What Does ‘Born of Water and the Spirit’ Mean in John 3:5?

D.A. Carson: The question is important, because it lies at the heart of Jesus’s explanation of “born again,” of new birth, of regeneration. When Jesus first introduces the category (John 3:3), Nicodemus clearly doesn’t understand what Jesus means (3:4 NIV): “How can someone be born when they are old?” he asks. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Many people think the question Nicodemus poses shows that he is a rather dimwitted literalist. But that’s almost certainly too harsh. You don’t get to be called “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10—possibly a title) if you can’t spot the odd metaphor. When he hears Jesus say that to enter the kingdom one must be “born again,” I suspect Nicodemus understands Jesus to mean that we are not good enough to enter the kingdom: we must start over, have a different origin, spring from a different life. Nicodemus thinks Jesus is going too far: people

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How to read the Bible, and how not to

There are two ways to read the Bible.  We can read it as law or as promise. If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do.  Even the promises will be conditioned by law.  But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do.  Even the law will be conditioned by promise. In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one.  “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18). So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision,

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The Intolerance of Tolerance

. . Tim Challies: Several times in the past decade D.A. Carson has been asked to give a public lecture at one university or another. Three times he has taken the opportunity to speak on the subject of tolerance, or intolerance, as the case may be. Those lectures proved the foundation of what would become his cleverly-titled new book, The Intolerance of Tolerance. Here’s the thing: In a society obsessed with tolerance, we are actually not tolerant at all. It’s all a big lie, a big fiction, and we’re all playing along. In order to claim tolerance we’ve had to rewrite the definition of the term and in so doing we’ve put ourselves on dangerous ground. Tolerance has become part of the Western “plausability structure”–a stance that is assumed and is not to be questioned. We are to be tolerant at all times. Well, almost all times, that is. Carson begins by showing that tolerance presupposes disagreement. That’s the beauty of being tolerant–one person expresses

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How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?

D.A. Carson: (1) By doing evangelism. I know numerous groups that claim to be engaging in “holistic” ministry because they are helping the poor in Chicago or because they are digging wells in the Sahel, even though few if any of the workers have taken the time to explain to anyone who Jesus is and what he has done to reconcile us to God. Their ministry isn’t holistic; it’s halfistic, or quarteristic. (2) By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation. The popular buzz is that evangelicals before this generation focused all their energies on proclamation and little or nothing on deeds of mercy. Doubtless one can find sad examples of such reductionism, but the sweeping condescension toward our evangelical forbears is neither true nor kind. To take but one example: The mission SIM has emphasized evangelism, church planting, and building indigenous churches for a century—yet without talking volubly of holistic ministry it built, and still operates,

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You can’t just read the bible

D.A. Carson: A layperson can read the Scriptures and understand the Scriptures. It is important to keep saying that. There is no esoteric guild of specialist priests who impose a certain kind of interpretation on the conscience of believers. And even in practical experience you sometimes see that, don’t you? Occasionally you’ll find an old woman or man who is semi-literate, and yet such people may have read their Bibles through again and again. Although they can’t self-consciously make all the correlations a sophisticated systematics can make, nevertheless, they have a kind of nose for error and heresy. Somebody comes along with some screwball idea, and they can immediately say about forty verses that make them question something or other. You want to say even at a practical level, I want people to read and reread their Bibles. God himself says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is of a contrite spirit and who trembles

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How We Do Greater Things Than Jesus

D.A. Carson: I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12) The person who has true faith in Jesus is promised that she will do greater things than Jesus’s works. But what does “greater” mean? Shall Christians perform more sensational acts? It’s difficult to imagine miracles more sensational than those of Jesus; “greater” surely doesn’t mean that. Might “greater” mean “more numerous” or “more widely dispersed”? In that sense, Christians have indeed done “greater” things than Jesus did. We have preached all around the world, seen millions of men and women converted, dispensed aid, education, and food to still more millions. The “greater” works may therefore be the gathering of converts into the church through the witness of the disciples (cf. John 17:20; 20:29), and the overflow of kindness that stems from transformed lives. Jesus says

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The Gospel Is Not Just for Unbelievers, but Also for Believers

