Posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at ref21 the other week, Jonesy and Levy upset the Big Eva establishment by decrying the strange American habit of clapping after Christian conference addresses.  Well, it seems that these two estimable champions of stadium modesty are also in the vanguard of contemporary feminism. For it is reported that the National Union of Students' Womens Conference in the UK has decided that clapping causes anxiety (and not inflated egos, pace the Jones-Levy Hypothesis).   Instead, approval and affirmation are to be demonstrated by the use of the much less aggressive and intimidating cultural phenomenon of jazz hands.

What can one say?  Good to see that the priorities of the Sisterhood remain in touch with real life even as Jones and Levy connect with their feminine sides by championing the cause of women's lib.

I would applaud Levy, Jones and all the Sisters out there, but lest such an act of micro-aggression cause anyone anxiety, you'll simply have to take my word that I am at this very minute demonstrating my jazz hands. 

Posted on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Todd’s Eva Fever pinpoints a significant problem within the evangelical culture today.  And there is more.

First, parachurch organizations themselves – including the Alliance – also need to act responsibly.   Those which exist to replicate or supplement that which the church offers – especially preaching and teaching – need to understand that they are not the church.  Such quasi-church groups can be useful but they can also end with disproportionate and inappropriate power and influence, especially in the USA where for some reason charismatic individuals tend to be trusted more than institutions.  This goes some way to explain the weird ecumenism and the highly selective outrage I noted at First Things last week.

Second, such organizations need to make sure that the reason they continue is not simply that of self-perpetuation.   Eric Hoffer once wrote that “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”  Religious organizations seem particularly prone to this.   Evangelical racketeering, whereby people with little or no church accountability wield huge church power, is a positive menace.

The passion that drives the early formation of a parachurch group soon requires organization.  Organization, of course, demands the development of a staff and a payroll.  That then brings temptations: the bigger an organization, the more influence it can wield and the more money it can command.  It also brings obligations: livelihoods come to depend upon the group’s continuing success.   The need to reinvent the market to which the organization appeals, whether through the creation of new products or the constant repackaging of old ones, quickly becomes the driving force.  Once the addiction to influence is economically predicated on playing the market forces, the end is always nigh as regards integrity.   

In Reformed circles evangelical racketeering is more common than many of the evangelical public realize.  Huge money is being made behind the scenes, which helps to explain the manner in which even friendly critics are often treated by such organizations.  It also explains the comparative silence about these things in the public sphere: the men of stature who could and should speak out are often invested in the racket themselves and thus co-opted for the cause.  Their presence on the payroll both reassures the public that all is well and precludes any possibility of appropriate scrutiny.

In such circumstances, it can be very easy for both producers and consumers to fall for the propaganda and believe that what is being done by the group is vital for the church.   But no quasi-church group actually does work that is truly vital to the church in any long-term way.  If they did, then the Bible would have made it clear that such was the case and that such groups were necessary.  Instead, the Bible just talks about the church and only makes promises to the church.

And, of course, where huge money is being made outside of the church for functions that fit best within the church, the church’s polity is ultimately damaged.  When the papal structures of parachurch organizations have in practice the final say on who has the right to speak and what they can legitimately say, then biblical order and priorities are jeopardized.

When it becomes clear that such organizations now exist purely for the sake of existing, then it is time for them to close down.  Once the same book has been written several times by the same man (or his ghost-writing team), that is a sure sign that what is happening is market reinvention.  The larger purpose has gone and it is thus time to go.   The same applies when someone’s every spoken word is marketed, where no thought appears to go unpublished, or where there is no subject on which the person or organization does not opine, regardless of the contribution’s value or competence.  When these things happen, let the consumer understand: the third and final dispensation of Hoffer’s eschatological analysis has arrived and the day of judgment cannot be far off.

Posted on Monday, March 16, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Rusty Reno at First Things has now published the reflections on Evangelicals and Catholics Together.  You can find Mark McDowell’s introduction and rationale here, Timothy George’s piece here, Thomas Guarino’s here, and mine here.

My approach is slightly different to what might be expected. While I make it clear that I do not agree with the sanguine conclusions of the other two authors, I focus more on the kind of ecumenism which the vested interests, powerful personalities, and big money organizations of the reformed evangelical world tacitly pursue.  This is an ecumenism on the quiet. It is hugely influential but with little or no external or ecclesiastical accountability and the financial and corporate power to operate with impunity. Those who wish to engage with the theological and political complexity of the current reformed evangelical world will hopefully find the piece helpful. Others who prefer their theological and cultural analysis in 140 characters or less will have to look elsewhere. 

Posted on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As the church in the West faces social marginalization unknown for over 1500 years, the question of the marks of the church, those identifying features which she possesses, is likely to become more pressing.  Standard Reformed approaches tend to offer three marks: Word truly preached, sacraments properly administered, and church discipline correctly applied.  There was always some flexibility within the Reformed tradition on these points.  Calvin argued for only two explicit marks, Word and sacraments, while the Westminster Assembly put worship in the place of discipline.  Luther, however, offered seven: 1. The Word, 2. Baptism, 3. Eucharist, 4. The keys exercised publicly, 5. Ordained ministry, 6. Prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God, 7. The possession of the sacred cross.

