You wrote The Gagging of God over a three-year period and read more than 1,300 books in preparation. Why did you devote such a significant amount of time to this issue?
At the time, I’d been engaged in university missions for almost a quarter of a century, and I couldn’t help but detect a change in the questions I was hearing, a change in the degree of biblical illiteracy. Earlier, if you could make a solid case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, students weren’t slow to face up to some of the entailments; now, any claim of a universal truth was viewed with suspicion. All claims were dismissed as “totalizing”; little was more offensive than the Bible’s claims to exclusivity. I began to do some serious reading in the various forms of postmodern epistemology. A post-graduate student at Cambridge University heard me give an informal lecture on the subject, and she asked me to come and talk with a handful of her fellow students in the English department, because from her perspective they were losing any capacity to talk about truth in any historic sense.
A few weeks later I went along for this talk. Unknown to me, the student had plastered the university notice boards with posters advertising a lecture on “Christianity and the Possibility of Truth.” When I arrived, I found several hundred students there, and not a few dons (i.e., lecturers and tutors). The topic had hit a live wire. I gave my lecture and opened it up to questions, and the evening hummed with useful discussion. That persuaded me I needed to address these cultural changes, so I decided to write what became The Gagging of God.
I went down this path as a function of my efforts at evangelism—at gospel faithfulness to a new generation I needed to understand.
In addition to the reading I undertook, I sent drafts of most of the chapters to between one and six readers who know more about such things than I do, some of them deeply enmeshed in postmodern studies. I’m profoundly grateful for the time and care they took to offer rigorous criticism—not least to show me that thoughtful Christians will want to be suspicious of both modernism and postmodernism. From my perspective, I went down this path as a function of my efforts at evangelism—at gospel faithfulness to a new generation I needed to understand.
The shared cultural memory of Judeo-Christian beliefs has so dissipated that our task becomes more and more akin to bearing witness to biblical illiterates than to nominal Christians.
It’s important to know not only individual verses, or individual chapters, but also entire biblical books and the entire storyline of the Bible. . . . That’s what helps us establish a frame of reference . . . that trains our minds, fires our imaginations, and shapes our vocabulary and cherished images.
This is the most encouraging and promising generation of seminary students I’ve known: How can I possibly be discouraged when I focus on them?
Editors’ note: We invited several evangelical leaders to share how The Gagging of God influenced their lives, ministries, and the broader evangelical world. If your own life has been affected by this book, feel free to leave a comment below.
“I read this book when it first came out. I was a college student trying to find my way, at my moderately liberal denominational school, through a maze of postmodern arguments and assumptions. Even though parts of the book were over my head at the time, it reassured me that there were good answers to the questions I was facing.”
— Kevin DeYoung
Pastor, University Reformed Church (East Lansing, Michigan)
“Don Carson’s The Gagging of God was exactly what evangelical Christianity needed. At a time when many were repackaging old theologically liberal ideas under the guise of ‘postmodernism,’ Carson articulated a stirring conviction about the intelligibility of truth and the authority of Scripture. At a time when some were dismissing classical theism in favor of an evolving God with an open future, Carson argued, compellingly, for the ancient, orthodox vision of God. As he did so, Carson did what he always does, brought together a diverse mix of disciplines, in a way that signaled that, at least in one sector, the evangelical mind is alive and well.”
— Russell Moore
President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, Tennessee)
“There is no issue more urgent in our time than the cruelty and creeping totalitarianism being inflicted in the name of excluding ultimate truth claims from the public square. We all owe D. A. Carson for his work exposing the bankruptcy of that ideology.”
— Gregory Forster
Director, Oikonomia Network
Visiting assistant professor of faith and culture, Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois)
“For several years prior to the publication of The Gagging of God, I had read the marvelously insightful works of Don Carson as New Testament interpreter and theologian. I had worked through his fine contributions on biblical authority and hermeneutics. In 1996, however, with the publication of the massive work, The Gagging of God, I was introduced to Carson as rigorous thinker, cultural interpreter, theologian, philosopher, and evangelist. Here I found more than just another popular sociological interpretation of postmodernism and its implications, more than just another commentary on our current cultural moment. What I found was a widely researched, theologically focused, and thoughtful guide for the issues with which so many were grappling at the end of the 20th century. More important than the brilliance of the work, which was recognized by the various awards the book received that year, was the serious manner in which Carson helped people understand and engage the post-Christian world with the claims of the gospel message. I have returned to the book on numerous occasions over the past two decades. The volume remains essential reading for Christian leaders who are committed to church and ministry in the changing context and culture in which we now find ourselves.”
— David Dockery
President, Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois)
“In 1998, I moved to a Central Asian corner of Russia, where I taught in several public universities and ministered to a variety of students, including Central Asian Muslims and post-Soviet Russian nihilists. In that context I discovered and read Don Carson’s The Gagging of God for the first time. I devoured it. Between the covers of that book were the reflections of a world-class Christian intellectual, encouraging me to remain faithful to Christ Jesus as the supreme Lord and Savior and to Scripture as God’s authoritative revelation, even when other Christian intellectuals were abandoning those beliefs. Carson cut no corners, interacting extensively and profoundly with a broad array of philosophers, theologians, and cultural commentators. This book’s imprint remains on me until this day.”
— Bruce Ashford
Provost and professor of theology and culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, North Carolina)
“In a fallen world, too many good books go out of print too quickly. The Gagging of God, a large and challenging work, has stayed in print for 20 years, and we are better for it. Carson’s rigor, cultural insights, apologetic prowess, and biblical fidelity are uncommon and most welcome in a time when too many authors cave in to postmodernism and so compromise the biblical teaching on truth and meaning. I congratulate Carson for this fine and abiding achievement.”
— Douglas Groothuis
Professor of philosophy, Denver Seminary (Littleton, Colorado)
- Inerrancy Is a Place to Live (Ivan Mesa)
- Keller, Piper, and Carson on Staying the Course in a Changing Culture (Ryan Troglin)
- How to Read the Bible and Do Theology Well (Don Carson)