your own words. Make it personal.
  4. Spend more time in thanksgiving and praise. In my opinion, these aspects are very personal and often neglected. Many people skip straight to the “I want”s and “I need”s. Dwell on a way to personally express yourself to God.
  5. Be regular. Being prayer-less leads to the feeling that you are entering a house where you used to feel at home, but now you feel like you have to knock first. Further, the sinful fleshliness that pulled you from prayer is a barrier between you and your God.
  6. Be a Christian. If you feel totally out of sorts in prayer, and you can’t get comfortable, you may not be on speaking terms. God does NOT hear the prayers of the unsaved (John 9:31).

Try these pointers on for size, hopefully they will enhance your prayer life. Your prayers will always be at their best when they are most personal.


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