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Don Carson’s Vision and Legacy

Don Carson is well known for his many academic and popular books, his decades-long tenure at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he’s now emeritus professor of New Testament, and his influential work as the founding president of The Gospel Coalition.

He has been called “one of the last great Renaissance men in evangelical biblical scholarship.” His election as the 73rd president of the Evangelical Theological Society and the launch of TGC’s Carson Center for Theological Renewal reflect his influence as an evangelical scholar and leader.

Two collections of essays (Festschrifts) have been published to commemorate Carson’s noteworthy contributions to New Testament studies and to advancing the gospel and strengthening the church. Additionally, a new book I edited, The Gospel and the Modern World, collects 34 short writings by Carson that originally appeared in Themelios, “an international, evangelical, peer-reviewed theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith.”

Global Influence of ‘Themelios’

Carson began serving as the general editor of Themelios in 2008, when TGC assumed responsibility for the theological journal founded in 1962 by the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and operated for many years by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in the U.K.

The name Themelios derives from the Greek term θεμέλιος (“foundation”) in texts such as 1 Corinthians 3:12 and Ephesians 2:20, signaling the journal’s commitment to expound and defend the foundational commitments of the historic Christian faith. Carson explained in his first editorial that “the new Themelios aims to serve both theological/religious studies students and pastors” while aspiring to “become increasingly international in representation.”

TGC’s decision to make Themelios freely available online has enabled the journal to have a global influence. For example, in 2021, the journal’s website had over 1.7 million page views from readers in 229 countries.

Carson’s Recurring Themes

Carson wrote the following in one of his early editorial columns:

Thinking differently from the “world” has been part of the Christian’s responsibility and agenda from the beginning. The language Paul uses intimates that this independence of thought will not be easy. The assumption seems to be that the world has its own patterns, its own structured arguments, its own value systems. Because we Christians live in the world, the “default” reality is that we are likely to be shaped by these patterns, structures, and values, unless we consciously discern how and where they stand over against the gospel and all its entailments, and adopt radically different thinking. More: our response must not only be defensive (Rom. 12:2), but offensive, aiming to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,” aiming to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). . . . If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, then we must be reading the Scriptures perennially, seeking to think God’s thoughts after him, focusing on the gospel of God and pondering its implications in every domain of life.

Here we see in brief a number of themes that feature prominently in Carson’s writings, including the countercultural nature of the Christian faith, the utter centrality of the gospel, and faithful reading and application of the Word of God. Such emphases are contrary to the status quo in the culture and, often, in many churches.

The Gospel and the Modern World draws together Carson’s most penetrating and robust Themelios columns from 2008 to 2022. Carson has written and edited dozens of books on the New Testament, biblical theology, and Christian life and leadership in a pluralistic and sometimes hostile world. The collected essays offer readers an accessible entrée into Carson’s wide-ranging writings that reveal his urgent vision for the evangelical church and exhibit the mature reflections of a scholar, pastor, and public theologian.

The collected essays reveal Carson’s urgent vision for the evangelical church and exhibit the mature reflections of a scholar, pastor, and public theologian.

The book also features two introductory essays: one from Andy Naselli, Carson’s former doctoral student and research assistant, and one from Collin Hansen, vice president for content and editor in chief of TGC.

The three dozen chapters of The Gospel and the Modern World are arranged in six parts:

1. Theological Vision for the Church

2. The Gospel

3. Bible and Biblical Theology

4. Christ and Culture

5. Church Leadership

6. Christian Discipleship

Coherent Theological Vision

Cumulatively, these essays aptly illustrate TGC’s theological vision for discharging Christian ministry and interacting with our culture in biblical and theological faithfulness.

Carson responds to contemporary epistemological crises by affirming that truth corresponds to reality, to God, and to God’s revelation in Scripture. He commends and models careful biblical theology for the upbuilding of the church while expounding the centrality of the gospel and its implications for life and ministry. And Carson urges Christians to be countercultural while seeking the common good of those around us, appropriately contextualizing the gospel in the modern world while pursuing faithfulness and fruitfulness according to God’s standards rather than seeking greatness for ourselves.

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