Part 2: Response to The Gospel as Center

Part 2: Response to The Gospel as Center, Chapter 2, “Can We Know the Truth?” by Richard D. Phillips

This chapter is, as the title indicates, about epistemology. I approached it wondering if there is such a thing as a “gospel epistemology.” That is, is there an epistemology intrinsically implied by the gospel? Haven’t equally God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians disagreed about epistemology since the beginning?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Which is not to say I agreed with everything in the chapter, but it was a more humble exposition of a Christian view of truth and knowledge than I expected given the first chapter (to which I responded in Part 1 of this series).

The chapter’s author, Richard D. Phillips (a Presbyterian) argues that a Christian epistemology must avoid two extremes—modern rationalism (I think he means its positivism) and postmodern relativism. Modern rationalism asserts that the human mind is capable of grasping reality with unaided reason. Postmodern relativism asserts that there is no objective reality to grasp. At least so says Phillips. (He never quotes representative modern or postmodern philosophers to support this allegations. Most of the support he gives refers to popular clichés by college sophomores or their adult equivalents.)

Phillips recommends, even urges, what Carl F. H. Henry called “biblical presuppositionalism” as the evangelical Christian epistemology. He doesn’t call it that, but anyone familiar with Henry’s theology will recognize it. The author does mention and quote Francis Schaeffer, also a presuppositionalist.

According to Phillips, an evangelical Christian epistemology “begins by affirming that truth corresponds to reality.” (p. 29) The basis for this presupposition, he says, is that the God of the Bible exists. (Of course one can believe in the correspondence theory of truth without believing in God, but Phillips doesn’t seem to think so.) Next, following Henry closely (without mentioning him) Phillips says this evangelical Christian epistemology will begin with two other, closely related presuppositions (that Henry called Christianity’s ontological axiom and epistemological axiom): God is and God reveals himself in Scripture.

“Christians insist that there is truth, that truth corresponds to God and his created reality, and that we may know truth because God has revealed himself to us in his creation.” (p. 31)

One piece of evangelical presuppositional epistemology that Phillips does not discuss, although I’m sure he believes it, is that, according to this approach to knowledge, these presuppositions are justified as rational and not irrational because the world view they lead to is more comprehensive, consistent and has more explanatory power than any competing world view. (For a very concise exposition of biblical presuppositionalism see Carl F. H. Henry, Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief.)

Phillips then continues by expounding and defending propositional revelation  and the inspiration and authority of Scripture. He barely touches on inerrancy but clearly believes it is important. According to him, Scripture’s main purpose is to reveal true doctrines about God in order to glorify God by changing our lives. The Bible is both informative and transformative, but without the former it cannot be the latter.

For the last few pages of the chapter Phillips encourages evangelical, gospel-centered Christians to approach unbelievers with humility and love and not a triumphalist attitude of superiority. (If only some of his friends would take that advice with regard to fellow evangelicals with whom they disagree!) But the final word is that “Only the Bible can help us make sense of ourselves and God’s world.” (p. 34)

Overall, this is a good exposition of one evangelical epistemology. I have several questions about it.

First, how would Phillips and his Gospel Coalition colleagues respond to evangelical evidentialists who base the truth of Christianity not on the comprehensiveness, consistency and explanatory power of its world view but on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Presuppositionalism is deductive and rational; evidentialism (e.g., John Gerstner) is inductive and empirical. They don’t have to contradict each other; many evangelical apologists combine them. But does this chapter’s sole emphasis on presuppositionalism imply that presuppositionalism is the evangelical Christian epistemology?

Second, are Phillips’ descriptions of postmodernism a straw man? Some would say so. He seems to equate “postmodernism” with popular relativism. He says that “the postmodern view rejects the reality of truth, positing an implicit (and in some cases explicit) relativism in which nothing is really and finally true.” (p. 27) Is that true? It would be helpful if he mentioned specific postmodern philosophers to support that statement. My own study of postmodernism leads me to believe postmodern philosophers are not of one mind about that. What they all agree about is that truth claims can very easily be misused to protect power and oppress the powerless. That doesn’t necessarily mean that no truth exists. And they distinguish between “truth” and “knowledge.” Phillips doesn’t seem to take critical realism into account as a middle ground between a correspondence view of truth and a non-realist view of truth. He treats all postmodernism as if it were non- or anti-realist both metaphysically and epistemologically.

A lot of my knowledge of postmodernism comes from John Caputo who I am convinced is not an anti-realist. He is suspicious of all ideologies and everything that inclines toward becoming a totalizing ideology. But he does not deny God or justice. He just doesn’t think anyone can claim to possess them.

