Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As you can see, advance publicity is already being leaked for the new epic Alliance-sponsored biopic,Witchfinder General: The ToddWitchfinder general.jpg Pruitt Story.  Directed by the Puppetmaster, it looks fantastic, with its scenes of violent book burnings ('Please, I'd rather you didn't use church money to buy Jesus Calling'), extreme Reformed fanaticism ('Bring that baby to the font now, wretched wench!'), and his consistent failure to reimagine the future and realize that many of his methodologies, paradigms and strategies need to change to get to the next level of ministry success ('Today I am going to be preaching on a passage in - no, not my own book but.... the Bible!').  

In fact, the movie is a tale of two paradigms.  One is where the church is not an act of man but a creation of God.  Thus, its tools are defined by God and consist of the ordinary means of grace -- the Word read and especially preached, the sacraments, and prayer.  These are the ways God has provided for growth and maturity. The other is one where the church is a corporation, where management theory, entrepreneurial gibberish, and an emphasis upon technique, built around a Pelagian anthropology, set the priorities.

A subplot, for the real film critic, is the cultural problem of niceness.  As Todd pointed out yesterday, to criticise a book and to refuse to use church money (ahem -- God's money) to buy it and distribute it is not the same as banning it. If you want to read heterodoxy or heresy, use your own money, not the church's.   Yet we live in a world where all criticism is increasingly seen as personal, as a judgment on somebody's worth and identity, not simply on an argument or an idea.  As I commented earlier in the week, this is an obvious problem with the culture surrounding women's writing; but forms of it pervade all aspects of the evangelical world in general and pay no respect to gender.

single malt.jpgI did suggest to Todd that he challenge his critics as I did a few years ago.  When I commented critically in a magazine article on three recent books on biblical inspiration, one indignant correspondent demanded to know why I was telling people not to read the books.  Of course, I had not done so, having this naive belief that most people are adults and capable of assessing the worth of an argument for themselves. The claim was simply slanderous, but rather than whine angrily about it as is the more widespread response, I persuaded the editor of the magazine to allow me to respond with a challenge: if anyone could find anywhere in anything I had ever written or said that I had told people not to read any book whatsoever, I would give them a free bottle of quality Scotch.  Some years later I still have not had to provide the Scotch.  Nor, as it happens, have I received an apology.  But as Todd knows only too well, when you are sure, absolutely sure, that you are on the side of the nice  angels against the nasty Reformed bully boys, apologies are completely unnecessary.  After all, everyone knows that all reputations are equal -- but some are considerably more equal than others.

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

....when Katie Couric is asking you the hardball questions and making you look stupid. 

On this week's MoS, the team takes on a challenge set by  a listener: to comment on the recent interview between Katie Couric and Pastor Carl Lentz without using the words 'utterly' or 'ridiculous.'  As Todd proves, that is not as easy as it first appears but (in his defense) the conditions are extreme, the gibberish breathtaking: 'A position on love and conversations on everything else'?   Oh my.   And then we ask the question that nobody else seems prepared to take on: what does one have to do in the world of American evangelical Christianity to lose all credibility as a Christian leader?  The answer is... after the events of the last couple of years, we simply don't know.
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Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The Daily Beast has picked up on the publishing sensation that is Jesus Calling, a book which Todd Pruitt actually made me read for a forthcoming MoS podcast.  That is ten dollars and two hours of my life which are gone forever.  Am I a better person, though?  I somehow doubt it.

The book is an odd mix of mysticism, sentimentality, and highly flawed theology. Tim Keller's wife, Kathy, did a quite superb review of the book back in 2012 which, given Jesus Calling's continuing popularity, is well worth reading.

