Carson draws on ‘Doubting Thomas’ to teach lessons about faith in SBTS chapel

Communications Staff — March 16, 2005

Christians can learn the nature of true faith by examining the apostle Thomas’ doubt after Jesus’ resurrection, noted scholar and author D.A. Carson told students at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary March 1.

Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., delivered the J.B. Gay Lectures on the Louisville campus March 1-2.

Preaching from John 20:24-31, Carson noted that Thomas’ doubt did not stem from a hardened heart. Rather, Thomas doubted from the perspective of one who was a devout believer in God, he said.

“This is not the doubt of a philosophical materialist, someone who thinks that all that exists in the universe is matter and energy and time and space,” Carson said. “… Thomas was a first-century, devout Jew. He believed the Old Testament.”

When Jesus died on the cross, Thomas likely felt that the situation was hopeless and his faith had been misplaced, Carson said. Thomas was reluctant to believe Jesus had been resurrected because he did not want to misplace his faith again, he said.

Modern believers should not consider Thomas an entirely bad example because all Christians must be cautious about placing their faith in people and practices that appear untrustworthy, he said.

“This is really a kind of faith that eschews gullibility,” Carson said. “There are all kinds of Christians around that are ready to believe almost anything. Thomas isn’t one of them.”

When Thomas felt the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, he realized the reality of the resurrection confessed that Jesus was Lord and God, Carson said.

Upon first consideration, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead does not seem to indicate conclusively that Jesus is God because other people in the Bible rose from the dead, he said. But when one considers Jesus’ resurrection combined with His claims to deity in the gospels, the evidence indicates that He is God, Carson said.

Like Thomas, all humans should make a personal profession of allegiance to Christ when they realize His deity, he said.

“This is not some sort of a liturgical profession,” Carson said. “… This is intensely personal, the kind of personal confession we must make again and again and again. We must never distance ourselves from the Christ of the text, but in all of our study still bow before Him and cry, ‘My Lord. My God.’”

Some Christians have argued from the story of Thomas that faith based upon a lack of evidence is morally superior to faith based upon evidence, Carson said. Such a view is incorrect, however, and misunderstands John’s purpose in recording the story of Thomas, he said.

“In our culture the word ‘faith’ regularly means something like, ‘subjective, personal, religious choice abstracted from any truth claim,’” he said.

“But of the various ways in which the word faith is used in the New Testament, not once is it used that way.”

Biblical faith must be based on objective truth, Carson said. He stressed that faith which seems more unreasonable is not necessarily more valuable.

“The Bible never asks you to believe anything that isn’t true,” he said. “Never. Part of faith’s validation is the truthfulness of faith’s object.

“Now faith is more than believing something that is true. After all, the devil believes that Jesus rose from the dead. Faith also includes elements of trust and self-abandonment to God.”

The story of Thomas should serve as a witness to the reality of Christ’s resurrection and drive humans to believe in it as true, Carson said.

“Faith is not a subjective choice,” he said. “It’s a God-given ability to perceive what is true and hang all that you have on it. And here the object of faith is Christ’s resurrection.”

Faith increases as believers seek truth and cling to it, he added.

“You increase your faith by increasing the truth,” Carson said. “You magnify faith by explaining and expounding and living the truth. It is the articulation and defense and living out of the truth that increases faith.”

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