Phillips’ treatment of postmodernism is the familiar and now tired, clichéd evangelical dismissal of all postmodernism as totally against Christianity. He says that “the postmodern unbeliever…simply denies that God exists.” (p. 31) The context indicates to me, anyway, that he thinks all postmoderns are like that. They aren’t.

Perhaps the most egregious of all over statements in the chapter is that “Clear majorities today, even among professing Christians, affirm the postmodern dogma that nothing is really, absolutely true.” (p. 27) I simply cannot believe that. My own experience of teaching (mostly) Christian students in three Christian universities is that their answers depend on the questions. On the surface they seem relativistic because that’s the stage of development they’re in. But just below the surface is a definite belief in objective right and wrong and objective reality. Most of them can’t express or explain it, but what they are is critical realists. They think absolute truth is beyond human grasp; it belongs only to God. But that doesn’t mean they deny truth. What they deny is the absoluteness of knowledge.

Overall and in general this chapter’s main claims about Christianity, truth and knowledge are mainstream evangelical. I don’t see them as tied exclusively to Calvinism. I do think you have to believe in absolute, objective truth “out there,” at least in the mind of God, to be a Christian. But I don’t think you have to believe in biblical, rational presuppositional epistemology to be an evangelical.  Perhaps the point where Phillips I differ most is about the nature of revelation. He insist it is primarily (not exclusively) propositional. Or at least that all true doctrines are either directly or indirectly revealed propositionally in Scripture. For him, I take it, “doctrine” is revealed by God. I think of “doctrines” as the Christian community’s consensus beliefs based on revelation which is not primarily propositional. There are “truths of revelation,” but doctrines are our best attempts to understand and express them and therefore always open to reconsideration and revision in light of new and better understandings of God’s revelation.

In general, I have less objection to this chapter than I thought I would have before reading it. My most serious objection is to what I think are Phillips’ caricatures of postmodernism.

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  • James Swift

    Great post! I thought you assessment was fair and and clearly identified the weak points. It’s frustrating when people dismiss postmodernism as relativism while you cannot find a professional postmodern philosopher who espouses it. Merold Westphal claims that in the decades that he has studied continental philosophy, he’s never come across a postmodern philosopher who is a relativist and challenges his readers and critics to give him at least one name. So far, no one has done so.

    And even radical postmodernists, like Rorty, do not deny mind-independent reality. Postmodernists just deny that we can have objective access to it.

    All that to say, thanks for pointing out the overused and ignorant misrepresentation of postmodernism by Phillips. These posts are great and much-needed.

  • Rob

    If you ask my students about objective truth or right and wrong, they will almost invariably give an anti-realist response. I don’t think they really believe it. First, most don’t bother to critically reflect on their homework, much less esoteric philosophy. Second, they expect their professors to hold such views which makes me think that are attempting to mimic what they see in us. Third, if you really push them, they will embrace a form of realism.

    My concern about the epistemological project described above is that it is too focused on Christian beliefs so I am also skeptical of any “gospel epistemology”. Epistemology is about justification, knowledge, true belief, and evidence in general. I cannot imagine what a subject-constrained epistemology would be like except false. Whatever we desire about knowledge, we desire something that is the same whether we are talking about Christ’s resurrection or the date of the next lunar eclipse–that is what motivates apologetics! There seems to be an asymmetry between what we can know about mundane things and what we can know about important things. People get upset because they feel as though they cannot know that Christ rose from the dead in the same way that they know the the hydrogen cycle . If you tell them “yes, you can know that Christ rose from the dead, but we have to invent a new category called “Christ-knowledge” then you give a stone instead of a fish.

    The project Christians should take up has two stages: first, come up with a rigorous epistemology that can explain the conditions for any instance of knowledge or for the justification of any belief. Second, apply those criteria to cases from Christianity like the resurrection or whatever and show that those beliefs can in fact be justified by the same epistemic standards as other beliefs that we already take to be justified.

  • Oh good, moderation. No need to post my comments (actually, I would prefer that you don’t). I would like to send you a pdf of my book, which I assume you will not distribute without permission.
    My email address is

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the offer. I don’t read books on the computer and I have too much to read right now.

  • Joe Canner

    I like your response regarding post-modernism and I resonate with your description of your students (even though I am probably old enough to be their father). If I were asked about absolute truth, my answer would certainly depend on how the question was asked. I believe there is such a thing as absolute truth, but would question the ability of us mortals to ascertain it to any great extent.

