Overflow 2014: Don Carson

by Jul 29, 2014

There are not many people alive who are able to work in the highest levels of biblical and theological scholarship, interact with pressing cultural issues in a winsome way, and preach with a fire that can only come from a Scripture-soaked, gospel-fueled passion for God’s glory. But this fall, two of those men will be speaking at our Overflow conference, John Piper and Don Carson. Many people are familiar with John Piper and his many books. But for some of us, Carson might not be as familiar, so I wanted to introduce him to Harbor Church.

When I was finishing college, a church in my hometown hosted a pastors’ workshop with Don Carson. While I had heard his name all through Bible college and had read several of his books, I had never heard him preach or teach, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Even as a 21-year old, I was struck by his evident love for the gospel and his mastery of the Scriptures. But was I really noticed was his desire to serve everyone who was there with the gifts God had given to him. He never asked for any special treatment and was more than willing to take the time to answer all of our questions. Even the questions from a know-it-all 21 year old kid.

In the years since, I have heard Dr. Carson preach or teach several times, and I always walk away encouraged by God’s grace and challenged to pursue him by studying the Word. While I could highlight many aspects of his life and teaching, I have noticed three in particular.

Love for the Word of God

Don Carson loves the Word of God. He wants everything he teaches, preaches, and writes to be true to the Scriptures. For some people, this might be obvious-who doesn’t want to get it right? But in a culture where the truth of God’s Word is often set aside for our feelings and perceptions, Don Carson courageously stands on the truth of God’s Word. But Carson’s passion for the truth is not to show how smart he is (though he is probably the smartest person you will meet) or to win points in a debate (though I would sure hate to debate him on anything!). He is passionate for the Word because he is knows that the only source of lasting truth is in God’s revealed Word, and the most loving thing he can do is to teach, proclaim, and obey this Word.

Love for the Church

Don Carson is a world-renowned biblical scholar. I have seen him going toe-to-toe with world class German and British theologians in a setting that is none-too-friendly to evangelicals, and Carson more than held his own. He was able to interact with and refute every objection they threw his way. He could teach at just about any school he wants to. But the only job he’s considered leaving his job as a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to take is to return to pastoral ministry. This is because Don Carson loves the church. He recognizes that the church is the place where God’s glory is on display (Eph 3:21) and that God has commissioned the church to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). So all of his ministry with Trinity, with the Gospel Coalition, and around the world is designed to encourage and strengthen the church.

Love for the Gospel

Finally, Don Carson is passionate about communicating the gospel. Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from him is that we cannot assume the gospel. We must passionate and excited about it, because people will remember what we are most excited about.

Carson himself puts it like this:

“If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.
If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.
Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.

Two years ago, many of us got to hear Don preach here in Hawai‘i when he was the speaker for our TGC men’s retreat. In sermon after sermon, he would open the Word and let the fire hose go. And we were drinking it up. Don’t miss to drink deeply from the overflow of God’s Word as Don preaches here in Hawai‘i this fall.