The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God – D.A. Carson
If, in an alternate hypothetical universe, I were to write a book entitled the Fiendishly Complex Compendium of Cunning Conundrums, I fear that few people would be adding it to their holiday reading list.
In this hypothetical universe, the reasons for my failure as a novelist are manifold. Problem number one, I am the author. Problem number two, the title of my hypothetical book is more likely to repel, rather than compel, my hypothetical reader.
Similarly, I am aware that any book entitled The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, is likely to raise similar reservations. My first task, therefore, is to tackle that title so that we can proceed to the matter in hand.
The title of D.A. Carson’s, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, implies length. We might reason thus: to explain a doctrine is so difficult and so complex that it must surely necessitate a great many pages, ergo this must be a long book.
It is surprising to find, therefore, that this book is not long. In fact, in my edition, it checks in at fewer than 100 pages. Given my penchant for big books (see previous review); this book, it must be said, is relatively miniscule.
The second concern suggested by the title is actually stated in the title: this book deals with a difficult topic; this is the DIFFICULT Doctrine of the Love of God. I am aware that for some of us this will be an issue.
Before I offer you some reassurance, it is important to state that this book is difficult. The reassurance is that this book is difficult in a way which is both good and helpful.
To help you understand what I mean by this, I want to firstly tell you a little about the author. Dr D.A. Carson is a professor at Trinity Evangelical College and a leading New Testament scholar. He is most assuredly freaky clever. To explain what I mean by ‘freaky clever’, I share this with you: I understand that Dr Carson has memorised the entire New Testament in Greek. Yes, you heard me correctly, IN GREEK. This is what I mean by ‘freaky clever’.
But this is just one aspect of his ministry, however. Dr Carson has also served as a pastor and regularly speaks at conferences for lay people.
This is important in that the Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God captures and reflects both aspects of this ministry and this is how this book manages to be both difficult and yet incredibly helpful.
For all the weightiness and complexity of its subject matter, this book is written with incredible clarity. But more that this, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God is clearly written with pastoral as well as theological intent. This book addresses a very real problem facing those striving to live out the Christian faith and witness to the gospel in today’s culture. Dr Carson addresses this problem in the following terms,
If people believe in God at all today, the overwhelming majority hold that this God – however he, she, or it may be understood – is a loving being. But that is what makes the task of being a Christian witness so daunting. For this widely disseminated belief in the love of God is set with increasing frequency in some matrix other than biblical theology. The result is that when informed Christians talk about the love of God, they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture. Worse, neither side may perceive that that is the case (my emphasis).
And so Dr Carson addresses a fundamental error with a pastoral application in mind: that believers would be more effective, confident and informed witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But what is this fundamental error, we must now ask? Dr Carson recognises that to misunderstand what is meant when Scripture reveals that ‘God is love’ is to misunderstand the very nature, character and person of God.
The purpose of this book is this: to glimpse the deep truths Scripture reveals with regards to God of the Bible. In so doing we find that the love of God cannot be divorced from his justice, his righteousness, his holiness and even his wrath.
There is no grander topic for an author to address or for a reader to study and contemplate and, if Dr Carson challenges us to think deeply (and he does) it is with the sole aim that as we come to understand God more fully we would come to know him more deeply. In this way, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God combines the deeply and profoundly theological with the pastoral. To paraphrase one of my favourite writers, good theology is always immensely practical for it is meant to be lived out.
Scripture urges us to contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints. In doing so, Scripture assumes that we ourselves understand this ‘faith’ for once entrusted. This is why this is such an important book. We cannot understand the gospel, Jesus’ mission, the cross, salvation or who we are made to be in Christ without first understanding who God is.
Dr Carson drills down deep into the Scriptures and discovers a God who is, yes, loving and merciful and gracious and kind. He also discovers that this same God is angered by wickedness, stands against unrighteousness and punishes sin. Dr Carson presents a God and a gospel worth fighting for.
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