Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, the Word of God has been under attack. These attacks not only come from outside the walls of the church, they also seem to creep into and rear their ugly head from inside the Church as well. Thus, it is vital for believers to make a concerted effort to stand on the doctrine of the authority and inspiration of Scripture as being the Word of God, provided to His people. Noted author and theologian, D. A. Carson, in his excellent book, Collected Writings on Scripture, provides a solid array of essays and book reviews that will help the reader grasp the importance of asserting the authority of Scripture, as well as understanding how to identify when attacks are being levied at this important foundation of the faith.
This book is divided into two sections with part one containing five essays by Carson on matters related to Scripture, specifically what the Bible is and how to interpret it, developments in the doctrine of Scripture, issues related to doing systematic theology, understanding redaction criticism, and finally an interaction with the doctrine of Claritas Scripturae. Part two of this book contains a series of critical book reviews geared towards providing the reader with insight into the good, the bad, and, quite frankly, the ugly of past and recent works on the doctrine of Scripture.
I personally believe Dr. Carson to be one of the foremost theological minds of our day and his perspicuity regarding matters related to the doctrine of Scripture shines through on every page of this book. While it is difficult in a book as excellent as this one to select favorite selections, I will submit I was drawn specifically to two elements of Carson’s work—namely his discussion on what the Bible is and how to interpret it. It seems these two aspects of the Doctrine of Scripture trip far too many up and thus I was pleased to see Carson tackle these two issues right from the beginning, using these as the foundational springboard from which he engages more difficult topics.
Carson notes, regarding the discipline of biblical theology, that it “forms an organic whole. This means not only that one can approach any part of the subject by beginning at any other point of the subject (though some vantage points are certainly more helpful than others), but that to treat some element of biblical theology as if it existed in splendid isolation seriously distorts the whole picture.” Such a statement drives home the reality that Scripture tells a consistent and cogent message, one that must be grasped in the whole rather than separating its content into tiny, unrelated points of doctrine.
Most importantly, Scripture reveals God: who He is, how He operates, and how we can come to know Him. I appreciated how Carson noted that when God speaks, things happen, something clearly noted in the creation account of Genesis 1. Additionally, given Scripture is the Word of God, it speaks to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. It is not a collection of words on a page. In the canon of Scripture, we see real people engaging in real events, with God revealing Himself to humanity. Carson recognizes that there are difficult passages in Scripture that require fervent study. With that said, he comments that God “has ensured that his own self-disclosure should be abundantly clear to those who by grace have eyes to see and ears to hear.”
Carson also provides the reader with a helpful primer on hermeneutics. Since we are charged by God to be a people who rightly handle the Word of truth, it is vital to understand how to properly interpret Scripture. Carson walks the reader through some foundational concepts regarding hermeneutics to include the importance of engaging the original languages with a needed discussion on the need for and the pitfalls that came come from doing word studies. He also notes the importance of being a good reader, specifically taking the time to notice nuances of the text such as chiasms or other linguistic structures that impact how the text should be understood. I also found helpful Carson’s discussion on the value of understanding historical and cultural context. The Bible was not written in a 21st century world so it is vital to pay attention to matters of geography, cultural understandings, and historical figures as they relate to Scripture. Furthermore, determining overarching patterns, principles, and themes helps the reader of Scripture grasp the overall Biblical message and Carson points out that “it is important to observe the Bible’s use of such themes, to determine their specific functions, and to resolve to follow such biblical patterns in our own theological reflection.”
I would also encourage all those who regularly read and review books to pay attention to the manner in which Carson engages a work. I know I learned much about each book he interacted with and additionally, I noticed ways in which I can improve my own approach to reviewing books, especially providing a more critical review of a text for which I may find a greater amount of disagreement. Carson is a skilled writer and presenter of information and thus much can be learned from his abilities in this area.
This is a book I highly recommend to all believers. In a day and age when so many desire to challenge the authority, sufficiency, and inspiration of Scripture, it is important to be well versed in how to respond to such challenges. Furthermore, it is also necessary to understand in a deeper and deeper manner how to properly study Scripture so that we may grow every closer to God in our studies of His Word so that we may properly wield the Sword of Truth as we interact with those who so desperately need to hear its message of salvation and redemption.