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

Regular MoS listeners will know that, with the addition of Aimee, we have made the transitionniceville (180x135).jpg from being' not nice' to being 'nice.'  That's what having a Housewife Theologian's touch has done for us, as she has laid down the law on a number of fronts: no more dirty laundry left on the studio floor ("Come on guys, your mothers wouldn't stand for this....), no more late nights hanging out  with TeamPyro ("They are a bad influence, naughty boys, layabouts, not very nice at all!"), and no more pipe smoking ("What a filthy habit!  Stop it now!") in the vicinity of the Underground Bunker (that last prohibition is a heavy, heavy blow to Todd). 

Anyway, in this week's podcast, we think we have taken things to a new level and actually tried to go from being 'useless' to being 'useful' by talking about the anarchy that is sexual morality and sexual identity in the current climate. The MoS teams hopes that this interview might at least help some to think more clearly about the issues.

In the meantime, the team is preparing for another marathon recording session in two weeks, under the cold, hard, all-seeing eye of the Puppetmaster, the Napoleon of Spin, the Moriarty of Mortification.
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Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

While it may be good news for those suffering from coulrophobia, reports are coming out in the national press that America may be facing a critical shortage of clowns in the very nearclown.jpg future.  One may scoff at such news but when one remembers how many sectors of the economy depend upon a thriving clown population -- makers of baldy man wigs, water pistol bow ties, oversize shoes, garish boxer shorts, and indeed much of the European and American automobile industry -- this is no laughing matter.

The reasons for the decline in the clown population seem complex.  Increasing levels of good taste, higher literacy rates, and increasing self-respect in many parts of society have probably taken their toll on clowning communities.  Indeed, why would anyone want to be a clown when the same skill set makes politics an easier and more lucrative option? 

Still, there is no need to despair.  There are always some willing to take a brave stand against good taste, intelligence, and sophistication.  Thus, the church is mounting an impressive, if a little belated, fightback. Coulrophobes beware: Ref21 predicts that the era of the clown is not over just yet.

Posted on Saturday, February 15, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

It is true.  When it comes to the 'criticism sandwich' of my sermons, the present Mrs T is on what I can only with some charity describe as a no-carb diet.  Nevertheless, I wonder if some of the Pope of Ealing's ex cathedra criticism of my book plug is rooted in the fact that he has his own indulgence-like trade in 'Married for Ministry Seminars' which he and the present Mrs L run from the Ealing Vatican.  As I always say to the students in my history classes -- 'Follow the money...':
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Posted on Friday, February 14, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

A couple of cheery things to note.  Over at First Thoughts I reveal the secret of a long and happy marriage, at least as proposed by American psychologists.  Here, meanwhile, I am happy to bring your attention to a cheerful little book spotted yesterday by Mark McDowell: Calvin, The Psychopath by Rear Admiral Joseph H. Miller.  I believe it is part of a projected series which will include Augustine, The Serial Killer, Thomas Aquinas, The Genocidal Maniac, Gregory of Rimini, The War Criminal, and John Owen, The King of Disco.   As you can see, Aimee Byrd (she's the nice one) was very unhappy to realise that her reputation for being very nice might well be compromised by her not very nice soteriological-podcastical connections. aimee.jpg

Posted on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

At a Monday meeting to talk about future strategy and the forthcoming Ref21 makeover with the Puppetmaster,seventh seal.jpg I was able to hold him at bay on the chessboard and thus postpone him taking Mortification of Spin off the air.  It was particularly encouraging to hear that people thought the podcast had become 'nicer' since the arrival of Aimee on the scene.  Indeed, Aimee is so flattered that, if she finds out the name and address of those who made that comment, she will be be thanking them in person with a couple of swift nunchuck manoeuvres.

old school.jpgAnyway, as we enter the second year of our ongoing pea-under-the mattress rebellion against the hegemony of thoseaimee bear.jpg very important Top Men, we start with a Bully Pulpit discussing a recent article by Jonathan Storment over at Jesus Creed on the church's obsession with youth.  As miserable, middle-aged balding types, Todd and I have a particularly intense dislike of young people, mainly on the grounds that they are young people and we are old, old school, and proud of it.  In our opinion, young people should be banned or at least not encouraged.  Aimee probably disagrees.  But then, as the vox populi has declared, she is nice.  Real nice.  Sweet, cuddly, and, above all, very, very nice.

