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.

Posted on Monday, February 09, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

One of the problems with the stadium events of Big Eva to which I have occasionally pointed is that they showcase pastors who by definition do not have pastorates that are in any sense normal.  There is thus a danger that they foster unrealistic expectations among potential pastors and even congregations.  Most seminary students are not going to be the next John Piper, and the Bible church at the corner of your street is not going to be the next Redeemer, NY.  Yet the resistance to highlighting normal pastors and pastorates seems deeply ingrained.  My own plea to the T4G leadership in 2012 to include one unknown and normal pastor in the lineup in 2014 fell on deaf ears.  No-one in Big Eva seems to have the courage to showcase the truly ordinary and normal.

I suspect the disconnect between the gospel grandees and the pastoral proletariat is set to become even more dramatic in the near future.  Bivocational pastoring will be the new normal for churches of, say, 200 members of less.  The cost of salaries, benefits and pensions is such that it will be very hard for such churches to cover all those in addition to the routine expenses which being a church entails.  Add to that the student debt incurred by those who wish to be trained in a manner that reflects the Presbyterian ideal of a learned ministry and the situation is even more pressing.  This all means that bivocational pastoring will become more common, if not standard, in the next decade.

That is my own position.  Some years ago I accepted the call to be pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pa.  For Presbyterian ecclesiology geeks, that makes me perhaps the only person in the OPC who presently has two calls: one as pastor of CPC, one as professor at Westminster.   Of course, I have it fairly easy. I have two jobs which I love, and which have significant overlap. But my church only has a pastor because my main salary and health care are covered by my day job.  The congregation simply cannot afford to pay a living wage.  Still, I may be bivocational but my life is considerably easier than many ministerial colleagues.  I have known pastors who drive school buses or stack shelves or sell furniture in order to put bread on the table and thereby subsidize their pastorates.  They are the ones who have it truly tough.

Yet the advent of bivocationalism, whether of the easy kind I enjoy or the tougher kind experienced by many, cannot stand alone.  It has obvious implications for the church as a whole and requires a change in thinking on the part of congregations.

First, the congregation's perception of the minister’s task must take his situation into account.  The pastor who works another job Monday to Friday is clearly not going to be as available for consistent pastoral work during the week.  Burn out and exhaustion will be potentially far more common.  I am grateful that my elders are increasingly pro-active in making sure I take some rest.

Second, I would argue that the bivocational pastor’s focus must be upon preaching the word and administering the sacraments.  He may not have many hours to devote to church work but what time he does possess needs to be focused on the basics of ministry, especially sermon preparation.  Ruling elders can help on other matters; only the man called to preach the Word can do the sermon.

Third, our understanding of the importance of the ruling elder must change.  If the minister is less available, then ruling elders must be prepared to step in and take on some of the tasks which have traditionally been more the preserve of the minister, such as pastoral visitation.  Ruling elders are vital.  I could not manage if all of the men with whom I serve did not carry significant responsibility for the pastoral care of the congregations.

Fourth, seminaries must start to cultivate an understanding among pastoral students that bivocationalism is likely to be their typical post-seminary experience, rather than a sign of failure or of not being a ‘real’ minister.  At a minimum, this would seem to require that bivocationalism be modeled by some faculty.  It would also entail some kind of education about what bivocational pastorates typically entail.

Bivocationalism is here to stay.  We really do need to accept that and start to think about its implications for biblical eldership.

Posted on Friday, February 06, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Just over a year ago I received an email from one of the Top Men, giving me the routine lecture about how my criticisms of him, his organization, and the culture which he had helped to foster amounted to mocking the work of God and taking a sinful delight in the struggles of the godly.  So far so predictable. But what struck me most about the tirade was a particular comment to the effect that he was telling me this because it was clear that none of my friends would do so.  He did not use the phrase, but clearly he regarded me as having surrounded myself with Yes Men.

That is a serious claim and one not to be dismissed lightly.  I am not sure how many ‘No Men’ the Toppers typically have around them -- not many, it seems, if the significant silences surrounding the various catastrophes of the YRR are anything by which to judge -- but a criticism is not invalidated by the inconsistency or hypocrisy of the critic.

Well-ordered church polity allows for congregational election of elders and this should be a check on the ability of the pastor to appoint Yes Men.  Yet everyone knows that there is a certain culture and psychology to churches.  In some places, the pastor can be treated like a dog, in others like a god.  The mere fact of elders does not mean the pastor hears what he needs to hear.  Only particular elders can do that.

Thus, I was for a while concerned that the Topper’s barb might be true.  Did I have friends with the courage to call me out when I crossed the line or even came close to so doing?

Then, late one evening a few months ago, I received a call at about 11 pm at night from one of my elders.  He told me that at the next meeting of the session a certain matter was going to be discussed and that my emotional involvement in the issue made it certain that I would not think clearly and may even sin in anger during the discussion.  As a result, he was calling to tell me that I should recuse myself from that part of the meeting and that if I failed so to do, he would bring a motion to have me recused.

Initially, I was furious; but then as we talked I saw that he was speaking the truth and doing so because he cared for and respected me.  He did not want me to sin.  Thus, when the meeting did take place, I left of my own accord at the appropriate time.

The elder concerned is fifteen years my junior.  He is a former student.  It took me years to persuade him to address me as ‘Carl’ rather than ‘Dr. Trueman.’  I suspect he called me at 11 at night because it took him all day to build up the courage to confront me.  But I am glad he did.  And I am glad that the congregation of the church where I preach is wise enough to appoint such men to leadership positions.  I need to be held to account for my own good as well as for the good of the church where I am a minister.

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

The Witherspoon Institute has posted a fine article on parenting LGBT children.  You can find it here.

Posted on Monday, February 02, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

In a seminar last week on Martin Luther, I commented that a theologian of glory could easily use the theology of cross for his own ends.  He would thereby utterly subvert its purpose while still using its form.  This provoked some discussion and even some resistance from my students but the point is relatively simple. Even the cross can be used as an opportunity for drawing attention to oneself.

Thus, the theology of the cross can be articulated as a set of dramatic statements (‘God is hidden in his revelation and revealed in his hiddenness’; ‘God achieves his proper work through his alien work’ and so on).  In an age of Tweets and Attention Deficit Disorder, these sayings have a certain cool chic to them and give the one using them an aura of profundity, rather like the cod-Confucian gibberish of Master Po in Kung Fu (‘If a man ignores the past, he may rob the future’; ‘To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance’).   But if that is the theologian’s ultimate purpose – to sound learned, to appear profound, to enhance the appeal of his Twitter account, to make himself and his ‘ministry’ the main event – then however cross-centred the words he uses, he speaks as a theologian of glory. 

The real theologian of the cross knows that the theology of the cross exists for him only in the actual midst of the fallen human experience of (to use Luther's own terms) Anfechtungen and tentatio.  It cannot be tritely tweeted or indeed lazily separated from the overall shape of someone’s life and ministry. It is ironic, but just as the crucifix can be an item of costume jewelry, so the theology of the cross can be the tool for bolstering one’s own power and influence.