Dr. D.A. Carson has become one of my favourite Christian authors, not only because of his great command of the English language (not to mention his familiarity with a dozen others), but because of his precision of thought. He has the ability to use his pen as a surgeon does his or her scalpel.
_The Cross and Christian Ministry_ is a small book (137 pages) that offers a commentary on chapters one through four and nine of 1 Corinthians. As the title implies, Carson is concerned with how the cross of Christ is central to Christian ministry, whether the topic is preaching, the role and function of the Holy Spirit, factionalism, leadership, etc. Though this is one of Carson's smaller works, it is packed to the hilt with intense theological reflection, cutting questions, and convicting applications.
What I really connect with in many of Carson's writings is the maturity and wisdom with which he addresses many sensitive issues. This is manifest in his ability to view issues from both sides, even when those sides give the appearance as polar opposites. For example, in 1 Corinthians 4 when addressing whether a Christian is to judge others, Carson remarks:
"...on the one hand we find Jesus saying, 'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you' (Matt. 7:1-2). On the other hand, he says, 'Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment' (John 7:24). This running tension is very strong throughout the New Testament. There is much that condemns what might be called 'judgmentalism.' At the same time, chapter after chapter exhorts believers to be discerning, to distinguish right from wrong, to pursue what is best, to exercise discipline in the church, and so forth - functions that demand the proper use of judgment....We may gain some poise and balance if we remember the kinds of people the two sides address. Prohibitions directed against judging have in mind self-righteous people who want to protect their turf.By contrast, biblical injunctions to be discerning or to judge well in some circumstance or other are directed against those who are careless and undisciplined about holy things, especially about the words of God." (2003, pp. 99-100)
And, of course, Carson seldom shrinks from the tough questions. In 1 Corinthians 3, he persuasively demonstrates that the text is misunderstood if one understands it to be referring to the Catholic teaching of purgatory (or even to Christians in general). In 1 Corinthians 9, Carson begins to lay out the nuance in Paul stating on the one hand, that he is not under the Law, and, on the other hand, proclaiming that he is under the Law of Christ. Unfortunately, Carson decides not to broach the issue, claiming it would take too much time to untangle.
My only disappointment with _The Cross and Christian Ministry_ is that it does not address all 16 chapters in 1 Corinthians! But I do whole-heartedly recommend this brief guide, nonetheless, to all who are looking for a serious, but relatively brief, analysis of some of the major themes in 1 Corinthians. The interested reader may also find the questions for review and reflection at the end of each chapter helpful and especially suitable for a study-group environment.