Book Review: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (D.A. Carson)

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The lives of people teach us how to live today.  This is one of the reasons I think everyone should read history and biographies.

As I was searching through our church’s library one day I came across this book, written by D. A. Carson, about his father.  I love Carson’s writings as does my husband so I knew that reading it would be a blessing to both of us.  And indeed it was.  Carson’s writing style is spot on as it always is and this one is a little less dense as compared to some of this theology books.  It is as personal, reflective, and subjective as it possibly could be being that he was writing about his father.

Here are three things I learned about how to live life by this ordinary pastor named Tom Carson who lived in the country to our north:

1.  He rarely if ever complained.  He didn’t complain about others, he didn’t complain about ministry, he didn’t complain about anything.  What a great testimony to the children and his wife.  he lived Scriptures that talk of no grumbling, do everything without complaining, let your speech be always edifying, etc.  He would pray these “complaints” in his journals to his Father whom he knew and loved.  There he could leave them and knew that God would provide an answer in His timing.  I need to learn to do this.  I need to model this in my own life – even as I was journaling this yesterday.

2.  He struggled with failure.  If you have read Monday’s blog post you might notice a theme here and know why this aspect of this ordinary pastor’s life meant much to me.  He strived in ministry his whole life and there were periods of his life when he saw little fruit.  That would drain him, as he continued to strive for perfectionism.  He would note later in his life about how he had failed his wife in her healthy years and wanted to make up for it.  This was by no means a rejection of the gospel, because he clung to the truth that Jesus would be his entryway into heaven – He had done it all for him on the cross.  It seems as though many famous and not so famous pastors and other ministry leaders struggle with failure and depression.  I don’t know if anyone but the Lord ever knows of a man’s real struggle.  But, how this encouraged me, was to daily encourage my husband, do not be one of the many that may at some point wear on him or beat him down. He needs to hear encouagement from me and find me telling him (and telling myself) to hope in the gospel of Jesus.

3.  I saw the faithfulness of a marriage.  I have never cried so much in reading a book.  The last two chapters I could barely read because there were too many tears.  Carson told of his mom’s failing health of Alzheimer’s disease and how his dad was faithfully by her side.  How he would give up ministry and stay home to bathe, feed, dress, his wife of more than fifty years.  The book recounts his journal articles of hopelessness and failure in the many ways he was serving her (due to his own perfectionism) and how he so missed her when she was gone.  Then Don tells of his own Dad’s passing, how he died about 3 years after his wife, was sick, and unfortunately died alone in a hospital room.  Even though the children had been there and were just going home to rest, they couldn’t get back to the hospital in time.  I think that was the saddest part of the book – to die alone – but Jesus was with him and his children loved him.  He was a great man to them.  And they got a healthy view of what a godly marriage should be.  This of course means more to me now after I am married then it would have before.  I can’t imagine living life without my husband, even though I’ve only known the man a little over a year of my life.  How I survived the previous 33.5 without him I don’t know. God is certainly gracious to me.  And I know that God has only loaned him to me for a while, and that when He takes him (or me) if that happens before Jesus’ return: then, just as HE IS ENOUGH now, God will prove Himself to be all that I need then, too.

I think back to the celebrity pastor panel at T4G this year…and this is how Don Carson ends his book of his Dad’s life:

“Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them.  He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book.  He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough.  He was not a farsighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity.  His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter.  Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them.  He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stire things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle.  His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive.  He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer list. 

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mentiona in Parliamnent, not attention paid by the nation.  In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside.  There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again. 

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.  Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man – he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor – but because he was a forgiven man.  And he heard the voice of Him whom he longed to hear saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.'” (pg 147-148)

This is a good read for anyone who loves biographies, a pastor or ministry worker, a pastor’s wife, or an ordinary Christian who needs to be encouraged by a life of faithfulness and how God rewards His own.

Thank you Dr. Carson for sharing your memoirs of your Dad with readers like me.  They were necessary.


Entrusted with the Gospel: Book Review

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Crossway released a sermon series based on The Gospel Coalition’s 2009 national conference. Just in case you couldn’t attend, you can now read the sermons. Edited by D. A. Carson (who is brilliant and pastoral), this book features such preaching power-houses as John Piper, Philip Ryken, Mark Driscoll, Edward Copeland, Bryan Chappell, and Ligon Duncan (thankful to his years of ministry to/with CBMW). This book shows the reader that good sermons ought to serve as quality commentaries. These aren’t pithy sermons, or topical. They all are applicable to the listener and concerns the text by Paul to Timothy in his second pastoral epistle to him.
My two favorites were by Ryken then Driscoll. But, here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Some people say that doctrine kills, but this way of thinking is completely alien to the apostle, who believed that sound doctrine brings life and health to the people of God.” – Ryken
“It is the Word that the holy Spirit has unbound and unchained for the salvation and the sanctification of the people of God.” – Ryken
“The first is that if we have died with Christ, we ought to live with him, which means our community life, our speech, our interactions and relationships, and our attraction to spiritual things ought to reflect the life Christ gives, not the death that separation from Him reflects.” – Driscoll
“Failure to recognize the urgency of the hour will cause you to waste time on the inconsequential.” – Copeland

All pastors, especially young pastors, need to read this book. Thank you Crossway, Carson, and preachers.