2008 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors: D. A. Carson

As I mentioned in the previous post, D. A. Carson spoke three times at the recent Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.  The theme was “The Pastor as Father and Son.”  Carson is a masterful biblical theologian and acute exegete with a keen grasp on virtually every subject that surrounds theology.  And he speaks with the heart and practicality of a pastor.  Here are my notes from just the introduction of his first sermon entitled “The Pastor as Son of the Heavenly Father.”

The wonders and glories of God are so extravagantly great that no one category can begin to do them justice.  That is why the Bible delights to pile pictures and metaphors upon God.

God is the rock — utterly stable.  We shelter next to Him.  God is the eternal one.  God is the final judge.  God is the creator.  God is spirit.  God is love.  God is holy — that’s a hard word.  Does it mean that God is “moral”?  Are the angels around the throne crying out “Moral, moral, moral!”?  No.  Holiness has concentric circles of meaning — it does mean that God is utterly moral, but there is a more central meaning to it.  It means that God alone is God.

Then there are all the names we learned when we were children, like Jehovah Jireh.  He is the Ancient of Days, the Most High, the Lord of Hosts.  And we have only begun to scratch the surface of God’s self-designations in Scripture.

The designation we will focus on here is Father.  But remember that no matter how wonderful it is to think of God as our heavenly Father, He is never only our Father.  He is always more than our Father.  In the same way, we are not only sons.  We are more than sons.

Not even God can be a father without a son.  There is logical wholeness in the idea of father-son.

There are some present cultural assumptions that often dilute our ability to think attentively about what Scripture says about father and son.  We now think of the primacy of genetics — “Who is the real father?”  Remember the Anna Nicole Smith debacle?  But in the ancient world, it wasn’t like this.  For instance, how many of you are doing for a vocation what your father did [raise of hands]?  Maybe five percent.  But in the ancient world, in an agrarian and hand-craft society, sons did what their fathers did.  You were taught by your father; your identity was bound up in your father; you belonged to a family; and part of your responsibility was to bring honor to your father.

Sonship in the Bible is often couched in terms of following, imitation, and obedience.  In Matthew 5:9, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  God is the ultimate peacemaker, and inasmuch as we are peacemakers, we emulate God and thereby show ourselves to His children.  In John 8, the Jews assert that they are descendants of Abraham and that God is their father, but Jesus accuses them of being children of the devil.  Jesus is not denying the genetic descent of the Jews from Abraham.  He is saying that the more fundamental aspect of sonship is behavior.  In Galatians 3:7, Paul says that the one who has faith is the son of Abraham — the one who acts as Abraham acted, not necessarily the one with his genes.


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