    I’m also glad to hear that the author of this chapter promotes humility and love. When our church went through “The Truth Project” (Focus on the Family), I had a similar fear that the approach would be: “Here’s the truth, believe it or else.” I don’t agree with everything in the series, but to their credit the first episode emphasizes approaching outsiders with gentleness and grace (2 Tim. 2:24-26 and Col. 4:5, 6). Failure in this area seems to cause more problems than it solves.

  • Theophile

    Hi Roger,
    Your article reminded me of Solomon’s proposition to “cut the baby in 1/2” to find the objective truth. The strategy relied on the subjective responses of the “mothers” in dispute, to declare the truth. but objectively we could say a dispute between two harlots living together, one dead baby and one live, has more at the root, as a problem, than just the answer Solomon was asked the truth of.

  • Brian MacArevey

    Hello Roger,

    I am enjoying this review. I have not (and probably will not) get around to reading this book, but I have been involved with and read quite a few writings of TGC and those who associate with them.

    I agree with your critique of their critique of postmodernism, and it is a straw man. I have heard it over and over from neo-Puritan types. I am not sure that most of them have engaged deeply with postmodern philosophy (not that I really have either, but I think that I understand it better than they have; I consider myself a critical realist).

    I agree with you that these folks would probably make some room for evidentialism, but I think that there is a reason that they present pressupostionalism as foundational, and I believe that this reason is directly tied to their Calvinism.

    I do not believe that I would be exagerating if I said that they believe that all so-called evidence is utterly and completely useless apart from a prior regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, who opens the eyes of an individual so that they might be enabled to believe that the bible is God’s word and perceive the coherance of the biblical worldview. This does not mean that God cannot or does not use evidence, just that no one will believe the evidence unless they are first born again; or pressuposing that the bible is God’s word and that the biblical worldview is coherent.

    Of course, the “biblical worldview” that we are talking about here is the neo-Puritan, Calvinistic viewpoint, and presuppositionalism provides them with justification for presupposing the Calvinistic position without much critical reflection. They assume Calvinism because Calvinism is “the Truth”, and those who disagree do so because the Holy Spirit has not awakened them to this truth. Thus they believe that the most effective way to appologize for the faith is to do so in “the power of the Spirit”, which for all intents and purposes means “preach Calvinistic doctrine”.

    In other words, faith comes by hearing Calvinistic doctrine and proof texting. They see no reason to change their view, because it is not as if those who challenge them might have a point…of course not! People only challenge Calvinists because their hearts are hardened to “the Gospel”. Ultimately, while I agree with you that a person could be a presuppositionalist and not be a Calvinist, for these guys, presuppositionalism is essential to their belief system.

  • Dopderbeck

    From what you describe – Yawn. The real problem with this method is that it fails to recognize the historic affirmation of Christian theology that statements about God are always analogical, since by definition God cannot be known in esse. That’s not postmodern, it’s historically Christian and pre-modern. But Henry’s method almost conflates human statements about God with knowledge of God in esse, which taken to an extreme borders on heresy. I don’t think even Calvin makes this mistake.

  • FiveDills

    Phillip’s mischaracterization of post-moderns certainly doesn’t surprise me. After all, it were those from the neo-Reformed tradition that seemingly had the harshest words for Rob Bell (post-modern thinker) just after the release of “Love Wins”. First, it was the Reformed Baptist, John Piper who tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell”. Then, it was TGC’s own Kevin DeYoung who wrote a scathing review of Love Wins, just short of calling Bell a heretic. Mark Driscoll also had some choice words for Rob Bell. It seems to me that anyone who believes in the reality that we have transitioned into a post-modern era are either labeled a liberal or a heretic by both fundamentalists and Reformed alike. Perhaps Reformed folks feel threatened by post-modernism, a fear of ecclesiastical power stripped away from them should post-modernism finally take root. It only makes sense, since they rely so heavily upon centuries old theologies in order to remain in existence.

  • Chris

    Kant, borrowing from Hume, wrote that “Concepts without percepts are empty.” I’ve been thinking about that statement ever since I first discovered it in one of Moltmann’s books. I think it sheds light on my own development as Christian and helps explain some of the inner crises and struggles I’ve faced (and continue to face).

