Kirk Wellum’s Review of LETTERS ALONG THE WAY: FROM A SENIOR SAINT TO A JUNIOR SAINT, by D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge

Published on August 29, 2023 by Eugene Ho

Crossway, 2022 | 384 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance 

by Kirk Wellum


Letters Along the Way, subtitled, From a Senior Saint to a Junior Saint, is a rich resource of Christian wisdom presented as a series of letters between two fictional people: Dr. Paul Woodson and Tim Journeyman. Stylistically reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters, it is a creative, straight-forward presentation of biblical truth about the Christian life and ministry minus the tongue-in-cheek irony of Lewis’ classic. I enjoyed the book from beginning to end, and I intend to share it with my students, particularly those who believe they are called to the Christian ministry. Beyond the seminary setting, I think that all Christians could benefit from this book because it tackles elements of the Christian that will be sooner or later experienced by all who walk with the Lord.

In the story, Dr. Woodson is a theology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, Illinois, and Paul Journeyman is the son of a longtime friend of the professor. Tim is a recent convert to Christianity, unlike his father who did not follow Christ. Dr. Woodson and Tim are brought together by the sudden death of Tim’s father, and this is the beginning of the relationship between Dr. Woodson, the senior saint, and Tim Journeyman, the junior saint, that is explored in a series of letters. When their correspondence begins Tim is single and trying to figure out what to do with his life. But as time passes, he marries Ginny, pursues theological studies, a call to the Christian ministry, and eventually becomes the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Florida. Dr. Woodson and his wife Elizabeth are going about their busy lives but during it all, they begin to share their lives and wisdom with the younger couple in what develops into a special friendship.

This book has 49 chapters that span 367 pages, including a forward by Mark Dever, and prefaces to the first and second editions. In addition, there are outlines at the end of the second edition that are helpful when it comes to quickly finding material on the many topics covered. Most of the chapters are no more than 4-6 pages in length and this contributes to its readability along with the fact that the authors resist the temptation to get bogged down in a lot of scholarly detail. The reader, however, should not mistake brevity for superficiality, because those who read carefully will discern that conciseness is possible because the authors, Carson and Woodbridge, are writing from years of experience, a background of rigorous Christian scholarship, and steadfast devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his church.

As I read Letters Along the Way, I kept a running list of the topics that were addressed, and it is an impressive list! One other thing I should mention, before I get to the topics themselves is that there is much to learn from the nature of the interaction between Paul Woodson and Tim Journeyman. Using this literary genre, Carson and Woodbridge, show us what the gospel looks like as it is worked out in the lives of Paul and Tim in the way they talk to, pray for, and love one another in Christ.

The correspondence begins with a discussion of issues that pertain to the beginning of the Christian life like assurance of salvation, different approaches to dealing with carnality, and the implications of Jesus’ lordship. From there they take up sin and temptation in the life of a Christian, and the difficulties, pain, and guilt that surround disobedience, before going on to the nature of true repentance and godly sorrow. Those with ministry experience will immediately recognize that these issues are as real today as when the book was written. From there they discuss issues revolving around Christian counselling, the challenges associated with a Christian’s involvement in politics, and the social and economic demands of the gospel. What I particularly appreciated was the way these matters were dealt with without losing sight of the gospel and its preeminent priorities, a balance that is difficult to maintain.

Next, there is a discussion of Christian ministry in an age of self-fulfillment. Questions about the character of gospel ministry, and what constitutes a call to ministry are discussed as Tim wrestles with what he believes is God’s call on his life. This is interwoven with a helpful chapter on biblical inerrancy that gives depth and perspective to current debates over the usefulness of this terminology, thoughts on Tim’s marriage to Ginny, and comments on Reformed epistemology! An interesting mix to say the least!

Then we follow Tim to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) as a first-year student and the questions about the historical reliability of the Bible that are discussed in evangelical seminaries as they respond to endless ebb and flow of ideas coming from the broader Christian community. On this occasion, it is an article in Christianity Today (1983) by Kenneth Kantzer that becomes the center of discussion. This part of the book is then capped off by some thoughts on the challenge of discouragement that can afflict even the most highly motivated students in the month of February as course deadlines loom large.

Somewhat surprisingly, Tim does not stay at TEDS but decides to broaden his horizons by transferring to Yale Divinity School at the beginning of his second year of theological studies. In the book, this institutional change provides an opportunity to talk about the “new hermeneutic,” to give advice on building a library, to explore misgivings about pastoral ministry, thoughts on Liberation Theology, and discuss “liberal” theological presuppositions that cause them to dismiss evangelical scholarship as beneath them and not worthy of serious consideration.

For his third and final year, Tim transfers back to TEDS, thankful for the experience at Yale but keenly aware of the deliberate and problematic sidelining of evangelical thought and scholarship in theologically liberal institutions. In the correspondence between Dr. Woodson and Tim, occasioned by the latter’s return, there is a helpful discussion of secular versus Christian humanism, as well as questions regarding the ordination of women and the larger related issue of cultural challenges to the gospel. This part of the book closes with what I think is a tremendous chapter on the dangers of an over-realized eschatology. 

In the middle of the back and forth, Tim accepts a call to a Presbyterian Church in Florida. As anyone with ministry experience knows, there is nothing like “being in the trenches” to bring us face to face with biblical doctrines like the priesthood of believers and how this new covenant reality relates to the leadership structure of the church. And so, these issues along with time and priority management, church discipline, sports and Christian commitment, “worship wars,” AIDS and the church, and advice on prayer are also explored. 

Letters Along the Way, comes to an end with a series of thematically staccato chapters on spiritual pride, childlessness, major political events at the time when the book was written like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and what appeared to be the possibility that Marxism, naturalist Darwinism, and Freudianism had burned themselves out. Phillip Johnson’s book (1991), Darwin on Trial, is favourably reviewed, along with some brief but helpful comments on “the new perspective on justification” which was championed by E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright, and others. Reading about these concerns 30-plus years down the road is a reminder about how difficult it is to predict the future, and that what is old has a way of reappearing in a new form. I am now old enough to see ideas that have been tried and discredited before, now being revived by those who should know better. As in previous generations, these ideas will be beaten back again, but they will never completely disappear until Jesus comes again.

Just when it feels like the book will go on to another topic, like life itself, it ends abruptly. To be honest, I was enjoying the book so much that I was caught a little off-guard and sad to see it end, but I found that the way it ended left me thinking about all that had been said. As I reflected on the correspondence between Dr. Woodson and Tim Journeyman, I was reminded that we need to make the most of the time we have because we never know what tomorrow will bring. We also see how important it is to obey what another Paul, the Apostle Paul, instructed another Timothy to do at the start of the Christian era: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim.2:2). This book is a wonderful example of just that.


Kirk Wellum
Toronto Baptist Seminary
July 31, 2023

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Crossway, 2022 | 384 pages

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