Following a TGC11 panel on preaching Christ in the Old Testament, Lane Dennis, John Piper, John Woodbridge, and Tim Keller presented to Don Carson a Festschrift on the occasion of his 65th birthday. The book—Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Robert Yarbrough (Crossway)—honors Carson’s contribution to the academic community and to the body of Christ for the sake of the gospel.
In keeping with the apostle Paul’s command to “honor such men” (Phil. 2:29), Woodbridge and Piper offered a few words of appreciation for Carson even as they gave all glory to God. You can read Piper’s comments on the Desiring God website. Here we publish reflections from Woodbridge, a longtime colleague of Carson’s at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and co-editor with him on many books, including Scripture and Truth.
If you ask evangelical leaders around the world to name today’s five most influential evangelical biblical scholars and theologians, you will invariably hear one name mentioned in nearly every list: Dr. Donald A. Carson. It is he whom we honor now as a servant of the Lord. But let it be clearly understood that we are honoring Don for only one stage of his career. We trust that the Lord will grant him many more years of fruitful ministry in decades ahead.
Don Carson is a genuine gift to evangelical churches worldwide. The quality of his scholarship is breathtaking and unsurpassed; his practical wisdom is astonishing; and his visionary leadership is stunning. The breadth of his knowledge runs deeply through 50 books and counting. He receives emails from all over the world in which friends and strangers alike ask his counsel on technical biblical matters as well as advice on potentially strategic advances for the gospel. Whenever I enter his office, he is inevitably dictating a letter.
How Don has written so many Bible commentaries and other books—some of which are absolutely massive—I have more than once pondered. When I first met him more than 30 years ago, I thought the answer was due to the fact that he was often still full stride at work at 1:00 a.m. in the morning. He would mention speaking with other people throughout the world when the rest of us mortals in the United States were sound asleep. After a time, I abandoned the no-sleep hypothesis. Then another hypothesis came to mind. Put simply, it is this: Don is an enormously gifted intellect with an admirable sense of discipline. Thirty years plus of interaction with Don have amply confirmed this hypothesis.
Don Carson is truly a Renaissance man. He does things so effortlessly and with such nonchalance that he may feel embarrassed to tell you of all of his other accomplishments. But I do not feel so constrained by his modesty. Not only is Don a world-class biblical scholar, linguist, and theologian, but he is also a very gifted musician. He plays the piano, sings beautifully, and has composed theologically rich hymns to adorn our churches. He can preach and lecture in French and German. He is a gifted poet. At the same time he sometimes sports a James Dean black leather jacket and rides a handsome motorcycle. He is an amateur pilot who once lost his way flying over England and out of tower contact.
He is a jack of all trades: an electrician, plumber, woodworker, and possibly a locksmith. One evening, he drove me home from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I discovered I had lost my keys and was locked out of the house. Don told me not to worry and to wait in the driveway. I anxiously paced back and forth. Within literally a minute or two, lights began to be turned on in the house. Then the garage door opened and there stood Don grinning and welcoming me to my own home. He never told me how he got into our fully locked home in one or two minutes. Thus he may be a locksmith. In any case, he certainly is a modern day Renaissance man.
You couldn’t have a more caring colleague than Don. When someone is in the hospital Don inevitably visits and offers comfort. When Dr. Kenneth Kantzer and Dr. Carl F. H. Henry were in the last years of their lives, Don did everything possible he could for them. He loved and respected them immensely. When as a colleague you have written a paper or a book, Don will read your manuscript and offer penetrating suggestions.
Over the years, Don’s contributions to the ongoing community life of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School have been immense. In a letter of warm congratulations to Don, Dr. Craig Williford, the president of Trinity International University, writes:
Your brilliant intellect, wise insight, outstanding communication skills, scholarship, and personal commitment to Christ and Trinity reminds us all of what God accomplishes through his dedicated followers when they take the gospel seriously and commit their lives to advance the kingdom of God.
For me, one of the most outstanding traits Don possesses is that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16). It is a temptation for talented Christian scholars who crave acceptance in the larger world of Academia to duck, weave, and bob and seek to avoid the opprobrium that sometimes comes when one writes or speaks from an overtly Christian perspective. But not D. A. Carson. Years ago, I asked him how it was that he decided to publicly profess his faith in his academic writing. He reminded me of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10:33: “But whoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.”
I am personally grateful to Don for the opportunity of working with him on a number of writing projects and other initiatives. One project in particular comes to mind because during the book’s creation Don’s commitment to the gospel and love of the Lord Jesus became especially clear. Don and I decided to write a novel that became the book Letters Along the Way. It contained counsel in epistolary form from Paul Woodson, a seasoned, godly professor teaching at Trinity, to Timothy Journeyman, a recent convert who was preparing for the ministry. Don and I bequeathed to Professor Paul Woodson a name that combined parts of our last names.
Don and I met at a Denny’s in early morning planning sessions during which we exchanged the various letters we had penned on our mutually assigned topics. After a number of weeks, we suddenly realized that we had not figured out how the book was going to end. Not to worry. Don told me he would write the final chapters and conclude the book. Finally, the moment came when I entered Don’s office with some trepidation to find out how our novel ended. Don appeared a little somber, and I noticed that his eyes were somewhat moist. He gave me the final chapters and I read. And my eyes became moist as well.
At the conclusion of the novel Woodson, a very godly man, became ill and died. Both of us knew that Woodson was modeled after Dr. Kenneth Kantzer. Kantzer was a gospel man and like a Paul not only for Don and myself but also for hundreds of men and women around the world. We were both touched by the sad but triumphant ending of the book, because we so much identified Dr. Woodson with Dr. Kantzer.
Don, in God’s grace you yourself have now become like a Paul for many Timothy’s around the world. May I express to you from them and from your many academic colleagues worldwide our profound appreciation for your unashamed and clarion proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for your winsome defense of the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, for your unsurpassed skills as a biblical scholar and theologian, for your warmth as a writer of devotional meditations and of your father’s biography, and for your caring concern for so many people whatever their station in life. Hearty congratulations to you Don and to your lovely and gracious wife, Joy, on this very happy occasion.