Scandalous by D.A. Carson, a book review
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Scandalous was one of the books that cried out to me from the bookshelf. I had went into a Books a Million to look for some Christmas presents and I found myself as I always do wandering into the Christian Living and Theology sections. I was looking for something else but I had always wanted to read something by D.A. Carson so when I saw Scandalous I picked it up and browsed the Table of Contents and of course the endorsements on the back.
Carson was said to be a great communicator of Scripture, who was both theologically rich and devotionally warm. This book certainly showed that. It is a book that is extremely well written and that keeps the reader engaged from the first page. At times I felt as if I was sitting in a Master’s level theology class, while at others I felt like I was in church listening to Carson preach, and then there were other times I felt like I was sitting in front of a fire, drinking a cup of coffee and having a one on one conversation with Carson.
Scandalous is a book about the Scandalous love of God on the cross. It is a book about the resurrection of Jesus, news that would have been considered Scandalous 2000 years ago. Throughout the book Carson stays focused on the themes of the cross and resurrection, death and life, but he doesn’t stay with just the Scriptures that talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection. You will find yourself being taken from the cross to the book of Romans to the story of the Triumphant Lamb in Revelation 12, to the graveside of Lazarus, and ultimately back to the story of the Resurrection. All along the way however Carson stays focused on the cross, letting us know that without the cross, without the death of Jesus nothing else in Christianity matters. He weaves all of these Scriptures and more together to show us that the entire Christian narrative is about the cross. The scandalous love of God that was displayed on the cross.
The first chapter lets us know the preeminence of the cross, as it talks about the ironies of the cross:
*The man who is mocked as King is the King
*The man who is utterly powerless is powerful
*The man who can’t save Himself saves others
*The man who cries out in despair trusts God
These are rich, life changing truths about the cross. Things that we as followers of Christ need to know and meditate upon because they show us that God is in Sovereign control, even at the cross God is in control. This chapter felt like a sermon to me, but it is a sermon that needs to be heard.
The following chapter details the center passage of the Bible, Romans 3:21-26. It is not the center passage location wise, but it is the center passage theologically. This is the central message of the Bible. Carson tells us, and rightfully so that leading up to this point in the book of Romans, that Paul has been showing the sinfulness of sin, with its damaging effects. Now however Paul shifts gears to let us know that redemption from this terrible thing called sin is possible, forgiveness is offered, we can be justified. How? Through the blood of Jesus Christ, through the cross, where Jesus willingly became a propitiation for our sins. The word propitiation is a word that Carson focuses on, and it is one of the most important words in the entire Bible for it means that Jesus took God’s wrath in my place. That is an amazing, life changing truth. This chapter is almost like a lecture in a seminary theology class, but hopefully it is a message that will be heard because we (Christians) need to hear the message of propitiation. We need to realize what Jesus accomplished on the cross. We need to know the depth and the richness of the love of God. Someone recently said, “many pastors stay away from the subject of wrath and from the word propitiation, and people miss out when they do.” We need to know the depth and richness of Jesus’ love for us, and that is seen in the word propitiation. He willingly took God’s wrath in my place. God’s wrath against sin had to be satisfied, for God is a holy God, and Jesus satisfied it on the cross. When we dwell on the theological implications of propitiation, this theology leads us to doxology and we can’t help but to break out in praise and live for the glory of God. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me….”
Which brings me to the next point, Carson closes his chapters with a poem or a song. In doing so he lets us know by demonstration that just learning about Jesus and the cross isn’t enough, it must cause us to break forth into praise . It must cause us to live our lives for the glory of God.
The following chapter talks about the triumphant of the slaughtered Lamb of God. This is probably the hardest chapter to understand as Carson reveals to us his eschatolgy. His beliefs about last things. But in it he reminds us that the church in many places throughout the world is experiencing persecution, and that regardless of what we are experiencing in our culture that we need to continue to be faithful to the task that Jesus left us with. The task of clinging to the blood of the Lamb and testifying to other people about the power of that blood.
The next 2 chapters of the book, dealing with the resurrection of Lazarus and then ultimately the resurrection of Jesus are certainly the 2 easiest chapters to understand. Carson beautifully lays out the Scriptural story of the death of Lazarus and shows us how God does surprising things to glorify Himself. It is a chapter that reminds us to be alert to what God is doing around us, those surprises we might miss out on, those things that God does to bring glory to Himself. It is a chapter that shows us that sometimes what is best for us is a delay in an answer to our prayers. Mary and Martha have asked Jesus to come because their brother Lazarus is at death’s door. Jesus delays, which results in Lazarus dying but that ultimately results in him being resurrected. God is glorified and Mary and Martha see His power and have their faith solidified.
The last chapter feels as if you are having a conversation with a man who knows the Bible and how to apply it to life. It is a chapter on Jesus’ resurrection but it is also a chapter on doubt, specifically the doubt of Thomas about the resurrection, but it also deals with our doubt. And it is here that Carson becomes his most pastoral as he deals with the reasons for doubt. He lists 6 reasons that believers doubt (ignorance, moral choices, part of the maturation process, small choices that lead to sin, sleep deprivation, and dealing with a crisis in life). He says that these aren’t all the reasons for doubt but that they are some of the reasons that people doubt in the Scripture and some of the reasons that we doubt today. Still the beauty of the Gospel, the love of God, and the power of the resurrection helps us to triumph over those doubts.
Carson’s book is aptly titled, Scandalous. The love of God displayed in the cross was and is scandalous. The reports of resurrection were scandalous. It is scandalous today to think about Jesus reigning triumphant, and it is also scandalous to believe in resurrection. I would also say that it is scandalous to think that this message, the cross and resurrection of Jesus, has been quickly disappearing from the life of the church. It is scandalous that it is being replaced with a gospel of morals, how tos, and ways to live your best now. Still it is the Scandalous love of God that our world so desperately needs. It is the scandal of the cross and resurrection that can transform our churches. Carson powerfully reminds us of that. It is a book to be read, marked, meditated on, and cherished as we think about the love of Almighty God.
(8 out of 10 stars)