Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Dale Coulter has a fine piece on the Old and New Calvinism over at First Thoughts.   By making the connection (which others have done) between current parties and the Old School/New School debates of the nineteenth century, he offers some useful and historically informed conceptual clarity to those new Calvinists who struggle with the fact that many of us are more ambivalent (ambivalent, not dismissive) towards the movement than they would like. 

As he says, Old Schoolers do not have the numbers to make an impact.  But that is part of the division too.  We are not concerned about building mass movements; rather, we are concerned about impact at a local and then a denominational level.  This is not because we care nothing for the body of Christ as a whole but because we are aware of the church's limited resources, and of the fact that most people in the churches where we worship have no deep interest in such movements.  They are too busy being Christians in their daily lives.molesworth_reasonably_small.jpg They work hard for the local church; they witness to their neighbours; they support the denomination with their tithes; they pray for the denomination and her missionaries in particular and for the extension of the kingdom in general; and they trust others do the same for their respective churches.  And that's about it.  More than enough to keep us all busy, as they say.

Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Dr. Fred Zaspel, Warfield aficionado and baptist pastor, has launched a new website, Books at a Glance.  The idea is to provide short, thoughtful reviews on a large number of theological books.  One of the great delights about living at the present time is the wealth of great Christian writing, old and new, which is available.  Yet the problem is knowing which books are worth reading in depth and which can be skimmed.   This is where good book reviews can be very helpful and that is the philosophy underlying this venture.   Highly recommended.

Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Kudos to the Christian leaders who have so rightly discerned that recent events at World Vision are far more damaging to the evangelical church than the loony visions, thuggery, cult-like leadership techniques, and all-round high crimes and misdemeanours of church leaders who actually have real influence on real people in our churches.  Indeed, these Valiant for Truth non-haters might be interested to know that there is precedent for this move by World Vision among Christian parachurches.   Two years ago in the United Kingdom, the Rev. Digby St.John Crimond, of the Re:Alignment (formerly St. Olaf the Sublime, Cricklewood) introduced a change in policy for his own parachurch group, Myopic Globe, when he opened the ranks of its employees to atheists for the first time.  Here is an excerpt from the article written on the controversy in the March 2012 issue of the UK Christian monthly, Outraged! Magazine:

Asked by our reporter about the decision, St.John Crimond asserts that the "very narrow policy change" should be viewed by others as "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity." He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.

St.John Crimond took pains to emphasize what Myopic Globe is not communicating by the policy change. "It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there," he said. "This is not an endorsement of atheism. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of theism, which we affirm and support."

St.John Crimond said Myopic Globe board has faced a new question in recent years: "What do we do about a chap who applies for a job at Myopic Globe who holds atheist beliefs which are perfectly legal and even espoused by leading bishops within certain denominations? Do we deny them employment?

"Under our old conduct policy, that would have been a violation," said St.John Crimond. "The new policy will not exclude someone from employment if they have legally rejected the existence of God."  

St.John Crimond said the new policy reflects Myopic Globe's parachurch and multi-denominational nature."Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.," he said. "So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles' Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.  We are simply no longer insisting on the first three words of the Creed. Three little words, people.  Three. Little. Words.  That's all."

The reason the prohibition existed on atheists in the first place? "It's kind of a historical issue," said St.John Crimond. "Atheism has only been a huge issue in the church in the last century or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that's changed."

And the change has been painful to watch. "It's been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church," he said. "It's tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We've got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity."

St.John Crimond was adamant the change will not impact Myopic Globe's identity or work in the field. "Myopic Globe is committed to our Christian identity. We are absolutely resolute about every employee being followers of Jesus Christ. We are not wavering on that," he said.

