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.

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

Aimee claims that, since her arrival on the podcast, our numbers of women listeners have gone through the roof, and that we have become the Reformed housewife's choice.  Thus, in the latest MoS, while we may not have managed to reunite The Jam, Mott the Hoople, or Hendrix (120x120).jpgeven the Bay City Rollers, we have brought together two veritable giants of contemporary reformed chick lit: Aimee Byrd and Gloria Furman.  Gloria is so delightful that, if she was actually old enough, she would no doubt be a credible candidate for the person who inspired the great Jimi Hendrix classic of that name.   Aimee, on the other hand.....

gloria rocks.jpgSeriously, one of the  topics we discuss  is the nature of modesty and Gloria has some distinctive thoughts on the issue given that she is currently living in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.    She is the author of Glimpses of Grace and has a website, Domestic Kingdom.  Plus, MoS is proud to show its respect for her by launching a range of special modesty-enhancing Gloria Furman


Head Coverings (pictured left).  Contemporary in style, yet standing in that great tradition of self-effacing personal ministries, this is a true classic.  Gents -- as you start thinking of Valentine's Day, might I suggest that one of these would make an ideal present for that special 1 Corinthians 11 lady in your life?  Just ask the present Mrs. Pruitt.

Meanwhile, as you can see, the team has been recharging its batteries during an opportunity provided a recent thunderstorm above the Underground Bunker.  Clearly, as we prepare for our second year of broadcasting, the Bunker is due for a decent makeover; I am taking far too much demented pleasure in all those half-crazed creative projects which so anger the pitchfork wielding mob from the village down in the valley; the humidity is playing merry havoc with Aimee's hair, and -- well, let's just say that the year of spinning dangerously has obviously taken a very, very heavy toll on Todd.  So it's business as usual and all is well with the world, then.
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Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The latest MoS is up.  This week we look at the issue of politics, public moral issues and how the church should respond to such matters.   While we agree that the church has to holds certain positions on certain issues, when it comes to church strategy, there are disagreements among us.  Thus, it is Byrd and Trueman versus Pruitt.  Of course, in 12 minutes we can only scratch the surface so we will be returning to this important topic in the future.

In the meantime, as we wrap up a complete year's worth of programs, it is worth remembering that we started as a means of giving a voice to the disenfranchised group of the bald, the bad and the ugly.  And like all such once idealist movements, we are coming under pressure to sell-out with product placement, capitulation to the youth market etc.  Thus, the Puppetnichols resort (200x151).jpg Master consulted with distinguished theologian, church historian, aspiring Top Man, and all-round influential person, Steve Nichols®. As a result of that, he sent us all for a Steve Nichols® Makeover at the Steve Nichols® Health Spa and Resort (pictured right)last week so that we might be able more effectively to reach out to a younger audience.  As you can see, Aimee is not persuaded by the results.

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Posted on Saturday, January 25, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

There is a fine interview over at National Review Online with legal philosopher, Francis Beckwith, on the issue of abortion.   For my money, Professor Beckwith is one of the sharpest minds out there working on the interface of law and ethics, especially on the matter of abortion, and this interview is well worth reading.  The key quotation, given Andrew Cuomo's recent statement, is this: "Will pro-lifers in New York State, including its Evangelical pastors and Catholic bishops, rise to the challenge, and stand up for the sheep that they have been called upon to guard and protect? Or will they remain mute and confirm what Governor Cuomo probably believes about the quality of their spines? Time will tell."

The MoS team discusses the broader issue on next Wednesday's Bully Pulpit.

Posted on Saturday, January 25, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Regular readers will know that I occasionally try to keep track of the ever-expanding letters which are being used to describe the sexual chaos that exists in PC World (and I am not referring to the magazine favoured by  computer geeks).  Well, Carlton Wynne has brought to my attention that Professor Robert George at Princeton has spotted a very strong contender for the title of the world's most exhaustively pious PC acronym.  This is from Lewis and Clark: LGBTQQAOPA.   This can be expressed longhand as "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, omnisexual, pansexual and allied community." 

Apart from the fact that the verbal effort required to be politically correct and not offend people is now likely to induce an asthma attack in anyone who does not have a high degree of aerobic fitness, the other interesting thing about this is the arrival of the terms 'omnisexual' and 'pansexual'.  I confess that I have not got the foggiest idea what these two assaults upon the English language represent and feel no urgent need to rectify my ignorance.  The roots would indicate they should be synonyms -- though synonyms for what? I also have a sneaking suspicion -- call me paranoid if you like -- that I may be the only category of person now excluded and oppressed.

Joking aside, the two new words would seem to imply a total abolition of distinguishing categories in the matters of sexuality and sexual identity.  Ironically, this would seem to render the preceding letter distinctions meaningless (perhaps even at some point in the near future potentially imperialist?).  In the land of the utterly free, the meaning of sex is always a matter of purely (sic) individual construction.  When a category embraces everything in general, it embraces nothing in particular.  When thatPrometheus.jpg category purports to be in some way political or ethical -- well, you can draw the conclusion for yourself.

