Book Review: A Model of Christian Maturity

Carson, D. A. A Model of Christian Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007. Paperback, 192 pages. $14.99.

Previously published under the title From Triumphalism to Maturity: an Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13.

(Review copies courtesy of Baker Books.)

carson_cvr.jpgPurchase: Baker Books | WTS | CBD | Amazon

ISBNs: 0801067685 / 9780801067686

LCCN: BS2675.52.C37 DCN: 227.307—dc22

Subjects: Bible, NT, 2nd Corinthians 10-13, Criticism, and Interpretation

D. A. Carson (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author or editor of more than forty books.

While 2 Corinthians 10-13 may be Paul’s most misunderstood and misinterpreted passage, these chapters without question provide some of the clearest insights into what is known about the person of Paul. Specifically, this passage delineates the apostle’s response to accusers who questioned his credentials and effectiveness (p. 16). Paul used very passionate, pointed, and sometimes downright prickly language to make his case. Some might argue that Paul went too far in his self-defense and even reacted in an unchristian way, but Carson approaches this passage as “a marvelous case study in Christian leadership and maintenance of Christian values and priorities” (p. 16). In the midst of the accusations, Paul strives to maintain not only his testimony but also—and more importantly—the preeminence of the cause of Christ. This book aptly reveals Paul’s success in these tasks.

The original title of this book, From Triumphalism to Maturity, more directly emphasized Carson’s main thesis, but probably did very little for the marketing of the first edition. Carson uses a well-crafted exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 to combat the error of what he calls “triumphalism.” In essence, triumphalism is an over-emphasis on the victory, success, liberty, and all things positive in the Christian life to the detriment and even near disregard of meekness, humility, suffering, and the less glamorous aspects of Christianity as equally being a part of the Christian life (p. 54).

Triumphalism had led to an attitude of pride and disrespect among the Corinthian believers, and this attitude was attempting to render Paul’s work among the Corinthians as pointless. Paul was being maligned as a weak, ineffective leader who lacked charisma, eloquence, and style. However, Paul, speaking by the Holy Spirit, aptly defended his credentials and creeds by setting himself up as the example of true Christian leadership. Also, in response to his accusers, Paul used some of his most emotional language. Paul responded to personal attacks. Carson graciously uses the term “irony” to describe what many would call “sarcasm” in Paul’s tone. When one is aware of the nuances in Paul’s language, his linguistic jabs at his accusers can be quite surprising (and, might I add, quite humorous), especially remembering that these were all Holy Spirit approved.

Humility, however, is the key of effective Christian service and goes against all that the world understands as success. There is a direct correlation between humility and maturity. Paul is calling for Christian maturity as the answer to the error of triumphalism. The most famous section of this passage deals with Paul’s ordeal with the “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Cor. 12:7). According to Carson, one of the primary reasons for this trial in Paul’s life was to keep him from “becoming conceited” (p. 153). Pride can kill ministry quicker than anything else.

This book is well written and would be most profitable to a seminary audience. It is accessible to astute laymen, but the academic flavor requires a little more time for rumination. Carson is an exceptional expositor, and this average-sized book is a thorough handling of the passage. Pages 17-28 give an outstanding overview of the background and provenance for the writing of both Corinthian letters. Most of the Greek discussion is relegated to the footnotes, making for smoother reading.

The weak point of this book is its lack of a complete conclusion. The exposition goes to the end of the passage, but there are no significant concluding statements that bring his thoughts to a close. Also, while the book follows a clear and helpful outline, Carson’s style and discussion within individual points can border on cumbersome to the casual reader. One final annoyance is the lack of any index. I realize an exposition is suppose to use the passage as its road map, but a subject index would serve to make his varied points within the exposition more noticeable and accessible.

The strengths of this book lie in its well-reasoned approach to a difficult passage of Scripture. While taking into account all probable interpretations of difficult sections, Carson presents his choice with clarity and logic. I found myself often saying, “That makes sense.” Devotionally speaking, this book drew several lessons from this passage that could be and should be immediately applied to the church today. The devotional content was evenly distributed and served well to keep the academic portions palatable.

I would most definitely recommend this book for the serious student of Paul as well as for someone preaching through 2 Corinthians. This book successfully gleans a clear picture of Paul from the words of Scripture and addresses all of the issues of the passage. I read this book with an open Bible, and passages that are rarely preached began to jump off the page, ripe with lessons. A Model of Christian Maturity teaches important lessons for Christian leaders today. Every one needs frequent lessons on humility, and this book provides some excellent truths to keep one squarely in his place.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the pros, cons, and boundaries for the Christian’s use of sarcasm as a tool for communication?

2. What causes the correlation between humility and maturity?

hayden.jpgAnthony Hayden currently serves as the music director of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church (Lebanon, IN). Prior to his present ministry, he and his wife, Mary, taught for two years at a Christian school on the island of Saipan in the western Pacific. Anthony graduated from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) in 2000 with a B.Mus. in Church Music and an M.A. in Teaching Bible in 2002. Anthony and Mary have a one-year-old daughter, Mercy.
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