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Book Review: 'The God Who Is There' by Don Carson


By stephen - Posted on 03 February 2011

One of the most bewildering things about being a new Christian is THAT set of 66 books we know as ‘The Bible’. Not that the Bible is puzzling as THE Word of God but how it all fits together.

I remember as a relatively new Christian ‘baby’ attending a ‘Walk Through the Bible’ seminar. It was good, very helpful … and a lot of fun!

Using our workbooks and the space we were in; we were able to put the various ‘parts’ of the Bible into a chronological big story that made so much sense. It was great!

But for some of us, the Bible is a jigsaw. We know it fits together somehow, but how?

Well, I have some good news for you … this book is for you! Read on …

In 2009, in Bethlehem Baptist Church, Don Carson gave a series of talks about God as follows:

1. The God Who Made Everything
2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels
3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements
4. The God Who Legislates
5. The God Who Reigns
6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise
7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being
8. The God Who Grants New Birth
9. The God Who Loves
10. The God Who Dies—and Lives Again
11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just
12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People
13. The God Who Is Very Angry
14. The God Who Triumphs

As a result of these talks, a book entitled “The God Who Is There (Finding Your Place in God’s Story)” by Don Carson was published in 2010 by Baker. Koorong gave this overview in their excellent FFT catalogue. “It can no longer be assumed that most people, or even most Christians, have a basic understanding of the Bible. In this introduction to faith, Don Carson takes seekers, new Christians, and small groups through the big story of Scripture, helping them to know what and why they believe.”

Sounds good; let’s begin!

I’ll give some personal insight into the first 3 chapters to help you get a feel of the book then I'll add some general statements about the rest of the book.

 

Chapter 1. The God Who Made Everything

Carson introduces us to the Bible and what this library of books basically is. Beginning in the first book ‘Genesis’ Carson then aims to inform the reader as to what God’s story actually is (see the subtitle). But how will he deal with differences in evangelical interpretations? After all, the Creation account is a modern day battlefield when it comes to the ‘when’ of God’s creation!

Carson decides to walk this tricky road carefully – disappointing special creationists in the process (well, someone had to miss out!). Having said that, he probably needed to add more clarity to the debate - sooner or later, we all will have a view of creation (especially the 'days' of creation).

I very much liked his mention of ‘The New Atheists’ in this chapter as it gives the book a more contemporary ‘feel’.

"Who is God?" Carson asks. The book is a waste of trees if this question is not given its rightful place (assumed knowledge is not good enough).

Well, states Carson, ‘He’ simply is; making ALL things that are non-God; He talks (a communicating God) and is the Maker, therefore, of humanity (made in His image; male and female – originally without sin and innocent).

Carson then sets the tone for the rest of the book: “God made everything, and we human beings who have been made in his image find our greatest fulfilment, purpose, happiness, and integrity in being rightly related to him.” And “All of human accountability and responsibility before God is grounded in the first instance in creation. He made us, and we owe him.” (p.26)

 

Chapter 2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels

If special creationists were disappointed with some aspects of Carson's interpretation in the previous chapter, they will be unhappy with some aspects in this chapter.

Carson decides not to adopt a definitive, literalistic interpretation of Satan’s role in the Garden. He seems to, in my opinion, allow for ambiguity - especially when it comes to symbolism.

However, he summarises (very well in my opinion) the cause of The Fall and the ensuing consequences. In particular, he effectively takes us into the ugly, shameful world of sin and the 3 curses (the serpent, the woman, the man).

I liked his conclusion: “You cannot make sense of the Bible until you come to the agreement with what the Bible says our problem is. If you do not see what the Bible’s analysis of the problem is, you cannot come to grips with the Bible’s analysis of the solution. The ultimate problem is our alienation from God, our attempt to identify ourselves merely with reference to ourselves, this idolatry that de-gods God; and what we must have is reconciliation back to this God, or we have nothing.” (p.41)

Having begun with the ‘big picture’ from a ‘good creation’ to a cursed humanity and world, Carson then asks the question: “Who will fix that?” (p.42)

 

Chapter 3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements

This is such a great chapter!

God is not what we often make Him out to be e.g. ‘The super-soft grandfather’ or the ‘god’ who will scratch my back if I scratch His.

By examining Acts 17, Carson shows us that God cannot be manipulated nor does He actually need us (shock, horror!). It’s us who actually need Him!

In fact, it is God Who writes His own agreements called 'covenants'. Passages studied are Genesis 12, 17, 15 & 22.

This book needs a serious look at God’s sovereignty and Carson delivers. Thank you Don!

Also, he introduces a concluding prayer that is unexpected but welcomed.

There follows the remaining chapters …

4. The God Who Legislates
5. The God Who Reigns
6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise
7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being
8. The God Who Grants New Birth
9. The God Who Loves
10. The God Who Dies—and Lives Again
11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just
12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People
13. The God Who Is Very Angry
14. The God Who Triumphs

So, what about these chapters?

I’m assuming you want to read a book review and not a novel but please allow me to say just a few more things about these chapters.

What Carson does is extremely good and oh, so helpful.

He continues to develop the ‘Big Story’ of the Bible; carefully explaining where various books fit in as well as various Bible people.

All the time he is leading us towards the coming of Jesus. For example, he carefully addresses John’s Gospel in Chapter 7 as he unfolds for us the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us i.e. the eternally existing Son of God is born as the man Jesus. It’s masterly, cleverly written and essential.