In other news, I had the chance this week to give Todd and Aimee first-hand experience of my church growth strategy.  I call it 'Highways and Byways'. It is most effective, as you can see.

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Meanwhile, it has just been brought to my attention that Steven Furtick over at Elevation Church also promotes books from his pulpit.   Astute readers may spot a couple of subtle differences between the Cornerstone approach and that of Mr. F. 
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Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I have two traditions at Cornerstone.  One (shamelessly stolen from Capitol Hill Baptist Church) is giving away good books to adults and children.  The other is Tabletalk.

Tabletalk has been going on for nearly ten years now.  Numerous times each year, myself anddrawing room.jpg the present Lady Trueman invite the seminary students  (plus wives, significant others etc.) back after the evening service to Trueman Abbey for desserts and wine.  After the eats, the women retire to the drawing room for a glass of madeira and to talk about how cute kittens are, the cuddliness of puppies, and the latest fashions for ladies of quality.  The 'chaps' -- all decent sorts -- remain behind, smoke cigars, drink brandy, and tell manly stories about feats of derring-do.

Actually, it is nothing like that.   By and large, we do not buy into the all-too-common 'the biblical view of gender roles is exactly what they were in the culture of my homeland 100 years ago, before the feminist rot set in' idea that seems so popular these days.  Instead, we all stay together and talk about matters of relevance to ministry today.

This Sunday, the two traditions -- of book giveaway and Tabletalk -- came together.  In the morning, I gave out copies of Catherine J. Stewart's book, Letters to Pastors Wives and in the evening we discussed how important a functional marriage, with a shared vision and passion for the church, is for a married minister.  Indeed, if a man is married and his wife does not share his vision and passion for ministry, then he should not be a minister because it will end in disaster.  A man does not have to be a pastor to serve the church faithfully; he is, however, commanded to love his wife.

Anyway, I gave away five of these books in the morning.  By the end of Tabletalk, I needed to order a further ten, a Cornerstone record.  The book is excellent.  One of the seminary wives took a copy in the morning, devoured it in the afternoon, and praised it to the skies at the gathering in the evening.  Her most telling comment: 'I'd never heard of the women who wrote the essays but they are amazing.'  I responded that that was because these women were married to pastors in churches like the ones her husband will probably pastor: on the whole, small, not flashy, no vast staff.  This is not a book written by the usual cast of characters; it is a book written by unknown women who really know what life is like in a normal pastorate.  Very highly recommended.

Posted on Friday, February 07, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at his Patheos blog, Scot McKnight has published a guest post by his friend, John Frye, lamenting the lack of lament in contemporary church life.   It seems from the comments (and twittering elsewhere) that an earlier draft pointed the finger at Calvinism.  The current version has softened that somewhat to 'submerged determinism.'

Some of the Calvinist reactions have been fierce.  Indeed, one wonders how people have the time for all these tweets, even as one marvels at the skill with which hidden motives can be publicly dissected and characters assassinated in a mere 140 characters or less.   My own reaction is a little different: I recognize the problem Frye highlights.  I know people who react to tragedy and evil with a bald assertion of divine sovereignty. 'What's for you won't go by you' is a popular saying in church circles back in Scotland.  'Ah well, it's the Lord's will' is the sum total of the words of comfort I have sometimes heard spoken to individuals facing terrible darkness and personal tragedy. 

I am a Calvinist to the tips of my fingers.  I do not think that Calvinism is to blame for some contemporary Christians' inability to handle tragedy and to lament.  Part of the problem is the perennial intrusion of the theologies of glory which the fallen world preaches to us and which our fallen hearts are always eager to believe.