    I accepted Christ at a very young age, and have faithfully learned, served, and even taught in the church for almost three decades since then. I’m not sure when I first realized it, but somewhere along the way it occurred to me that the “top-down” presuppositionalist, deductive, rational approach is pretty much how the tradition in which I was raised does church and “disciples” Christians. It also occurred to me that this is, in many ways, opposite the approach Jesus used with his disciples. His way seemed slower, and much more–as you put it–inductive and empirical. He seemed to emphasize participation in acts of love for others; “follow me,” he urged, as if to say “you can’t know who I am until you start to do as I do.”

    I didn’t really have a way to express or explain it then, but I came to recognize this disconnect (between the way Jesus taught truth and the way we try to teach it) as a source of great trouble and even mistrust for me. Recent crises in my life brought into critical focus many of the Christian concepts (i.e., “biblical truths”) which I adopted from childhood and which were now thoroughly entrenched in my mind. I reached for these concepts to help me in my time of need, and found them wanting. At this, and after much reflection, I had to acknowledge that many of the “truths” I “knew” had little or no correspondence to my own experience or with reality as I understood it. They were empty concepts. Yet, for all these years, I’d been repeating those concepts as if they were my life blood. How many of my teachers, and pastors, and Christian brothers and sisters do the same thing? I wondered. And I started to doubt the authenticity of people I had trusted, and the practical benefit of their (and my) claims. That’s what made me go to Jesus to see what he did differently. I had to find something to help resolve the latent dissonance within me, which had now surfaced and was quickly becoming unbearable.

    I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that most honest people, at least unconsciously, come to realize that propositions and “truth claims” fail to have real import if they are not adequately perceived. After all, it’s one thing to have someone say “Jesus loves you,” but another thing entirely to have your feet washed by him. Because of this, I have severe misgivings about the presuppositionalist evangelical epistemology (which you’ve identified as mainstream); I think it leads to the kind of pedagogical problems that I’ve pointed to as a source of dissonance that almost drove me away from Christianity (or at least from the church). Unfortunately, I don’t see many pastors, authors, and teachers addressing these kinds of pedagogical problems. Maybe they don’t recognize them? Or maybe they haven’t faced their own struggles with dissonance, or keep them to themselves? I don’t know, but I wish someone would speak up! (I realize that’s actually what you’re doing here, Mr. Olson, and I really appreciate it).

    Of course, Kant was quick to add that “Percepts without concepts are blind.” That, I’m convinced, is also true; it is, I think, the reason for Scripture. Still, though, I’m convinced that perception necessarily precedes concept in the building and imparting of knowledge. After all, don’t we love because “he first loved us?” That’s why now, as often as I remember to bring about my Christian witness—to believer and unbeliever alike—I think in the back of my mind: help them perceive first. Explain later. Give them reasons to believe.

    • rogereolson

      Very well thought out and articulate post. A model for others. Thank you.

      • Chris, thank you so much for clearly articulating the problem. We will never enter God’s Love, as we all must do to dwell with Him in His kingdom, without loving. I am certain I will be pondering your insights on this for a long time.

    • Bev Mitchell

      You have summed up many important things in a precise manner, and your story will resonate with many life-long believers. Thank you. Your summery is very closely related to the ‘bounded set’ vs ‘centered set’ approaches. In the bounded set, ‘are you saved?’ is the big question. In the centered set, the big question to believers and not-yet believers is ‘are you moving closer to Christ?’. Like you say,” help them perceive first. Explain later. Give them reasons to believe.”

  • This is a fascinating series, Roger – thank you, and please keep going!

  • gingoro

    Somehow I just can’t become interested in reading about yet another book from the high Calvinists who seem to be intent on taking over the evangelical label. For me reading Scot McKnight and NT Wright is of much greater priority at the present.
    Dave W

    • rogereolson

      The only reason I’m interested is because these guys have real influence among evangelicals. I’m talking about the “halls of power.” My concern is for (for example) Wheaton. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, these folks’ goal is to dominate places like that, turning evangelical schools and organizations that used to be theologically diverse (within the evangelical tradition) into monolithic Reformed schools and organizations (at least in the theology departments and seminaries). Of course, I can’t read their minds, so I can’t prove my hypothesis. It’s just what I suspect.

      • Since graduating from seminary in 1979, I have been Calvinistically oriented in my soteriology. This changed around three years ago. As I look back, I can see that Calvinism dominated the scene — from seminary to theological books to theological conferences. It is only within the last few years that I have read articles in JETS or seen books, written by yourself, Forlines, Oden, Picirilli and others. There were, to be sure, the occasional Lutheran who made contributions, but these were far and few between. If Pinnock was mentioned, it was always in a negative light.
        So I see the stage changing. There is more diversity, and this is good, for no particular theological tradition, in my opinion, has the one single best solution. If we are to present Christ to the world, we must have answers that appeal to humanity’s sense of rightness. We should be able to examine “truth” from several angles and still see its genuineness. I think this is what you brought out from your post today. Thank you.

