D. A. Carson’s Blessed Conundrum

by Phillip on April 4, 2012

CONUNDRUM: a confusing and difficult problem or question.

D. A. Carson as a neo-Calvinist reflects a theology in the tradition of Dutch theologian and Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper who said:

“In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare,’That is mine!’”

This is a quote that resonates with our inner-most being because we know that if there is a God He must be sovereignly in charge of this universe and have complete ownership including ultimate responsibility over it.  Anything less would be quite belittling of the name “God”; how much more must this be true of the God revealed to us throughout Scripture.

And this is where we believe D. A. Carson finds himself within a “blessed conundrum,” a good problem–one we believe will move us toward more truth and light.  As he tries to reconcile the God who “loves the world” and “who desires all men to be saved and come to repentance” with the God whose “word does not return to Him void” and whose “ways cannot be thwarted” he finds himself faced with a serious contradiction.  As  J. I.  Packer says, “two entirely different deities” are represented within the Calvinistic and Arminian views.  Somehow Carson has allowed this omnipotent all-powerful God of the universe to co-exist with a deity that consigns billions of His image-bearers to cycle in rebellion and hatred against Him forever!  This is indeed a conundrum, but one which eventually leads to the blessed understanding that the God who DESIRES to save is the same God who is ABLE!

And we are told rightly by this neo-Calvinist that this God is ABLE to do exactly as He pleases, not only in the physical universe but also in the hearts of any man, woman or child. He has the ability to woo and win any person He so wills to come to Him.  Therefore His glory within His image-bearers need not end up in an eternal hell for He has the very “keys of death and hell” and the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.

In Carson’s theological paradigm God is to have all the glory. But inexplicably, according to D.A. Carson, ALL the glory will NOT in fact go to the Most High God but rather MOST of the glory will go to billions of unrepentant self-worshipping creatures who cycle sin, punishment and death forever:

“…there is no shred of evidence in the N.T. that hell ever brings about genuine repentance. Sin continues as part of the punishment and the ground for it.” (D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Matthew 13-28), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1995, p. 523)

“What is hard to prove, but seems to me probable, is that one reason why the conscious punishment of hell is ongoing is because sin is ongoing.” (D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God, Leicester, Apollos, 1996, p. 533) (Ref. is made to Stott, Essentials, op. cit., p. 319)

I hope you find this incoherent and see how Carson has led us inadvertently to see the only alternative:  that the God who is ABLE is the same God whom we have been told by the Arminian/free-will believers DESIRES to save all.

We will be unpacking more from “The Don” as we take a look at his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.   

In the meantime here are a number of interesting quotes by Carson to ponder:

“Wrath, unlike love, is not one of the intrinsic perfections of God. Rather, it is a function of God’s holiness against sin. Where there is no sin, there is no wrath-but there will always be love in God. Where God in His holiness confronts His image-bearers in their rebellion, there must be wrath, or God is not the jealous God He claims to be, and His holiness is impugned. The price of diluting God’s wrath is diminishing God’s holiness.”  D.A. Carson  The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 2000, p. 67.

“The cliché, God hates the sin but loves the sinner, is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty Psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, His wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Romans 1:18ff) and on the sinner” (John 3:36).  D.A. Carson  The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 2000, p. 70.

We found this additional quote recently on the Monergism site within the article, The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement. It is a discussion on the Calvinistic concept  “Limited Atonement.”  It highlights a further “conundrum” in regard to the application and effectualness of the atonement :

“The label “limited atonement” is singularly unfortunate for two reasons. First, it is a defensive, restrictive expression: here is atonement, and then someone wants to limit it. The notion of limiting something as glorious as the Atonement is intrinsically offensive. Second, even when inspected more coolly, “limited atonement” is objectively misleading. Every view of the Atonement “limits” it in some way, save for the view of the unqualified universalist. For example, the Arminian limits the Atonement by regarding it as merely potential for everyone; the Calvinist regards the Atonement as definite and effective (i.e., those for whom Christ died will certainly be saved), but limits this effectiveness to the elect…”               (http://www.monergism.com)

To consider why we agree with D. A. Carson that the love of God is indeed a difficult doctrine to grasp, but for entirely different reasons than Carson, see our article: D. A. Carson: The “Difficult Doctrine” of the Love of God

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