This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2013 vol. 170 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s StoryBaker Books, Grand Rapids July 1, 2010
This collection of D. A. Carson’s sermons and lectures focuses on the character of God as it is progressively revealed from creation through to the final state of the new heaven and earth. The subtitle Finding Your Place in God’s Story might suggest that it contains a discussion of the Bible’s plot. Carson does not, however, deal with the canonical narrative per se, but selects attributes of God according to progressive revelation. The reader actually finds his or her place by relating to Carson’s contemplations of the attribute discussed in each chapter. If Carson were to explain the biblical story as such, and the reader’s place in that plot, the book would follow Paul’s explanation of God’s plan in Romans 5:12–8:30 and would include a future for Israel and its land in the Abrahamic promise (Gen. 15). Also it would include the all-important resolution, the great victory day when believers return with their Lord to save Israel (2 Thess. 1:7–15; Zech. 14:1–6) and share Christ’s rule in the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:1–10), followed by the final judgment of all creation and the denouement, the eternal earthly kingdom (21:1–22:5).
Carson’s chapters do not, for the most part, contain exegetical or expositional details. On the other hand, the lay reader will have no problem following the explanations and will gain greatly from Carson’s confident, conservative dogma as he thinks through each succeeding topic.
Carson begins by discussing the God of creation. Topics include intelligent design, the concept of God as the source of all, as well as worldview. He brings up the issue of the 24-hour days of creation, but does not present a case for any particular view (pp. 14–16). He includes a perceptive discussion of the view of God in other theologies (deism, pluralism, etc.). He correctly defines “image” (1:26) as meaning “representation,” but he does not deal with God’s purpose for His story that mankind should rule over the created physical earth from the same seminal verse, a purpose reiterated in Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2:6–9, and realized in Revelation.
Carson spends some time discussing the importance of Genesis 3. He details its point well, describing accurately the nature of the protoevangelium in 3:15 as it predicts the future rule and sacrificial death of the Messiah, commonly referenced as the Seed of the Woman (“her seed”). He also properly interprets the contrasting seed of the serpent (“your seed”) to be the followers of Satan and rightly denies the concept that 3:15 reflects simply a prediction of the ongoing fear of snakes by women (p. 37). For this reviewer, understanding the messianic import of the Seed of the Woman in 3:15 and the contrasting antagonistic seed of the serpent is core to seeing the Old Testament story as wholly anticipating Jesus in its original intent.
The Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15:9–17 is discussed by Carson as the centerpiece of God’s plan to deliver mankind. Carson’s emphasis is on the spiritual aspects of the covenant. He does not deal with Israel and its land promises, even though the covenant is prefaced by the land promise to Abram (vv. 7–8) and is followed by the description of the boundaries (vv. 18–26).
Carson covers wisdom literature briefly with a good, albeit short, summary of selected, worshipful, as well as issue-oriented, psalms.
As he moves to the Gospels, he laudably focuses on Jesus as the awe-inspiring Christ who delivers from sin, as opposed to using the gospel stories as reader-focused “life lessons.” He has a perceptive section describing allusions to the Exodus in the Gospel of John and its parallel in Christ to indicate the spiritual deliverance of the believer. However, he does not link the physical aspects of the New Exodus which relate to a second return to the land of Canaan under the new Moses as prophesied in Isaiah 35, 40–66, Hosea (especially chapter 11), and elsewhere.
In a day when hell goes almost unmentioned in evangelical pulpits, Carson admirably discusses both heaven and hell. Yet Carson interprets the ultimate new heaven (more specifically “sky”) and new earth conceptually instead of literally and spends some time justifying his spiritualization of the description of the New Jerusalem. For instance the detailed dimensions of the height, width, and length of the city (all 12,000 stadia) as well as the thickness of the wall (144,000 cubits) are explained as nonliteral, alluding to “twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles; 12 multiplied by 12 equals 144” (p. 220). However, the imagery of this eternal City of Jerusalem seen by John intentionally recalls Ezekiel’s description of the millennial city of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 40–48, where the prophet’s measurements are so detailed that the reader has great difficulty coming to any other conclusion than that they were meant to be taken exactly as the prophet perceived them.
In summary, when taken as sermons on the progressive revelation of the character of God, this book is well done and enjoyable. In that light it would be recommended to those who want easy-to-follow, perceptive sermons on God’s character and desire to ponder the impact on life and thought. One might even give this to inquiring unbelievers. A study guide is available to use with the book. On the other hand, Carson’s work does not detail the dramatic story of God culminating in the return and reign of His Son and the believer sharing that rule over all of the physical creation. As such this book should not be promoted as a primer on the biblical story nor for eschatology, but one can read and enjoy Carson’s sermons on the character of God with careful inquiry, as would be the case with any book. The greatness of God portrayed in this volume with many insights make it well worth reading.
—Charles P. Baylis