Posted on Monday, August 13, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Three recent books are worth reading. 


The first is Thomas Weinandy’s Jesus Becoming JesusWeinandy is a Franciscan theologian who is well-known in orthodox Protestant circles for his superlative exposition and defense of classical theism, specifically immutability and impassibility.  In this new book he starts what he intends as a multi-volume exploration of New Testament theology.  Here, he engages with the Synoptic Gospels.  He states at the start that it is not his intention to deal in any detail with current New Testament scholarship but rather to read the gospel narratives as a systematic theologian.  The result is often enchanting and frequently intellectually challenging, as any discussion of the mystery of the Trinity must be.  Here is Weinandy on Christ’s baptism: 


[I]n the Father declaring, in the descent of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is his beloved Son, we gain entrance and perceive beyond the torn heaven into the very mystery of the Trinity. The Father reveals himself as Father not by saying that he is the Father, but by revealing his Son by saying in the love of the Spirit, "You are my beloved Son." In this declaration the Father manifests himself as the loving Father of his Son. This is in keeping with who the Father is, for he is only the Father in that he fathers his Son, and so it is only proper that he reveal himself as the Son's Father. We perceive here that the Father is metaphysically incapable of revealing himself as Father apart from his Son, for he is defined as Father only in relationship to his beloved Son. (88-89)  


The manner in which he set the life of Jesus in a Trinitarian context, demonstrating how the identity of the Son is vital to understanding his deeds and his teaching, is most welcome and will help any preacher who has ever faced the question, ‘What difference does classical Trinitarianism make to how I read the Bible?’  Far from being irrelevant, the classical Trinity lies at the core of revelation. 


While Weinandy’s Roman Catholicism is evident in his treatment of the Lord’s Supper, this is a book that Protestants will otherwise find most helpful. I for one will never be able to preach the gospel narrative in quite the same way again.   And we will be interviewing Dr Weinandy about his book, and his contributions to classical theism, on a future MoS podcast. 


The second book is the first volume of the translation of Petrus van Mastricht’s great work, Theoretical-Practical Theology.  Van Mastricht (1630-1706) was one of the last great representatives of Reformed Orthodoxy before the project began to crumble due to the impact of Enlightenment patterns of thought in the late seventeenth century, with their accompanying revisions of classical metaphysics.  He was also a huge influence on Jonathan Edwards.  For these reasons alone we should welcome this translation project.   


In this volume there is some preliminary material (a biographical sketch, van Mastricht’s essay on preaching) and then the prolegomenal discussion which lays the foundation for the theology proper of the next volume.  Consistent with his belief that theology is a mixed discispline both theoretical and practical, van Mastricht constantly takes the reader from doctrinal truth to practical application.  In an era when both are at a premium, he offers a valuable model. 


This book arrives at a time when the historical work of Richard Muller, Willem Van Asselt and others on post-Reformation Reformed theology and its confessional development is being developed in important systematic ways by theologians such as Scott Swain and Michael Allen at Reformed Theological Seminary.   The realization that some influential strands of modern Reformed theology are actually outside the boundaries of the confessional consensus has reignited interest in the great theologians of the seventeenth century and this volume will therefore be a joy to those whose lack of Latin would otherwise prevent them from seeing what their spiritual forebears actually taught. 


The third book is from my fellow countryman, Melvin Tinker, vicar of St John, Newland near Hull: That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost.  Melvin has fought a long and often lonely battle against various strands of lunacy in the Church of England and in this brief book he attempts to explain how and why the tide of what he denotes ‘cultural Marxism’ has carried all before it, not simply in the world but in the church as well. At a mere 117 pages of text, this is a remarkably concise analysis of our current ecclesiastical malaise. 


I should come clean at this point and admit that much of my delight in this book stems from the fact that Melvin would appear to be something of a fan of Camille Paglia, whom I have not mentioned for a while but for whom my own love remains strong and is indeed no secret. Melvin even quotes with approval my article where I confessed to such.   Citing Paglia’s astute analysis of the gullibility of the trendy Christian approach to sexuality, he makes the laconic and devastating comment; ‘Sometimes non-Christians on the outside seem to be more insightful about the Church than Christians who are on the inside.’ (82).  Yes they do.  Oh yes they do.   That is why books like this are important because they actually help us to think about the Church rather than simply capitulate to the trendies or merely shout Bible verses louder at them.