But I do think the response to Frye should not be 'How dare you blame the Calvinists!?' so much as 'If there is a problem, and if true Calvinism should not create such a problem, what is going wrong in our churches?'   Here, the difference between a church's doctrine and the reception of that doctrine by individual Christians and congregations is crucial.  Calvinism, true Calvinism, is not to blame; but sadly there are Calvinists who are less innocent, who do reduce the problem of evil and suffering to tweetable soundbites which inevitably lack the complexity of the Biblical teaching, who do ignore the whole counsel of God in their teaching and preaching and choice of praise songs.  And I fear that a failure to reflect the whole counsel of God in our teaching and worship has indeed left individuals conflicted over how -- and whether -- Christians should lament.  The arrival of funerals that are 'celebrations of life' even within some Presbyterian circles witnesses to the reality of this problem.

In scripture, there is a richness of response to evil and suffering, of which the assertion of divine sovereignty is simply one part.  Elihu is correct on sovereignty, yet God still needs to speak to Job because an assertion of sovereignty on its own is not enough.   The Shunammite laments the death of her son, and the prophet never rebukes her for doing so, even though he knows God is in control.  Christ weeps at the tomb of Lazarus, even after delaying his arrival and also declaring that the awful situation has come about to serve God's glory.  And then there are the numerous psalms of lament, placed in scripture in part to give the church a liturgy of prayer and praise which reflects biblical horizons of expectation for the people of God in this fallen world.  

Pastors and teachers need to have a strategy for teaching their people about suffering and sovereignty which does justice not simply to God's omnipotence but also to the myriad other facets of the issue, and the responses thereto, which the Bible provides.  And we need to do so repeatedly, firmly, and graciously, so that our congregations come to maturity in the faith on this issue. Theologies of glory, even those which major on the truth of God's sovereignty, always lurk in the shadows.  Frye and McKnight have put their fingers on a serious problem.

And I would also suggest that the issues are so theologically deep and pastorallymolesworth_reasonably_small.jpg complicated that one can know apriori that anyone who has tweeted the answer to suffering, tragedy or wickedness is definitely wrong, even if only because of all the truths that their chosen 140 character limit requires that they must have omitted.

Posted on Wednesday, February 05, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Readers of this blog may know that I am an admirer of the work of Jim Garretson.  Jim has done more than anyone else to make available the pastoral wisdom of the Old Princeton tradition, as the list of  his publications indicates.  Indeed, while I have read the forthcoming volume on Samuel Miller on the Christian ministry in manuscript, I am greatly looking forward to obtaining a real copy when it is launched this month.   Jim always does a wonderful job in showing how the Princetonians drew out in bold relief the ordinariness of the extraordinary task of ministry.  Thus, the new book will be recommended reading for the ministerial students at Cornerstone.

Archibald Alexander Garretson.jpgIn anticipation of the release of the Miller volume, I have been rereading the earlier book Jim wrote on Archibald Alexander.  Alexander and (especially) Miller are men after my own heart: their theological training was somewhat informal, but built upon a solid background in the Classics, wide reading, sitting under faithful ministries, and learning to preach by doing it.  In addition, Miller was a church historian and an acute Presbyterian ecclesiologist.    An aspirational role model if ever there was one.

Anyway, Jim's work on Alexander is well worth the attention of anyone looking towards the ministry or indeed currently serving in that capacity.  Jim distils the wisdom of Alexander's unpublished lectures on pastoral ministry in a manner that is very helpful and thought-provoking, covering topics from qualifications and call to sermon delivery. Here, for example, is his summary of Alexander's theology of preaching:

To interpret pulpit eloquence as merely a species or form of popular eloquence is to fail to understand the distinction between the human activity of public discourse and the divine and supernatural character of biblical proclamation.... Biblical preaching is the incarnation of the divine Word and Presence in the verbal proclamation of God's message through the lips of one of his servants to fallen humanity; its human character is suffused and enlivened with that which partakes of the created order but comes from outside the created order. (p. 75)

A lot of confused methodological thinking could be cleared up if churches -- preachers and congregants -- took to heart the import of these words.

And the Miller volume is even better.