The whole phenomenon raises tangentially one of the cultural problems which seems to be emerging amidst the current popular evangelical market for books written by women.   I consider that market in itself to be a good thing. No man could have written Wuthering Heights, after all, and what's true for literature might well prove true for theology.  Indeed, various genres of theological writing seem on the whole to have been enriched by women's voices.     It is interesting, however, that critiquing such literature seems to be becoming increasingly hard and subject to vehement reaction.  Witness the response to Tim Challies' comments on Ann Voskamp from a while back, or the author's own preemptive publicity on Jesus Feminist which ruled any future criticism as unfair and hateful.  And who in this age wants to be seen to be beating up on women?

Yet, when it comes to theological writing, a culture of silence, where all criticism is seen as sexist, where all critical interaction is seen as a personal attack, where reviews offering critique are always decried as 'scathing' or 'hateful', is going to prove very unhealthy in the long term.  Sentimentalism will be treated like deep insight.  Gruesome doggerel will be treated like great verse.  Heterodoxy and even heresy may well be treated like truth. 

Pastors have a responsibility to make sure people understand what they are reading. Thatmolesworth_reasonably_small.jpg must be done in an appropriate way; but it must still be done.  The gender of the author should provide no special protection from rigorous scrutiny.  That must certainly be done in an appropriate way; but it must still be done.

Posted on Monday, February 24, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I may be the only person to suffer from this, but every now and then I have this overpowering sense that I am actually Terry Eagleton trapped in the body of a hack church historian. Or at least I wish I was.  Hey, if the LGBTQQC etc. community can use the language of bodily confinement relative to gender, why cannot I use it relative to eminent literary critics and my pitiful ambitions?

Anyway, this story brought on a sudden and violent attack of transcritical identity for me: the news that the University of Brighton (UK) is sponsoring a conference entitled My Little Pony: A Transcultural Phenomenon.  Topics covered include the tired, predictable and worn out ("identity politics of gender, race, class, sexuality and national identity"), the nerdy (collections and collecting), the 'I haven't got the foggiest what that means' (transformations across MLP generations) and the 'you've got to be kidding -- oh no, you're not, are you?' (queer ponies).  Admittedly, MLPs are not the most masculine examples of the species, but queer ponies?  Really? 

Three things come to mind.  The first is that I suspect somebody will now be demanding that My Little Pony be added to the list of evil toys to which Christian parents must not expose their children.  Second, one just knows that some earnest person out there somewhere is already planning a conference on 'My Little Pony: A Christian Approach.'  And the third is the point made so brilliantly by Terry Eagleton: in a world obsessed with critical theory, the big questions are left to one side, as boring and mundane, and total trivia comes to take centre stage. 

And I guess it is just not possible to be a child anymore.

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Posted on Friday, February 21, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Tying up a few loose ends at the end of the week.

First, in answer to inquiries -- No, Reformation21 is not paying the Rev. Furtick to provide me with material.  He is kindly donating it to me for free, for which I am very grateful.  The American phrase is 'the gift that keeps on giving,' I believe. 

Second, the stetson fitting for the Biola debate is not going so well, as Aimee does not like the idea, as you can see.  Good job she shoots straight (though don't tell Todd).

Third, here are a few books worth looking out for:

My former colleague, John Leonard, has an excellent book out on personal evangelism, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day.   Not all of the ideas will work everywhere and some will differ with John on how he describes certain things.  But this is a powerful call to outreach and is well-worth a look.   It also carries huge credibility because John is one of the most effective personal evangelists I know and knows whereof he speaks..

Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor have written a great book on The Final Days of Jesus.  If you have ever been confused on what happens when, and how the gospels connect in the narration of Jesus' last days before his death, then this book is a great help.  It has a chronological arrangement of the gospel accounts, helpful charts and insightful commentary.

Finally, Alex Chediak has a new book out, Preparing Teens for College.  It arrived a few years too late for me but looks like an excellent how-to kind of book on the priorities to have when making sure your children are ready to leave home for pastures new.