      • gingoro

        That is where we are different. To my mind the high Calvinists and neo fundamentalists have won and I no longer consider myself an evangelical in today’s meaning of the term. But we have had this conversation before.

  • Roger,

    This chapter confirms what I had observed regarding a series of posts about apologetics on TGC website (and mentioned in a previous comment): that presuppositionalism is assumed to be the the ONLY acceptable Reformed apologetic paradigm. This was news to me at the time, but I guess it’s official now.

    I totally agree with your observations regarding post-modernism/critical realism. The same thing, in fact, happened to me. One day I did a little navel-gazing to analyze what epistemology I was using by default, and it turned out to be critical realism, which some philosophers are asserting is post-modernism’s “successor” (if such a thing exists).

    It has been my experience that while many people (including older people) are relativists about some things, they still have a firm belief that there are other things that are absolutely wrong-all the time.

    Thanks for a great series.

    • rogereolson

      I wonder what these guys (at least the authors are all men) would say to Reformed apologists like Gerstner and Sproul? They were/are evidentialists and Reformed. Lots of Reformed thinkers have been evidentialists. And, of course, many are critical realists. Some are even somewhere on the postmodern spectrum.

  • P

    I was writing an undergraduage paper on Postmodernism last fall and it seemed that many evangelical Christian books on Postmodernism (scholars like Vanhoozer, Smith, and Westphal excepted) never actually engaged authors that could be characterized as Postmodernist, but only instead quoted other evangelical authors on the subject or used the same worn out Richard Rorty or Jacques Derrida quote that they have found in other evangelical author’s books (generally an uninterpreted use of “there is nothing outside the text”). These books may raise valid concerns and offer potential solutions at times, but I wonder how a method of cultural engagement that seems to eschew any real engagement can bear much fruit for how we actually engage Postmodernists both in Academics and in the world.

    • rogereolson

      That’s my concern as well. I have read the same evangelical books and I see little evidence of real knowledge or understanding of postmodern philosophy. The conservative evangelical authors who write about postmodernism without knowing it from primary sources are embarrassing themselves. There are many good evangelical books on postmodernism, but the one I would recommend because the author has obviously drunk deeply at the wells of postmodern philosophy is Bruce Ellis Benson, Graven Ideologies: Nietzsche, Derrida and Marion on Modern Idolatry (IVP).

      • leah

        this was actually my biggest frustration with Kevin Vanhoozer himself. he spends the first half of Is There a Meaning in this Text? really engaging well with many of the postmodern thinkers, and then he turns around and says (from memory here, i don’t have the book in front of me), “well, they made a theological mistake, so i’m going to safely ignore everything they said and talk about my favourite theory: speech-act theory.” i was hoping for a synthesis and all he gave was a rebuttal (which, imho, is in its turn very well rebutted by John Franke in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn). i guess i just find Derrida’s deconstruction more convincing than speech-act theory. or rather, i disagree with Vanhoozer that speech-act theory answers the questions postmodern philosophy raises.

        unfortunately, Vanhoozer has become the source for many evangelicals to quote in order to superficially dismiss quote-postmodernism-unquote. it’s further frustrating that the authors who cite Vanhoozer don’t seem to appreciate the deep engangement he does go through in the first half of his book. i would like to check out the book you recommend.

        • rogereolson

          The problem is, of course, that there is no standard meaning of “postmodern.” Defining it has become a free for all. We all tend to fall back on Lyotard’s “Incredulity toward all metanarratives.” But that doesn’t get us very far. Beyond that, things get very murky. What do Foucault, Derrida, Levinas, Rorty and other acknowledged postmodern thinkers have in common beyond rejecting foundational epistemology? And yet, “postmodern” seems to have become a term we can’t escape. So, my suggestion is, when using it, define what you mean by it. (By “you” I mean people in general.) Otherwise I have no idea what you mean.

  • “They think absolute truth is beyond human grasp; it belongs only to God. But that doesn’t mean they deny truth. What they deny is the absoluteness of knowledge.”

