Saturday, March 21, 2009

D.A. Carson on the Biblical Gospel

There is a PDF on-line written by D.A. Carson on the Biblical Gospel. It is a good read and includes this quote:

Thus the gospel is integrally tied to the Bible’s story-line. Indeed, it is incomprehensible without understanding that story-line. God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath. But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects. In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell.6 What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).

HT: Justin Taylor


James said...

Love is the very essence of his character--yet the misery in inherent in rebellion and alienation from him won’t suffice: to them must be added “his implacable wrath.”

There is a people--but a small fraction of all the people of the world--who for millennia are granted “something” of what God can provide. All the rest, for their having been born too soon, are denied even this. Then God takes on human nature by dying and rising and bequeathing the Holy Spirit [did the Holy Spirit then arrive coincident with the coming of the Christ?] and thereby brings a salvation conditional on “obedience” to the gospel. Those who do not obey, or believe, “before it is too late confront the torments of hell. Yet even I Peter 4.17 itself, as well as 5.10, not to mention many other passages, notably I Thessalonians 4.17 and Mark 9:1, declare that the time, the time for us all, believers and non-believers alike, has passed us by.

Even if one rejects the plain meaning of “are alive” and “not taste death until,” one might hesitate to advert to only three verses before so boldly condemning five sixths (the adherents of other faiths and Christians who come up short) of the human race alive today, and many more before, to the torments of hell, or still more hesitate to fall down in worship before a god whom one takes to have to have done so.

And on what basis this condemnation? Apparently, a deficiency of subscription to two central doctrines of the Christian faith. (A) God sent his Son, became man, and (B) the Son’s death and resurrection can save us. The basis of the minority’s salvation is also the basis of of the majority’s condemnation. For to be saved, to be relieved of the torments of hell and to secure instead “an eternity of bliss in the presence of God,” one must believe A and B, and act in obedience to whatever strictures emanate from these beliefs.

No one would deny, I take it, that it’s a harsh view of how the world works that it ends in eternal torment for so many. But further, on the supposedly positive side, the side of heaven and its entrants, it mocks all notions of moral agency and responsibility among the saved that their relief hinges on an occurrence at Golgotha two millennia ago, together with a belief in this occurrence. It isn’t fair or right that anyone’s fate should rest so heavily on belief in an event and its salvific character. It rests too much on the belief that it should weigh so heavily and all else so lightly. It rests too little on all else that the belief should weigh so heavily. No fair judge would rightly assess a life on so narrow a basis--if he would judge and condemn for all eternity at all.

If one responds: ah, but what’s required is obedience to the gospel, not mere belief but the behavior that is the fruit of belief, I respond in turn that doctrine is turned askew so far as it allows the test to be behavior of the sort believers and non-believers alike may happen to exhibit rather than the distinctive belief in the saving event that distinguishes subscription to Christianity. (Of course, one might contend that true believers can be shown to behave in more upright fashion than others--but I would dispute the assertion on empirical grounds, and again behavior is a side issue, belief a central and defining one. Even the behavior counts only as it tracks belief.)

Carson cited may sway the converted, though Lord knows it should discomfit them. But surely anyone gripped by ordinary morality will take no stock in such folly.

James said...

The weakness of the foregoing is that it ignores what Carson, citing Boice who cites Packer, says about the centrality of entering into a certain relationship with God/God-in-Christ.This accords nicely with Paul’s stressing participation in a new creation, dying with Christ and belonging to him/becoming a new person/being one person with him (to steal some phrases from Sanders). The transfer from the domination of Sin to the life of the Spirit is spelled out in Romans 6:5-11, the very core of the gospel. The way in is dying with Christ, and the way out is a resurrection like his.

So salvation does not so much derive from belief as it does from a relationship with God in Christ.

But what’s deplorable in Carson is that he makes too little of participation in Christ and too much of the exclusion of the non-believer, and not his mere exclusion but the visitation upon him, sought out in a nasty non-Pauline text, of “vengeance,” Not that Paul doesn’t foresee wrath coming to those who ignore the word, but that he eschews the reveling in flaming fire and vengeance attributed to him in II Thessalonians. And this very nastiness Carson embraces. This is not the gospel of Paul in I Corinthians 13, nor of Jesus in Luke 10 or 15. Or Matthew 7.1-5.