We can, of course, see points of fundamental overlap between Luther and the Reformed here (e.g., Word is primary), and also reduce his number by counting baptism and eucharist as one.  Where he makes his major contribution is in the final point, possession of the sacred cross. 

By making possession of the sacred cross into a mark of the church,  Luther does three things.  First, he offers a polemical counterpoint to the Roman Catholic cult of relics, at the centre of which lay pieces of the true cross and vials of Christ’s blood.  Justification by grace through faith has no need of such things.  Second, he connects his view of the true church to the standard idea of the trail of blood, whereby outward persecution validated the truth of the church’s testimony, given that darkness will always persecute light. This is why martyrologies such as those of Foxe were so important at the Reformation.  They offered an answer, albeit simplistic and often tendentious, to the question of where the church had been between ca. 500 and ca. 1500.   Third, and most importantly, by focusing on the cross Luther picks up on the Pauline notion of the cross as the revelation of God’s purposes and as the criterion for truth in theology and church life.   This last point is arguably his most important and original contribution to the doctrine of the church.  It connects to his understanding of revelation, of the gospel, and of the church’s embodiment of those two things prior to the Second Coming and the Final Judgment.

Paul's teaching on the cross in 1Corinthians and on the church in 2Corinthians points to the fact that the kingdom is by its very nature currently hidden under suffering and contradiction.  That ought not to be a source of despair for the believer, for God's power is actually manifested in and through such weakness.   By picking up on this Pauline note and making it into a mark of the true church, Luther surely adds a dimension to our understanding of ecclesiology which standard Reformed taxonomies missed. It is also one that we should recapture, for by placing weakness in its proper theological and ecclesiological context, it provides a frame of reference for understanding the difficulties which the church now faces and is likely to face with increasing frequency and intensity for the foreseeable future.  For Luther, as for Paul, the church reflects the cross: power made perfect in weakness.  And, like the cross, the church thus reveals those who are being saved (they who understand her weakness) and those who are perishing (they who despise her because of her weakness).

Posted on Thursday, March 05, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at Jesus Creed, Dave Moore has some interesting observations on the current state of reformed evangelicalism, on my own happy exile from the Beautiful People (not enough hair, Dave, nothing to do with my writing), and on the need for the occasional whistleblower to indicate that in the Land of Oz, the man behind the curtain is precisely the person to whom one should be paying attention.

Posted on Wednesday, March 04, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Yes, indeed, rumors of my celebrity have been greatly exaggerated.   True, I have met many MoS listeners at the Shepherds Conference but nearly all of them have commented on how great it is to have Aimee on the show as this means it is something their wives will listen to as well.  And then there was the now-traditional humiliation at the hands of Steve Nichols®  (pictured right).This time Fred Butler came up to the two of us, briefly shook my hand, and then turned to Steve Nichols® and told him he writes the most interesting and useful church history books in the world.  I politely coughed and gently corrected him -- 'I think you mean "the second best most interesting and useful church history books in the world."'  No, said Fred, looking somewhat puzzled, Steve is the number one!

So there you have it.  Not much to show for a life, is it?  Late forties and known only as La Diva's sidekick and the second best church historian.  As I have thought for quite a while now, Todd and I are merely the Supremes to Aimee's Diana Ross.  What can I say to all these people, Steve Nichols® included?  Stop, in the name of love, before you break my heart.

Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

David Mills has picked up on the in-house Protestant exchange at Ref21 on Lent.   He offers some Roman Catholic thoughts here.  We disagree on a lot of very important theology but on this issue, we are in agreement: Be one thing or the other; Don't try to have your catholic cake and eat it too.

Meanwhile, I'm off to don my leathers and ride off into the sunset on my Harley.

Posted on Monday, February 16, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Mark McDowell persuaded me to return briefly to Ref21 on the promise of pre-empting the annual TGC/YRR Ashandlentfest and, as a side attraction, the possibility of arousing the Anglicans from their dogmatic slumbers.  It plays out here:

The trap baited.

The bait taken.

The trap sprung.

Posted on Friday, February 13, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

In responding to Todd, I am tempted to make a comment about the church dying from the death of a thousand cliches.  'The story is not the clothes people wear.  It's the lives they lead' is almost as good as 'We have a stance on love, and we have a conversation on everything else.'  Big Eva has found its postmodern Master Po, only with better hair and better eyesight (though no doubt 'it's not about the hair, it's about the journey to the salon....').

Can we expect a 'Farewell, Carl Lentz' tweet?   I won't be holding my breath.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Bruce Gordon, the Titus Street Professor of Church History at Yale University Divinity School, has made some wonderful contributions to the scholarly world of church history.  Bruce and I first met at a monastery, of all places, in January 1989, when we were both postgraduates in Church History in Scotland and -- what can I say? -- since then we've been an intermittent double act: being interviewed for, and failing to get, the same job at an institution which shall remain nameless; speaking together at the British Academy on the reception of the continental reformation in the British Isles; and now co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Calvin and Calvinism where he is writing on Calvinism and eternity, and I look at the literary representation of Calvinism in the works of Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg.  Anyway, he recently took time off from being the more brilliant half of church history's answer to Bert and Ernie to give an interview to another friend, Jon Master, on the use of church history to Christians.  It is well worth a listen.  You can find it here.