"This is also not about compromising the authority of Scripture," said St.John Crimond. "People can say, 'Scripture is very clear on this issue,' and my answer is, 'Well ask all the theologians and denominations that disagree with that statement.' The church is divided on this issue. And we are not the local church. We are an operational organization uniting Christians around a common mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ."Molesworth in Corner.jpg

Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As one of the all-powerful MoS Triumvirs, it falls to me to place the last tempting product of the week.  It comes from the IPC catwalk.  What every uber-cool pastor-about-town and his wife are wearing in the more hipster oriented parts of London.  Oh, and don't forget to use your Paypal account when purchasing.
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Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Logos Software have just released a 24 volume set of the works of Peter Taylor Forsyth.  I number him, along with John Henry Newman, among my guilty theological pleasures: I profoundly disagree with many things he believed but find him a brilliant writer, a stimulating thinker, and often spot on in his critique of the church and society.  Indeed, for all of his higher critical views of scripture, his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind remains the best book I have ever read on the sheer power of the pulpit.

"It is, perhaps, an overbold beginning, but I will venture to say that with its preaching Christianity stands or falls."

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Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

This story came to my attention this morning.  A person on trial for a series of killings is using a unique defense: s/he has had a sex change, is now a woman and so, as Donna, cannot be held responsible for crimes that s/he committed when s/he was Douglas.

Words fail me somewhat, but I wonder if this brings us to the limits of the madness of a world where we are whoever we think ourselves to be and where an operation is enough to justify changing birth certificates.  Let's hope the defense fails (which surely it must, though I tend to agree with Mr. Bumble on the nature of the law as a whole). And if it does, let us hope that the implications of that legal precedent start to feed back into the system and inject just a little bit of sanity into judicial proceedings and then into cultural thinking.   That might be hoping for too much, but stranger things have happened.

Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Dave Moore, whose interview with William F. Buckley Jnr is well worth a look, has a characteristically trenchant but winsome article about omerta over at Two Cities.

A taster: "I have been around many leaders.  Some I've worked with, some I've interviewed, and some are friends.  All are human, yet the ones willing to speak tough truths, especially within their own organizations or companies, is sadly too small."

Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

In the second post in Ref21's brief series which Todd started yesterday with 'What Is Not Happening,' I want to focus on the last qualification for eldership, 1Tim. 3:7, 'Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders....'

At first glance, that is an odd qualification for Paul to include in the list.  Often, Christians are not well thought of by those outside.  I am fortunate to have two jobs which shelter me to a large extent from the rough and tumble of  life in the secular world.  Many in Cornerstone's congregation work in secular environments where there are many pressures on Christians precisely because Christians are not liked or respected in the wider world.  Yet that is often because of the offence of the cross.  The message of the cross is that we are all sinners and in need of a savior.  That is an offensive message.

Clearly, Paul is not requiring Christians to abandon the offence of the cross in order to qualify for office.  What he is saying is, to use the old English idiom, that elders should be decent people.  Their neighbours, work colleagues, and non-Christian friends should know them as people of integrity, who embody the Christian virtues in which they profess to believe.  

The reason should be obvious: the church's leaders are the public face of the church.  When a Christian falls, say, into adultery, it is a bad enough scandal.  But when a leader falls, the impact is so much greater because the general public regard leaders as the moral barometer of the church as a whole.   A further implication of this is that the manner in which a church handles the sin of its leaders will be seen by the wider world as indicative of the church's own commitment to her stated moral standards.

Returning to recent events, it is surely a good thing to see some movement towards repentance on behalf of Mark Driscoll.   As Todd indicated yesterday, when a brother sins and repentantly asks for forgiveness, we must not withhold that forgiveness.  Yet in every case, we must not only trust but also verify by looking for fruits in conformity with repentance.  That is what makes the language of 'hey hater' and the claim that the moral onus is suddenly all on the critics so inappropriate.

The world, however, takes a different line.  It does not trust and then verify.  It verifies and then, after a period of time, if at all, it trusts.  And that is not something we can simply dismiss as the way of the world and as of no relevance to us.  When Paul speaks about 'of good reputation with those outside,' he demands that the church take the logic and the opinion of the world seriously when we are dealing with leaders and when we are not talking about the offence of the cross but rather the offensiveness of some Christians' behavior.

