Serving the Church, Reaching the World

Serving the Church, Reaching the WorldAs I mentioned in an earlier post, IVP has published a Festschrift to mark Don Carson’s 70th birthday. It is a brief book of 171 pages and there are no indices. The ten essays reflect the range of Carson’s interests, but focus on themes relating to the life and ministry of the church rather than on strictly academic issues. This illustrates the remarkable way in which Carson has engaged fully both in the academy and in the ministry and mission of the church.

The essays are arranged in three parts. Part 1 opens with a discussion of ‘Preaching that changes the church’ by David Jackman. An experienced preacher and trainer of preachers, Jackman reflects on the ways in which a regular preaching ministry should have a significant impact on the life of the church. J. I. Packer’s essay is a revision of a paper he wrote twenty years earlier (he explains that he is no longer able to produce new material due to his age and sight deterioration), but it remains an enjoyable piece on the relationship between preaching and systematic theology, written with characteristic clarity and care. The essay by the late Mike Ovey is rather more demanding. Over suggests that theology should be regarded as a gift from God rather than a human achievement.

Apologetics and cultural engagement are the main themes in Part 2. In the first two essays, Stefan Gustavsson argues that both Jesus and Paul press people to be careful thinkers, and Kirsten Birkett discusses what is meant by ‘apologetics’, drawing on the Scriptures and the early Christian apologists. She suggests that proclamation of the gospel should be considered as aspect of the task of apologetics along with rational argumentation. In the next essay, John Stevens discusses Gospel cooperation without compromise. He considers the core content of the gospel and what it might mean to move beyond its boundaries. He states, ‘gospel cooperation requires both clarity and generosity’ (p. 92) and urges evangelicals not to allow issues of secondary importance to get in the way of cooperation. William Edgar concludes the section with an exercise in cultural engagement, reflecting on the motif of silence in literature, music, and Scripture.

Part 3 highlights Don Carson’s commitment to student evangelism, opening with a chapter by Richard Cunningham on being ‘persuasive’ in a secular age. He draws on his experience of ministry in the context of British universities, urging Christians not to be content with being  ‘faithful’ but to give careful thought to how evangelism might truly communicate, how ‘to live and speak a better and deeper story’ (p. 141). Tim Keller and his son, Michael, write a chapter on the challenges of contemporary student ministry and offer some helpful guidance for making evangelism as effective as possible.  Finally, John Piper offers reflections on the place of suffering in mission. This was originally an address given at a missions gathering and its content, rich in personal stories and application of Scripture, shows its provenance. It is a very accessible chapter and sounds a good note on which to finish.

This is a useful and enjoyable collection of essays. As I have indicated, some are fairly easy reading while others are more difficult. Readers will find content to stir their hearts, to stretch their minds, and to challenge their wills. Throughout many of the essays, there are references to the impact of Don Carson’s life and work on the lives of the authors. If this book introduces some readers to Don Carson’s writing (and teaching – there are many hours of his teaching available in videos on the Internet) for the first time that will be a positive benefit. For myself, I can join with the editor and authors of this book in expressing my sincere appreciation for Don Carson and my prayer that his life and work will yet have a significant impact for good on many people and on the worldwide Church.

I am grateful to IVP for making a copy of this book available to me for review.

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