There is nothing more controversial than the cross of Jesus Christ. The events surrounding the Lord and His cross have divided companions, countries, and cultures for generations. No other event has generated more conversation in the past or present than what has come as a result of the cross. Interestingly, the most divisive act in history is also the most unifying, bridging the deepest trenches of war that exist between men. The cross brings forth such ironies, insights and information that create a profound influence upon one’s life. However, that influence is often unrealized because the comprehension of the cross is often unrealized.
Recognizing such a trend in biblical illiteracy, D.A. Carson has put together ‘highlights’ of the cross to generate a summary of its significance in his book Scandalous. Comprised of five short chapters, Carson journeys through various passages in the New Testament in order to “give an introductory explanation of the cross and resurrection.” With the exception of chapter one and the description of the various ironies portrayed by the cross of Christ, the remaining four chapters are expositions of select passages as follows:
- (2) Romans 3 (specifically verses 21-26) as the center of the Bible.
- (3) Revelation 12 as Christ’s triumph over evil.
- (4) John 11 and Christ’s resurrection through an understanding of Lazarus’.
- (5) John 20 and overcoming doubt of Christ’s resurrection.
Both individually and together, each chapter is constructed to create an elevated view of God’s plan of salvation through the cross.
Carson’s exegesis of Scripture brings forth several areas of appreciation for readers. Many of the Christian concepts, events, and passages that Carson covers in the book are very well known not only to believers, but often to unbelievers as well. Electing to read them with little engagement and foregoing meditation, they are portions of the narrative that are so often reviewed that their significance is often overlooked. Because the author has chosen to spend time primarily expounding on a few passages as part of his summary (while citing applicable verses when appropriate) readers can appreciate the individual insights that he provides. Where others tend to skim slightly, the author dives deeper (see especially chapter four and his explanation of the passage about Lazarus in John 11). What makes this read better is his simplistic style. He does not over-complicate the issues and instead makes them understandable. Finally, where things may be unclear the author is certain to define and describe. At one point he defines propitiation and expiation, offering up some important distinctions not often understood.
If you will permit me to interject something personal here, I have found the need for defining terms important. Partly because people use the same word differently (i.e. reformed can convey several concepts depending who is using it and how). However, recent years has taught me the importance of this simply because many people do not even understand terminology and so either use it wrongly or don’t use it. My favorite hymn is His Robes for Mine by Chris Anderson and Greg Habegger (it’s a beautiful song that I would urge you to check out at the link). However, I have been in churches who choose not to sing the song because people don’t understand the words. When asking for examples, the common one given is propitiation. This is a biblical term found in Scripture (see Romans and 1 John). This is an issue, but the answer is not to avoid using it, but instead to use it more and define it. The avoidance of it does not only affect understandings in a general context, but it means people are unable to read their Bibles.
With that said, there are things to be learned from Carson’s writings here. However, I find the work to be lacking in two areas:
- It Lacks Connection: There are some significant observations presented. The author does well at bringing forth the cross and explaining how absurd, ironic, and profound it is. Yet, he seems to consistently fail to connect the insights with the implications. Why is this important for believers to know?
- It Lacks the Gospel: In its lack of connection, Carson has failed to bring forth the gospel message. Maybe my expectations were misaligned here, yet it seems that a logical conclusion of this information would be to clearly explain and draw forth the gospel message with a deeper understanding.
These two lacking areas detract from the book a great deal and impact its overall effectiveness.
I have a deep respect for D.A. Carson. I have learned much from him over the years and am thankful both for his theological teachings and for his personal testimony of Christian character (especially portrayed through his genuine humility). I often devour his writings with intensity as a result, even if there are minor points in which we would disagree. However, in this case, I have a hard time recommending the book Scandalous, not because it is unbiblical, but because it fails to capture the heart of the cross. In that regard, I think one’s reading time would be well spent in other resources, such as Greg Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? (interestingly enough, it was D.A. Carson who wrote the foreword to this book).
This book was provided to me free of charge by Crossway for the purposes of review. However, that did not impact my review and/or recommendation of the book. Instead the opinions expressed here are the response of my own reading of the book.
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