Don Carson’s The Gagging of God is a discussion on the influence of postmodern hermeneutics and philosophical pluralism on the church. The title is indicative of the thrust of the book however it has a two-fold meaning. I initially thought the word “gagging” was to be understood as a “silencing” God. The flow of thought moves to that conclusion as Carson discusses postmodernism’s influence on hermeneutics and philosophical pluralism’s challenges to the gospel. Discussions on the denial of objective truth coupled with challenges to the location of true meaning in text. These place the reader in charge of the text and the message. However, this system proves to be self destructive and not helpful either as a hermeneutic or a way of life. Therefore the title of the book in part communicates that the world arrived to a place where God’s word was being interpreted in a way the reader wanted rather than the way God intended.
However, the gagging of God is not just to be seen as a silencing of God as He tries to speak through muffled pages of Scripture. The gagging of God is also the nauseating effect the church induces when the message of reconciliation is taught improperly. It is so deplorable and offensive that it causes God gag. Carson writes “If postmodern thought has tried to gag God, unsuccessfully, by its radical hermeneutics and its innovative epistemology, the church is in danger of gagging God in quite another way.” (Carson, 488) Comparing the evangelical church to the Laodicean church both are seen as gagging “the exalted Jesus”. Carson defines pluralism three different ways. He is careful to draw a distinction between a pluralist society where there are cultures and religions and “philosophical pluralism”. One recognizes distinction and the other obliterates that distinction making everything the same.
The barrier to the gospel that exists is the lack of context where the gospel is presented. Carson compares the idea with the method Paul uses in Acts 17. The first barrier of “context” exists not only in the secular biblically illiterate culture but the biblically illiterate church culture presenting the gospel. The church cannot presume that the culture knows who God is. Carson makes a loud case for starting with the Doctrine of God then moving to a Doctrine of Creation, the Fall and so forth. The gospel of Jesus Christ is basically incomprehensible unless those presenting it set the message in a biblical framework to give the gospel the proper context. (Carson, 502)
In the ancient church the philosophical worldviews were distinguished with labels such as Stoicism and Epicureanism. These philosophical systems may not be played out in the exact detail of the ancient church but their influence is still seen. Stoicism marked by great moralism and a high sense of duty (Carson, 499) understood the need to rule their life by principle of reason and the suppression of emotion. Paul contrasts this thought with the teaching of God’s divine will, His sovereignty and human dependency and need. (Carson, 499) The other end of the spectrum was the Epicurean. The Epicurean life was an undisturbed life in the time of the ancient church. A life of tranquility and peace, they weren’t involved with the matters of human affairs unduly. Paul presents a God distinct from that understanding who is personally involved, ruling and reigning and presiding over creation. (Carson, 499) The point again is that Paul does not presume that when he speaks of God they are understanding of whom he is speaking. Instead he describes God by using attributes that sharply contrast their worldview of who God is then Paul moves to the redemptive story.
The message of “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” leaves the audience to ask reasonably “What God?” (Carson, 502) Carson wants to highlight the aseity of God. (Carson, 500) God and his distinctness from the created order communicates the dependency of humanity to God and his law. Carson writes “This is the same God who says ‘If I were hungry I would not tell you for all the world is mine Psalm 50:12.’” (Carson, 500)
A solution by Carson is the proclamation of the gospel flow from biblical theology. (Carson, 502) A culture that is committed to a form of philosophical pluralism is often offended by a view of exclusivism or the speaking down of other religions/world views. This bridge is most strategically crossed when the speaker is theologically equipped to communicate biblical theology that is lucid.
When the biblical world view is contrasted with a pluralist worldview that has erased any distinction, the pluralists sees their own worldview in light of the biblical worldview. Carson writes “In this framework the philosophical pluralist is not on the vanguard of progress but an idolater.” (Carson, 504). This way of structuring the gospel message will help to ensure it is heard rightly. This can be encouraged through the catechizing of church members and their children.
We may see the abrasiveness of competing worldviews. However through proper catechetical instruction we can equip our church to be ready to meet these challenges. Christians that are properly equipped to meet the challenges of a pluralist society will be able to respect the questions of the antagonist and provide a biblical framework to introduce the gospel of Jesus. Carson uses the metaphor that as a grain of sand can be an irritant that becomes a pearl, agnosticism can be an irritant that leads to conversion. (Carson, 514)