12 March 2012

A Reader's Review of "From the Resurrection to His Return"

I'm very grateful for the folks at Christian Focus Publications who have selected me to write a review for one of their "book review blog tours". This time around, I was pleased to receive and read "From the Resurrection to His Return" by D.A. Carson. I did not hear any buzz about this book prior to seeing the advertisement for the blog tour, but I have read several other books by this renowned theologian and enjoyed them thoroughly. All I knew about this book was what the title implies... that it has something to do with the resurrection of Jesus, the present evil age, and His second coming. I also knew that it would be thought-provoking and well-written, given the author's intellectual endowment and communicative prowess. I am thankful for Christian Focus Publications and their continual dedication to sound resources; I'm humbled by their consideration of me to co-labor with them in their passion for equipping the saints.

My prayer is that you read this book (it is very short... around 50 pages) and let the truths impact your walk in Christ. We live in a cursed world and need to be grounded in Scripture in order to identify/deny error and know/speak truth. May we act on the exhortations of Dr. Carson in his book "From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days".

Here is what Christian Focus has to say about the book:
"This is not another book on what view to hold about the reality of Jesus’ return but it is about how to live in the light of his imminent return. D.A. Carson accurately determines that the Christian church has always lived in what the bible terms ‘the last days’… the period between his ascension to his Father in heaven and his return on the clouds of heaven.

Based on Paul’s teaching in 2 Timothy 3, D.A. Carson gives wise counsel to today’s church to avoid false teaching and to seek good mentors, those who will lead us in truth. He shows that to rely on worldly wisdom is folly, that the world is utterly sinful, but rather to cling to the Bible as the source of our counsel and guidance and help. But more than that he shows us that it is in holding the Bible out to a needy world we take its message to where it is needed the most.

To live in the last days is not to hang on in quiet desperation but to boldly take the word of God and apply it to every situation knowing that it will meet every need just as it has throughout the two millennia since Jesus promised to return again. That is how to live in the last days!"

Simply put, this book is an exposition of 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8. In this passage of Scripture, the apostle Paul is warning his young disciple Timothy of the onslaught of false teachers that would plague the church during the intermediate period between Christ's resurrection and second coming. He, in classical Pauline fashion, presents the problem and then fleshes out the practical implications towards a holistic ministry approach in the midst of such vile danger.

The book is divided into 5 chapters:

1. Living in the last days [2 Timothy 3:1-9]
2. Hold the right mentors in high regard [2 Timothy 3:10-11]

3. Hold few illusions about the world [2 Timothy 3:12-13]
4. Hold on to the Bible [2 Timothy 3:14-17]

5. Hold out the Bible to others [2 Timothy 4:1-8]

Living in the Last Days
The first important point Carson makes, is that Paul is writing primarily to Timothy in his own historical context and not most specifically warning him of events to come. The presence of false teachers existed in the first century and have continued throughout church history. While the church in the 21st century also deals with the deception of false teachers, this is not a new phenomena that we contemporary Christians are ill-equipped to deal with. The Apostles themselves, along with the Church Fathers, on down through the Reformation... truth has been assailed by soldiers of folly. The important thing to note is that the Word of God is our armory, furnishing the church (past/present/future) with an arsenal of spiritual weaponry to engage and defend (cf. Col. 4:6; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; 1 Tim. 1:18-19; 6:12; 2 Pet. 3:13-16; Jude 3).

