“God spoke to me about my marriage. He told me, ‘It is finished.’ I knew I was free to get a divorce.” The man who said this to me was churchgoing and Bible-believing. He knew the gospel, valued prayer, evangelized, and could even defend faithfulness in marriage. And yet he believed God had mailed him a “Get Out of Marriage Free” card. How can someone be committed to the Bible on one hand and claim special revelation from God on the other? The power and deceitfulness of sin is surely one answer. Rejection of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture is another.
In The Collected Writings of Scripture, D. A. Carson helps Christians understand both the nature of Scripture and the perennial challenges to its sufficiency. In each essay, Carson defends an orthodox doctrine of Scripture against those who would muddy it or deny it with reformulations. Pastors (like myself) who witness the doctrine of Scripture taken for granted or outright abused, will find Collected Writings an invaluable resource.
Many of Carson’s younger readers did not cut their theological teeth during the most recent inerrancy debates. They take the doctrine of Scripture to be a fortified city and imagine it unscalable. As a result, this generation is at risk of assuming Scripture is trustworthy and authoritative while being unable to explain why. Meanwhile many critics are scaling the walls. In Collected Writings Carson wages a robust defense and, as expected, offers a model of doing theology with precision and pastoral care.
Part one of Collected Writings is a series of five essays. The first chapter is the most accessible, “Approaching the Bible.” It was first published in 1994 as an introduction to the New Bible Commentary. Carson succinctly addresses the essential issues: revelation, canonicity, inspiration, authority, and interpretation.
In chapter two, “Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture,” Carson rebuffs those critics of inerrancy who insist the doctrine is novel. In chapter three, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology,” Carson insists that although exegesis ultimately drives our biblical, historical, and systematic theology, our theology always informs our exegesis.
The next chapter, “Redaction Criticism: On the Legitimacy and Illegitimacy of a Literary Tool,” is a useful read for those of us with friends, family, and perhaps church members who have recently stumbled into Bart Ehrman’s writings and now ask how to make sense of apparent discrepancies in Scripture. The redaction criticism that some use to attack Scripture can just as easily be marshaled for its defense. Carson asks in chapter five, “Is the Doctrine of Claritas Scripturae Still Relevant Today?” This chapter is a brief defense of the doctrine of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture in an age where postmodernists lobby against our ability to take any text seriously.
Part two of Collected Writings is composed of five reviews covering nine books. Reviewing each review would be tedious. Suffice it to say that in each we watch as Carson wrestles with subtle and not-so-subtle challenges to the doctrine of Scripture.
Readers will be especially interested to see how Carson engages Peter Enns’s work, Inspiration and Incarnation, and N. T. Wright’s The Last Word. Enns left Westminster Theological Seminary in 2008 after his book led some faculty and trustees to question his orthodoxy. WTS finally concluded that Enns’s writings “fall within the purview of evangelical thought.” Carson’s review is kind; he does not question Enns’s orthodoxy. However, Carson presents a litany of questions that Inspiration and Incarnation fails to answer. Carson seems to conclude that there is not enough information in the book to know if Enns has veered from an evangelical view of Scripture or if he is simply dancing along the edge.
Carson’s review of The Last Word is more damning. Every study, theme, and doctrine we present should be hitched to the authority of Scripture. Wright reverses the order. According to Carson: “The problem that Wright has himself introduced is to so tie God’s authority to the inbreaking kingdom that the authority of Scripture becomes a ‘sub-branch’ of such topics as mission, transformation, ultimate hope, and so forth.” The result, Carson implies, is to pull the rug out from under the authority of Scripture altogether.
1. Collected Writings is a wonderful tool for pastors. In the daily grind of ministry difficult questions come up-even questions about the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Pastoral visits and regular sermon preparation can serve as excuses to keep us from revisiting foundational topics. This should not be the case. A pastor who devotes time to Collected Writings will find himself better prepared to equip the congregation he serves.
2. I did not find every section of Collected Writings accessible. Because it is a collection of essays written over a 30-year period, more than one audience is represented. Still, it is good to be challenged, especially in an area so important. Readers intimidated by certain sections should not give up. What doesn’t kill you . . .
3. These essays warrant collection and re-publication because they introduce the reader to the main historical, biblical, and theological attempts to revise the doctrine of Scripture. Nonetheless, as Carson admits in the preface, “discussion about the nature of Scripture continues apace.” This book, though extremely valuable, should spur careful readers to keep abreast of new works on the topic.
4. Collected Writings is not a replacement for either Scripture and Truth or Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, two works edited by Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Readers unfamiliar with these works may be tempted to forgo them since three of Carson’s main essays in Collected Writings originated here. Flee temptation! The Carson/Woodbridge volumes remain a comprehensive introduction to the doctrine of Scripture.
5. Carson does more than write about the truthfulness of Scripture; he labors to press Truth into the hearts of all who would listen. It is this combination of scholarship and churchmanship that make Carson’s work(s) so useful.