Summary of THE GAGGING OF GOD, by D. A. Carson, Part 1

Published on February 11, 2016 by Todd Scacewater

Zondervan, 1996 | 640 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance


Don Carson’s The Gagging of God is an award-winning book that is coming up on its twentieth-anniversary of publication. It challenges postmodernism and pluralism, explaining them, learning from them, and critiquing them. Carson presents a biblical theology—outlining the Bible’s plot-line—and argues that the Christian metanarrative cannot be reduced to one religious option amongst many. God’s truth cannot be relativized away. Carson also engages hermeneutical, philosophical, cultural, and theological aspects of Christianity’s confrontation with pluralism. Although the examples are slightly dated (for more current engagement see Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited and The Intolerance of Tolerance), the book remains a seminal work and is still very informative and helpful. Even more importantly, it provides a framework for thinking through these issues biblically and theologically.


Table of Contents


Chapter 1
The Challenges of Contemporary Pluralism

Chapter 2
The Taming of Truth: The Hermeneutical Morass

Chapter 3
Escaping from the Hermeneutical Morass: “Let God be True, and Every Man a Liar”

Chapter 4
Has God Spoken? The Authority of Revelation

Chapter 5
What God Has Spoken: Opening Moves in the Bible’s Plot-line

Chapter 6
What God Has Spoken: Climactic Moves in the Bible’s Plot-line

Chapter 7
God’s Final Word

Chapter 8
On Drawing Lines, When Drawing Lines is Rude

Chapter 9
Nibbling at the Edges: The Range of the Challenge

Chapter 10
The Vision Thing

Chapter 11
Fraying, Fragmented, Frustrated: The Changing Face of Western Evangelicalism

Chapter 12
On Heralding the Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture

Chapter 13
On Banishing the Lake of Fire

Chapter 14
“This is my Father’s World”: Contextualization and Globalization

Appendix: When is Spirituality Spiritual?

Chapter 1
The Challenges of Contemporary Pluralism

“Pluralism” is a word that is employed in a variety of ways with both positive and negative connotations. Empirical pluralism refers to the fact that many Western nations are now more culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse than ever before. Immigration levels are high and religious diversity is growing. This is an empirical reality—the interpretation of it varies. Many welcome the diversity and consider it a great good (this approving position can be termed “cherished pluralism”).

Philosophical or hermeneutical pluralism is the position that any ideology or religion or metanarrative that claims to be better than others must be wrong. Modernism held to the existence of objective truth and the human ability to discover it. Postmodernism is skeptical of both of those views, maintaining that reason, language, and interpretation are subjective, culturally conditioned, and tools of power. Biblical Christianity is neither fully modern nor postmodern but must learn from both and critique both.

Philosophical pluralism has moved very quickly from the intelligentsia to the masses. Ethical relativism and the loss of belief in absolute truth are pervasive. Philosophical pluralism is influencing all kinds of academic disciplines. In the religious sphere, this has led beyond empirical pluralism (noting that there are a diversity of religions) to the acceptance of all religions as being equally valid and basically all about the same thing. In this climate, the only theological heresy is to say that there are theological heresies—doctrinal exclusivism is ruled out of court. Philosophical pluralism has generated a new view of tolerance. In the past, people could disagree strongly about ideas, but they were expected to do so with civility and tolerance of the rights of others to articulate and defend their (possibly mistaken) views. Today, every idea is supposed to be tolerated, and those people who are deemed intolerant are not tolerated. This new tolerance is dogmatic and intolerant. Many attacks on Christianity are not over the historical evidence or the coherence of specific doctrines, but rather are aimed at marginalizing and relativizing the Christian faith. All religious expressions are cast as culturally conditioned, fallible, and psychological. If Christianity works for you in your private life that’s fine, but the faith must stay in the private sphere, out of public discourse, and certainly not be expressed in evangelism.

Accompanying philosophical pluralism has been an increase in the secularization of culture. Secularism squeezes religion out of the public square. Increasing numbers of people who say they accept some of the key doctrines of Christianity are failing to see the connection between their beliefs and social discourse. Christian orthodoxy and morality are ignored rather than refuted—or if such things are spoken about, it is with scorn. New Age religious expressions and an amorphous “spirituality” are becoming more common. Biblical literacy, even amongst those in churches, is plummeting—many people in society know almost nothing about the Bible. People are becoming increasingly dependent on visual technology and entertainment, both of which can preclude serious reading and thinking unless the individual and family are disciplined. Moral norms and obligations are being replaced by feelings and emotions—ethical models are being replaced by therapeutic ones. The result is that self-expression is valued over self-discipline. Personal autonomy and self-centeredness are driving forces, and even when many people are looking for churches they are looking for what they can get rather than what they can give. Freudian-type therapies and counseling is given more credence than the preaching of the gospel. Previous generations knew that truth and agreement were not always easy to find, but this is the first generation to reject the very possibility of finding such things.
Chapter 2
The Taming of Truth: The Hermeneutical Morass

Descartes’ quest for epistemological certainty through methodological doubt led him to the conclusion “I think, therefore I am.” Critically, this foundation lies with the subject, and subjects can interpret objects and “truth” in different ways. Descartes and many who followed in his steps were sure that objective truth existed and that it could be known with certainty, but the trajectory of this subjective turn led others to the relativization of knowledge. Modernism assumed that given the right foundation and the right method, objective knowledge would be attained. The success of science and the rise of philosophical naturalism kept modern thinking going, and science was perceived to deal with facts while religion dealt with opinion. Modernity produced so many disparate systems of thought, however, that it fragmented….

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Zondervan, 1996 | 640 pages

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