Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 08/15/2010 by John Bird.
Recommended. As the title indicates: a collection of Dr. Carson's scholarly pieces on various aspects of the doctrine of Scripture.
Both the subject matter and the author made me jump on the chance to request a review copy of this book. Dr. Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is a delight to read or listen to. And I always enjoy studying the doctrine of Scripture (not to be confused with Scriptural doctrine). The title reminded me of Sproul's Knowing Scripture, and I thought that perhaps this would be similar, but I was wrong.
Though the book under consideration is the subject of this review, it may help to know something about the reviewer. I am a layperson. Though I have taken a few courses related to the contents of this book, I have very limited knowledge or experience in the fields of textual criticism and the like. This book is not necessarily popular level reading, and it delves deeper into the doctrine of Scripture than some laypersons may want to go. I mention this, not as a criticism of Dr. Carson's excellent book, but as a qualification to my review. What I offer is a layperson's perspective, which, I hope, will be of value to other laypeople.
These previously published writings (compiled by Andrew David Naselli) fall into two main parts. Part 1, simply entitled "Essays," consists of five articles dealing with issues regarding the nature and interpretation of Scripture: "Approaching the Bible", "Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture", "Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology", "Redaction Criticism: On the Legitimacy and Illegitimacy of a Literary Tool", and "Is the Doctrine of Claritas Scripturae Still Relevant Today?" Dr. Carson's approach to the Bible is conservative. One quote serves to show the major difference between him and some of the biblical scholars he interacts with:
[A] genuinely Christian understanding of the Bible presupposes the God of the Bible, a God who makes himself known in a wide diversity of ways so that human beings may know the purpose for which they were made-to know and love and worship God...
Carson's presupposition of the God of the Bible, and his presupposition that Scripture is the inspired Word of God, are the controlling factors to his doctrine of Scripture, and are especially emphasized in the first essay. In "Approaching the Bible," Carson begins with a discussion of what Scripture is before moving into a summary of the basics of hermeneutics (interpretation). He discusses essentials such as good reading, paying attention to the context and genre, the analogy of faith, the value of historical and archaeological background information, and more. He concludes his advice appropriately:
Because the Bible is God's Word, it is vitally important to cultivate humility as we read, to foster a meditative prayerfulness as we reflect and study, to seek the help of the Holy Spirit as we try to understand and obey, to confess sin and pursue purity of heart and motive and relationships as we grow in understanding. Failure in these areas may produce scholars, but not mature Christians.
In the next essays, Carson discusses innovations, methods, and debates regarding the study and interpretation of Scripture such as revisionist historiography, "qualifications of inerrancy," redaction criticism, etc. Though the author describes these essays as being scholarly yet "pretty accessible" (emphasis mine), I find them more in line with his description of a book he reviews in part two: an "intellectual challenge." But, whether or not one is tempted to use redaction criticism during one's personal quiet time, it is helpful to be familiar with these methods and the arguments for their usefulness and dangers. Carson explores the issues fairly, charitably, and thoroughly.
Part two is entirely made up of in-depth, mostly critical reviews of books from a wide and diverse perspective. These reviews, or debates, are also of a technical nature, and deal with books that I have not read (again, no fault of the author). Though the interaction would no doubt be more interesting for one familiar with the writings discussed, it is certainly valuable to read over the shoulder of Dr. Carson while he interacts with others of equal ability.
In working through this book, I often felt that it was too deep for me. But when I slowed down, paid closer attention, and retrieved my Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, I was able to paddle around fairly well. Though I had some difficulty, it is not because Carson’s writing isn't clear. It's always beneficial and edifying to read anything written by Dr. Carson. And it is always good to read books that stretch us.