10 August 2008

Carson: Is the NT God Nicer?

This weekend I listened to 3 lectures D. A. Carson gave at RTS (Charlotte) on the New Perspective, probably around 8 years ago (thanks for the tip Ben Gladd). It’s a fascinating listen. The way he addresses James Dunn is particularly interesting. The only downfall is that my brain struggles to keep up in listening, so I have to listen a few times to get everything.

Anyway, in the third lecture Carson expounds Rom 3:21-31. Along the way he responds to the common sentiment—it is rarely asserted outright, but you often get the sense this is how people understand the Bible—that the God of the New Testament is a kinder, gentler God than that of the Old Testament. After all, the God of the OT commands his people to slaughter whole people groups.

Dr. Carson responds in a way I had never considered. He says that he would argue that yes, the love of God is certainly “ratcheted up” in the NT. But the wrath of God, too, is ratcheted up. God’s grace and his wrath both blossom into full flower under the new covenant. Jesus himself, after all, spoke more of hell than anyone. And Rev 14 is frightful in its depiction of people being cast into the winepress of God’s wrath.

If this is so, then why does the OT seem so barbaric to so many of us, especially compared to the NT? Here Carson made a fascinating observation. He said he believes that the reason people have more of a problem with the wrath of God in the OT than in the NT is because we don’t really believe in hell. We are far more fearful of war, pestilence, and the plague than we are of hell. As a result, the OT seems more frightening. In fact, says Carson, the horrors of the OT are only a foretaste of the true horrors of hell.

Clarifying, sobering, emboldening.

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