The Cross and Christian Ministry, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (repackaged edition, originally published 1993).
Summary: In these expositions from 1 Corinthians, Carson sets forth the cruciform character of biblically faithful Christian ministry.
In the 1990’s, D. A. Carson published several collections of expositions. Recently Baker has begun “repackaging” them. Recently I reviewed The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus. The Cross and Christian Ministry is another of these repackaged works that I am glad is receiving a new lease on life. What Carson says about the cruciform character of Christian ministry is just as, if not more, relevant today than when these works were first published twenty-five years ago.
This book is a series of expositions from the book of 1 Corinthians, four on the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians and a final one from chapter 9. Each concludes with questions that may be used for reflection or group discussion. In brief, they cover:
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, The Cross and Preaching. He begins by showing how the cross divides humanity as foolishness to the perishing and the power of God for those being saved. It is folly that outsmarts the greatest of human wisdom and yet includes many the world would exclude. He concludes about the message of those who preach, that testifies to God’s work, focuses on Christ crucified and relies on the power of the Spirit. He has pointed comments about those who try to manipulate audiences, particularly in youth ministry.
1 Corinthians 2:6-16, The Cross and the Holy Spirit. This message notes three contrasts in the passage:
- Between those who receive God’s Wisdom and those who do not.
- Between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world.
- Between the “natural person and the “spiritual” person.
He concludes by observing that the work of the Holy Spirit is essential for a person truly to understand the cross. We may intellectually grasp the meaning of the cross but nevertheless need the Holy Spirit to illuminate that understanding and overcomes our human resistance to facing our sin and God’s saving work.
1 Corinthians 3, The Cross and Factionalism. Factionalism fundamentally is a sign of Christian immaturity. It fails to realize that leaders are really servants, and will give account for their leadership. Sadly, factionalism both fails to recognize the great work of God, focusing on human beings, and inevitably diminishes the great inheritance we have in Christ as it focuses on only a select aspect of that inheritance. Carson notes that in factionalism, we cut ourselves off from so much that is good and enriching in the rest of the church.
1 Corinthians 4, The Cross and Christian Leadership. In this message, Carson explores what it means to be a Christian leader in light of the cross:
- It means being entrusted with the “mysteries” of God. Leaders should faithfully fulfill that trust, and others should realize that such leaders are seeking to please God and not stand in judgment of them.
- It means living in the light of the cross which meant for Paul following a crucified Lord and embracing suffering.
- It means encouraging and enforcing the way of the cross among the people of God. We both help people to grasp the precious significance of the cross, and warn those who presume on the cross and fail to follow Christ in their daily life.
1 Corinthians 9:19-27, The Cross and the World Christian. The term “world Christian” was much used in mission-oriented circles in the 1990’s and might be similar to today’s “missional Christian.” Carson gives a wonderful definition that challenges the contemporary attractions of nativism and tribalism that focuses on either the greatness of one’s country or the pre-eminence of one’s own particular “tribe.”
“The allegiance to Jesus Christ and his kingdom is self-consciously set above all national, cultural, linguistic, and racial allegiances.
Their commitment to the church, Jesus messianic community, is to the church everywhere, wherever the church is truly manifest, and not only to its manifestation on home turf.
They see themselves first and foremost as citizens of the heavenly kingdom and therefore consider all other citizenship a secondary matter.
As a result, they are single-minded and sacrificial when it comes to the paramount mandate to evangelize and make disciples” (p. 133).
Carson emphasizes from the text that such people understand their freedom and their constraints in Christ; they do not stand on their “rights”; they set the salvation of others as their aim and understand that there is really no other way to be a Christian.
This collection of messages, originally given at several conferences, are not exegetical commentaries, but rather seek to make clear for both the original audiences and the reader the meaning of the text and its implications. Carson writes with clarity, devotional warmth, and a perceptive eye to application for the contemporary church. He particularly addresses any person in leadership, making us take a hard look at our own character and practice and vision in light of the cross. I’m struck with how well these messages have worn. While certainly one can spy references that are dated, it seemed to me that these messages if anything may be more timely in our own day, because they center around the timeless truth of the cross.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.