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

While the evangelical world is no doubt gasping in horror at the expose that the mass baptisms at Elevation Church have been engineered (who could have seen that one coming?) in a way that would leave Charles Finney drooling at the anxious bench, it is worth remembering that us paedobaptists are in on the game too.  My friend and seeker-sensitive megachurch reformed man, the Rev. Digby St.John-Crimond, of the Re:Tribution (formerly St Olaf the Sublime), used to build his brand loyalty and pull off his part in God's miracle by planting 15 or 20 young, energetic couples in the congregation, armed with realistic plastic toy dolls.  At the key moment, he would call out for those who wanted to come forward and the plants would make their move.  After Digby baptized the dolls, the couples would be pushed towards the video crew who would mine them for great stories.  Sadly, it all went wrong one day when, after an incredible revival moment when Digby had baptized 27 dolls, his hands got wet, he dropped one on the floor, it bounced and the robotic voice jammed in repeating 'Mama mama mama' over and over again. The game, as they say, was up.

Except it wasn't.  Thankfully, being shown to be a complete fraud did not affect Digby's ministry one little bit.  He declared that 'mistakes had been made,' the money keeps rolling in to this day, his books get polite reviews on orthodox websites, and he is still sneakily admired as the greatest visionary for God out there.  After all, he tells a lot of people about Jesus.

Lookie here: I feel a revival coming on!

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

Some months ago, Peter Leithart declared that it was time Protestantism came to an end.  In a fine response, Fred Sanders offered a trenchant critique of the article.   Then, two weeks ago, Fred contacted me to ask if I would be willing to be part of a debate on the future of Protestantism with himself and Dr.Leithart at Biola University.    Now that, I thought, is one three-way gentlemanly cage-fight I'd like to tell my grandchildren about.

Not sure how it will go down.  I am just a historian, up against two sharp theological and philosophical minds. But, like Fred, I believe Protestantism is worth defending, though I suspect our respective visions of how that should be done will be, like our theologies, somewhat different.  In the meantime, I'm getting fitted for a stetson.

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

Reading Todd's last post, I am shocked to see yet another apparent act of megachurch pastor plagiarism, or, to give it the modern technical name, 'mistakes that have been made.'   It seems that the Sunday School material he posts is based upon the syllabus we use at my church.  Judge for yourselves -- here is one of the pictures we have the children colour on a Sunday.  Just a simple scene of me humbly loving the people, leading in worship, and inspiring the congregation to higher and higher levels of unity, devotion, and faith:
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Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Elevation Church for their statement of faith, or, to use the modern idiom, "core values." Or, as they put it in their uber-cool but perhaps a bit creepy way at EC, 'The Code'......

Perhaps the Puppetmaster might offer a prize to anyone who can explain what core value 7 means.  It makes the debates in later Lutheran orthodoxy over the communication of properties look like exercises in limpid prose and clear communication:

7: We will continually increase our capacity by structuring for where we want to go, not where we are. We will remain on the edge of our momentum by overreacting to harness strategic momentum initiatives.

Quite.   Though I would advise you not to try to stay on the edge of your momentum at home.molesworth_reasonably_small.jpg It can lead to serious injury and even death. EC Strategic Momentum Initiators are trained professionals who understand the physical risks involved and use specialised equipment in a controlled environment.

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

For those who still write to me every now and then congratulating me on my greatest comicMolesworth crystal ball.jpg creation, Paul Morgan Lewellyn Ap-Levy, there is finally proof of his independent existence.  For some years, I have thought of him as my sole ally in the never-ending war against the aristos of the parachurch reformed evangelical world.  But now it appears he has gone to Versailles to be interviewed, along with Dave Strain. 

While the present Mrs T is not happy with M. Levy for the comments made about Scotland, the interview is well-worth listening to.  Paul and Dave extol the beauties of Presbyterian worship, church and evangelism, morning and evening services, and the Lord's Day.   Music to my ears, even as the sell-out goes down.  It also contains a sober warning to any young woman tempted to learn the Shorter Catechism.  It can lead to unexpected consequences and take a terrible, terrible toll.
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