Based on a series of lectures D.A. Carson delivered at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church in 2008, this book investigates five aspects of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection that are particularly scandalous. After all, the message of the cross is an offense (Galatians 5:11). It is a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23). It is folly to the weak and perishing… but it is also the power of God for those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18). Too often we glaze over the real meaning of the cross. We don’t realize how truly scandalous it is, nor how wonderful it is for those who believe in Christ. Thankfully, Carson has given us this great book to teach us a familiar message in a fresh new way!
The first chapter deals with four ironies of the cross: The Man Who Is Mocked as King Is the King; The Man Who Is Utterly Powerless Is Powerful; The Man Who Can’t Save Himself Saves Others; and The Man Who Cries Out in Despair Trusts God. In each of these, Carson shows how there are multiple layers of irony in the text, and how understanding this irony “enables hearers and readers to see what is really going on. [It] provides a dimension of depth and color that would otherwise be missing.”
In chapter two, Carson unpacks the passage which Martin Luther called “the center of the whole Bible”: Romans 3:21-26. This is a very useful exposition, as it clearly shows how God’s justice and righteousness were displayed in the death of His Son, and how the old covenant Law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, making way for the availability of an undeserved righteousness apart from the Law. Perhaps most helpful is the careful differentiation explained between the definitions of “propitiation” and “expiation”. These are some weighty theological concepts made accessible in layman’s terms.
The third chapter deals with Satan’s war against the offspring of the woman in Revelation 12. Carson shows how Christ’s death and resurrection defeated Death and Satan, and gives us eschatological hope. In this life we will still have tribulation. Satan is violently waging war against God’s people, because his time is short and he knows it. The cross gives us confidence that we have a share in Christ’s ultimate victory over evil!
Next, Carson turns his attention to the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. There are many surprising elements to this miracle, particularly when seen in light of its context directly preceding Christ’s Passion week. Each section of this book contains lots of great quote material, but this chapter may have the most. Here’s one example: “Death is not normal when you look at it from the vantage point of what God created in the first place. It is normal this side of the fall, but that is not saying much. It is an enemy. It is ugly. It destroys relationships. It is to be feared. It is repulsive. There is something odious about death. Never ever pretend otherwise. But death does not have the last word.”
The final chapter is especially helpful in this age of skepticism, as Carson investigates the doubts of Thomas the Disciple. He looks at several various causes of doubt (present in both believers and nonbelievers), and how each cause requires different solutions. The tone is optimistic, as we see the conversion of Thomas’ doubt into adoration, and discover that even the most hardened doubters still have the gift of salvation by grace through faith open to them. The message of the cross, when understood and accepted fully, truly changes everything.
A relatively short book (176 pages) and written in a very conversational manner, Scandalous has the feel of a light-reading book even while covering very heavy material. Carson does an excellent job of maintaining the reader’s interest throughout. I highly recommend this book to any believer, no matter how well-versed you may think you are in the cross. This is one message we can never hear too much!
Buy it here.