Three very different but very useful books.  And it’s good to have my radical feminist heartthrob back on the blog. 





Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I taught ministerial candidates for 25 years at three separate institutions and, during that time, came across one question in relation to doctrine more than any other: “Is it preachable?”   In fact, I suspect it was often not really a question -- more an implicit objection to a doctrine merely couched as a question: “BUT is it preachable?” 


This question reflects an understandable concern, given the centrality of the Word preached to Protestantism.  But it is mischievous in its implications, smuggling into the theological task criteria for doctrinal truth which are little more than matters of personal taste or cultural plausibility.  And it has a long and inauspicious pedigree. 


Historically, it was one of the objections Erasmus made to Luther’s doctrine of the bondage of the will.  How could it make sense to preach the law when nobody could fulfill its commands?  Or predestination when it would only subvert any notion of real moral accountability?  But this kind of objection to certain doctrines – we might call it the kerygmatic fallacy – is no monopoly of Luther’s nemesis or of anti-Protestants.  His own friend and colleague, Philip Melanchthon also thought preaching predestination was a bad idea, a position for which he was implicitly slapped by his Reformed contemporary and friend, John Calvin, in his Institutes.  For Calvin and Luther, the presence of a doctrine in God’s Word meant that it must be preached.  God knew best and therefore no matters of human taste or misplaced concerns about its impact could silence a biblical doctrine.  The kerygmatic fallacy was just that – a fallacy. 


In more recent times, the Dutch theologian, G.C. Berkouwer, increasingly made preachability an axiom for dogmatic formulation.  In his volume on predestination, Divine Election, his discussion of the divine decree perturbed John Murray. Later volumes only sharpened the problem, as he moved more towards the actualism of Karl Barth as a means of avoiding what he regarded as the static objectivism of classical orthodox formulations. 


In my experience, the ‘But is it preachable?’ question/objection has come most recently to be lodged against those centre-pieces of classical Christian Trinitarian theism, divine simplicity and divine immutability and impassibility.  Can notions as apparently arcane as the first and as allegedly static as the second have any place in the pulpit?  Indeed, can they be preached? 


It would take a fat volume to offer anything approaching an adequate answer to that, but a number of preliminary responses might at least give pause for thought to those swept up in the kerygmatic fallacy. 


First, and most obviouslyit must be possible to preach these doctrines for the simple reason that they have been preached for many centuries.   The Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Perkins, Goodwin, Voetius, Owen, to name but a representative handful, all did so.  The Westminster divines seem to have known a thing or two about the preacher’s task and clearly codified these doctrines in Chapter Two of the Westminster Confession.  If the doctrines were preached then, at the risk of tautology, they were obviously preachable. 


Second, if these doctrines were preached and believed until relatively recently by orthodox Christians everywhere, why do some no longer think they can be?  When did these teachings start to be ‘unpreachable’?  It is doubtful there is a single cause but some aspects of the current context suggest themselves: the idea of process has gripped philosophical imaginations since the era of Hegel and Darwin; post-Auschwitz many theologians have argued that identification in suffering must be a foundational part of the divine answer to suffering, a tendency which has not abated in our own era of cheap victimhood; and (within the evangelical Protestant camp) a skewed understanding of what the Reformers meant by scripture alone has often fueled a biblical theology pursued in detachment from historic systematic theology.  The immutability of God has thereby become the victim of the mutability of the world.  


But the preachability of a doctrine is determined by its truth, not vice versa, a point made forcefully by Luther in his response to Erasmus.  It is also exemplified in the negative by the history of doctrine where the abandonment of the classical doctrine of God has typically led within a generation to doctrines that truly are unpreachable because they are so far detached from historical and biblical Christianity.   History seems to suggest that the kerygmatic fallacy ironically lays the foundation for kerygmatic failure. 