This book, as well as the Bible, is really about Jesus; Who He really is; why He came and some unfinished business (yet to happen – but it will!)

In Chapter 8 Carson introduces us to the necessity of a new birth and I am grateful for his insight into the discussion Jesus had with a Jewish religious leader (and significant teacher) of the day, Nicodemus. Again, very engaging insightful and instructive.

However, before I mention my own personal highlight of the book I would like to mention a great strength of the book.

The God Who Is There is a not an endless notebook on the big story of the Bible.

What do I mean by that?

Well, it’s not a 'mini-theology' book that keeps expounding theological themes only; page after page.

There are many interesting stories/illustrations that Carson uses to highlight what he believes to be the most important aspects about the Bible that we should know – whether people, events or teachings. Many of these stories/illustrations are personal – from Carson’s own life, and quite captivating.

For example, in Chapter 7 he tells the story of a Muslim man he met at university. They became friends and they both shared their distinctive worldviews with each other.

On one particular occasion, Carson and his friend, Muhammad, went on a guided tour of the Canadian Parliament building. Featured in the central foyer of this building are various famous figures, such as Socrates and Aristotle.

The tour guide, as per usual, asked those who had attended the tour that day if there were any questions to which Muhammad sincerely asked, “Where is Jesus?”

Carson could not find a crack in the ground into which he could crawl so he remained party to the awkwardness of the situation (and the question!) as the guide responded, “ I beg your pardon?”

Why the question from the man from Pakistan?

Muhammad had been reading the Bible, which he quoted to the guide,” I read in the Christian Bible that the law was given through Moses but that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Where is Jesus Christ?”

The guide admitted no recollection of that Bible quote to which Carson, now bemused, muttered, “Preach it, brother.”

What a wonderful illustration to complete this chapter, entitled “The God Who Becomes a Human Being.”

No doubt, there are certain chapters in this books that are more meaningful than others, depending on each individual reader and where he/she is at in their understanding of the Bible but, in my opinion, there are NO chapters of which I would be at all critical of - at all.

OK, may I share my highlight with you?

Chapter 10. The God Who dies – and Lives Again.

This chapter was especially powerful and very moving. It held my attention very well. Here's why.

I have been a Christian for 32 years.

I know about the last week in Jesus’ life. I have heard it many times and read about it many times; as well as speaking about it.

However, I deeply appreciated the manner in which Carson addressed this topic. He taught about this ugly aspect of humanity's response to the Son of God in a brilliant and unforgettable way.

He did this by building the part of the chapter around 4 themes:

1. The Man Who is mocked as king is King
2. The Man Who is utterly powerless is transcendently powerful
3. The Man Who can’t save Himself saves others.
4. The Man Who cries out in despair trusts God

This is an outstanding chapter in which Carson deals cleverly with irony and reality.

Irony in that the Powerful gives Himself in weakness and reality in that He freely allowed Himself to die naked in such a shameful, bloody manner – a horrible way to die – yet this is how He will save the lost: The God Who Dies and Lives Again.

Very moving chapter which honours the risen King.

 

CONCLUSION

This is a really good book; and one that should not be ignored for the following reasons:

It’s suitable for anyone who has a real desire to encounter the Bible as God’s Big Picture; hence making valuable sense out of the various books and people of the Bible and where they fit in.

But more than that; it’s about you too – “Finding Your Place in God’s Story”. (The book's sub-heading). You are in this book - yes, you are!

Some cautions are needed, however.

This book has a reading level of a senior school student and above. Carson is an academic and he has tried very hard not to be one whilst writing this book but he is, to be fair, dealing with theological concepts. He can write no other way, for this book and what he is trying to achieve with people - people who want to think.

Also, having been a Christian for a long time – Carson inadvertently lapses into assumed “Christianese” (assumed Christian knowledge with the use of Christian terminology) that an unbeliever would not necessarily know or understand.

So, would I give this book to a non-Christian? Absolutely – no hesitation; go for it!

Is it OK for new Christian? Oh yes, as long as their reading ability is up to it (check out a free chapter below). I think it is brilliant for a new Christian!

Is it OK for mature Christians? Well, I think I am one of those and I will be using this book again and again. It won’t be stockpiled to collect dust like my Hebrew dictionaries. It has ongoing usefulness.

And finally, come on Christian! You know you are at best fuzzy on the big picture of the Bible … be honest. I can cure that for you … buy this book (or get someone to buy it as a present for you). No more procrastination. You know you need help!

And finally #2; great study book for a group, or even pairs of Christians; even with a non- Christian.

And finally #3; it's very reasonably priced for what you get.

In short, highly recommended; without reservations!

 

DETAILS

The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story” by D A Carson
224 pages, from Baker.
Koorong #303828
Paperback AP $16.95
ISBN 978-0-8010-1372-0 (pbk)

 

FURTHER RESOURCES and REFERENCES

1. SPECIAL: Full audio and video are available for free for the entire 14 part series HERE.

2. Download Chapter 1, The God Who Made Everything, as well as the table of contents, Preface and recommendations for free (pdf)

3. FULL (free) MP3s and videos (10-minute previews) are available HERE.

4MONERGISM has a good critique of The God Who is There. 

5. Don Carson will be speaking in 2011 at the Easter Convention at Katoomba, NSW, Australia.

Stephen Cracknell

 

 

(CHRISTIAN FAITH is a non-commercial site. Koorong Academic very kindly donate products to us to be reviewed - at our invitation. We appreciate their ongong support. Our reviews are our opinions; written in terms of how useful a product may be to you.)

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