Book Review: Scandalous by D.A. Carson

“Nothing is more central to the Bible than Jesus’ death and resurrection,” writes D.A. Carson in the preface to Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. “The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.”

Based on his lecture series A Day with Dr. Don from 2008, Scandalous is Carson’s “modest attempt . . . to provide an introductory explanation of the cross and resurrection,” as he looks at what five passages of Scripture have to teach us about this central point of the Christian faith.

Scandalous is broken into five chapters, based on Carson’s original lectures. His careful exposition of each passage is packed with wisdom as he reminds readers the importance of the cross and resurrection.

The Ironies of the Cross (Matthew 27:27-51a)

One usually doesn’t think of irony being a part of Jesus’ crucifixion; yet, it’s clear that the events of the crucifixion are profoundly ironic. “In the passage before us, Matthew unfolds what takes place as Jesus is crucified—but he does so by displaying four huge ironies that show attentive readers what is really going on,” writes Carson (p. 15).

Carson identifies the following four ironies in the crucifixion:

  1. The man who is mocked as King is the King
  2. The man who is utterly powerless is powerful
  3. The man who can’t save himself saves others
  4. The man who cries out in despair trusts God

I really appreciated the way that Carson explained the final of these in particular. Why did Jesus cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)

Is it out of self-pity? Had He abandoned His trust in the Father?

No, argues Carson. It’s none of these things. Jesus cried out in despair so that we will never have to. Jesus understood what was going to happen on the cross. But He cried out so that “for all eternity [we] will not have to” (p. 36). It’s a powerful expression of His love for us.

The Center of the Whole Bible (Romans 3:21-26)

This chapter is a powerful exposition on justification and the amazing love of God shown in the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.

“You must not think that God stands over against us while Christ stands for us, as if Father and Son are somehow at odds, so that the Father takes it out on his Son. God demonstrates his love by Sending Christ. This is bound up with the very nature and mystery of the incarnation and the Trinity. This is the triune God’s plan,” explains Carson.

Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God? Go to the cross. It is where wrath and mercy meet. Holiness and peace kiss each other. The climax of redemptive history is the cross. (p. 70)

And it’s by this cross that we can persevere in the face of tremendous opposition.

The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb (Revelation 12)

Chapter three looks at the cross from the apocalyptic view of Revelation. Satan has been cast out of heaven and has no standing before God by which to accuse God’s people.  A redeemer—the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—has risen and Satan is furious.

“Satan is full of rage not because he is spectacularly strong, but because he knows that he is defeated, his end is in sight, the range of his operations is curtailed—and he is furious,” writes Carson. But Christians can stand against him by the blood of the Lamb. We fight the Evil One not with swords and weapons of this world, or by political maneuverings, but by preaching the Gospel and living in light of it.

Retain courage and integrity in the face of opposition, because death cannot frighten those who follow the Prince of Life—and thereby defeat the accuser of the brothers and sisters. (p. 109)

A Miracle Full of Surprises (John 11:1-53)

But death remains the last stronghold. It is our last enemy. Our eternal life begins the moment we are saved by Christ, but our bodies will still feel the effect of sin. And its presence outrages Jesus.

But the solution is not to despair, but to look to Christ who gives eternal life—by dying Himself. Who shows us His love by delay; and who shows us his sovereignty over death in tears and outrage.

This chapter reminds us that there we can have hope because death does not have the last word. But Jesus does.

Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus (John 20:24-31)

The book’s final chapter provided me with a greater appreciation for the Apostle Thomas. Typically when this passage is discussed, Thomas gets a bad rap. He’s “doubting Thomas,” caught on his bad day, perhaps. Oh, how he must be kicking himself over doubting the resurrection, we think.

But this is not so. His doubt, it seems, was perfectly reasonable. He did not want to succumb to gullibility, to have the wool pulled over his eyes, suggests Carson. But what does Jesus mean when he says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Jesus says that those who have not seen and yet believed are blessed. Why?  Because they have believed without any evidence at all? No, of course not.

John immediately goes on to say that Jesus did many miraculous signs, and of course they could not all be written down for us. But these are written, the ones in John’s Gospel, including the appearance to Thomas, in order that later generations who will never see the signs, who will not in this life see the resurrected body of Jesus, might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life through his name. (p. 166)

Carson explains that Thomas becomes part of the chain of evidence for the validity of the claim to Jesus’ resurrection. And “[l]ike Thomas, because of Thomas, they believe, they have eternal life, and they are blessed.”

Were it not for Thomas’ reasonable doubt, we would not have this recorded evidence, and I’m grateful to have been given a deeper understanding of this Apostle.


“Do you believe? Or do you find yourself among the millions who begin to glimpse what the cross is about and dismiss the entire account as scandalous?” asks Carson.

A living-and-dying-and-living God? A God who stands over against us in wrath and who loves us anyway? A cross where punishment is meted out by God and borne by God? Scandalous! (p. 70)

The cross and resurrection of Jesus is scandalous. It kills our pride. It devastates our sense of spiritual self-sufficiency. But it offers us the greatest hope we could ever ask for.

Read this book slowly and savor the scandal of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Title: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
Author: D.A. Carson
Publisher: Crossway/RE:Lit (2010)

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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2 Replies to “Book Review: Scandalous by D.A. Carson”

  1. Great review. I think I’m going to add this book to my future reading list. Christianity needs more solid guys like Carson.

    1. Agreed, we definitely need more guys like Carson. Hope you enjoy the book!

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