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D.A. Carson – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God

January 21, 2009

 D.A. Carson’s short book on the doctrine of the love of God is simply a must read. It’s short (only 84 pages when you take out the notes) clear and straight to the point, but packed full of excellent material. One of the reasons I like Carson is because he doesn’t feel the need to stretch his material thin for the sake of getting it into “book length.” The material here is weighty enough without adding any unnecessary heft.

So why is the doctrine of the love of God “difficult?” Because Carson cuts through all the sentamental bull associated with God’s love, along with many of Christian cultures favorite sayings (such as “God hates the sin but loves the sinner”) and instead examines the biblical implications of the love of God, which are difficult to grasp at times. How does the love of God fit with the wrath of God? How does it mesh with God’s sovereignty? What is the difference between God’s love for the elect and God’s love for the whole world? These are some of the difficult questions associated with the love of God that Carson tackles in this short volume.

Another impressive thing about Carson is that he refuses to be pigeonholed. He describes five kinds of love associated with God in the Bible: His intra-trinitarian love, His general love in ordering creation, His salvific stance of love towards the world and all humanity, his particular saving love toward the elect, and his love that is dependant on obedience. He believes that heresies and false doctrines arise when any of these types of love are elevated above the others or when any are removed or ignored. For instance, Arminians tend to elevate His love of the whole world while excluding the saving, exclusive love for the elect. Hyper-Calvinists, and sometimes Calvinists, overlook the love of God for the world and focus exclusively on his love for the elect.  

One of the keys for Carson is in getting past looking at the love of God as we see human love. God is not driven by His passions but by His perfect Will. He is perfectly loving, wrathful, just, etc. all simultaneously. He writes, “All of God’s emotion’s, including God’s love in all aspects, cannot be divorced from God’s knowledge, God’s power, God’s will. If God loves it is because He chooses to love. If He suffers it is because He chooses to suffer..” He goes on to make it clear that, equally, God’s plan and will cannot be divorced from every aspect of God’s love.

What Carson develops is a fuller portrait of the love of God than most Christians understand. God’s love is not the same as love between humans, and we would do well to begin to think biblically about the love of God. Carson does an excellent job building a framework of God’s love that allows us to think biblically about his stance towards creation and humanity and a lens through which to see God’s activity, his blessing and wrath, displayed.

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