(this review looks at the unpaginated eBook version)
Christian Focus has published another brief but useful classic from Dr. Carson on II Timothy. The subject of “end times,” or even more dauntingly – eschatology, brings confusion for many, but Carson treats the heart of the matter: living faithfully for Christ in these last days. More information on the book can be found at The Gospel Coalition (though I myself did not have access to it at the time of the review). Carson’s book is an accessible guide for Christians unto faithful living packed with simple but gripping lessons, that is recommended for anyone.
Chapter 1, “Living in the Last Days,” is a smooth, concise, running commentary of prose on II Timothy 3:1 – 9. The entire text of 2 Timothy 3 – 4:6 appears just before, but without a note of explanation. Nowhere are you alerted to what this book is: a commentary? devotionals? summary? Despite a disorienting beginning, Carson’s insights into the text are engaging and helpful. Unlike the rocky beginning, the remaining chapters easily flow into one another.
Carson defines the “last days” as everything betweeen Christ’s first and second comings. (The interested reader will want to consult Geerhardus Vos’ excellent discussion of “these last days” in The Eschatology of the Old Testament.) This first chapter, which is also the longest, orients the reader to just what Paul describes with the ungodly characteristics that will mark these last days.
“Hold the Right Mentors in High Regard” begins with the importance of living a life worth imitating. Carson puts it provocatively: “Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical.” In this second chapter, Carson recounts working with one Dave Ward, already highlighted by Justin Taylor. Its a powerful story of the power of example.
The next chapter, “Hold Few Illusions About the World,” accomplishes it purpose through the foil of a friendship between a Reformed Baptist minister and an Orthodox Rabbi. Teaching that Christians may be horrified by evil but not surprised by it, we ought to be honest about our differences and not try to hide behind trite modern categories of “tolerance” or being “nice.” The rabbi says to the minister, “‘You do know, don’t you, that you and I cannot both be right in our understanding of what you call the Old Testament?’ ‘Yes,’ my friend replied, ‘I know, and I love you.’ The Rabbi said, ‘All my other Christian friends are trying to convince me that we’re all saying the same thing; you’re the only one I can trust, because you acknowledge that we’re different.’”
Chapter 4 sets up chapter 5. Before believers can hold out God’s Word to others, they must cling fast to it themselves. Admonishing those who treat Scripture as a spiritual dictionary, magic book, or a tool to be utilized for their own purposes, Carson reminds us that Scripture is God’s own revelation about Himself and His work in Jesus Christ. Echoing Van Til, he encourages us to think God’s thoughts after Him for the renewing of our minds (cf. Romans 12:1 – 2).
In the fifth and final chapter, Carson sends out a summons for those who will come after. These baton-catching, torch-bearing men and women must not only be defensive in these last days, but also faithfully – and aggressively – holding out the Word to a new generation. We are to be about the business of the Great Commission, even if just over our backyard fences and over a cup of coffee with a friend.
Though brief, Carson’s writing is provocative, inviting, and has a certain staying power. The chapters get progressively shorter, and upon learning that this was based upon a sermon manuscript, this makes sense. It also means that, as I read it, much of what struck me was toward the beginning of the book. Chapters 3 – 5, while timely and clear, were also tame.
As noted, the book gets off to a rocky start. An introduction or preface would alert the reader as to what to expect.
Carson’s description of the ungodliness characterized in these last days is, unfortunately, coming more and more to describe the church, not just the world. In pulpits where redemptive-historical themes are given the emphasis, it is helpful to be reminded just how often Paul gives a moral laundry list of vices & virtues. Carson rightly and clearly ties doctrine to life, belief to actions, and evangelism and repentance to church unity.
Perhaps the most convicting/challenging aspect I was confronted with was Carson’s strongly worded warning that, if you are not calling others to imitate your faith, you are not biblical. It reminded me of how I’ve struggled with Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s words – “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” As a minister, but also simply as a growing Christian, do I follow in this?
I think clarifying questions must certainly be asked. When Paul says to “imitate me” in I Corinthians 11:1, are we to understand that we are models/examples to the same extent that Paul was? Is the relationship between Christians today of the same mold as Paul & Timothy? What role does Paul’s office as an apostle play in this? Is there a distinction between quality and quantity?
No doubt, Carson’s brief overview of several passages in II Timothy is not designed to dig so deep into this narrow question. And while I still want to think through many of those issues, I was challenged overall to be more proactive in “shining as stars in this darkened world” (cf. Philippians 2:15). Am I helping people to see and imitate my life, or am I cloistered off? And for those who can see my life, what part of my life do I display? I pray God to use Carson’s words to stir me up in this area.
The Medium of the Message
Christian Focus noted that this was their first eBook tour. Upon receiving an email from the company, reviewers were given the option to download the digital file as an .ePub file, .prc or both. At first I was perplexed how to read the files, but Kindle for PC easily opened the document. The best part was that this stays in sync with Kindle for Android, and so as long as I had my phone with me, a virtual bookmark held my place in the book.
In these digital versions, your screen resizes how much font is on the “page,” so there are no page references. For a briefer book such as this, that worked nicely, but I am hesitant about tackling a larger monograph in this same medium.
Though the text of II Timothy 3 – 4:6 is presented at the beginning, there are no hyperlinks or footnotes within the text. (Christian Focus and others should adopt this philosophy of footnotes for digital books.)
From the Resurrection is a fantastic, quick, and edifying read that you could pass on to nearly any Christian to benefit them. Once again, we are indebted to Dr. Carson for this brief exposition of God’s call to faithfulness while we wait for Christ’s return. Carson’s book is an accessible guide for Christians unto faithful living packed with simple but gripping lessons, that is recommended for anyone. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: Christian Focus provided a review copy for free in exchange for an honest review.