So the only evaluative question to ask about any doctrine is this: ‘Is it historic, biblical Christianity?’ And if the answer to that is yes, then the next question is not ‘Is it preachable?’ -- by definition it must be -- but rather ‘How then should I preach it?’   And, whatever the doctrine may be, a brief but humble glance at the great theologian-preachers of the past will almost certainly help you answer that.


Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

With moving job and house in the last two months, I was only vaguely aware of the Revoice Conference until a few weeks ago.  Then suddenly my phone started to light up as friends forwarded me tweets and blog posts and interviews, pro and con.  Finally, at the weekend a whole pile of very disturbing soundbites landed in my inbox from various sources.  I have yet to listen to the talks so cannot offer any criticism of them but I have noticed that, in all the critiques I have seen, a couple of key dots have not been connected: those between Revoice and the general culture of Big Eva.  (For new readers, if any such exist, Big Eva is not a large German who works in border control for the Bundesrepublik but my term for the network of large evangelical organizations and conferences that seeks to shape the thinking and strategy of the American evangelical churches.  She used to be a regular in this column but has been away on an "extended furlough" for a couple of years). 


What Big Eva has done is create an economy of power, people, and indeed money which is non-ecclesiastical but highly influential within evangelical churches.  It is a populist movement of tremendous influence and minimal accountability.  It provides an identity for its most passionate acolytes.  And because it promises rewards to individuals and organizations – influence, students, platform – it is both very hard to criticize and functionally unaccountable to any but its own. The Trinity controversy of two years ago was a case in point: no church creed had ever taught the nonsense that had become so pervasive in evangelicalism.  Quite the contrary – the creedal history of the church was arguably constructed to exclude precisely the kind of views that were being espoused.  But key conferences and key organizations had a vested interest in sidestepping orthodoxy and demonizing any who pointed that out.  


There is an important distinction to be made here.   Discussion of matters of note in the public square is a good thing, whether by books, articles, blogs or, for those who prefer their arguments unencumbered by polysyllabic words, long sentences and, well, argument, Twitter.  But provoking people to think about issues by offering forthright opinions is one thing.  Aspiring to be a movement, to direct and shape the policies and testimony of the church is quite another.   That should be done through the appropriate ecclesiastical bodies – whether sessions, consistories, elder boards, presbyteries, synods etc.   


And this brings me to Revoice. Setting aside the content and specific intention of the conference, it is surely unexceptional on one level: it is just another example of that culture whereby a non-ecclesiastical movement incarnated in an online network and now a conference strives to speak to the church in a very directive manner and thereby to drive the church's confession.  The big question for Big Eva then becomes 'How can we respond to these people when the kind of non-ecclesiastical, populist, celebrity ecology of power and influence we have created and harnessed is the same in principle as that which makes them so significant and potentially influential?'  Or perhaps more bluntly 'What have we done?'   


To give an example: A couple of years ago, I was asked to respond to what was arguably a pro-gay article written by an ordained minister in the PCA.  My ministerial credentials are in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church but I agreed to write the piece and afterwards received words of thanks from colleagues and friends in the PCA.   But none of those who expressed gratitude brought charges against the individual concerned.  Thus, while I had addressed the theological and ethical problems with what he wrote, the ecclesiastical problem remained.   That is ridiculous: you cannot solve an ecclesiastical matter via a blog post.  Only ecclesiastical process will do that.   


Such process is rightly hard, with the onus to prove the case placed on the accuser.  Paul was well aware of the existence of wicked slanderers within the visible church.  That is why he made it clear that no accusation against an elder should be taken remotely seriously without evidence from two or three eye-witnesses, 1Tim. 5:19. Hearsay or gossip is irrelevant.  To act on such is simply not Christian and those who do so should hang their heads in shame for the malicious harm they do.  Mob rule by the (self) righteous is still mob rule.


Now, if someone has taught falsely at a conference or in writing, the provision of witnesses should be no problem.  But Paul's point is not simply about evidential criteria for action.  He is clearly indicating the need for due process: the presumption of innocence and the need for proper ecclesiastical adjudication.  Even the worst heretic, we might say, is entitled to a fair ecclesiastical trial.  And the people who make up the congregations in our denominations week by week are entitled to be protected by their elders and ministers not by blog posts or conference speeches but by holding ministers accountable for what they teach and how they act, and that in accordance with biblical, ecclesiastical process.  To state the obvious: it is part of what elders and ministers have solemnly vowed to do.   More importantly -- it actually deals with the matter in a biblical way which therefore has an impact upon the church which no blog or conference, let alone tweet or hashtag, could or should ever have.


