D.A. Carson at Western Seminary


God is gracious and faithful to give good gifts to His Church (Ephesians 4). Most often, these gifts are seen on the local level in a pastor who, 52 weeks out of the year, faithfully preaches the Word and administers the sacraments. But in every generation, God also gives gifts to the Church Universal. Dr. D.A. Carson is one of those gifts to the Church worldwide. Dr. Carson has helped clarify the Evangelical faith to a very skeptical world. He has written over fifty books ranging from Become Conversant with the Emerging Church, How long O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil to An Introduction to the New Testament (co-authored).

Yesterday, Dr. Carson spoke at Western Seminary to over 200 hundred pastors from around the Northwest, and I had the privilege of sitting in the back—on the floor—with my laptop out, straining to hear (I brought my camera just in case Don wanted a few pics with me–but that didn’t work out).  Below are my notes from his lecture.  They are a little scattered, but enjoy nonetheless. 

“If you live long enough, you will suffer.

There are 6 pillars that support a way of looking at reality that guarantees Christian maturity if you live by them. These 6 pillars are not something in which you tell someone who is—at the moment—going through suffering. But these are pillars that one should think and reflect on in order to prepare you for suffering. In this way you will be sustained through the times of pain.  It is preventative medicine.

Fortunately, the Bible itself asks the deepest questions regarding suffering and pain, good and evil. It is not something that is foreign to it. The Bible is not filled with happy stories that have no sting of death, no stab of pain, or no mention of a life without trials.  On the contrary, it is precisely these questions that it seeks to answer.

The 6 Pillars:

1. Insights From Creation—everything God made was originally good. Evil is not something that God created, yet He governs it.  One cannot read the Bible without realizing that that evil is wrong.  And one also cannot read the Bible without realizing that we deserve punishment and are held responsible for our actions. You read through the O.T. and see all the famine and plagues in the Bible and see it as horrible, until you read Romans 3 and see that from the perspective of God this is merely a precursor until Christ’s coming when He will judge and destroy everything. While we are wondering why there is so much suffering in the world, the Bible assumes that we should all be dead and judged! We don’t deserve the benifits we have in America; we don’t deserve to be so well fed, so well nourished and so well educated. What we deserve is to have a tower come down on our heads. The only way one begins to come to such terms as these is to realize the evil of our own identity.

2. Insights from the end of the Bible’s story line.

There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be feared. Unless perspective is seen from eternity’s perspective, nothing makes sense. Choose your treasure, because that is what your heart is that in which you will go after. If you value most your reputation, money, investments or family, there your heart will long after. Christians used to be known as people who new how to die well.

In England, a certain puritan stayed during the black plague in order to help dying people.  Eventually, he contracted the disease and, nearing death, he wrote a poem–the last stanza reading, “Oh Lord, be my strength, for I am sick and must die, Lord help me” Today we say, “Oh Lord, if my insurance doesn’t cover this I’ll sue!”

In your preaching and caring for the flock, bring up death often; teach your people how to die well. We are not restricted to this life and our happiness is not bound up in 3 score 10. 

“The more faithful you preach, the less people will listen”

3. Insights from the place of innocent suffering

In the book of Job, God entertains a wager from Satan. At the end of the day, we realize Job deserves this no more than we do.  Job repents not of having sinned but of having gotten far enough to begin to question the wisdom of God. You learn how little you know.  Job 42 is to the book of Job what Revelation 21 and 22 is to Revelation. In our culture we delight in our moral ambiguity. Job tells us that at the end of the day justice will be done as God works out a vast amount of cosmic reality. God does this in such a way that nobody is controlling His actions, and for that, we should be thankful.

4. Insights from the mystery of Providence

2 propositions

1. God is absolutely sovereign but his sovereignty never serves to mitigate human responsibility

2. Human beings are morally responsible creatures. These two poles are taught throughout the Scriptures:

Genesis 50:19-20. In the same scenario, God’s intentions were good, the brother’s were bad.

Isaiah 36-38 God is absolutely sovereign but the Assyrians are responsible for what they do.

Acts 2:27-28 Unless you believe both these verses at the same time, you destroy Christianity. The mystery of providence works out in both these passages. God remains sovereign behind all good and evil, but asymmetrically. He may do this and that but at the end of the day evil is not attributed to God. If you say “Well, it all works out nice for God!” I would only respond, “. . . It’s the way it is!”

This plays out pastorally in many ways:

–Suffering has temporal discipline (heb 12)

–Suffering also prepares us to help others (2 Cor 1)

–Suffering can be a form of witness

–Suffering Makes us home-sick for heaven

5. Insights from the Centrality of the Cross

God’s love for you is to be measured not by how much you get your own way, but by grasping how God loves us. (Here he gave a story of a man whose daughter lost her best friend to Leukemia, and as a result, she said to her father, “God could have saved her and he didn’t.  And for that, I hate him.”  The father responded, “Do you claim to be wiser than God?  Be glad that you cannot tell God what to do.  You lost your best friend, God gave His only son to be crucified.”)  If we could tell God what to do, ultimately our good–the salvation of our souls–would never be accomplished.

6. Insights from Our Obligation to Take Our Own Cross and Follow Jesus

We make jokes in the 21st century about carrying crosses. In the 1st century, no one joked about the cross, just as you wouldn’t joke about Auschwitz today. If the master died, why should we get off scott free?

These are the six pillars and provide a platform to think through suffering

1. this is not proof texting; it is a question of worldview formation—thinking through life’s toughest questions.

2. Our tasks are not entirely theological. There are practical things in which are to happen for suffering to be relieved

3. Christians who know God well do not think in terms of theodicy.” 

As Dr. Carson noted at the beginning, these are pillars not to be listed off to a person who is going through suffering but is to be wrestled with and grappled with before the times of grief enter our lives and the lives of our flock.  As young Timothy’s preparing to enter the pulpit, there are issues that are imparative to think through to their logical extant.  The rubber of theology must meet the road of life.  These shouldn’t be esoteric conundrums we theorize about in the pulpit.  People’s lives are at stake.  Their souls are in the balence.  People don’t care who the author of Hebrews was, they want to know the eternal hope that is found in the epistles. 

It is not a matter of if but when a member of the flock will be struck with cancer, faced with the death of a child or told of the death of a spouse.  And as a pastor who is the watcher of their soul, we must be able to comfort them with sound theology that speaks to the heart of the issue without having to apologize or remove God from the picture when in fact it is at that very moment they need to hear that He is governing and directing all things for their good.  So begin training now.   

Here are some must have books from Carson for the Timothy shelf:

D.A. Carson: Exegetical Fallacie

This is a intro . . . and for Dr. Carson, I mean intro into the basics of Bible Study Methods and interpretation.


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One Response to “D.A. Carson at Western Seminary”

  1. Intersected » Blog Archive » D.A. Carson’s Six Pillars for thinking through suffering Says:

    […] teaches, and is generally one of the most intelligent, most God-centered men around. He recently lectured at Western Seminary, as posted on the Paul and Timothy Blog, a great resource for men looking for biblical instruction […]

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