Don Carson - The Great Need of The Times

I just came back from SMBCSydney Missionary and Bible College at around 10pm, having attended the first public talk series of KCC Centenary Celebration. The first talk was done by Don Carson, titled "The Great Need of The Times". We got there at ten pass seven, and thought we were 20 minutes early. However, the whole hall was already packed with people. The evening kicked off at 7:30pm, and after singing one song, there was book review and interview of Don Carson. The author of "How Long O Lord" was given an opportunity to talk about suffering in 25 words or less, and it turned out to be one of the most interesting short talk on this topic I've ever heard.

The rest of the evening is on Don's talk, and it starts with Psalm 1, challenges us to look at the righteous and the wicked, and how finding delight in God's word and meditating it daily help someone to be righteous. However, we also look at the polarised view of 2 ways to live in the theology of the Bible, and how the "no-compromise" brings us back to Christ. The most needed is Christians who think God's thought and find delight in His word, but also rely sole on Jesus as we cannot stop us from sinning.

It is a great talk, and Don Carson is such a "powerful" and gifted preacher. I am hoping to recap what I have learnt here, but unfortunately the time is hitting mid night and my head felt heavier and heavier. I will come back tomorrow to finish it up, I hope.

Updated on 19 June 2003 at 12:10pm: I was going to finish up the summary, but yesterday I was extremely busy. A bit frustrated at the same time, but that will be another story. Anyway. Here's the summary that I have taken from Tuesday's talk by Don Carson. I did not go to Peter Adam's talk yesterday because I was pretty busy last night. There is no discrimination against the Melbourne preachers :)

Don Carson started the talk by explaining Psalm 1, and it explains the way of the righteous and the wicked. Blessed is the main who does not stand in the way of the sinners, i.e. not following the sinners. The language in Hebrews is built on parallelism, but in verse 2, the Psalmist breaks the pattern of Hebrew poetry. He did so to help us to see that on the positive side of this comparison, you only need one criteria to be righteous - delight in the Lord, and mediates in his word day and night.

Then Don started talking about the idea of "You are what you think". We can have a pretty shell outside, but underneath we can be quite a different person and that is our true self. You are not what you think you are, but you are what you think.

Joshua got this from Moses that the book shall not be departed. In Deuteronomy 17:18-20, it talks about what King of Israel should do. The very first job should be copying out the law, so that it becomes his own copy and read it everyday. In God's word, he will then learn how to love God, and be able to teach everyone in the kingdom what to do. If these three verses have been fully observed, the entire Israel history will be different. We also see that in Romans 12:1-2 in renewing of your mind.

If the word of God is the most important thing, and it shows the criteria to categorise a righteous man, then in our time the most urgent thing is having someone reading and re-reading God's word. At the end of the day, this is the fundamental criteria - we must have Christians who delight in the word of God, or we have nothing. We need to learn to re-think everything in God's holy words. Not as an academic textbook, but as a delight with God centre-ness.

In Psalm 1:3, we see the righteous man prospers not in the worldly sense, but always having signs of hope and producing good fruit as a tree planted by the water. We see similar verses in Jeremiah 17:5 on wards. There here comes the contrast in verse Psalm 1:4. Not so the wicked! Not so! They are very strong words. The wicked are like chaff which the wind blows away. The are worthless, lifeless and fruitless in contrast to the tree of the righteous. In this world they seem to be on top of things, but they will be remembered no more. Instead Christians' deeds will be remembered, as the sinners will not stand in judgement. In Psalm 1:6, the comparison is not between the righteous and the wicked, but between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. God will watch over the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked will perish. Two ways, and there is no third.

But wait a minute we might say. Two ways there is no third? Too idealistic? Abraham, the man of faith, also told half truth sometimes. Moses, the man of God, murdered someone in his youth. David, God's anointed king, committed adultery and murder. Peter? Paul? 2 ways to live? It is too idealistic. How does this reality ring? We are all in sliding spectrum, where we are in our sinful world. All these examples were also given from the scripture itself, and the scripture knows about these things. However, 4 things we need to consider.

  1. Our own culturally driven assumptions. Moral today is different from then, and it is even different from 50 years ago. There are a lot of moral ambiguity and moral debates today. The book of Job has been commented as 1950's white hat vs. black hat cowboy story. But we need to remember Job 42, and how at the end everything will be fair in eternity.
  2. Psalm 1 is a wisdom song. Feature of wisdom song is that it deals with ideal absolutes. You also see that in Proverbs - you either follow lady folly or lady wisdom. There is no third way. It deals ideal, and it does not talk about failure. It is the way God construct the universe. Don't look at it as a promise that we will ...
  3. Jesus preached many wisdom as well with absolute polarity. Two ways to live is often seen in Jesus' teaching.
  4. Scripture is wisely giving us both the polarity and narrative accounts in both Old Testament and New Testament people who are between in between. We must have both. Think about 1 John - one hand the 1 John 1 opens us with warnings. The solution is to have us to confess our sins as we have an advocate Jesus Christ. The assumption is that we Christians are still sinners. However if we read on, in 1 John 3 if anyone is in Christ, he cannot sin! What can we do with it? In the same book, in one hand one has assumed that we sin, but in another hand Christians cannot sin.

This is how we live. What it says is, "listen, sinning is done here!" You cannot sin here! This is the church of Jesus Christ. We might quite miss the point, and say, "sorry, I am doing it here." But it is not the statement on whether something happens. Unless we preserve the polarity of the biblical ideal, we will become soft and compromising. Sinning is not done here! Do you want to see what a righteous person should be? Look at the Bible, and sinning is not done here.

The righteous person made right christological profession. Whenever we sin, it is always without excuse. But we do it anyway. However, God have mercy, which is why we return again and again to the cross, and we hear the scripture that Christ is faithful and will purify and justify us. What is needed is that absolute polarity, otherwise we will compromise, and we will not be driven back to Christ.

I still felt that I have learnt a lot on this topic when I tried to tidy it up this morning. Recently there was some debate on the FOCUS forum on the idea of "once saved and always saved". At the same time, the Mandarin Bible Fellowship is having John 10 for Bible study this coming Sunday, and the idea of "Father and Son will not let anyone snatch the elect" still rings in my mind. Why is the Bible so absolute? What hope do I have when only the righteous can be saved, according to the Bible? And being a Christian seems to be impossible - how can someone stop sinning, while we are still living in this fallen world? But isn't that what Bible has just stated?

And again and again these drive me back to the cross, where the undeserved receives the everlasting promise. Lord, I know that I am not worthy. Please forgive me.