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The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God Paperback – December 10, 1999
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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About the Author
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
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The book is an adaptation of a lecture series, and therefore is quite readable and easy to follow, sometimes having a near conversational tone. He covers some very weighty topics, but explains things well enough that this book should be useful and beneficial to lay people as well as seminary students. At less than 100 pages, it does not take terribly long to read, but has lasting value in the life of the believer.
Furthermore, there are at least two reasons behind these two extreme views. First, we live in a culture where the view on the love of God is separated from other complementary truths about the attributes of God; mainly, the sovereignty, holiness, wrath, providence and personhood of God; what Carson calls "non-negotiable elements of basic Christianity" (p. 11). In other words, we filter the truths about God and only embrace what we want to hear because it is comfortable. "The love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable... it has been sanitized, democratized and above all, sentimentalized" (p.11). This tends to the view of an inordinately sentimental God. The second reason, related to the first one, is the tendency to compartmentalize the love of God, i.e., to hold an absolute view of a particular dimension of a multi-dimensional views of the love of God. This is the meat of the lesson. Carson teaches five ways the Bible speaks of the love of God; the intra-Trinitarian love, the providential love over His creations, the salvific goodwill of God toward the fallen world, God's particular effective love toward the elects, and his love conditioned upon obedience. Here is what happens when one of these is "absolutized, made exclusive, or made the controlling grid by which the other ways of talking about he love of God are relativized" (p.21). If one holds the first view only, the view of a remote impersonal uncaring God, similar to that of a Deist, is inevitable. When the second view is held as an absolute, it won't be surprising if one ends up embracing pantheism. As for the third view, which might be the biggest challenge for evangelicals, Carson commented "If the love of God is exclusively portrayed as an inviting, yearning, sinner-seeking, rather lovesick passion, we ay strengthen the hands of Arminians, semi-Pelagians, Pelagians, and those more interested in God's inner emotional life than in his justice and glory, but the cost will be massive" (p.22). Likewise, if the fourth view of the love of God is held exclusively and independently, one would easily end up being a Hyper-Calvinist. Finally, those who view the love of God as conditional only, have mistaken it and are misled toward legalism.
When discussing the issue of human freedom and responsibility and the sovereignty of God, as well as the doctrine of limited atonement, Carson does not seem to present anything new here, considering readers familiar with this perennial debate of free-will might have been aware of similar treatment by other heavyweight theologians; contemporary and classical, such as Profs. J.I. Packer, Mark Talbot, Sam Storms and John Piper, and of course Spurgeon, Luther's "Bondage of the Will" and the second book of Calvin's "Institutes," among many others. But Carson does teach a fascinating insight on the intra-Trinitarian love, by first pointing out to the eternality of the Sonship of Jesus Christ, refuting the argument that the Sonship only began at the incarnation. Then he specifically points out the specific way the Father loves the Son by showing Him all He does, and the Son loves the Father through his obedience; a model for our doing the same to God.
Having reminded the fallacy of the view of a therapeutic God, Carson also reminded the danger of a rigid view of the impassibility of God that "denies that God has an emotional life and that insists all of the biblical evidence to the contrary is nothing more than anthropopathism. The price is too heavy. You may then rest in God's sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love. You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love. Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and the depth and the length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:14-21)" (p.59). In the concluding chapter, there are two pastoral counsels that stick in my mind. First, the love of God is not merely to be analyzed and understood as a "head" knowledge, for theology sake, but "it is to be received, to be absorbed, to be felt. Meditate long and frequently on Paul's prayer in Eph 3:14-21." Second, "Never, never underestimate the power of the love of God to break down and transform the most amazingly hard individuals." Here is where a beautiful illustration from "Les Miserables" is given (p. 81-82).
Good things come in small packages. This little book is one such example.
This is a much needed book that directs Christians to a holistic view of the love of God. On's theology is going to be stilted if all they know and can say is "God loves everyone." We need to know out God more than that!
Carson walks us(this is not a hard read at all) though a biblical view of the love of God, it's difference types and facets and functions.
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God loves (Joh3:16) that open the door to spread the Logos and believe in Him.