Of Heroes, Sung and Unsung

A friend lent me D.A. Carson's tribute to his father, Tom, who was one of the unsung heroes of the evangelical movement in the Province of Quebec.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor was a worthwhile read.

Don Carson is the only famous name I can "drop" into conversation. He and I were in many of the same classes in seminary back in the 60s and 70s. That he was brilliant then should be no surprise to anyone. I didn't know him well—he was somewhat removed from my circle of friends.

Don's tribute to his father was moving and revealing. It told me a lot about Don's family, particularly his father. But the book also told me a lot about Don—or at least explained Don a little better.

When Don was at seminary he was a cut above all the rest of us. As I said, he was brilliant while the rest of us, for the most part, were average. But one of the things that became clear to me while we were at school together was just how insecure Don was. Perhaps it was the poverty from which he came (something I discovered through the book) that contributed. The fact that his father was a pioneer missionary in Quebec also set him apart.

I was a reasonably good student (except in Greek where I was basically clueless until I was forced to do the course again in my graduating year). But I remember very well one evening class we took together that turned a light on inside my head about Don's insecurities in spite of his brilliance. The class was a study in the book of Isaiah. We had just done a test and the prof was handing back our test papers. Don was sitting behind me. I don't know if he had already received his paper, but something tells me he had. All of us expected that he would get the highest mark—something we assumed, but he apparently didn't. When I received my paper, he quickly but surreptitiously leaned over my shoulder to see what my mark was—something totally uncharacteristic of him. That he might be concerned that I had gotten a better mark "blew me out of the water."

Forever after I had a little more compassion for him. He needed to be first (though for any of the rest of us to beat him when it came to scholarship would be impossible) and he lived with the insecurity of never being sure and of needing to know that he was the best. He needed to do things right and well. I once corrected a verse Don misquoted (and I confess I enjoyed being able to do it) and the look I got will not soon be forgotten either.

I mention this latter incident only because I found one little thing in the book that I wish I could "correct" Don on. "Encourage" might be a better word than "correct" in this case. At the end of the book, Don mentions at least twice that his father died alone. Don had been by his bedside, had slipped out to shower and change and while he was gone, his father passed into eternity. I could feel Don's regret because it was the same kind of regret I felt when my father passed away in hospital. I felt badly that my dad had been "alone." I'd like to tell Don that both he and I were wrong about that one. After my father died, I took time to read the devotional reading dad would have read on that day, if he had lived. The verse was from Psalm 23. Verse 4 (ESV) reads: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…" No Don, God came personally to accompany your father and mine on that last journey. They were not alone. The God with whom believers walk all their lives would not abandon them on that last walk. So please, Don, don't feel as badly as I suspect from the book you do.

I relate this incident because in the memoir about his father, Don tells about the many times that his dad suffered from depression, from self-doubt, from guilt about things he had no reason to be guilty about.Tom was a perfectionist. He was insecure. As I read the book I had one of those "aha" moments as I realized that the Don Carson of my seminary days was his father's son in so many ways. The book explained Don as much as it explained Tom.

Tom Carson was an unsung hero of the movement to evangelize Quebec, a very private, quiet figure somewhat relegated to the wings of the world stage. Don is a renowned scholar, speaker, teacher, writer and very much a public figure on that same stage.

I have always admired Don (and, I confess, even been a bit jealous at times). After having read the book he wrote about his father, I now admire them both. In their own ways they have delighted the heart of God by faithfully playing their roles, however different those roles have been, in God's great redemptive plan for his creation. And that, my friends, is what life is all about.


  1. This was interesting, Lynda. It shows us we're all insecure in different ways.


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