This has twofold relevance in the current climate.  First, what has become the standard New Calvinist approach to the critics (either ignore them as irritating upstarts or point to them as the real problem -- but never, ever, treat their concerns as worthy of serious respect) fools nobody but those who want to be fooled.  It certainly does not fool the outside world as it looks on.  And as the various Mars Hill scandals have made their way into the secular media, we can assume that the favoured strategy of 'Now, see here, you little whipper-snapper...' will be seen for what it is: a deflective move to avoid  addressing the root problems.

Second, we need to remember that overseers are held to a higher standard because they are the public face of the church.   That is why behavior such as we have witnessed actually disqualifies from office, no question.  Now, there are some sins, such as adultery, which I would argue disqualify from office permanently.  For some other serious public sins, it can be for a period of time.  As restoration to office requires restoration of reputation inside and outside the church, such a time cannot be specified precisely in advance.  It requires the fallen leader working at some other calling while being pastored under the Word by wise and godly men until such time as he has grown to maturity in the faith.  Then he may again be qualified to be considered once more for office.  As Todd pointed out yesterday, disciplining fallen overseers is not hateful but the best thing that can be done for them.

The moral onus is on the church.  It is on the church to make sure that its leaders are of goodmolesworth_reasonably_small.jpg

Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

This week's MoS is now available, where the team interview the lovely Barb Duguid.  As usual, we ask the questions nobody else dares to touch, such as 'Is Iain's preaching any good?'

In the meantime, the addition of La Byrd to the team has indeed started to change the dynamics.   Here is a recent snap from the Underground Bunker of the moment when Nunchucks discovered Todd and I had unwisely not separated the blue M and Ms out into a separate bowl for her.   We apologised in good contemporary fashion, 'Mistakes were made....'
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Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Kevin DeYoung has an interesting post over at the Gospel Coalition, addressing the issue of celebrity pastors.  By and large, most of the points are incontestable and certainly the first half dozen helpful.  Even so, as he addresses a large number of the issues I raised over at First Thoughts last week, it seems appropriate for me to offer a couple of points of clarification.

First, Kevin seems to be operating with the simple identification of 'celebrity' with 'fame' or 'being well known.'  On that level, his claim that one can become a celebrity by criticizing celebrities is true. Perhaps I myself have become such. But the problem in the YRR movement is not that its leaders are well-known.  'Celebrity' applied in that context is a far more complicated issue.  It involves fame, certainly.  But it also involves cultivating, via twitter and other social media, that false friendliness, that intimacy of strangers, which one finds in Hollywood culture, where the consumer thinks that they know 'Brad' or 'Anjelina' without having any real relationship with them.  It involves a careful system of branding and marketing, supported by formal and informal mechanisms, from literary agents to PR departments to promotional agencies, all geared towards the marketing, promotion, and protection of the brand. The result is that a pastor's power and influence are intentionally enhanced and expanded while accountability is in practice detached from a proper ecclesiastical body.   In this sense, I appreciate Kevin's concern about the term but I think 'celebrity pastor' remains a very useful concept because it highlights a particular category of person who currently holds influence in sectors of the evangelical church.

Second, the criticism of the silence of the leadership of the YRR (certainly in the form I have made it) is not a claim that nobody in the YRR has spoken up.  Nor is it merely a claim that none seem to speak up in a timely fashion, though I believe that claim, if made, would be fairly easy to defend.  It is a claim that none of the very top leaders, the really big movers and shakers in the Reformed evangelical world, the men who are known for their strong opinions and who are typically very quick to speak, have spoken up in a clear, transparent, timely, specific, and decisive manner on the big issues and the big personalities that have challenged the movement internally, from the Jakes fiasco to more recent events.   That claim seems to me to be perfectly reasonable and, indeed, incontestable.

I am grateful to Kevin DeYoung for the timely reminder that we must all examine our hearts when offering criticism of others. That is a convicting point.  I would submit, however, that the YRR does not at this point look sleazy to outsiders because of the sinful motives of the critics of celebrity pastors but because of the sinful behavior of celebrity pastors.  Until the movement accepts that and does something to change its own culture, more and more scandals are likely to follow.