D.A. Carson: The gospel is not a minor theme that deals with the point of entry into the Christian way, to be followed by a lot of material that actually brings about the life transformation. Very large swaths of evangelicalism simply presuppose that this is the case. Preaching the gospel, it is argued, is announcing how to be saved from God’s condemnation; believing the gospel guarantees you won’t go to hell. But for actual transformation to take place, you need to take a lot of discipleship courses, spiritual enrichment courses, “Go deep” spiritual disciplines courses, and the like. You need to learn journaling, or asceticism, or the simple lifestyle, or Scripture memorization; you need to join a small group, an accountability group, or a women’s Bible study. Not for a moment would I speak against the potential for good of all of these steps; rather, I am speaking against the tendency to treat these as postgospel disciplines, disciplines divorced from

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What is the gospel?

    Justin Taylor: Don Carson’s lengthy chapter in For the Fame of God’s Name is entitled, “What Is the Gospel?—Revisited.” Below is a substantial section where he interacts with and builds upon Greg Gilbert’s analysis in What Is the Gospel?. All that the canonical Gospels say must be read in the light of the plotline of these books: they move inevitably toward Jesus’ cross and resurrection, which provides forgiveness and the remission of sins. That is why it is so hermeneutically backward to try to understand the teaching of Jesus in a manner cut off from what he accomplished; it is hermeneutically backward to divorce the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels from the plotline of the Gospels. A more helpful analysis of the problem of defining how broad or how focused the gospel is comes from a series of posts by Greg Gilbert on the 9Marks blog. He argues that some passages where “gospel” is used focus on the message a person must

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What is preaching?

  Erik Raymond: In the excellent book Preach the Word, which is a collection of essays in honor of R. Kent Hughes, D.A. Carson writes a most helpful chapter entitled Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit. When I pulled this book from my shelf today I saw the note I wrote after reading it,Outstanding! Reread annually! After looking through it again, I want to share a section of it where Dr. Carson identifies five observations about what preaching is (from pages 176-177). First, preaching is re-revelation. Preaching is more than the oral communication of information, no matter how biblical and divine that information may be. Rather, we should think in terms of what might be called “re-revelation.” …Preachers must bear this in mind. Their aim is more than to explain the Bible, however important that aim is. They want the proclamation of God’s Word to be a revelatory event, a moment when God discloses himself afresh, a time when the people

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Why God Demands Worship

Don Carson: I have been doing university missions off and on for about thirty-five years. About a dozen years ago, I started stumbling across a question from university undergraduates that I never received when I was a young man. This relatively recent question is put variously, but it generally runs something like this: “Amongst human beings, anyone who wants to have all of the attention and garner all the praise, anyone who wants to be the focus of everyone’s constant admiration, with everyone stroking that person and fawning all over him, would be thought of as massively egocentric. The God you are trying to push on us looks to me to be very egocentric. He keeps demanding that we praise Him all the time. For goodness sake, is He insecure? Isn’t He, at very least, morally defective? What do you say to that? The reason I never heard that sort of question in the past, I suspect, is because until fairly

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D. A. Carson on the Power of the Gospel

D.A. Carson: We tend to overlook how often the gospel of Christ crucified is described as “power.” Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, he declares, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Writing to the Corinthians, Paul insists that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). He takes painstaking care not to corrupt the gospel with cheap tricks like manipulative rhetoric, what he dismissively sets aside as “words of human wisdom”—“lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1:17). The “incomparably great power” that is working in those who believe is tied to the exercise of God’s mighty strength when He raised Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:19–20). There is superb irony in all this, of course. When Jesus was executed in the first century, the cross

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Knowing the Bible Does Not Automatically Make You More Holy

D. A. Carson, “I Am the Truth,” in The God We Worship: Adoring the One Who Pursues, Redeems, and Changes His People, ed. Jonathan L. Master (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2016), 157–58: Knowledge of the Word does not sanctify us by mere education. I have now lived long enough and have belonged to enough professional biblical societies that there are not many front-rank New Testament scholars in the world whom I have not met. Some of them are very brilliant minds indeed. One chap in Germany used to conduct a postdoctoral seminar in which he wanted only a few people, the brightest of the bright. So on the first day, he offered them a test: write out the epistle to the Ephesians in Greek. Well, that got rid of a lot of the less determined, but there were still too many students for the professor’s preference, so the next class was another test: write out the epistle to the Ephesians in

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