At the foundation of the Christian life, we find the the cross.

How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing

When D.A. Carson had the opportunity to interview two well-known and highly influential American theologians, he went straight to the core of their long ministries with this question:  “You have not succumbed to eccentricity in doctrine, nor to individualistic empire-building. In God’s good grace, what has been instrumental in preserving you in these areas?”

Their reply came with passion:  “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?”

When Jesus chose the humiliating path to the cross, He beat a clear trail for His followers. D.A. Carson issues a call to return to the cross as the main thing in our communication of the gospel. In our relationships, our prayer life, our career goals, and our personal choices, we demonstrate the depth of our commitment to the cross in a way that mere words cannot equal.

Truth from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an anchor to The Main Thing. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life is Carson’s exposition of a well-loved epistle. Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.

The Gospel is the Main Thing

I am often convicted that my conversations and my hospitality look and sound pretty much the same as anyone else’s. While we gather around my dining room table for “fellowship,” we are most likely to be sharing stories about common interests and family news, and I wonder:  Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?

Carson states the goal:

“The fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers.” (21)

The Main Thing About the Gospel is the Cross

Because Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross,” the cross becomes not only a symbol of our following life. It becomes “the supreme standard of our behavior.” (51) Self-denial is not second nature, and it is one thing to say, “I’m willing to be a servant for Christ’s sake,” but quite another thing when someone actually treats us like a servant. Carson employs the word “slave” to describe this and clarifies the self-emptying behavior as Jesus “making himself a nobody” (56)–our greatest fear in this selfie culture!

New believers will benefit from this primer for persistent progress in the faith, but seasoned followers of Christ will find their comfort zone invaded and their notions about Christian leadership and the faithful walk challenged and expanded. Paul’s message is unapologetic and his thinking about contentment, prayer, anxiety, rejoicing, and unity among believers ratchets up the “normal Christian life” to a standard that takes me back to the gospel as the only means by which this following life can be lived. Carson puts his finger on the soure of my dilemma: If I were living faithfully by the standard set forth in Philippians, the Gospel would quickly become the main thing for me as it was for Paul.

Many thanks to BakerBooks for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Rejoicing in Hope,

michele signature[1]


Readers looking for more wisdom and biblical insight from D. A. Carson will appreciate his work in Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. You can get a preview in preparation for the Lenten season from my review here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life or Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

40 thoughts on “How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing”

  1. Amen, Michele!
    It’s all about the Gospel!
    Thank you for the great book review and the reminder to keep the main thing the main thing!
    Blessings,
    Melanie

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  2. His Word…it is complete and continues to shine light not only on the dark world, but it exposes shadowy corners of our own heart. I am most reminded of the point you make about conversation around the table when I leave time with family or friends whom I love and have nothing but “news” to recall. I confess my hunger for what Janice Peterson calls “spiritual friendship” where conversations leave me considering how I do life, some new insight into the Word, or open me to deeper levels of sharing about where mu spiritual life is at present. Margaret Feinberg’s new book, Taste and See, looks at the very point of table conversation as a place for transformation versus chatting or arguing over everything from sports teams to political positions.

    Thanks for this review and nudge for all of us to consider how we live our lives reflects on the focus of our direction.

    Keep warm, my friend. (Actual temp in Ohio is 2 with a wind chill well below zero…must be thinking it is Maine😊)❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Philippians has long been a favorite of mine, and I like how you described it as much more than ‘swoon-worthy instagram’ posts. Our church did a small group study on this letter from Paul using a guide written by N.T. Wright. I haven’t read anything by D.A. Carson – this book sounds worthy of a look.

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    1. Try listening to a Gospel Coalition podcast that features him to get a feel for his style and his voice. He’s got a delightful Canadian accent and sort of old-world gentleman-liness that comes out in his speaking and knowing that really helped me to enjoy his writing even more.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I found this so convicting: “Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.”

    Yes! 100%. Yet, I am so slow to see it. It’s easier to soften the edges, to blur it into something easier to tolerate. But that isn’t the intention. Thank you for the heartfelt, tender conviction!

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    1. I’m so glad this thought resonated for you! D.A. Carson does such a great job unpacking the basics of Philippians–they end up feeling like a Master Class, because I get so caught up in minutiae sometimes!

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  5. A book that is both convicting and challenging sounds good. Paul was not only prolific in his words but in how he lived every bit of what he wrote about. I am thinking about these questions —> Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?

    Amen! I wonder what will happen when I bring up these questions next time my family is around the table??

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  6. I don’t think we can ever have a complete understanding of all of these topics, Michele. A review, such as through a book like this, sound like they are very fruitful, if we apply the things the author talks about!

    The choosing to be a slave in mindset and action is so tough. But how clearly we must emulate Jesus when we live with this mindset.

    And this? “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?” YES. Thinking about Jesus’ sacrifice should help us stay humble. 🙂

    Great review, Michele!

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    1. God really seems to delight in giving humble men and women a platform for His glory. I loved that story.
      And the fact that we become prickly when we are treated like servants really shows us the contents of our hearts.
      Thanks for reading, Jeanne.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Michele, thank you for this honest and compelling revies. I think, for me, the sentence with the most meaning was this “Paul’s message is unapologetic and his thinking about contentment, prayer, anxiety, rejoicing, and unity among believers ratchets up the “normal Christian life” to a standard that takes me back to the gospel as the only means by which this following life can be lived. ” I will be thinking about this for the near future. Beautiful!

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    1. We have so many “strategies” for coping in this world. I wonder sometimes what I would do if Jesus were truly all I had. No morning tea, no comforting heat of the woodstove, no loving and supportive husband coming home at the end of the work day. Paul really had nothing like this, and yet he wrote more compelling words about rejoicing than I can summon most days. Very convicting.

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  8. Great Post! You are so right that during our hospitality and conversations, the gospel should be the main thing on our tongues. I need to do a better job of remembering this. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. It’s a struggle, because our talk runs toward the mundane–which, of course, is fine for the most part. We can’t be tackling intense topics all the time, but I wonder, too, how much our lack of conversation about spiritual things reveals their level of importance to us?

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  9. Wow! “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?” Now, that sums it up! When the cross is in plain sight, we stay humble and keep Jesus at the top of our stats page. It’s not about me. It’s about the one who said, “Follow Me.”

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  10. Great books which focus on the main issues every Christian should make priority. Thanks for sharing on the #LMMLInkukp this past week.

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  11. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com! I often ask myself these same questions you’ve shared, “Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?” Did you feel this book was helpful to you regarding changing those trends? I’d love a resource that would help with that!
    Tina

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