The author then shows how Paul categorizes the characteristics of such ungodly men:
"The first four in the list depict selfishness..." [3:2: "lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant"]... "The next two terms suggest socially destructive behavior..." [3:2: "revilers, disobedient to parents"]... next, "there are four ‘un’ words... that mark literally the absence of something..." [3:2-3: "ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable"]... followed by "sins that reflect speech and behaviour" [vv. 3: "malicious gossips, without self-control"]... "Paul then lists two more ‘un’ terms..." [3:3: "untamed, haters of the good"]... then, "four items that show perhaps that Paul is moving from characteristics of the age to the false teachers themselves whom he is confronting in his letter..." [3:4: "treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God"]... and finally, the "list ends with a clause rather than with a single word or two..." [3:5: "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power"]... Carson continues to say, "they may sport a certain appearance of godliness but they deny its power... their religion is rich in form and verbal profession, but what is missing is the transformed life."
What I find especially important is Carson's comments regarding the "treachery" of these deceivers:
"The church is usually not too badly troubled by teachers who are, from the beginning, outside the framework of confessional Christianity, teachers who are saying all kinds of things that Christians view as foolish, dangerous, or simply false–because they're recognized as moving in another circle, they're bringing another set of assumptions. By contrast, if you find someone who has been a public teacher of Christianity for some time and who then gradually moves away from the center of the faith, it sometimes takes a while to discern the nature of the drift. When the first people to notice begin to wave a red flag, others say, ‘Oh, come on, you're being much too critical. After all, we trust this person; he's been such a huge help to us.’ It might take a very long time before many people clearly see how serious this drift is.

Such teachers, then, are traitors. They have turned their backs on what they once taught and defended, and so they have become treacherous. It is not uncommon for such people to become rash. They become impetuous in the sense that they do not think through the long-term effects of the stances that they are now adopting. They become conceited, far too impressed by their own new-found opinions and deeply persuaded that the people whom they have left behind are narrow-minded and bigoted. With egos the size of small planets, they become unwilling to think through things out of a confessional heritage
anymore; they are too busy telling everybody else how wrong they are."
Hold the Right Mentors in High Regard
In the second chapter, Dr. Carson points to the contrasting admonishment from Paul to Timothy. Though these wicked and vile men have crept in (and will continue to do so), Timothy is to avoid them (3:8), but also "follow" Paul's example with regard to word and deed [3:10-11: "teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings"]. I really enjoyed this chapter, since it deals so much with discipleship/mentoring. It is my conviction, that the contemporary church is lacking in this vital aspect of its definitive nature (Matt. 28:16-20).

As a side note, I'd like to point to the dire importance of disciplemaking within the context of "The Great Commission":
"The Great Commission has three participles: go, baptize and teach (keep in mind that participles are not true verbs but are verbal adjectives). These three participles are dependent upon the main verb “make disciples” which is an imperative or command. Therefore, the three participles (go, baptize and teach) are translated as imperatives because they receive their imperative sense from the main verb." ("The Great Commission" by Brian M. Schwertley)
Carson proceeds to apply the Scriptures to instruct the reader toward the practical manifestations of discipleship. He fortifies his exegesis with sage advice:
"Choose your mentors and then hold those right mentors in high regard. The reality is that, consciously or unconsciously, all of us follow people whether we intend to or not... But we shall be wise if we carefully choose our mentors, in line with the priorities of Scripture."
Again, the source is the Holy Scriptures. This is not only where we need to go in order to protect ourselves from deception, but it is also the fount of truth that supplies us with the knowledge of what is good (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The author then tells of his own personal experience... a nice biographical touch to soften the exegetical edges of the exposition. In this section, he points to the character/conduct of mentors. It is easy to focus on the teaching in our discipleship, with little or no regard to exemplifying godliness. He shares with the reader a story about an old friend (Dave) and his boldness to challenge others to observe him:

"one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave.
He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I've been reading some material on Buddhism, I've got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I'd get to know a little more about Christianity – that's why I've come.’ Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don't have time for you.’ ‘I beg your pardon?’ said the student. ‘Look,’ Dave replied, ‘I'll loan you some books on world religions; I can show you how I understand Christianity to fit into all this, and why I think biblical Christianity is true – but you're just playing around. You're a dilettante. You don't really care about these things; you're just goofing off . I'm a graduate student myself, and I don't have time–I do not have the hours at my disposal to engage in endless discussions with people who are just playing around.’

He turned to the second student: ‘Why did you come?’ ‘I come from a home that you people call liberal,’ he said. ‘We go to the United Church and we don't believe in things like the literal resurrection of Jesus–I mean, give me a break. The deity of Christ, that's a bit much. But my home is a good home. My parents love my sister and me, we are a really close family, we worship God, we do good in the community. What do you think you've got that we don't have?’

