I don’t remember why I was late for the famous Don Carson lecture that fateful January morning, but I will forever remember that I was late.
As he continued his crowded one-week intensive on the Gospel of Matthew (the third day of lectures), I literally crawled in the door and sat against the back wall. Tardiness had not been uncommon that week, but I was later than normal. Believing I had entered unnoticed, I quietly unpeeled a banana while I listened to him masterfully (and briskly) walk through the life and teaching of Jesus. He finished at ten minutes to the hour (not a minute before or after) and released the class for a brief break. With some relief, I settled into an open seat.
As the class returned and quieted down, Carson lowered his glasses with a glare that could have leveled whole armies. He was not, however, concerned with armies, but with the spiritual threat (and disrespect) of tardiness. I froze, mouth slightly open, waiting for his laser-gaze to fall on me.
I do not remember his arguments (which were, of course, irrefutable). I do remember how, with unrivaled clarity and warranted severity, he laid into any man who presumed to have received a calling to the holy warfare of ministry and yet couldn’t be inconvenienced to arrive on time for training. As he went on, the sharp and precise correction crescendoed, in volume and intensity, to an unforgettable peak: “Shame on you—Shame! Shame!”
The feeling was so acute, so tangible, it was as if his words had physically lodged themselves in my chest. And the silence that followed only amplified the sobriety in his voice. No one in the room would forget this sacred (and embarrassing) moment.
With some relief, I learned later that a dozen or more of my colleagues had arrived late before me. (Being the last one that day, I had thought I might have been the only one.) That there were many of us, over several days, in a culture that encouraged and expected timeliness, had prompted (and deserved) the unusually sharp and public rebuke.
And ten years later, I still thank God for Don Carson’s word to us. Not only the word, but the tone. The heart. The gravity. The love. There was grace in it, in him, that I could not fully appreciate in the moment. Love, I learned, knows to talk this way at times: “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34; see also 6:5). Oh for more professors, like mine, who would confront sin and complacency with such urgency.
Those moments, and others like them during my four years at Bethlehem College & Seminary, imprinted on my young heart and soul the utter seriousness of my calling. No matter how many times they had taught the material, these men refused to take what we were studying lightly. They relished another opportunity to wade, with heart and mind, where lesser men might faint. They were manifestly engaged—in the classroom, in their marriages and homes, in the church—in a great and dangerous war (Ephesians 6:12), and they intended to prepare us for battle. And, by God’s grace, I believe they did.
So I thank God for Don Carson, and for his hard and uncomfortable words that day, because he helped awaken me to the seriousness of life, theology, and ministry, the seriousness of God and his word, and the seriousness of our pursuing joy in him.
Marshall Segal, MDiv ’12
- Pray for completion of the semester with in-person instruction free from COVID complications.
- Pray (without jealousy) for an advance team working in Hawaii this coming week on plans for our new extension site.
- Pray that all of our Serious Joy Scholarships will be funded by June 30.
- Pray for a safe, restful, and restorative Spring Break for faculty and students.