Donald Arthur Carson has been a most prolific author, scholar and teacher in modern evangelical circles. He has been a pastor, currently serves as a professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is perhaps most well-known as co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. Thus it is unsurprising to have had a range of material produced by Carson, from the most pastorally insightful books to the most rigorously academically peer-reviewed journal articles. Below are my top five reads from the pen of Carson.
It is somewhat ironic that one of the most recognisable faces in modern evangelicalism has written a book about one of the least recognisable faces in modern evangelicalism. This is the reason that this book tops my list. In Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor Carson holds up the beauty of quiet faithfulness in the home and in the church.
In an age where young reformed men who seek to be pastors look up to Driscoll, Chandler, Piper, Keller, Carson, Dever, Harris, Mahaney, Duncan, Truman, Tripp, Ryken, and DeYoung (to name but a few), it is increasingly (mis)understood that success in ministry is a church numbering thousands, with multiple sites/campuses and a huge online following. Carson’s book offers a timely corrective through the loving memory of a godly father by an adoring son.
This book convinced me once again that faithfulness to a congregation of 15 people is as glorious in the sight of God as faithfulness to a congregation of 1500.
Suffering and evil are persistent challenges to Christians in their own personal lives and also in evangelism and mission. Therefore, any comprehensive, biblical and empathetic treatment of the topic will be invaluable to the church. This is exactly what we find inside the covers of How Long, O Lord?
As Carson himself acknowledges, this is not a book to hand to someone in the midst of suffering, but it is a book we must read before and after suffering (and again and again). Throughout the book Carson helpful explains the Bible’s teaching on these themes and offers much practical help for moving forward in light of Scripture. Additionally, Carson writes from personal experience which is imperative for speaking authoritatively on this topic.
Hands down this is the best book on prayer that I have ever read (although this may change as Tim Keller’s Prayer is next on my reading list). There are three reasons that this book is the best I have read on prayer: (i) First, there is a clear focus on the Bible’s teaching on and example in prayer. Many other books rely on mystical practices, meditation and feelings/emotions. (ii) Secondly, there is a fair attempt at practical pointers in how to pray. This is particularly clear on the actual things Paul prays for in his prayers. (iii) Thirdly, Carson tackles head on issues such as sovereignty and prayer throughout the book. These are perennial issues for the practice of prayer and Carson’s answers point us in the right direction for resolving these issues.
This is arguably Carson’s Magnum Opus but must come further down the list as it will be outdated at some point in the near future (if not already in some contexts). However, for contexts such as Northern Ireland this book is certainly relevant as it presents the challenges that Christianity faced in the States twenty years ago. We must read things like this and learn as we are now facing the difficulties/challenges discussed in this book. Additionally, Carson has covered a phenomenal amount of ground in the areas of culture, religion, pluralism and society that the majority of us will never be able to do. Despite its length (569 pages) it is very readable too.
This is a short but deep book. So many Christian book shops have shelves lined with leadership books which ‘Christianise’ business models and apply them to the church. While there is certainly much wisdom to be gleaned from the business world, it cannot and must not be our starting point. Rather, the cross, the gospel, the Bible must be our first port of call. Here Carson offers us a primer on Christian leadership based (primarily) on the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians. This is a must read for all pastors and elders!
As mentioned above Carson has certainly been prolific in his writing career, and so there are a few more books that I would suggest adding to your library: both his commentaries (on Matthew and John) are well worth purchasing; personally I benefited much from his Collected Writings on Scripture which opened a whole new world of debate on the nature of Scripture for me; I would also encourage you to read The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor co-authored with John Piper. Buy one of these books and read it!