Unfortunately, the culture of Big Eva both facilitates the influence of a conference such as Revoice and makes an effective response unlikely.    To repeat one of my mantras, Big Eva is built around big conferences and big personalities.  Neither need to be problematic.  I have enjoyed attending the occasional big conference and have profited from books by big names.  What is problematic is that some of these conferences and their concomitant celebrities have an intentional significance beyond offering a time for some fellowship and some good teaching.  They are a movement.   Revoice is only playing the same populist, extra-ecclesiastical game as Big Eva -- building momentum via conferences, networks and its own stable of celebrities.   And if Big Eva responds as it usually does – with an alternative conference or some blog posts or yet another statement/petition -- then boundaries will for sure be more sharply drawn, it will be clearer who plays on which team, and maybe some laity will be genuinely helped to think more clearly about the issues -- but nothing of ecclesiastical substance will really be accomplished. 


Those concerned that ministers in their denomination were involved in Revoice and who believe that they have thereby crossed theological and ethical boundaries have a duty to prove that in an ecclesiastical context and not simply offer critical tweets or mint new hastags.   They should look at their books of church order and, if the evidence warrants it, they should file disciplinary charges in accordance with the processes outlined therein.  Blogs, articles, and alternative conferences may all have their legitimate place in helping the laity think through the matters Revoice and its critics have raised.  But every minister has the right to due process.  More importantly -- only decisive ecclesiastical action will actually deal with the problem.  And if Revoice is a Rubicon and no such action comes, then, to quote Julius Caesar, the die is cast.  Those whose orthodoxy lives by the dynamics of the Big Eva economy will find that it dies by the very same.


Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

It was some six years ago that I accepted the call to become Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ambler, Pa., as a bi-vocational appointment.  I had been on the session there for two years as Teacher and took the call because it was clear that finances meant a full-time pastor was not then an option.  At the time, I speculated on Reformation21 that bi-vocational pastoring might be the wave of the future.



Six years on, I am not so sanguine.  A few months into my pastorate, an academic friend who had done the same thing for nine years wrote me a letter and urged me to be careful – as soon as I ceased to enjoy the hobbies and casual pleasures of life, he warned, I would be close to burn-out and would need to step down.   I was glad of the warning – every minister I have ever know who has burned out has told me that there was no obvious warning: one day everything seemed fine, the next they were barely able to get out of bed.



Thankfully, I never reached the crisis point, but in retrospect I see that I came close.   And that is why I have stepped aside and why I think bi-vocational ministry, if it is the wave of the future, is more complicated as a concept than I envisaged all those years ago.



When I took the call in 2012, I told the congregation that I would commit to five years in order to make the church beyond the immediate financial and numerical challenges she faced.  Thus, five years later, at the annual session strategy meeting in the spring of 2017 I indicated that I would be stepping down from the pastorate by June 2019 at the latest.  I then informed the congregation at the annual meeting in June of last year that I had become convinced the church needed to move towards a full-time pastor and that I was not that person. I am an academic who happens to pastor, rather than a pastor who happens to be an academic, I wanted to go back to the classroom and my writing.    The call from Grove City College merely brought the decision forward by twelve months.



As I look back on the last six years, I am struck at how tiring it became.  Three brutal discipline cases took hundreds of hours and a huge toll on energy levels.  Few if any Saturdays – or any other day – off was hard on my wife.  And even with an excellent part-time co-pastor, a stellar session, and a conscientious diaconate, and a largely supportive, low-maintenance congregation, it was hard to do everything that needed to be done.  And, as usual, it was the miscreants whom we had to discipline who devoured the little spare time that there was, not the people who actually worked hard as volunteers week-by-week to make sure the congregation kept going.  The decent people had to settle for whatever time was left over after all the necessary unpleasantness.  And slowly but surely I ceased to enjoy those hobbies and casual pleasures of life which used to mean so much.  Even writing – a matter which has typically been a weird and pleasurable psychological compulsion for me – became something of a chore.  Time was up.



