Why I’m Disappointed with DA Carson’s New Book (Gupta)

Why I’m Disappointed with DA Carson’s New Book (Gupta) March 11, 2016

Truth be told, when I was in seminary, I held Dr. DA Carson in the highest of admiration – he was a reputable biblical scholar, a man of the church, and intrepid defender of evangelicalism. I don’t know if he has changed, or if I have changed (probably the latter), but I was profoundly disappointed with his recent work The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures – an edited volume that boasts a veritable “who’s who” of Gospel Coalition scholars such as Paul Helm, Daniel Doriani, and Douglas Moo (Eerdmans, 2016). In seminary, I would have been delighted with such a book, steadfastly defending the inerrancy of Scripture. To be honest, I don’t really have a desire to spend much time on this book- I have read enough.

Now, to be fair, there are a number of contributors in here that I have a lot of respect for as honest, searching, “always reforming” scholars – Craig Blomberg and Kevin Vanhoozer always impress me. But the volume as a whole seems to come across as entrenchment scholarship – protect the Bible at all costs! Now, I actually consider myself someone that could sign a statement of inerrancy (as articulated by folks like Ben Witherington, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Mike Bird), but what seems to be problematic about this book is the assumption of the problem of “doubt.” As far as I can tell, there is no room for ambiguity, mystery, and aporiae. There seems to be a compulsion (esp on the part of Carson) to tidy up all so-called “problems” and paint a neat and perfect picture of inerrancy. Firstly, I am not sure that is all that necessary, and, secondly, it has the drawback of putting Christian assurance primarily in a text (“the Bible”) rather than a relationship with God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Again, I believe in the wholeness and trustworthiness of Scripture, but only insofar as it serves as a conduit and platform of a covenantal relationship with God.

Again, I want to be fair- several essays are “open” enough to let the tensions remain to some degree – esp the essays by Tennent and Vanhoozer. They want searching faith, not cheap assurance. But many readers will make assumptions about the aims of the book based on the framing – introduction chapter by Carson. When I say that this book seems “entrenched,” I am esp concerned with the introduction. For example, Carson makes a few personal swipes – for example he refers to the works of Peter Enns and Kent Sparks as “slightly angry and slightly self-righteous” (11). I don’t really think the word “slightly” helps here – he pretty much means they are self-righteous. That seems unnecessarily ad hominem to me. Carson criticizes NT Wright for using the word “somehow” in his statement that “the authority of the triune God [is] exercised somehow through Scripture” (p13). I think that is needless nit-picking. Wright is not being soft on biblical authority, he is just saying we don’t know exactly how!

Another concern: Carson picks on some global theologians who don’t like the word “inerrancy” because of its American baggage. Carson seems to think this is a slippery evasion. Actually, I think the concern is fair. America is no longer the gravity of orthodox Christianity (if it ever was). Actually this whole Carson volume is heavily American (with some help from the UK). It is also overwhelmingly male, but I give Carson kudos for including a couple of female voices.

If you are interested in the subject of inerrancy (and, let’s be honest, the book should be called The Inerrancy of the Christian Scriptures), I much prefer to point you to a more rigorous academic conversation like Four Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan, 2013). If there is a section of Carson’s book that I might have students read for class, it would be the chapters on “Comparative Religions.”

As for myself, I still believe in the enduring authority of Scripture, but I no longer believe in the enduring authority of Carson.



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  • Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  • I have to agree. Though I can’t formulate a fully-developed rationale, I look at things differently ever since reading Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible”. The word ‘inerrancy’ is just not nuanced enough to use in describing how the Bible works to convey Truth.

  • Yes, that is why I appreciate Stott’s concerns with the word. I rather like to say Scripture is TELEIOS – it is wholly what reveals God in Jesus Christ. The human element of Scripture is not an obstacle to divine revelation.

  • Thanks Nijay,

    There is some interesting history on Don Carson’s summarising of the essays in Justification and Variegated Nomism – where the summary lost a lot of the nuance of the essays themselves. But in this case are you saying that the essays also lack sufficient nuance?

  • There is a mixture. Some like Tennent are more nuanced.

  • Talk to someone who is King James only….

  • Keith

    So because you’re on the brink of apostasy doubting God’s word you feel the need to attack men of God who are not? Great… Thanks for sharing.

  • Keith, I had originally written a snarky comment (but I deleted it just now), but I ought not to degenerate to that level. You are entitled to your opinion, but I think you have misrepresented my post.

  • fzaspel

    This of course is hardly a serious engagement — simply a declaration of your disagreement with the position advanced and, for whatever reason, a personal blow at Carson. The broad generalities you offer could have been given without reading the book at all … which makes me wonder.
    At any rate, some may want to check out our interview with Carson here —

  • Fred – if you want to accuse me of something, better get with it.

