Book Review

Books That Still Matter: 15 Years in Print

Philip Graham Ryken
D. A. Carson
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007
Mar/Apr 2007

In each issue, we're looking at a book published during Modern Reformation's 15-year history with a look to why this book was and still is significant.

Don A. Carson first published his award-winning book The Gagging of God in 1996, the year that I was ordained to preach the gospel. I devoured the book shortly after it came out, and it has served as an intellectual reference point for life and ministry ever since.

The title of the book has a double meaning. It refers both to the challenge of pluralism and to the inadequacy of the church's response. To begin with, God is being gagged by the postmodern deconstruction of the truthfulness of truth. If absolute truth is inherently impossible to know or to communicate, then how can God reveal an authoritative Word to anyone? Whatever he has supposedly said cannot be binding.

Yet, according to Carson, in its own way contemporary Christianity is complicit in the gagging of God. By accommodating to postmodern perspectives in hermeneutics and apologetics, the church (including the evangelical church) is silencing God from speaking with full and living power.

The Gagging of God is a philosophical, biblical, and theological tour de force. Although some critics have complained that it should have been more tightly edited, the book's length is one of its virtues, as Carson surveys and critiques the leading ideas of postmodern pluralism-both inside and outside the church-across the full spectrum of society.

With its demand for all truth claims to be regarded as equally valid, philosophical pluralism continues to be a central challenge for the church, and the related issues that Carson addresses over the course of nearly 600 pages continue to demand a thorough Christian response. If anything, The Gagging of God is a more important book today than it was a decade ago. There seems to be hardly any theological or cultural issue of major current importance that Carson fails to engage: the different forms that pluralism takes, the true meaning of tolerance, the problem with evolutionary naturalism, the uniqueness of Christ in the context of world religions, the limits of contextualization, the need to draw and defend theological boundaries, the materialism and narcissism of the Western church, the global face of contemporary Christianity, and so on.

One of the book's major emphases may perhaps come as a surprise to some readers, but not to anyone who knows Don Carson: its strong evangelistic fervor. In offering a thoroughgoing critique of postmodern Christianity, Carson is not simply trying to win an intellectual argument (although he does use his considerable logical and rhetorical gifts to do that as well as he can), but also to defend the true gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ and teach people how to live for Christ in pluralistic times.

In that regard, one of the most useful chapters is one that appropriately comes late in the book: "On Banishing the Lake of Fire." As its title suggests, this chapter relates to the final judgment. In it Carson mounts a vigorous and convincing defense of hell as a place of conscious eternal torment. While this defense is rooted in the historic teaching of the church, it also employs Carson's exegetical expertise in clarifying particular texts of Scripture. Indeed, this is one of the strengths of the book as a whole: while Carson readily engages in philosophical and theological issues throughout, his center of gravity is always solidly rooted in the witness of the Bible and its story line of redemption in Christ.

It may well be wondered how many evangelical authors writing on postmodernism would dare to discuss the final judgment. However, Carson sees this argument as crucial to his total case. What is really at stake in current debates over the indeterminacy of truth or the necessity of faith in Christ alone for salvation? Nothing less than the rescue of hell-bound sinners from eternal wrath through the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

If that is what is at stake, then we have little time for theological game-playing. But if we care about living for Christ in these post-Christian times-and about leading people to Christ for all eternity-we should make some time to read and reread D. A. Carson's The Gagging of God.

Wednesday, May 2nd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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