For one of my classes I’m reading a book called “The Cross and Christian Ministry” by Carson. I’ve enjoyed a lot of what he has to say, but in the most recent section I read, I came across some quotes I found a little puzzling and even troubling… here they are.
(All of these quotes are from the “concluding reflections” under chapter 2).
“On the one side are those without the Spirit, who are in consequence culpably ignorant of the message of the crucified Messiah; on the other side are those with the Spirit, who in consequence grasp the message of the cross.”
“Still, we must insist, no less strongly than Paul, that this insight into the message of the cross cannot be gained apart from the work of the Spirit.”
“And this, he insists, is fundamentally incomprehensible to the mind without the Spirit.”
My question is… how can someone be “culpably ignorant” of the gospel if it is literally impossible for them to comprehend the message of the cross apart from the Spirit which they can only receive as a gift of God? To use Carson’s language, the message of the cross is “fundamentally incomprehensible” without the Spirit of God.
If one is unable to understand the gospel due to no fault of their own (God chose to not give them the Spirit like he did you), then how could they be culpable for their ignorance?
Carson even imagined several situations in which an atheist could interpret Scripture better than a Christian (who has the Spirit), but it would be impossible for them to understand the gospel without divine intervention.
How can we say that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) while also saying that God doesn’t desire it enough to simply send the Spirit so that their heart may be open to these truths.
What would be the point of a period of longsuffering, like in 2 Peter 3, if the outcome is predetermined?
It is almost like the mule driver who dangles a unapproachable carrot on a stick to persuade the mule forward, except in this case the mule gets eternal hell with no chance of redemption. At least the mule gets the carrot eventually!
What are your thoughts on these quotes? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?