And so I now wonder about bi-vocational ministry.  Given that it was comparatively easy for me, since my other job – seminary professor – co-ordinated nicely with my pastoral calling, how hard would it be for others?  What about those who drive buses or work in factories or call centers and whose employers might not be as flexible and whose work routine does not translate easily into sermon preparation?  If bi-vocational ministry is the wave of the future – and finances and church size may well dictate that it is – a whole host of expectations need to change.  And the human cost on ministers will likely be brutal.



A number of people have asked if I intend to demit the ministry.  At the moment, I am a minister without call on the rolls of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.  My role at Grove will likely involve regular chapel preaching.  A conviction Presbyterian, I believe that one who regularly preaches the Word needs to be under presbytery oversight and so it is likely that I will ask my brothers in presbytery to call me as Teacher to Grove.  But in the meantime I am looking forward to sitting through whole worship services with my wife, hearing the Word preached, taking the Lord’s Supper, though probably not serving on the refreshments roster -- for which any who have ever tasted my attempts at baking can give hearty thanks to God.

Posted on Wednesday, May 09, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Amid all of the discussion surrounding the so-called Pence Rule and also the forthcoming book from my friend, Aimee Byrd, there is one lacuna that is slightly puzzling.



It is certainly the case that what the Rule seeks to achieve for Mike Pence are good and proper things, and the mockery to which it was subjected by the wider world was simply silly.   And it is also true that our highly sexualized culture means that the matter it addresses cannot be ignored by anyone.  But, given the nature of that culture, why is it that the Rule is only being applied to heterosexual temptations?   Two of the biggest evangelical scandals of the last twenty years -- that of Roy Clements in the UK and Ted Haggard in the US -- involved inappropriate relationships with men.  And men leave marriages for other men and women for other women every day of the week.  The polymorphous pansexuality of our highly pornified world means that it is simply naive to prioritize one particular form of sexual temptation over another.



Which would seem to leave those who regard the Pence Rule as a virtual Kantian imperative, and not simply as the wise and prudential strategy of one man which may or may not be useful for others, in a bit of a bind: Can they ever be alone or have a meeting or offer a lift in a car to anyone, regardless of gender, without a chaperone? And can anyone therefore be friends with anyone else?  

Posted on Saturday, March 03, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The second century is arguably the Cinderella of the early church, generally neglected in favor of other, apparently more exciting and accessible, periods.    It is populated by largely shadowy figures about whom we know enough to be tantalized, even impressed, but it lacks the giant intellects and the elaborate doctrinal disputes and formulations that emerge from the third century onwards.   Yet, as Michael Kruger argues in his new book, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church, this period is critical for understanding the development of the post-apostolic church.    Issues of theology, authority, worship, ecclesiology, culture and canon all emerge at this time and directions of later discussions are established.  Further, the period also has a more immediate practical relevance for us:  there is much to be gained from reflecting on the analogies between the church in the West in our day and that of Christianity in a largely indifferent and at times overtly hostile Roman empire. 



The historian of Christianity in the second century faces numerous problems.  First, the primary evidence is often fragmentary and incomplete.  Second (and often taking full advantage of the first), the existing secondary scholarship is frequently tendentious, driven by the desire to justify later convictions, whether that be the primacy of the Roman see or the ineradicable and incoherent doctrinal pluralism of the post-apostolic church, to cite but two examples.   Kruger’s expertise is New Testament and he has done extensive work in the area of canon development and the emergence of orthodoxy.  He is therefore well qualified to guide the reader through this complicated territory.  If you teach patristics, this book should be on the bibliography.



In seven chapters, Kruger addresses the sociology of the early church, the political and intellectual context, the emerging ecclesiastical structures and their relation to worship and Christology, the vexed issue of Gnosticism and the concepts of orthodoxy and heresy, the nature of early Christian unity, the role of texts in a largely illiterate society, and the emergence of the New Testament canon.  That is a lot of ground to cover but Kruger writes with clarity, highlighting scholarly debates where necessary, and provides a helpful bibliography for further reading.  This is a very accessible book but not of that type which pretends that the answers to difficult questions are easier than they really are.



