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,

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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.

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