For what seemed like two or three minutes, Dave looked at him. Then he said, ‘Watch me... I've got an extra bed; move in with me, be my guest–I'll pay for the food. You go to your classes, do whatever you have to do, but watch me. You watch me when I get up, when I interact with people, what I say, what
moves me, what I live for, what I want in life. You watch me for the rest of the semester, and then you tell me at the end of it whether or not there's a difference.’

[he] did not literally take Dave Ward up on his offer: he didn't move in with him. But he did keep going to see him. Before the end of that semester he became a Christian, and subsequently a medical
missionary overseas."
What an encouragement this story is... what conviction it has wrought in this readers' heart. My hope is that I might find mentors who embody this biblically-saturated boldness in character and also exemplify the same kind of conduct to those disciples whom I will potentially shepherd. Carson ends this chapter with another great exhortation:
"You who are older should be looking out for younger people and saying in effect, ‘Watch me.’ Come–I'll show you how to have family devotions. Come–I'll show you how to do Bible study. Come on–let me take you through some of the fundamentals of the faith. Come–I'll show you how to pray. Let me show you how to be a Christian husband and father, or wife and mother. At a certain point in life, that older mentor should be saying other things, such as: Let me show you how to die. Watch me.

Those of you who are younger ought to be seeking out mentors who have Paul's characteristics. They
know the apostle's teaching; they display mature Christian fruit and conduct. Maybe they have been tested by suffering. They demonstrate love and endurance, patience and faith, joy and steadfastness, a hunger for holiness. In this broken world and sinful world, where in these last days so many siren voices are taking us in different directions, hold the right mentors in high regard."
Hold Few Illusions About the World
The author now concerns himself with the reality of this present evil age. The existence of evil and perpetual persecution are empirical truths. Carson rightly points out, Paul's intentions when he says, "evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse" (3:13):
"Paul does not mean that every generation is necessarily worse than every previous generation. He means rather that in every generation, evil people get worse and worse."
He continues with a calling for believers to have a right view of the world in which we live in:
"Do not be surprised... What is astonishing is that after the bloody century we have just come through, so many people think that if we simply sit around a table and talk we will sort it all out. This attitude is astonishingly naïve. Christians should never, ever, be surprised by evil. While we should always be horrified by evil, we should never be surprised by it. Do not adopt a Pollyannaish view of things. Do not be surprised by evil. Hold few illusions about the world. There are many times we should be horrified–surprised, never."
Dr. Carson concludes the chapter with a story about a pastor friend who developed a relationship with an Orthodox Rabbi. The striking thing about their friendship was the mutual respect regardless of disagreement. It is extremely important that we boldly stand for the objective biblical truths of Christianity , not only for the sake of our own convictions and conscience, but for the sake of others' perceptions in the midst of a relativistic society. We need not be afraid of thinking biblically.

