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The Essential D.A. Carson
March 28, 2012
I happen to know two people who have read the complete written works of D.A. Carson—at least everything that is publicly available. This takes some dedication, considering that Carson’s bibliography includes 62 books, 257 articles and 115 reviews.
I recently interviewed the two of them, trusting that they would be able to give us an introduction to Carson’s works and help bridge the rest of us into the ones that are most important and most accessible. Andy Naselli is a former student of Dr. Carson’s who lives in South Carolina and now serves as Dr. Carson’s Research Manager. John Bell lives in Toronto, Ontario and is pastor of New City Baptist Church.
How has reading the works of D.A. Carson benefited you on a personal level?
Andy: He has helped me love God and my neighbor better by understanding his Word better. His example motivates me to consecrate my life to God by using the theological disciplines as a good steward of God’s manifold grace (1 Pet 4:10).
- Through my reading of Carson the Lord has blessed me with a more biblical understanding of who God is and what he accomplished in the death and resurrection of his Son. This glorious knowledge has spread to every area of my life and ministry.
- Having read the works of Carson, I more clearly see the sinfulness of sin, the holiness of God, and the salvation-historical necessity of the propitiatory cross work of Jesus. Sin angers God. The bible tells us God responds to sin with personal wrath because sin is rebellion against him; it’s cosmic anarchy; it’s an outrageous display of creaturely autonomy; our sin is an attempt to de-god God, to kick over his royal throne; sin is idolatry. Through Carson, the Lord has taught me that sin is first and foremost vertical—it is against the Holy One himself. God is the most offended party by my sin, not other humans (whom I sin against on a horizontal level). And because he is holy, God must punish sin. This controls how I understand and preach the cross.
- Through Carson, I have a much clearer understanding the christological, salvation-historical unity of the bible’s storyline, which means as a preacher I more accurately handle the word of truth.
- One of the functional non-negotiables of my Christian life and ministry is the inerrancy of scripture. The Lord used Carson’s writings to answer the many, many skeptical questions I had on this front. As a result, the members of New City Baptist have the very highest view of scripture: that’s what they are hearing from their pastor.
- Finally, I have a biblical understanding of suffering and evil, though I am young enough not to have experienced much of it for myself. Evil, suffering and death is consistent with a biblical worldview, and as a Christian that worldview is to be my own. The Lord has used Carson to prepare me for evil, suffering, and death by opening up the scriptures and explaining to me what they say. In turn, I am able to preach these truths to my people.
What do you see as D.A. Carson’s most important contributions to contemporary evangelicalism?
Andy: Keeping the main thing (i.e., the gospel) the main thing. That’s the most prominent focus of his ministry.
John: I see Carson’s most important contribution to contemporary evangelicalism in his equipping pastors and teachers to expound the scriptures biblically. He has done this through a variety of means: commentaries, books, articles, book reviews, conferences, online sermons and lectures, and through the many students he has personally taught all over the world.
His studies on the nature of scripture are also an invaluable contribution to contemporary evangelicalism. Books such as Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon (editor); Scripture and Truth (editor); Collected Writings on Scripture; and the forthcoming two volume The Scripture Project: The Bible and Biblical Authority in the New Millennium (editor).
What are 5 D.A. Carson books that any Christian can (should?) read and benefit from?
- The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.
- For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word. Vol. 1. Wheaton: Crossway, 1998.
- For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word. Vol. 2. Wheaton: Crossway, 1999.
- How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
- The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2000.
- The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story - Carson plots out the salvation historical unity of the bible’s storyline, always with Jesus as its center. This is the first book I recommend new Christians read (or I send them the video link to the lectures).
- For the Love of God (Volumes I and II) - A daily devotional covering every book of the bible, but providing a “big picture” view of salvation history. Carson places each reading into the larger framework of God’s eternal plan. A good companion piece to The God Who is There.
- Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World - An exposition of first 10 chapters of the book of Matthew. A first rate resource for understanding the nature of the Kingdom, the requirements of that Kingdom’s citizens, and how Jesus fulfills OT scripture.
- How Long, O Lord?: The best book on suffering and evil you’ll ever read.
- The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God/Love in Hard Places - These two books should be read together. The first looks at the nature of God and why he loves what he does, and how human beings distort those truths. The second book looks at God’s command to love our enemies. Very convicting!
What are 5 D.A. Carson books that every pastor should read?
- The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
- Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.
- A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
- Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life. Coauthored with John D. Woodbridge. Wheaton: Crossway, 1993.
- The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.
- His Matthew and John commentaries.
- Collected Writings on Scripture
- Exegetical Fallacies
- Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson
- A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and his Prayers
What are some recommended non-book resources that would benefit Christians?
- Audio and video that accompanies The God Who Is There.
- “Approaching the Bible“ Pages 1-19 in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham. 4th ed. Leicester: IVP; Downers Grove: IVP, 1994.
- For other resources (mostly MP3s) that are labeled by topic, see here.
All of his sermons/lectures posted on his page at the Gospel Coalition website.
The God Who Is There video series. It can be downloaded for free at the Gospel Coalition website.
How do you think D.A. Carson will be remembered by Christians? What will his legacy to the church be?
Andy: A brilliant scholar who served Christ and his church by faithfully extolling and guarding the gospel.
John: Primarily, I believe it will be through his influence on pastors, particularly in the area of biblical expository preaching. Don Carson equips pastors for their preaching ministry like no one other teacher. Pastors who read Carson and who listen to his sermons and lectures will be more faithful preachers for it. Those pastors will be preaching expositional sermons to their flocks from the perspective of the christological, salvation-historical unity of the bible’s storyline, and the inspired text they exposit before God’s people will be the authoritative, inerrant, culture transcending, True word of God. And that pastor’s high view of scripture, and the way he faithfully faithfully preaches the biblical text, will be passed on to the next generation … and they’ll pass it on to the next.
What do you think is D.A. Carson’s most brilliant article?
Andy: “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and New.” Pages 393-436 in The Paradoxes of Paul. Vol. 2 of Justification and Variegated Nomism. Edited by D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 181. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. Understanding this article has helped me make connections between the OT and NT more richly. I outline it here.
- His 1982 critical review of Robert H. Gundry’s Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art.
- “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old Testament in the New.” In Justification and Variegated Nomism. Vol. 2, The Paradoxes of Paul.