A review by Rochelle Seukaran
D A Carson’s book Basic for Believers is a helpful read as it explains the letter of Philippians simply and appropriately for the era in which we live. Philippians is addressed to Christians and Carson does well to describe for modern believers the letter’s practical applications for a godly life.
Carson first emphasises that we should put the fellowship of the gospel at the centre of our relationships with believers. Fellowship (literally translated as “partnership”) is, Carson says, self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. This explanation challenged me with regard to conversations, coffee dates and recreational activities I have with my fellow Christians. I questioned whether I tended to shy away from talking about the gospel. Perhaps reading and understanding the gospel was enough for me, which in turn led to me avoiding talking about my struggles as a Christian and avoiding accountability with my Christian family. Was I therefore being true to my partnerships, I asked myself. Was I bearing the burdens of my Christian brothers and sisters and keeping them accountable, steering and encouraging them forward?
In Philippians Paul goes on to explain that his imprisonment actually advanced the gospel instead of discouraging it. Carson backs this up, mentioning other instances of people who suffered to advance the gospel. Protecting our reputation, our own comfort and the misunderstandings of our motives should therefore not be reason to shy away from speaking the wonderful truth of the gospel to friends and family, not in the light of men and women who have suffered much more because they found it worthy to do so.
Reading this first chapter of Carson’s book made me realise that we selfishly put our own aspirations first. We want, rather, to be popular with friends and avoid circumstances in which we may be embarrassed or challenged in our faith in Jesus. We don’t always put the gospel first. But the gospel is not private. It’s good news that needs to be shared. I realised that it’s actually possible to be selfish with the gospel. I have received the greatest news ever but I am sometimes guilty of enjoying the comforts of the gospel and not passing it on.
The book goes on to explain different perspectives of the cross. From the perspective of God the Father, to Jesus, to the devil and finally to our perspective. Looking at the cross from different angles opened my mind to the power of the cross. We often look at the cross from just our own perspective. But what about how the cross looked from God’s point of view? Is God’s wrath of Jesus at the cross an explosion of a bad temper or a sign of his holy integrity? Understanding the cross from these different perspectives broadened my understanding of the foundation of Christianity: where it all happened … the cross of Christ.
Carson further encourages us to emulate worthy Christian leaders, defining the characteristics of these leaders. Paul, for instance, encourages the Philippians to imitate himself as he considers himself to be a worthy Christian leader but he adds that he continues to press on with the help of Jesus. Paul is neither boastful nor stagnant and Carson acknowledges this and encourages us as Christians to follow leaders who display these characteristics. He aptly quotes “Christian discipleship is more easily caught than taught”. Basics for Believers encouraged me to emulate such leaders at CCU but to also become the someone new converts and fellow Christians could one day also emulate. But the truth is, whether it be Paul, Carson, leaders at CCU or myself, we all are ultimately imitators of Christ.
The book ends with a helpful encouragement: never give up the Christian walk. Areas like how to resolve Christian conflict are addressed. Some of the ways we think we’re being helpful but are actually not, are mentioned. The end of the book redirects us to the beginning, where unity and partnership are emphasised.
Some of my friends know this but it’s worth saying: I don’t like reading. In saying that, this year I have been part of a reading group and the more I read, the more I realise how God has blessed us with authors who can explain the Bible in a way that makes it more understandable and makes me more thoughtful about my godliness and walk as a Christian. To be thoughtful about how we live our lives as Christians is a good response to the grace of God.
I would recommend Carson’s book, Basic for Believers, to all believers.