On the evening of April 12 in Chicago at The Gospel Coalition National Conference, I had the huge privilege of honoring D. A. Carson, as he was presented with a Festschrift by the president of Crossway Books, Lane Dennis. I represented pastors while John Woodbridge represented colleagues and scholars. Here is what I said to Don.
Tribute to Don Carson
From John Piper
TGC April 12, 2011
One of the most popular linguistic and exegetical fallacies in modern times is that the Greek word for love, agapao, carries in it the implication of a divine love that is unconditional and comes to us in spite of our sin.
That is not true. Context must decide if agapao refers to our proud, cliquish love for our cronies (as in Matthew 5:46), or if it refers to God’s merciful and sacrificial love for sinners (as in John 3:16), or if it refers to our love for leaders, not unconditionally but precisely because of their labor (1 Thessalonians 5:13).
What I want to express to you tonight, Don, is our love for you—the love of thousands of pastors—which is not unconditional, but is gloriously conditioned by your life and work.
I want to obey Paul’s plea in 1 Thessalonians 5:13 that we “esteem [you] very highly in love (en agape) because of [your] work.” And it is the phrase en agape that I want you to feel most deeply tonight. We esteem you highly in love because of your work. We love you because of your work and the life that gave it birth.
If you renounce all your work, and abandon the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, we will cease to love you like this. You will become the object of our mercy, but not our delight.
We love you Don because of your work, and because of the life that gave it birth, and because of the Lord that gave you life. We delight in you. We have a deep affection for you. Because . . .
- Because you have walked in purity and cherished your one wife.
- Because you have loved your children and honored your father.
- Because you heard and followed the call of God.
- Because you have given your mind wholly to God not money.
- Because you pursued learning, but even more, wisdom.
- Because you have been tenderhearted and courageous.
- Because you have been jealous for imputation and holiness of life.
- Because your soul did not shrivel up in grammatical minutia, but lived in the broadness of adoration.
- Because you embraced the sweet, deep, satisfying delights of historic, biblical doctrine, and exposed the folly of a hundred emerging departures.
- Because you have soared in the verity of precious propositions, and in the evocative power of poetry.
- Because you have been secondarily a great defender of Christ, but mainly a joyful advocate and witness.
- Because you have honored the guild with your mind, but served the church with all your heart.
- Because you have submitted to the whole counsel of God, and submitted to every sentence in the Bible.
- Because you have kept the crucified and risen Christ at the center of it all.
- And because you have done everything in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God.
Our happy and affectionate admiration for you is not like the admiration of the world. The world cannot see what we see. The world cannot smell what we smell. We smell the aroma of Christ from life to life. We see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
But your shining and our seeing are impossible for natural men.
Which means that our love for you—our deep affection for you—is a fruit of God’s unconditional, electing, predestining, calling, and regenerating love for you and for us.
If God had not unconditionally chosen us and unconditionally made us spiritually alive, both you and we would be blind to the glory of Christ. You would not have seen it in the word, and we could not have seen it in you.
If God had not loved you and us unconditionally from eternity, you would not be the Don Carson we love, and we could not love the Don Carson who is.
So we pastors thank God that he made you what you are, and that he gave us eyes to see his glory in you.
“May God make you increasingly worthy of his calling and may he fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12). Amen.