A Student's Perspective of D. A. Carson
Editor’s Note: From 2006 – 2009 I had the privilege of studying at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where Dr. D. A. Carson, our guest speaker the weekend of March 4 - 6 for
My excitement grew as the Fall of 2006 drew near. For over a year I had been waiting to begin studying at
Before classes began, stories of Dr. Carson’s legendary (for their difficulty!) quizzes, his impossibly high demands, and his grading rigor created in me a sense of trepidation and awe as I walked into the lecture hall the first day. I observed in those first few weeks a strange phenomenon. Before class began each week, the hall was filled with loud conversation, but as soon as Dr. Carson entered the doors at the back of the lecture hall (always precisely on time), a hushed silence overtook the room. I found out why this is so during our first class. Dr. Carson informed us that someone once told him, “You have the gift of intimidation!”
On one level this is true. While possessing a lively sense of humor, he is more than anything a serious man. When listening to him, one feels the weight and urgency of spiritual truth, and he seems untouched by the levity of contemporary Western culture which seems to take very little seriously. And this is precisely what makes him a gifted and powerful teacher of the Bible.
On another level, however, Dr. Carson is personally warm and caring, kind, and gentle. I experienced this personally during my last semester on campus at Trinity. A perfect storm of circumstances had arisen to put my wife, Kristen, and I in what felt like a very precarious situation. Eight months previously Kristen had given birth to our triplets. After taking a semester off from seminary to work more and be available at home as much as possible, I was now taking as many classes as possible in order to finish up all my on-campus requirements. Our plan was to sell our home and move back to
Upon reflection, Dr. Carson’s most lasting impact upon me was his continued insistence in class after class that the gospel of Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection must be central to all life and ministry. Why was this so impacting? Isn’t this obvious? It seems that it should be, but it is much too common in Christian circles to view the gospel as that which “tips someone into the kingdom” (a common saying of Dr. Carson’s) but is soon forgotten as the person moves on to simply following Christ’s teaching. This dichotomy between justification and sanctification, or between evangelism and discipleship, is deadly, for in effect it undercuts the power God provides for holy living! The gospel must be central, Dr. Carson insisted, at every stage of the Christian life.
Test yourself on this point. When you come to the end of a day, how do you judge whether you are accepted before God or not? Is it whether you read your Bible that day, or whether you gave 10% to Christian causes? Do you feel less worthy to step into the presence of God in prayer on days when you blew up at the kids or gave in to a bad attitude? If so, you’ve slipped into thinking that God accepts you based on your performance rather than on the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The truth is that on our best day we deserve nothing from God but wrath and eternal judgment. The Christian life, therefore, is fueled by the unbelievable reality that the God of the Universe accepts us despite our sin because he looks at the Christian through the lens of the perfect life of Jesus Christ. Christian, on your worst day, God looks at you and sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. And rather than undercutting the pursuit of holy living, this gospel of free grace provides the only true motivation for it.
This is the lasting impression that Dr. Carson has left upon me, and I want as many of you as possible to benefit from his teaching ministry. If you come to THINK|11, you'll hear from a world-class New Testament scholar who has a pastoral heart. He knows how to apply the gospel to the nitty-gritty realities of life and how to communicate this to almost anyone. You can register here for THINK|11 to come here him speak on the topic, “Does it matter how I am forgiven?”