The book is too rich to analyze in detail in a brief review so here are a couple of particularly helpful sections from a pastoral perspective.  First, Kruger’s treatment of doctrinal pluralism in Chapter 4 deals concisely with the sort of questions that are raised by scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels and which have crossed over, via their very accessible popular works, to the pew.  Kruger handles the various matters well, offering no simplistic or naïve response but highlighting the numerous fallacies underlying their approach and also pointing to the coherence of the traditional narrative.  The discovery of the Gospel of Judas should not shipwreck anyone’s faith.  The second century church did have a clear understanding of the basics of the faith and orthodoxy was not simply the sum of the ideological convictions of those who ‘won.’



Second, Chapter 7, on the canon, is marvelous.   Canonical questions come up with some frequency in both educational and pastoral contexts, and not simply because people have read the likes of Bart Ehrman and co.  The question of James arises for anyone who knows anything about Luther.  And a Christian who reads Jude with any degree of reflection is going to wonder about the inclusion of non-canonical material in such a work.  Kruger’s chapter is a great summary of the work he has elaborated elsewhere on the formation of the New Testament and should provide hard-pressed pastors with a straightforward and concise statement of the issues, one to recommend to confused Christians or to use, via the literature cited in the footnotes, as the basis for further study.



In the conclusion, Kruger highlights three specific ways in which the second century has lessons to teach Christians today.  The church then was marginal and therefore  had a prophetic role in a society where it had no access to conventional avenues of power and influence.  The church was clearly a ‘bookish’ religion.  And the church kept her focus on worshipping Jesus, whatever the external pressures were.   All three certainly apply to us today but I would add a fourth, with which I am sure Kruger would agree: the second century church was also wrestling with issues of authority, institutional, doctrinal, and canonical.   At a time when the Protestant church is losing some of its brightest young people to Rome because of precisely these type of questions and a perceived failure of Protestantism to address them, Kruger’s work on the second century provides a helpful foundation for offering a thoughtful response to those so tempted.



Christianity is deeply embedded in history and therefore one of our most important tasks is to pass on to the next generation that tradition of apostolic teaching which we inherited from our faithful forebears.   To be a thoughtful Christian today or to write theology with competence in the present one first needs to understand something of Christian history and competently to reflect upon the theology of the past.  Only then can one grasp what particular movements or theologians were actually saying and why they said it in the manner in which they did.  That simple point underpins the basic dogmatic task and also helps to keep today’s theologians humble.  The kind of principled diachronic dialogue which the Christian faith thus requires means that good contemporary theology always stands in positive relation to good historical theology, always first listens with humility and receptivity to the past before presuming to speak to the present. 



Given this, and given the general ignorance of the second century outside of specialist academic circles, Michael Kruger’s volume is a welcome contribution to the growing body of literature which makes the patristic era accessible to non-specialists; and that it focuses on the neglected but vital second century makes it an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to understand how to interpret the important shifts – theological and ecclesiastical – from the biblical to the post-biblical era of the church and thus onwards to our own day.

Posted on Friday, January 26, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Some years ago a student came to ask me if the Puritans had a theology of suffering.  Apparently he had been told by someone that they did not.


My response pointed to three basic facts. 


First, the Puritans lived in a time before the discovery of antibiotics, analgesics and flush toilets.  Disease and pain and filth were thus part of everyday life.  A good day. a really good day, for a seventeenth century person would have involved something akin to a low-level fever which today would involve time off work.  A bad day would be… Well, best not to dwell on that if you want to sleep at night.   Read Samuel Pepys's account of his bladder stone operation if you are truly curious.


Second, with catastrophically high infant mortality rates, scarcely a family would have been untouched by something that today would be regarded as exceptional and horrific.  John Owen buried all eleven of his children.  Imagine that.  And in all his voluminous writings, he never mentions these tragedies even once.


Third, the Clarendon Code of the early 1660s was legislation that led to loss of property and even liberty for many who held Puritan views in Restoration England. 


So the Puritans certainly suffered – physically, emotionally, politically.  But did they have a theology of suffering?


