Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review: Showing the Spirit by D. A. Carson

The full title for this book is Showing the Spirit - A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. This is the first book of this type that I have read. I have read commentaries of course. As well as books that were partially dedicated to exposition of Scripture. But this is the first time I have read a book, more than 220 pages, almost entirely devoted to an exposition of 3 chapters of the Bible. It was both educational and engaging and one I should have in my personal library; this one is borrowed from a seminary's library.

I first came across D. A. Carson in the writings of others. He is an oft-cited theologian. I have learned that when you come across authors who are regularly cited by other authors in a positive fashion, it is well worth your while to be come acquainted with the author being quoted. This is how I came to read some of Christianity's great writers: ancients such as Augustine or more current writers such as J. I. Packer, G. K. Chesterton, or C. S. Lewis. Maybe the dual first-second initial has something to do with it. At any rate, if your favourite authors are consistently quoting other authors, you should inquire into and read those other author's works.

D. A. Carson's biography from his page at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School's website can be seen here. Briefly, Donald A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1978. Dr. Carson received the Bachelor of Science in chemistry from McGill University, the Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from Cambridge University.

Showing the Spirit is an enjoyable read with solid insight and thorough explanations. It covers the important and controversial topics from the 12th, 13th, and 14th chapters of the first letter to the Corinthians: unity of the body, grace-gifts, baptism in the Spirit, love, prophecy, tongues, order, and authority to name a few.

At the risk of over-simplifying, Carson takes a middle road between the extremes of charismatics and cessationists. He doesn't choose this route to try and find consensus but rather because he believes Scripture warrants it. In doing so he not only explains his interpretation of verses and passages, but also shares major interpretations of other theologians who he sometimes agrees with and at other times disagrees with. He also gives some practical instruction he believes will be helpful.

I did not understand everything in the book; sometimes Carson would refer to Greek words without translating them. And sometimes the theological concepts were beyond my acumen. But for the most part the book was very readable and when it did get "over my head" it would not be long before it returned to a level where I could wade. In particular, I found his summaries and conclusions, which included instruction and correction, to be very balanced and very helpful.

I strongly suggest that you go to a website, such as The Gospel Coalition, where you can find some mp3s of Dr. Carson and listen to him teach and preach. He is an outstanding lecturer and handles topics with depth of understanding and deftness of speech. I also recommend this book and look forward to reading some more of Carson's book of theological exposition.


  1. I might have to start citing you as J.S. John :) Nice review. What library are you pulling these from?

  2. St. Peter's parking and nobody in the library. I wish I could have books from the other libraries sent there but because I'm an alumnus and not a student I don't think it will let me do that. The UWO libraries have a shared database that you can search.