Book Review: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God

14 January 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D.A. Carson, Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 2000. Softcover, 93 pages, $12.48.

When it comes to evangelism, there are few topics as hot in Reformed circles as the love of God.  How do we reconcile God’s love with God’s sovereignty?  How can we do justice both to his love and his wrath?  Is there any sense in which we can or should tell unbelievers that God loves them?

Questions like these motivated my purchase of this book.  The name of D. A. Carson associated with this topic was a second factor.  Carson is a New Testament professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He has written many books and several helpful commentaries.  Carson is sympathetic to many of the concerns of Reformed believers (he quotes from Herman Bavinck and Charles Hodge) and is Calvinistic in his doctrine of salvation.  He recognizes and criticizes many of the weaknesses of American evangelicalism, also in this book.  Moreover, he is a very careful scholar.

His care is evident in this concise treatment of an issue that vexes many.  Strong opinions are found everywhere, but seldom does one find the balance that Carson strikes.  He not only acknowledges but also meaningfully tackles the Scripture passages which speak of God’s wrath towards unrepentant sinners.  He exposes as baseless clichés such as “God’s love is unconditional” and “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.”  At the same time, he takes on those who would interpret the “world” in John 3:16 to mean “God’s elect.”  For such a short book, a lot of ground is covered!

Though I can urge its purchase upon those who share a passion for sharing God’s love in Christ, I do so with one reservation.  Carson’s argument for telling unbelievers that God loves them is not convincing.  He convinces us that there is some sense in which this is true.  But he does not demonstrate that this was the tack taken by the apostles or the early church.  Nor does he show that the sense in which God loves unbelievers can be adequately expressed to those who are outside of Christ.  Excepting that point, readers will find that Carson makes a difficult doctrine a bit easier.