    Yes, exactly – great way of putting it – this is what most students I know think, it’s just difficult to put it into words. Most Xer’s and the generation coming up behind us think this – that there absolutely is absolute truth, but that there are so many amazing possibilities, that it is beyond us to know it fully – and that that would actually limit God if it were all formulaic. It’s so much bigger and beyond that – I’m not sure what that is called?

    • rogereolson

      I would call it a naive critical realism. And by “naive” I don’t mean anything negative except “uninformed.” I don’t expect sophomores (and others who are on about that level) to understand critical realism fully. But what is bad is the tendency of many conservative evangelicals to jump on this naive critical realism and call it relativism. I think the underlying problem here is a failure to distinguish between “truth” and “knowledge.” Truth is what is the case. Knowledge is knowing what is the case. A person can believe there is “objective truth out there” and at the same time say “I don’t believe in objective truth” and MEAN, by the latter statement, “I don’t think anyone can have a completely objective grasp of reality as it really is.” And a person can say that and mean “except God.” But teasing all that out in a poll is virtually impossible. That’s why I don’t trust polls. The question are too often simplistic and open to various interpretations.

  • Prof. Olson, I appreciate this review you are conducting even though what you are exposing here makes me mad (not you or your conclusions but the idea of TGC). Haven’t we as Christ followers been called into the Kingdom of God? And as kingdom dwellers aren’t we supposed to be that light on the hill leading everyone to the kingdom? My impression from TGC is our primary task as Christians is to draw lines in the sand. Here’s my question: If the high-Calvinist’s first presupposition is God is completely Sovereign in everything–all is predetermined down to the finest detail–then why is it so important for them to force other confessing Christians to accept their high-Calvinist theology?

    • rogereolson

      This is the Calvinist conundrum I talk about all the time and that no Calvinist (to the best of my knowledge) has resolved satisfactorily. Let me put it this way: If God has sovereignty predestined and rendered certain everything that happens without exception FOR HIS GLORY, then doesn’t doctrinal error glorify God? If so, why fiercely opposed it? The key is “fiercely.” I can understand their answer “Well, God has called us to be his instruments in defeating doctrinal error and our defeating it also glorifies God.” (It doesn’t really make sense to me, but I can at least understand it.) But why fiercely? Why do they seem angry as they go about attempting to defeat doctrinal error (e.g., open theism)? And can it glorify God to use misrepresentation and demagoguery to defeat doctrinal error? I know that happens because I’m been a victim of it and I’ve seen it “up close.” (E.g., “Arminians must say that Christ did not save anyone but only gave people an opportunity to save themselves.”)

  • Craig Wright

    After reading Roger’s discussion of his experiences within evangelical Christianity, it appears that much of this is an issue of character.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for paying attention to my stories. I agree with your conclusion. But some people have not heard or seen….

  • J.L. Schafer

    Roger, thanks for this helpful series.

    For anyone who wants to get beyond the straw-man caricatures of postmodern Christian thought, I recommend this inspiring and readable book by James Danaher:

  • John Inglis

    Not only is this chapter problematice because it does not define or unpack the author’s term “rationalism”, but also because he does not distinguish between that and rationality and the use of reason.

    This chapter is not offensively wrong, but only because it is so superficial and tepid.

    Anyone who wants to read this chapter on line can go to:

    • rogereolson

      I am beginning to think the whole book is superficial–on purpose. So I’m now looking for the subtexts, the unstated presuppositions and intentions.

  • John Inglis

    I think that, on Carson’s part at least, the intent was to do good (see the quote below), but his Calvinist blinders (and those of the other writers) prevent them from seeing the divisive subtext and presuppositions that they are inserting into what they call “central”. That is, their Calvinist presuppositions exclude other, equally faithful, perspectives.

    Carson’s ideal, I think stands out in some of his other, recent writings, such as this from his exposition on Philipians: “… What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? … Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, womenʼs ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?

    “This is not a subtle plea for … a gospel without social ramifications. We wisely reread the accounts of the Evangelical Awakening in England and the Great Awakening in America and the extraordinary ministries of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers, and others. We rightly remind ourselves how under God their converts led the fights to abolish slavery, reform the penal code, begin trade unions, transform prisons, and free children from serving in the mines. All of society was transformed because soundly converted men and women saw that life must be lived under God and in a manner pleasing to him. But virtually without exception these men and women put the gospel first. They reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. In short, they put the gospel first, not least in their own aspirations. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel.”

    [found at:

    • rogereolson

      That’s interesting. Carson includes “the Wesley brothers” among those who put the gospel first? I agree, but how does that fit with the gospel including monergism? If there was one thing the Wesleys abhorred it was monergism.