And yet before we thank the Lord that we are not as other men/women/persons of alternative gender/persons of other alternative gender (and so on for 97 bien-pensant pages), remember there is continuity here: the Promethean moment came when sex became primarily a matter of individual fulfillment, a recreational activity freed from the bonds of permanent, loving, sacrificial relationships.  

That was when the hand dared to seize the fire. 

Posted on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The latest Mortification of Spin is up.  This week, the team tackle the issue of what constitutes a good sermon.   In one of the outtakes, I did get a chance to show Todd and Aimee a diagram explaining the differences between the OPC and their own chosen denomination, the PCA, but it seems the Puppetmaster censored that part. Fortunately, the magic moment was captured in a photograph.
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Posted on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

There are a number of problems with Jeremy's Owenian take on liturgy.

First, Owen himself must be read against the background of the way in which state imposition of liturgy had taken place within the English context.  This lies behind Owen's tendentious and, indeed, fallacious history of liturgy which prefaces his major work against the imposition of liturgy.  This is what makes Owen's statements on liturgy hard to apply to today: as someone who had suffered under state imposition of liturgy, he came to the issue with certain predispositions which were not entirely theological.

Second, the apparent equation of liturgy with ritualism and formalism is untenable, although Jeremy does not make it clear whether he regards all formal liturgy as ritualistic and formalistic or, if he does not, where he would draw the line. 

The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Knox, Cranmer) are scarcely evidence of an age lacking in 's/Spiritually substantial men' and yet each of them saw formal liturgy -- and quite elaborate liturgy, at least by English non-conformist standards -- as vitally important to intelligent, biblical worship.  And none of them advocated the 'four hymn sandwich' or any thing that comes close -- not that that makes the FHS necessarily wrong; but it might give pause for thought.

The difference is not between churches who have liturgies and churches who do not; it is between churches who have intelligent ones that are theologically informed, which they acknowledge and upon which they reflect, and those who do not.  Whether one writes them down or not, and indeed how elaborate they are, is irrelevant when it comes to the question of formalism.   Formalism is a matter of the heart, not of the written page.   After all, unless one speaks in tongues, one is probably using written liturgical tools such as psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Enthusiasm and formalism are also not mutually exclusive categories.  As a student during a brief -- ahem -- 'enthusiastic' phase, I attended a Pentecostal church for a few months: I left because it was patently obvious that the minister spoke the same glossalalic utterance -- unwritten word for unwritten word --every week. .

In fact, the use of historic liturgy, like the use of historic creeds and confessions, can carry with it powerful biblical impulses: it can give the church service dynamic, intelligent, theological movement; it can prevent people from saying stupid and heretical things in public worship; it can teach people profound theology; it can give people exalted, appropriate, and beautiful language to express themselves; and it can remind us that we connect to a past.   

Thus, it seems to me unnecessary to see the arrival of liturgy in Colorado Springs asseedy searle.jpg necessarily representing some kind of formalist dust inevitably filling a vacuum left by the departure of megachurch evangelicalism.

And if familiarity does on occasion breed contempt, that is not the fault of the written liturgy we might choose to use on a Sunday, however elaborate it may be, as it is also not the fault of the written hymns we decide sing, or indeed the written Bible we love read.

Posted on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

If you are trapped inside in the snow and have read all the Danielle Steel on the bookshelves and stoked the fire with a few end time novels, here are a few other places which might provide food for thought.

Banner of Truth has a couple of new videos where Mark Johnston and Ian Hamilton talk about some aspects of the publishing work of the Trust.  Think Thomas Goodwin and Samuel Rutherford being directed in a movie by John Cassavetes with a budget provided by Hetty Green in a bad mood.

Tim Challies reviews a book by Ref21 regular, Rob Ventura, on spiritual warfare.

And, in case you missed it, Lutheran thinker, Gene Veith, has an interesting piece on the arrival of formal liturgy in an unlikely place which he thinks may be a watershed for evangelicalism.  An excellent piece, it still leaves me wondering if too many are not still mesmerised by the reification of "evangelicalism' which seems to be whatever anyone wishes to make it and to exist mainly as the unquestioned foundation of loose affiliations which make up parachurch groupings.   If David Wells is right in his new book that forms of worship and content of theology are not neatly and cleanly separable (to which me might also add polity and forms of pastoral care, to name but two), then, whatever theological doctrines "evangelicals" hold in common, to hypothesize a coherent, reified entity such as "evangelicalism' without the addition of significant adjectives asmolesworth_reasonably_small.jpg qualifications, seems a bit of a stretch and of interest only to those who have, well, a vested interest in claiming that it does exist (and, usually, that they should be in charge of it and its various institutions).