Paul's Passing Thoughts

“The ‘Gospel’ Coalition” Series, Part 11: DA Carson Exposed in the Desert

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on March 29, 2011

I get my share of grief for identifying DA Carson as a primary proponent of the GS / Sonship doctrine. One reader recently challenged me by sending a Carson quote that was, of course, seemingly orthodox. So, I decided to do a GS / Sonship acid test, which seeks to determine if someone holds to the GS / Sonship view of Galatians 2 and 3. To test, you merely do a google search like this one: “DA Carson Galatians.” What came up was an annual convention sponsored by The Gospel Coalition at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The name of the event is “Clarus [year].” The annual event usually features two prominent teachers from the Sonship tribe. This particular seminar was “Clarus 2008,” and featured Carson teaming up with none other than Michael Horton.

The duo’s theme at this seminar was “Galatians and the Problem of Self Justification.” I listened to Carson’s message on Galatians 2:11-21 entitled “An Apostolic Disputation—and Justification.” Throughout all the tape that I listened to, the fawning enamoration from the members at Desert Springs, an obvious bastion of Sonship / GS doctrine, was obnoxiously evident as the listeners chuckled, laughed, and sighed at every clever phrase and profound utterance that came from Carson’s mouth. If your listening to that tape (mp3), you have to know these people are going to believe everything coming out of Carson’s mouth which is indicative of the Gospel Coalition’s cult of personality.

Aside from that, the message was a pure, unadulterated Sonship take on Galatians. Throughout the message, Carson speaks as if the daily details of Christian living have nothing to do with something called sanctification, but often used the word justification in that context, as the text does, but speaking with a flavor of ideas that we would normally associate with sanctification. Carson, and other Sonship proponents get away with this because most Christians don’t know the theological difference between justification and sanctification, which are in-fact biblical words / terms. Carson, in the same message, belittled the biblical idea of striving to please God as “having a good day,” and gives examples of how Christians supposedly pray about that, and thereby exposing their motives in trying to please God in their own efforts (not his words, but the same idea), which he likens to “spitting on the cross.” A usual mode of operation for GS teachers is to illustrate misguided attempts by Christians to please God (trying to do the right thing the wrong way) as proof that any striving on our part circumvents grace. It’s rarely about wrong application verses right application, but always a works / grace issue. This message was certainly no exception.

However, I have been a Christian for twenty-eight years and have never witnessed any of their extreme examples. Truly, GS propagators are the sultans of red herrings and straw men. But all in all, it can’t be denied that Carson’s message was primarily focused on Christian living in relationship to the law, and that using what text? Galatians 2:11-21. But, primarily, this text is about the law’s relationship to salvation, NOT Christian living. A much better text would have been Ephesians 4:17-32. If you examine all their (the GS brain trust) teachings carefully, the idea of Christian living and salvation (declared / imputed righteousness as a onetime act of God) are almost always synthesized. It is very subtle, but for instance, in Paul Tripp’s chapel message at Southeastern Baptist Seminary entitled “Playing With the Box” (Spring 2007),  his introduction clearly concerns the gospel, but the body of the message clearly concerns sanctification in context of the gospel theme. Therefore, again, if one pays attention, their teachings on Christian living are almost always set in a gospel context that distorts the law’s role in sanctification / regeneration. It cannot be denied that they make no distinction between salvation and life application of God’s word.

Carson also taught in the same message that whenever Paul said “law” in Galatians, that Paul was referring to the “law covenant.” Um, this is a smoking gun. Most GS advocates are New Covenant theologians. NCT holds to the idea that the New Covenant abrogated the Old Covenant, which was the law covenant. Traditionally, orthodox evangelicals believe that even though the New Covenant is “better,” elements of the old are still intact, especially the law. In other words, the covenants build on each other. In Ephesians 2:12, the apostle Paul makes being alienated from Christ synonymous with being “strangers to the covenants.” Notice “covenants” is in the plural, not singular, then Paul later makes an Old Covenant application to life in Ephesians 6:1-3. Please note the following reference concerning proponents of NCT and the familiar suspects of GS:

“The last twenty-five years have seen a great resurgence of Reformed theology in Baptist circles. As a result, many within this camp have sought to develop a more clarified system of the covenants that relate back to older thought. Leaders of this movement include such theologians as John Reisinger, Jon Zens, Peter Ditzel, Fred Zaspel, Tom Wells, Gary Long, Geoff Volker and Steve Lehrer. The writings of Douglas Moo, Tom Schreiner, and D.A. Carson on the relation of the Christian to the law reveal their sympathies with NCT. However they have not wanted themselves to be so labeled. John Piper also has many points of contact with this movement, but an article at Desiring God carefully distinguishes his position from the Covenant, New Covenant and Dispensational theological systems” (Theopedia,com).

That’s another GS mode of operation, avoiding labels to prevent detection, but these men are clearly in the NCT camp which is a tenet of GS doctrine. This is why I seriously doubt Michael Horton is a Covenant theologian regardless of what he or anyone else claims. His joined at the hip verbiage with Carson at the Q and A sessions of Clarus 08 also makes that difficult to believe as well. Furthermore, in the same message, Carson insinuated that Christians are not obligated to the law (a proper view of that text in Galatians should add “not for justification” after each consideration), but should obey the law as a way of being a Gentile for the sake of the Gentiles in the same way that Paul “became a Jew for the sake of the Jews.” But moreover, he added the warning that we should not do it in a way that gives people the idea that we can actually keep the law as Christians because, as he said earlier in the message: “….we just aren’t [we (Christians) aren’t (present tense)]  good enough….consistent enough….whole enough.” Of course, the apostle Paul saw a difference between Christian liberty and upholding the law; Carson makes no such distinction in the same message.

In the Q and A sessions, Horton and Carson agree on the GS dichotomy of law and gospel, without including any clarification in regard to how that would relate to sanctification verses justification. This kind of ambiguity saturated the Q an A’s and the aforementioned message I listened to. Horton and Carson also paid homage to Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney—further demonstrating their kinship with Sonship / GS doctrine.

The classic GS / Sonship take on Galatians 1-5 as being about sanctification is also noted by Eastwood Presbyterian Church in their formal contention ( http://goo.gl/rODyO )  against Sonship theology: “Further, we think Sonship makes a serious exegetical error in its dealings with the book of Galatians: Sonship wrongly identifies the Galatian problem as one dealing with sanctification instead of justification.”  In his message, Carson relates Galatians to how we live as Christians, but cleverly calls it justification (to match Paul’s terminology) as if works can only be classified in the justification category. However, his subject matter is clearly that of which would be placed in the regeneration / sanctification category.

Carson’s close association with Horton should be noted as well because Horton is more forthright in how he propagates their Quietist doctrine: http://goo.gl/y03xn

Paul

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