April 5, 2013
Friday Five Interview: D.A. Carson
What's ahead for the The Gospel Coalition and the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
D.A. Carson is the author and editor of numerous books and commentaries. Since 1978, he has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, currently serving as research professor of New Testament. Dr. Carson is also the co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. Dr. Carson was kind enough to stop by for some questions about The Gospel Coalition, Christian higher education, and his latest book, Jesus, the Son of God.
You recently released a book, Jesus, the Son of God. Why the emphasis on son-ship for pastors and theologians today?
The title “the Son of God” is one that is repeatedly applied to the Lord Jesus, so there is a perennial responsibility to understand it. There are two factors that make this responsibility more urgent at the present time. First, sometimes the world of biblical interpretation and the world of systematic theology do not mesh very well. In this instance, how do we move from the various uses of “Son of God” in the Bible to the meaning of “Son of God” in Trinitarian theology? There are important ways of making the connections, but not many Christians these days have thought them through. To restore such knowledge is a stabilizing thing, and an incentive to worship. Second, certain voices are suggesting that we can do away with “Son of God” and other familial terms in new translations for Muslim converts. In my view this is both bad linguistics and bad theology, and needs to be challenged.
You're one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition. As you approach the sixth year of its existence, what do you see as the future for the organization and for the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
It is very hard to answer this question, for only God knows the future, and if he withholds his blessing the movement will die away. What is so pleasing about it is that the leaders of the various organizations that make up the movement care for one another, pray for one another, and genuinely love one another. If this continues, I am confidant that there will continue to be robust expansion for some time. As for The Gospel Coalition itself, increasing regionalization means that there is more participation in local areas, along with all the mutual encouragement, times of prayer, deeper fellowship, and even concern for church planting that these things breed. Various forms of international outreach are also developing—and in several countries, pastors in quite different language/culture groups are developing analogous organizations. May the Lord have mercy upon all of us and bring glory to himself by these small but exciting efforts.
TGC is often criticized for its’ complementarian position. Why is this issue so central for you?
Every generation has to work out the application of the gospel in the teeth of particular societal trends. One of the trends in Western culture is the breakup of marriage and family. At a time when more than sixty percent of the children in our inner cities are born out of wedlock, when countless numbers of children will never have a relationship with a stable father, it is imperative that faithful proclamation of the gospel in our time speak to questions surrounding marriage and the family—and it is not possible to do that in a robustly biblical fashion without saying something about Scriptures’ instruction on men and women.
Moreover, there is a hermeneutical factor that must be frankly faced. I know full well that many dispute this point, but in my judgment, the kind of hermeneutics on which evangelical egalitarianism is based is so weak and disturbing that it opens the door for numerous other distortions of Scripture to multiply. And finally, it is very important to remember that TGC has repeatedly said it is a center-bounded set: that is, our aim is not to generate an organization where the boundary is set sufficiently large that it includes all genuine Christians and excludes everyone else. Our understanding of the Scripture is that it has a very robust teaching as to what the gospel really is—and at the center of our organization we want to maintain and promulgate that vision of the gospel. We therefore do not worry too much about whether this person or that person feels he or she can or cannot align with the Coalition. People can use our resources freely, whether they agree with us in every particular or not.
You've taught for many years at one of the prominent evangelical seminaries, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Are seminaries still necessary for the 21st century church?
I do not think there is only one way of training pastors and missionaries for ministry in this century. I see varied forms of training in many different parts of the world and most of them have a valid place. Seminary training is only one valid form. On the other hand, at least some of the voices that want to reject all seminary training strike me as not only ignorant, but proud of their ignorance—and I suspect that in many cases a little more experience finds such leaders scrambling to find able and informed Bible teachers to nurture the congregations they are planting.
You've often said that the Church is three generations from losing the gospel entirely. What advice would you give to pastors and church leaders to ensure that this doesn't happen?
This question is an important one, but very difficult to answer in a few lines. Read and meditate on the Scriptures constantly, and self-consciously place yourself under Scriptural authority. Walk with epistemological humility—and that means carefully learning from Christian leaders in the past so we do not tumble into precisely the same mistakes. Devote yourself to disciplined prayer. A prayerless person is a disaster waiting to happen. Never stop evangelizing: it is much easier to get sloppy about the gospel if you are not proclaiming it and seeing men and women come to Christ. Develop close attachments with a handful of trusted people who are experienced and discerning, and make time for edifying fellowship. If you are a pastor, read widely—commentaries, theology, historical theology, devotional literature, and so forth. A pastor must be a general practitioner. One is far more likely to make mistakes of proportion and judgment where one sees oneself as a kind of specialist.
Daniel Darling is a pastor, author, and speaker. He regularly blogs here. Follow him on Twitter: @dandarling