Book Review: Serving the Church, Reaching the World

I should note that this book is published by IVP, for whom I currently work. It was commissioned before I joined, however, which helps to make my review (hopefully) less biased. As ever, take me and my words with a pinch of salt.

Don Carson Festschrift Review

When is a festschrift not a festschrift? What even is a festschrift? How can theology speak meaningfully into the life and mission of the church? What hath New Testament scholarship to do with student mission in the Western world? These are at least four of the questions that should be borne in mind when reading this book.

But I digress/back up.

Don Carson should need no introduction to readers of this blog. He’s an inspirational New Testament Scholar, leading conservative evangelical, and someone whose work I’m constantly interacting with even if I might disagree some of the time. I’ve read a number of books he’s written – and dozens more that he’s edited or contributed to or endorsed. Working, as I now do, for IVP, Don’s UK Publisher, reviewing a book like this is an exciting and nerve-wracking thing to do.

Overall, this book works, and you should probably buy and read it. Whether you want to understand conservative missional evangelicalism, appreciate Don Carson, or your interest is piqued by any of the chapter’s titles/contributors, this is a readable and accessible little book that celebrates and builds on the ministry of one of evangelicalism’s leading lights. Naturally, I want to offer some comments on the various parts/chapters, which are not intended as digs at their authors but rather some theological observations.

First up is the relationship of preaching and theology. David Jackman offers a helpful chapter that examines why preaching is important and what is it for. If you’ve heard/read David on this before, it isn’t new, but if you haven’t, it is well worth reading. J. I. Packer then offers some thoughts on the ideal Christian communicator as a blend of preacher and theologian – again, nothing new, but well worth reading. The final chapter in this first part is from Mike Ovey, ‘Is God the Only Theologian? True but not exhaustive‘, which is an original (in both origin and thought senses!) piece for this book. This essay alone is with the price of the book – and has been the catalyst for some great conversations/arguments…

The second section of this book is perhaps the most practically helpful. Stefan Gustavsson writes on ‘The Priority of Truth‘, echoing Carson’s call to Jesus and the importance of the project. Kirsten Birkett from Oak Hill follows this with a fascinating chapter on apologetics, which I’m still digesting. I’ll probably need to interact with this further. The second essay in this book that I think is worth buying the book for is John Stevens’. John is the National Director of the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches), and he writes winsomely and truthfully on ‘Gospel Cooperation Without Compromise‘. This chapter is something I wish I’d had as a student in church and CU, and something that I hope will be thought about deeply in the coming days. The final chapter in this section is an unusual but vital one – William Edgar writes movingly on ‘The Silence of God‘.

The third and final section fo this book is eminently practical – with perspectives on three vital topics. Unfortunately, this is also the most varied part of the book. Richard Cunningham’s essay ‘Winning Hearts and Minds in a Secular Age‘ is an encouraging, engaged and thoughtful piece of writing, from the present director of UCCF. Again, this would reward careful engagement. The penultimate piece of writing in the book (I genuinely hesitated to call it an essay) is probably the weakest, which is frustrating. Tim Keller and Michael Keller’s piece ‘University Missions and Evangelism Today‘ is a bit of a mess, from my perspective, and I’m still not sure what I think of it. The final chapter – though I think regular readers will have come across it’s themes before – is by John Piper, and is an appropriate 70th Birthday gift: ‘Doing Missions when Dying is Gain‘.

Overall, then, this review and this book are painfully similar. Full of opinions, some of which are rooted and others of which are not entirely clear. This is a book worth reading and buying – even if you only want one or two of the chapters. I hope that my fellow evangelical/missional friends in the UK will engage with much of what is being said here – and I’d love to chat about the book over a beer with a number of them.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *