In this edition of Exploring Hope, Keith Whitfield talks with D. A. Carson about how to prepare for Christian ministry and evangelism to an increasingly post-Christian culture.
In the past year, I have read four excellent books on the doctrine of Scripture. I thought I’d pass some recommendations on to you.
D.A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture, compiled by Andy Naselli (Crossway, 2010). This book brings together a variety of essays, articles, and even book reviews that Carson has written over the years. Carson deftly addresses such issues as inerrancy, hermeneutics, and the relationship between biblical and systematic theology. I had a chance to review this book for Southeastern Theological Review, and in my review, I wrote “Carson’s book deserves widespread adoption in college and seminary classes and universal inclusion in pastoral and even local church libraries. It is that good. Whether read in its totality or spot-read along and along, Collected Writings on Scripture is that rare volume that is essential to any minister’s bookshelf. I give it my highest recommendation.”
Mark D. Thompson, A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP Academic, 2006). I recently read this helpful book as I was considering the best way to teach on the clarity of Scripture in my systematic theology class at First Baptist Church of Durham. Thompson discusses this perennially controversial topic from a biblical, theological, and historical perspective. He engages modern challenges raised by philosophical hermeneutics, as well as classic arguments against perspicuity raised by Roman Catholic thinkers such as Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine. He also critiques unhelpful approaches to biblical clarity that some Protestants advance, particularly versions grounded more in modern views of private autonomy than biblical theology. Thompson concludes that God has given us human language as a gift. When we read the Bible in faith and in conversation with the community of faith, we can understand the Scriptures.
Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (IVP Academic, 2009). Ward’s book, which I led a group of students through in my weekly Theology Reading Group, is a constructive appropriation of speech-act theory by an evangelical and inerrantist pastor-theologian. His view of Scripture is robustly Trinitarian and is in dialog with the best of the Protestant theological tradition, with emphasis on the Reformed Orthodox thinkers of the seventeenth century, the Princeton theologians of the late-nineteenth century, and the Dutch Reformed theologians of the early-twentieth century. If, like me, you like Kevin Vanhoozer’s Drama of Doctrine, then I suspect you will appreciate Ward’s creative restatement of the historic Protestant doctrine of Scripture.
John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Webster’s short monograph was also served up to the Theology Reading Group. Webster’s view of Scripture is also thoroughly Trinitarian and emphasizes the role the Bible plays in the believing community. His emphasis on the holiness of Scripture is also a welcome contribution. His chapter on how the Bible should be used in theological schools is perhaps worth the price of the book. Unlike the other authors, however, Webster is far more Barthian in his understanding of inspiration, making him hesitant to identify the very words of Scripture as God’s word. Nevertheless, for the discerning (and patient) reader, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch offers many helpful insights about Scripture, tradition, and the church.
There are many ways to minimize God’s glory. One way is to reduce his Lordship to immaterial “spiritual” things like our devotional lives and personal ethics. Those things are very, very important, and in fact build the core muscles with which we do everything in life. But alongside of those things we must also recognize Christ’s Lordship over the material and “cultural” aspects of our lives. If we minimize the academy—thereby minimizing the arts, the sciences, the public square, business, sports, and any other realm represented by the academy—we rob ourselves of the ability to fully glorify the Lord.
What are some practical steps we may take toward building a missiology for the academy? For starters, I’ll say that we should continue to do the one thing that evangelicals have not neglected: campus evangelism through student ministries. We should throw our support behind local church college ministries such as Generation Link and Campus Outreach, and behind campus ministries such as Campus Crusade or Baptist Campus Ministries. In addition to this aspect of campus ministry (on which evangelicals have focused), we must take at least three other practical steps (which we have often neglected):
First, our churches should preach and teach in such a way that they assign significance to the life of the mind, and to the realms of life represented by the academic disciplines. We must rid Christianity of the sub-Christian belief that our physical, material, and intellectual life doesn’t matter to God. It does matter, because Christ is Lord. Every station of life—whether it is biology, philosophy, literary criticism, or business marketing—matters to Christ and should be undertaken in a Christian manner. In taking these stations of life seriously, we are able to leverage them for Christ and his gospel. We proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives.
Second, our churches should encourage people with PhDs to take their credentials and their vocation overseas. There are hundreds of major universities in Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East who are eager to hire Americans who hold a PhD. Many of them are willing even to hire an evangelical whose PhD is from a seminary and whose expertise is in New Testament or Theology. Most American students who graduate with a PhD will never find a full-time teaching job here in the United States, but they might easily find one overseas in a country where their gospel influence would be significant.
Third, our churches should encourage some of their most gifted young people to take their PhDs from Ivy League schools or well-respected state universities, so that they might find themselves in tenure-track positions in those same types of institutions. The whole world is sending their best and brightest children to study in American universities. Those children are shaped by our American professors, and then are launched into influential positions here in the USA or elsewhere. Why not send them on their way after having been shaped by several robustly Christian professors who put in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn a position teaching in a major university?
Missional Christians do not seek to escape from their earthly existence, but to shape it in light of the gospel. “The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope,” writes Bonhoeffer, “is that the Christian hope sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way.” Missional Christians recognize that the gospel is always proclaimed, and the Christian life is always lived, within a cultural context. Instead of chafing against this reality, we may participate in the joyful task of working out the gospel’s implications in those cultures, allowing the gospel to critique them and bring them under the scrutiny of God’s revelation, and seeking to redirect them toward God’s design.
“We await the return of Jesus Christ,” writes D. A. Carson, “the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the dawning of the resurrection, the glory of perfection, the beauty of holiness. Until that day, we are a people in tension. On the one hand, we belong to the broader culture in which we find ourselves; on the other, we belong to the culture of the consummated kingdom of God, which has dawned upon us.”God restores his creation instead of trashing it and expects us to promote the gospel within our creational and cultural context rather than attempting to withdraw from it. As such, we find ourselves with the opportunity to promote the gospel within the university context rather than denigrating it, minimizing it, neglecting it, or withdrawing from it.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Reginald Fuller and others, rev. ed. (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1967), 176.
 Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, 64.