Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Talks by Don Carson

I have been listening to a series of talks recently by Don Carson, titled Reaching an Untouched Generation, given in 1997 at a conference in Toronto.

There are five talks - each around 1 hr. And they are excellent.

If you want to understand the culture around us a little better and where people today are coming from in their thoughts, especially the under 30s age group - they are well worth your time. They would be excellent thinking material for anyone involved in university student work.

He points out that evangelism today is markedly different from previous ages. Today, we are trying to reach people with the gospel who have no knowledge of the bible or biblical history at all.

In Talk 1 - Postmodernism and Biblical Illiteracy, Carson sets out his framework. He starts by giving a history of modernism and post-modernism and how Christianity has been affected by them. He talks about how many Christians now feel ill-equipped to speak to others about Jesus and how the idea of tolerance has shaped conversation in the western world:
It used to be that a tolerant person was understood to be someone who might have held strong views, but who insisted that you have the right to your views. Nowadays a tolerant person is someone who doesn’t have strong views, except perhaps the strong view that you must not have strong views. (Lecture 1, 50:40)*

In Lecture 2 - First Steps Towards Regrouping, he outlines how Christians can begin to address these issues. He starts by thinking through the benefits that post-modernism has brought to Christians, including shooting down some of the arrogance of modernism and enabling us to insist on inclusion in a conversation about different points of view. He goes on to talk about how we can enter into meaningful dialogue with post-modernists without buying into their rhetoric, and how we can challenge the very framework in which they operate.

Lecture 3 - Worldview Evangelism raised three main results of post-modernism and biblical illiteracy. Firstly, our struggle is a worldview struggle. The Christian worldview has been lost:
The hardest thing I do nowadays in university missions is not talking about the death and resurrection of Christ - that’s pretty easy - it’s talking about sin. But the fact of the matter is that unless people already have a Judeo-Christian worldview where God is the One who is offended, and sin is an objective and real and ugly guilt before God that must be paid for, to talk about Christ dying for our sins just doesn’t make sense…it becomes sentimental nostalgia, but nothing more. (Lecture 3, 13:05)*
Secondly, our role is to to fill in the story of the bible. The story of the bible is not clever, it's elementary, but we have to preach it, because almost no-one knows it anymore. And, we must keep in mind that it "takes time to build a biblical worldview in which the gospel of Jesus makes sense" (~36mins).

Thirdly, Carson says that we need to focus on where is the discussion going, rather than how to start a discussion. For if you don't agree on the bad news (eg. sin, hell, judgement), you will never agree on the good news - the people to whom we speak will end up with the wrong picture of Jesus. eg. if you are not able to explain that we have sinned against God in ignoring him and running our own lives, how will you be able to convince someone they need a saviour?
You simply must think of ways ... of tracking backward into the Bible's whole storyline. Otherwise the whole gospel of Jesus Christ is simply incoherent. (Lecture 3, 47:15)*
Carson finishes with a few simple and very helpful comments of how churches can make services more accessible to outsiders.

(judging by the detail of the notes for this talk, you may be able to discern that I was home with paper, rather than out walking as I was for the others!)

In Lecture 4 - Apostolic Evangelism of Biblical Illiterates, Carson looks at Acts 17 when Paul speaks in Athens, for it it the clearest example of preaching to biblical illiterates in the bible. He deals with:
  • the realities Paul faces (eg. remarkable pluralism);
  • the priorities Paul adopts;
  • the framework Paul establishes; and
  • the non-negotiable gospel Paul preaches.
In the final, Lecture 5 - Faith in the Cross of Christ, Carson focuses in on Romans (esp. 3"21-31), using it to explain:
  • we are condemned apart from the cross of Christ;
  • we are justified because of the cross of Christ;
  • source of God's righteousness is the gracious provision of Jesus Christ as propitiation for our sins;
  • demonstration of the righteousness of God through the cross of Jesus Christ, "the cross of Jesus Christ not only is the basis of our forgiveness but of the placarded demonstration that God is just and the one who justifies the ungodly" (54:28), and
  • we are saved by faith, "faith is that God-given gift by which you trust the promises and provision of God in Christ Jesus, you trust the truth of the gospel, you trust Christ and his his death on your behalf" (100:21)
Carson concludes the talk with this:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the non-negotiables of the gospel..and in our presentation of the gospel to friends and neighbours these things need to be learned by us and then reproduced in fairly simple forms so that people understand what the heart of the gospel is - this is non-negotiable. The other 4 sessions [the previous 4 lectures] ... have tried to layout the framework that is necessary to make sense of this gospel, but do not spend all of your time in the framework and then forget the cross. (101:51)
Great talks. Challenging, interesting and biblical.

I downloaded these talks from this Sydney Anglicans Audio Website link, they are the only five talks there by Don Carson.

* These quotes have been copied from the New Horizons Church Website, where someone has already typed up sections of the talks, the talks (#1-4) can also be downloaded from there.

Image from stock.xchng

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