Saturday, 10 May 2008

Grace and faithfulness in the ordinary

Most of us are familiar with Don Carson as Bible expositor, seminary professor, prolific writer, user of words with Latin roots which require a dictionary to fathom, bilingual preacher, Canadian lover of Europe living in America, and quoter of the limerick on C.H.Dodd.

His father was none of those things, except a bilingual preacher. And yet Don's reflections on his life of ministry in Québec are so suffused with grace that it is impossible not to learn from and be moved by Don's account of the life and reflections of Tom Carson. Read it in Memoirs of an ordinary pastor.

I also found it of interest with the context of French-speaking / bilingual culture(s) transitioning from great RC control, practice and belief to more secularism, and ministry, church life and evangelism within that. It felt quite European, and made me reflect frequently on church history and culture in Ireland and Belgium. It also made me very glad to have been taught in UCCF something of what it means to live and minister in God's grace, and the importance of rest. The challenge to faithfulness in the long haul is clear.

The review by Tim Challies in Discerning Reader, and other mentions, caused me to buy it for my Dad, who enjoyed it and is getting a copy for his minister, and for myself - and I'll pass it on to my minister, and missionary friends. I recommend the same pattern!

Some words of Don on his father close the book:

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people … 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 far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” 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 stir 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 lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no 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.”

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