Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
168 pages plus 2 indices
It might be a sign that I have read too many of Dr Carson’s books if they no longer truly impact me where I am at any given moment. I have read a lot of his books. I have listened to a lot of his sermons. I have read a lot of his formal journal contributions. I am like a junky for Carson, at one time actually spending money to purchase very poor cassette tape audio recordings of his sermons. But this time I found myself finishing his sentences and skipping over time-worn illustrations and yawning. The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are amazing, mind blowing, earth shattering, soul undoing events. As Tim Keller notes: If Jesus is who he said he is, then everything changes.
In this book Carson did not do a good job of bringing those earth shattering realities to the surface or bringing my understanding of them to the point that my life is thoroughly, completely, utterly undone.
Scandalous is the first Carson book I have read in some time and, to be sure, I was disappointed. Disappointed enough that this will likely be the last Carson book I read. This is not to say it was a terrible book or that Carson’s scholarship was off or that his writing was, well, not Carsonish enough. It’s just to say that for the most part I was bored.
The book was cobbled together from a series of five sermons Carson preached at the 2008 Resurgence Conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. I’m willing to bet that these five sermons were actually written down in other books that Carson has written at some point in the past (many of his illustrations have been used elsewhere). If anything positive can be said about the book it is that Carson is at least consistent: He hasn’t said anything new since I started reading his work twenty years ago. That is what makes the work a rather tedious and hum-drum affair for me.
Don’t get me wrong. As far as theology is concerned, Carson mostly is right on target. He never deviates from his essentially Reformed Calvinist point of view and even though he never once mentions the name ‘NT Wright’ (he does get in a dig at Steve Chalke and Alan Mann in the note on page 69) one can sense that underneath much of what Carson writes is a polemic against the so-called ‘new perspective on Paul’ and what many in the Reformed camp feel is a threat to the grip they have on theological power that goes along with the Reformed interpretation of the atonement (viz., penal substitution). I find it hard to believe that something so obvious needs so much defense.
It’s almost as if someone is trying to dress up an old theologian and make him into a hip, happening kind of guy. The cover is cool: ‘Scandalous’ is emblazoned on the cover in shiny, raised, blood spattered letters that would make Dexter proud. The rest of the cover is an appalling black. All the right cool people are quoted lauding the work. Yet none of this changes the fact that when you open the book and begin reading you are struck by the fact that the most modern poet Carson quotes is himself. There are plenty of quotations from hymns written by Martin Luther, Lidie Edmuds, William Cowper and others, and these folks are fine, excellent hymn writers and poets. But they are from yesterday. I found it terribly disconcerting that Carson resorted three times to quoting his own poetry in the book (72, 109-110, 167-168) and that he was the most modern poet he quoted.
I think if you have never read DA Carson before you will find this a helpful book and, perhaps, even a good book. Like I said, Carson is not wanting for scholarship skills. If you have never read him before you will get a very good introduction to the Reformed view of the cross (although the book is subtitled “The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus” the Resurrection of Jesus only gets one chapter to itself) and resurrection. This may or may not be a good thing. I think when we get so intent on defending a point of view we often fail to be challenged or changed by the story itself.
If you have read Carson before, I think you will be bored and/or disappointed. He has not given his readers anything different or anything new to think about in this book. I wish he had interacted with some of those he opposes since it would have made the book a better read. He would likely be pleased with that fact, but for his readers there will be much yawning and sleepy eyed skipping ahead to the next page or the next chapter. And that will likely not please him one bit.
2.5 Stars out of 5