  • Timothy Knowlton

    Keith, it does’t help to have a correct view of God’s Word, and then not practice it:

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

    “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” Ephesians 4:32

    “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Ephesians 4:2-3


    in a recent podcast with Scot McKnight, he had a good view on how the word “inerrancy” implies certain things in US that it does necessarily have to mean. Going to a SBC seminary toward the end of the inerrancy wars makes me very hesitant to use the term inerrancy because of how it has been used as a club.

  • Fred Zaspel did in fact “accuse” you of something – i.e. not offering “a serious engagement,” but “simply a declaration of your disagreement.” In other words, your post is a series of disapprovals without substantial reasoned argumentation as to why you think so. Saying so doesn’t make it so.

  • Rockingwithhawking (I prefer to know names here BTW), It is hard to argue academically against Carson’s “arguments” because he mostly states his opinions, ie Enns and Sparks are “self-righteous.” He does not really back that up, so I have too little to work with. And that is actually part of my concern and a large part of the reason I don’t recommend the book. I think you would notice that if you read it.

  • Carlos Bovell

    Entrenchment indeed. The answer to the first question in the FAQs section for this book — “Why is the authority of Scripture so hotly debated today?” (page 1157) — is this:

    “We live in a time when many competing voices scramble to impose their own understandings of life, culture, spirituality, and much else – the ‘age of authenticity,’ in the words of Charles Taylor, when what makes us “authentic” is that we adopt an intrinsic suspicion of authorities so that we can be free to be ourselves. From the Bible’s perspective, this is, in part, a reprehensible flight from God, a form of idolatry.”

    Would believing-Christian scholars Pete Enns and Kent Sparks answer the FAQ question in this way? Of course they wouldn’t! If one reads what they’ve actually said in their writings, one will see that their answer is very different from the answer that Carson (or whoever wrote this section for him) gives.

    The answer of Enns, Sparks and other would be something like: “While trying to study the Bible over the years with an open heart and as a help for worshipping and relating to God in an inward way, I came to see that inerrancy, rather than facilitate this act of worship, was somehow fundamentally getting in the way.”

    For what it’s worth, that’s my answer too.

    Grace and peace,
    Carlos Bovell

  • Christiaan

    Do you understand the meaning of “ad hominem”?

  • yes

  • Patricia

    Wow, where is the trembling at the word of God in this review?

  • Carson has not been canonized. Yet.

  • Christiaan

    Perhaps then you’d care to use the term correctly next time?
    NOWHERE does Carson reject a scholar’s conclusions because he rejects them as persons (or any aspect of them as persons).

    By such a definition of Ad hominem, this blog post, in detail, innuendo and overarching tone is Ad hominem.
    Much of it sounded like the remarks of a jilted lover. Very personal.

    While you talk of serious engagement in the blog, you give the impression of defensiveness rather than engagement in many of your replies. And when you are challenged you revert to misplaced precision (a common, often unconscious, type of defense amongst academics).

    Related to this, you expect much from Carson, but many of your answers seem tone-deaf or flippant. E.g. when Patricia talks about trembling before the Word of God, you’re the only person who thought she referred to Carson. She’s obviously referring to your statements about the Word of God and their implications for it. Not to Carson!
    (Very personal.) So in your somewhat suspicion-evoking complaining against inerrancy you become quite literalistic! (Including your answer to my obviously rhetorical question.)

    Zaspel’s last comment is of course right. And fair. And he didn’t WANT to accuse you of something. He actually did. I also notice he accurately and fairly touched on the fact that there’s a negative, disapproving tone to what you’re saying, and that, and much of what you’re saying in fact in disagreement, doesn’t seem to be warranted by what’s actually on the table and on the page here.
    You may not like that inference, or agree with it, but it comes out of a fair reading of what you wrote. It comes from what and how you actually wrote. What you actually invited onto the page.
    I’m not going to blame for not making the blog post longer, but more actual, substantial comment might have ofset the undeniable subtext.

    I would have doubted your fairness less if, for instance, you’d at least referred to Carson’s detailed comments on Enns (in reviewing his book), and not simply said he just states an opinion.
    Actually, most people won’t have too much trouble applying Carson’s views on the topic to Enns and realizing why he said it.

    Yes, Keith’s tone was uncalled-for. (Btw saying you give a snarky comment which you deleted, is not far from having actually said it.) But he has a point. Your tone and the general impression from what you sound like here sounds like many theology students I know sounded like before they either lost their faith or started spiralling into moderate or hard Liberalism. And this is a real concern, not some measure to stifle open enquiry and academic theologians’ fun. It is a real concern for God’s glory, and not simply some pesky fundamentalist ploy.

  • Marc

    Hi Nijay. You write that “I believe in the wholeness and trustworthiness of Scripture, but only insofar as it serves as a conduit and platform of a covenantal relationship with God.”

    But isn’t Scripture objectively trustworthy and whole even if a person does not have a covenantal relationship with God?

  • Marc

    I came cross this review incidentally, while googling upcoming books by Carson. I started into this book and was really liking it, but got bogged down, it is really long.