Well, few of them dwelt on their suffering in their writings so not really, no.  Not explicitly so anyway.  But implicitly even this silence indicated that yes, they did have a theology of suffering.  It was a theology that denied cosmic significance to the pain and injustice which they personally endured.   They simply did not consider themselves or their experiences to be that important.  They knew they lived in a fallen world.  That did not make them passive in the face of such.  But it did mean that they wasted little or no time complaining about it or seeing its as some major theodicy problem.  They and their lives were just not that significant in the grand scheme of things.


That is truly a bygone age. 


As Philip Rieff once commented, “Formerly, if men were miserable, they went to church, so as to find the rationale of their misery; they did not expect to be happy.”  Or, to cite Paul: 2Corinthians 4:17.

Posted on Wednesday, January 24, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Many people outside of Scotland may be unfamiliar with the story of the Rev. Kenny Macdonald who died last weekend.  His story is well worth reading and pondering.


I met him only once -- when we both happened to be visiting my soon-to-be father-in-law in hospital in Inverness in 1989.  A most remarkable man.

Posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

While thinking about the #MeToo movement, and the prominent place being played in it by members of the Hollywood establishment, I have asked myself a couple of times, ‘Is this a root-and-branch reformation of the structure of modern morality or merely something superficial?’  To be more specific, given the way that figures such as Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg have in the past advocated (advocated passionately!) for the convicted child rapist, Roman Polanski, and the manner in which Woody Allen’s many –ahem – “issues” have been ignored or trivialized, I wonder if what we are witnessing is a truly significant moment or not.  This is not to belittle many of those who have been strengthened and encouraged to speak out because of the movement.  That is something for which we can all be grateful.  It is rather to ask whether those who have played a large part in creating this sexually abusive culture are now truly repentant or simply doing what they always do: Carefully marketing their images to an adoring public.



I am not sure we are actually seeing anything other than a shift in taste.  Suddenly Hollywood has woken up to the fact that sexual abuse is bad and has been part and parcel of the way Tinseltown has operated since the couch was first used for a casting call. Many of the knew the way it was, of course, and chose to keep silent or to play along.  And the day of moral reckoning is always delayed, if not deferred indefinitely, for the world of the creative. Artists have always enjoyed what George Orwell compared to the old benefit of clergy, whereby their sins were forgiven or treated less seriously, simply because they produced works of beauty. Those who entertain us tend to be treated as a breed apart, even when it comes to basic canons of moral decency.  But now the weight of public distaste for abuse has tipped the scales to such an extent that this benefit of clergy is, at least for a time and on this precise issue, being withdrawn. 



So are we seeing a fundamental, radical moral rethink?  Well, that will only be the case if we see a fundamental, radical rethink of the philosophy of sex which underpins the modern entertainment industry and which is promoted by the same in somany of its products.  If sex continues to be presented as a recreational activity of no significance beyond the immediate pleasure it provides, then the #MeToo celebrities really have no more credibility than someone who campaigns against drunk driving while making endless movies about the fun to be had getting hammered and driving at high speed through a crowded street as the clubs are closing.



I am a cynic, especially when it comes to Hollywood.  I do not think we are seeing a root-and-branch reformation of the morality which has tacitly enabled sexual abuse and even, in the form of those dreadful Polanski apologists, gloried in excusing it in its most criminal form.  I suspect rather that we are seeing a shift merely in matters of cultural taste which Hollywood is superficially appropriating in order to maintain its status as the moral guardian of the modern world.   Which makes #MeToo not so much a moment of seismic significance but of wasted opportunity.

Posted on Friday, January 12, 2018 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I am grateful to Todd for mentioning my upcoming DC lectures and also to RTS DC for their kindness in asking me to present some of the firstfruits of my Princeton work in a public forum.  The two lectures are entitled as follows:


Lecture 1: Acknowledging the Unacknowledged Legislators: From William Wordsworth to Kim Kardashian


Lecture 2: True Life among the Death Works: Christians and Contemporary Identity Culture


I have always wanted to lecture on William Wordsworth and also publicly to express my withering disdain for the world of Mrs West.  Never dreamed I would be able to do both at the same time.