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The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God Paperback – December 10, 1999
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About the Author
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is Emeritus 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.
Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
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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.
Top international reviews
As I did not know what it was, I felt I had no love in me or I was incapable to love. Then God found me and I opened the Bible and read about His love.
As recent as six months ago, I felt I found a solid ground in understanding agape - which was defined for me as the highest order of love which was not dependent on emotions, but of will, and God loved us in this way. I thought all kinds of love did need agape to underpin them in order to see us through good days and bad days, to maintain consistency in our love for others. If love depended only on emotions and our feelings, it would become whimsical and we saw people falling in love and out of love as natural as the tides coming in and out. If this was so, love then lacked wisdom, and other qualities that associated with love, such as faithfulness and fidelity. I thought it made sense.
Then I read this book by D Carson, who does not like compartmentalizing love by the Greek words which describe different kinds of love. In particular, he does not think that we should read too much into the distinction of agape against other forms of love or that we should understand God's love just by the distinction drawn from the words used. It seems to ask me to unlearn what I have learnt and restart again!!
If I understand correctly, I think Carson's main reservation about seeing God's love as agape is the implication of impassibility - the lack of emotions in God's love. He tries to tell us, God's love is not void of affection. I agree with him on this. But one thing I think is key to understanding God's love - that is, love is one essence of God and we cannot consider His love apart from His other essences. This I think is a common mistake. Carson emphasises God's love in the context of who He is. We can see the soundness of this approach when we look at God's love and God's wrath. While God's love is God's essence - i.e. God is love, God's wrath is only a functional quality of His holiness; if there is no sin, there will be no God's wrath, and God will still be God.
Through this book, it is my first time to gaze into the intra-trinitarian love, from which all love emanates. It is beautiful although not totally easily to grasp or picture due to the fact that it is beyond our experience. I have never thought of that and Carson brings to me that place to catch a glimpse of it. For that I am grateful. He helps me see how Christ's perfect obedience to His Father is actually His love for His Father. It was one of those moments when I knew I looked into something which was not from man.
Carson also spends quite a bit of time to talk about the scope of redemption, and summarises his position in that redemption is sufficient for all and effective for the elect. If we do not get this right, it does have bearing on our evangelistic zeal. I think his view is consistent with Christ's great commission for his disciples.
As I closed the book, I pondered upon how deep God love was - it never seemed possible to understand how deep it went. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19) I don't think we can ever really quite grasp that.
As I closed the book, I also pondered upon how deep and profound the Bible was. It never ceases to amaze me with what is contained in it. The revelation embodied in it is endless and each time we open the Bible, something new pops out for us to challenge us, under the counsel of the Holy Spirit, who guides us to the truth. Each time when I see something out of this world, my heart is in awe and reverence. This little booklet of Carson's certainly has brought on something new for me to meditate, and guide me to see the glory of God. It is not always easy to read, and there were passages that I had to re-read. But it is certainly a book that should be re-read again and again as we meditate upon it because of its subject matter.
Carson shows how the Bible talks about different aspects of God's love, such as the intra-trinitarian love between God the Father and God the Son, the love that God has for the world of sinners, etc., etc. He rightly warns against overstressing some aspects of God's love while downplaying others.
Carson convincingly demonstrates that God's love for people is not simply his decision to do us good, but that he actually feels love for us, just as the persons of the Trinity feel love for each other.
Most of Carson's points are well taken and insightful. However, one thing he doesn't do that I think would have been useful is to give a carefully thought out definition of what love is, as far as that is actually possible. It is true that he does discuss many different examples of God's love, and it is possible to gain a lot of insight into what God's love is from these examples, but it would have been helpful to see a definition.
A bigger complaint is that in his discussion of God's love and sovereignty, he seems to assume that on the issue of God's sovereignty and human free will regarding salvation, the choice for an evangelical is between Calvinism and Arminianism. This is too simplistic. In my own view, both Molinism and Lutheranism are superior to Calvinism and Arminianism on this issue. It would have been good if these other systems had at least been considered.
All in all, however, this book is well worth reading.
Actually, people generally don't know what is love.
Usually under the label "love" they think about anything else and not about the real love.
Carson analyses all these and other difficulties, and provides concise and valuable exploration about the Christian doctrine about God's love.
I used this book as the basis of some teaching in church recently, and found that even mature Christians were taught and challenged.
From providing deep reassurance to the Christian, to encouraging and motivating concern for those who don't yet know Jesus - this book is well worth the read.
Yet another excellent contribution to any Christian's library from Dr Carson.
loved his book.
Not an easy read but deep and good.
John Piper recommends this book as one of the best he has read concerning the love of God
It was taking from a lecture which can be heard on the Gospel Coalition site.