Don Carson on Evangelicalism
Recently I attended stimulating seminars at St Bartholomew’s Church, Bath, led by Don Carson on the subject of ‘What is Evangelicalism?’ They were arranged by Bath Word in Action.
Don Carson emphasised that evangelical theology rests on the authority of Scripture. He showed from 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 that the gospel is: Christ-centred and theological (‘Christ died for our sins’); biblical (‘according to the Scriptures’); apostolic, historical and personal (by this the Corinthians were saved, and in it they stood; 15:1); universal in scope (Christ is the ‘last Adam’; 15:22, 47-50); and eschatological (consummated in resurrection glory; 15:50ff).
He also showed from the same scripture passage that preaching is the appropriate way to disseminate the gospel, since it is an announcement of good news.
The gospel is fruitfully received in authentic, persevering faith; disclosed in personal self-humiliation; asserted as the central confession of all true churches (1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:34); leads to gospel ecumenicity and catholicity; and boldly announces the inevitable victory of Jesus the King. All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Christ, and his triumph is certain (15:28).
In the light of this we are to be ‘steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord’ (15:58).
While the gospel is cognitive and propositional, it works itself out in the moral and spiritual life of the believer. The gospel is the focus for resolving all problems in the church. It announces God’s wisdom, unites divided churches, demands holiness, speaks to marriage and singleness, resolves disputes about adiaphora, defines male-female relations, and is the context in which spiritual gifts are exercised in Christian love.
The Lord’s Supper focuses on the gospel of a crucified Christ. Nothing should be allowed to displace the gospel, for this is what makes us Evangelicals.
Passion for the gospel
Social reformers like Wilberforce were ‘prophetic from the centre’. Their social activism was the outworking of their passion for the gospel.
Deviation from the gospel brings an apostolic anathema (Galatians 1). Even the apostles were subject to it – Peter was rebuked by Paul because he did not walk ‘according to the truth of the gospel’ (Galatians 2). The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church still differs radically from the biblical gospel on the crucial issue of justification by faith alone.
In the later sessions Don changed his style. He was more conversational and anecdotal, as we discussed issues arising from the seminars. He took liberation theology (LT) as an important example of deviation from the biblical gospel.
In LT, the norm is not the Scripture as a whole, but the Exodus event is understood as liberation from political oppression. The Exodus is for LT advocates the theological norm, because of present-day social contexts where the poor are oppressed. But in Scripture, the Exodus event is interpreted in the light of the gospel – Christ’s ‘exodus’ (Luke 9:31). In Christ we are liberated from sin, death and hell.
Don Carson should come to the south west of England more often!