Hold on to the Bible
Carson then moves on to one of my favorite passages of Scripture. What comfort for the saints to know that "the sacred writings" give us "wisdom unto salvation" and that they are "inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" so those in Christ may be "adequate" and "equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-17)! Here, the author pauses to address the problem of information without transformation; and shares some rich gospel truth with the reader:
"there is a way of learning the Bible that masters more and more data, that might even memorize a lot of text, but that somehow doesn't see the Bible as a coherent whole that brings us to faith in Jesus... Some who go by the name of ‘Evangelical’ view the Bible in such scrappy atomistic bits that they can find moralizing lessons here and there, but cannot see how the Bible gives us the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the Bible is not a magic book, as in: ‘A verse a day keeps the devil away’. It is a book that points us to Jesus, and this Jesus saves and transforms. This Jesus by his death and resurrection constitutes the good news that men and women may be reconciled to the living God. Here in this book there is instruction on what God has done in Christ Jesus; here there is the message of Christ dying for sinners, of whom I am chief; here there is the promise of the Holy Spirit given in down payment of the ultimate inheritance; here there is transformation. These Scriptures make you ‘wise for salvation’."
Next, Dr. Carson explains the doctrine of inspiration. He correctly asserts that the text itself is "breathed out by God" and that the writers of the Scriptures are not "inspired" in the same way that the Bible is. He concludes by expounding upon the result of Scripture being "God-breathed" or "inspired":
"This Scripture, this written material, is itself God-breathed. In consequence it is ‘useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God's people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work'... We desperately need to think God's thoughts after him...He writes to the church in Rome and tells them not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (see Rom. 12:1–2). And that means we must hold on to the Bible, not as a magic book, but one that teaches us how to think and what to think, one that provides an entire frame of reference. It is not that this frame of reference saves–only Jesus saves, not ideas about him. But if we understand what this gospel is, and look at all of the world around us out of the framework of this gospel and this book, then we are able to withstand the subtle allure of passing fancies that drive us away from the God who is our Maker, Redeemer and Judge. Hold on to the Bible."
Hold Out the Bible to Others
The final chapter in this book is the evangelistic exclamation point on Carson's book. Not only is it the climactic ministerial exhortation of "From the Resurrection to His Return", but it is also the thrust of Paul's charge to Timothy. The author highlights the passionate plea of Paul and the power of his language in presenting the young pastor with a high calling: the noble duty of preaching the Word of God (4:2). Dr. Carson rightly extrapolates from the specific exhortation of Paul to Timothy, a general evangelistic application to all believers through all time. If we interpret Scripture in light of Scripture (which we should), shouldn't we come to the conclusion that Paul is making an appeal to the words of Christ Himself ("make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you")? What Paul has presented to his young disciple, he has presented to every member of the body of Christ. The author elaborates:
"This is teaching ministry, whether it is in our home, in small groups, with our children, or when it is one-to-one. Across the back fence, around the coffee urn at work, in evangelistic Bible studies, or during adult Bible classes, Christians constantly are to be teaching and declaring the Word of God... We hold out the Word to others. We therefore think aggressively in terms of teaching the Word of God in every domain of our lives, and through every channel of the church, until men and women come under the sound of the gospel and very many are converted."
D.A. Carson concludes this little book by identifying the collective nature of individual gospel ministry. We are made into disciples and then we make disciples. We are taught, and we teach others. There is a reproductive chain in gospel ministry:
"In the light of Paul's charge to Timothy, one begins to see one's ministry not only in terms of teaching the Word right now, but as part of passing God's truth along to another generation that comes along behind us and takes up the reins, proclaiming this same gospel to yet another generation, world without end, until Jesus himself comes back. This chain that stretches forward also stretches backwards, all the way to the apostle Paul... Now you begin to see how your ministry in your homes, how your handling of this Word as you hold it up to others, how your teaching of a Sunday school class, constitutes part of this massive chain that connects us all the way back to the New Testament, and prepares the people of God for the return of Jesus Christ at the end. That is how Christians live and work in the last days. We hold out the Bible to others."

I love reading, and admit I was originally disappointed by the short length of this book. However, I quickly realized that the concise nature of it points to the incredible ability of D.A. Carson to communicate (it would probably take the same amount of time for someone to read this review as it would for them to read the book). That being said, I appreciate the ease and amount of time it takes to read and understand this book in order to apply the truth within. This little book is a great example of theology resulting in doxology... from exegesis, to expositional teaching, to practical application. We are given, in "From the Resurrection to His Return," biblical teaching on hermeneutics; discernment and apologetics; the doctrines of sufficiency, authority, and inspiration; suffering and sanctification; and evangelism and outreach... all in less than 50 pages! This little book packs a powerful punch of practical theology, wrought in the right division of the Word. I highly recommend it.

Other Books by D.A. Carson:


Click here: FREE PDF of "From the Resurrection to His Return" (from TGC)*

*HT Andrew Wencl (@AndrewWencl) of "Missions Outlook" for the link!

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product... that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE DIGITAL COPY OF THE BOOK. CLEAR ENOUGH?

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