Posted on Monday, January 20, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Tim Wengert, my opposite number at the Lutheran Seminary in Germantown, has just published a thought-provoking book on Luther and the Bible, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther.   In applying Luther's canonicity criterion of 'What pushes Christ' to the Left Behind series, he says the following:

By Luther's criterion, the Left Behind series (or, as I like to call it, the "Home Alone" series) is not worth a person's time, unless perhaps he or she is caught in a lake cabin during a snowstorm and has already read all the Danielle Steele on the shelves.  But even then one may prefer to use them as fuel for the fire.

Hard to believe that even Doc Martin himself could have put it so beautifully.

Posted on Thursday, January 16, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I am told that customers at WTS Bookstore are now requesting pictures of certainphoto.JPG Westminster Faculty, pictures which are designed to help bring out their inner beauty and winsome personalities, to accompany orders.   Here is one example of the quality work these men at the bookstore can do.  Not quite Lucas Cranach the Elder but, knowing the faculty member concerned, I can vouch for the fact that, like Lucas with Katie, the beauty of the sitter has been grossly underrepresented.

My lawyers are taking a significant interest in the matter.  

Posted on Thursday, January 16, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

... is to be tired of life.

Most of those who know anything about Luther's life tend to think of his appearance at the Diet of Worms in 1521 as the point at which he was most vulnerable --- the isolated reformer surrounded by the massed forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church.  In fact, it is clear that Electoral Saxony had a well-thought out strategy for keeping him safe.

Luther is probably most at risk in 1522, when he is recalled from the Wartburg to restore civil order in Wittenberg.  As radical iconoclasm and rioting has taken hold in his absence, he needs to bring some stability and sanity to the Wittenberg reformation or his protector, Frederick the Wise, will have no choice but to abandon his cause.    It is then that Luther really has nothing an no-one to rely on other than his own personal presence and his preaching ability.   Of course, we know that these are enough.  Luther triumphs.  Karlstadt and Zwilling are forced out.  And the Reformation moves forward.

In the struggles of early 1522, Luther preached a famous sermon on March 10 which contains one of my favourite quotations, revealing the secret of Luther's Reformation success:

In short, I will preach it [the Word], teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

There you have it: the success of the Reformation depended upon the sheer power ofbeer.jpg God's Word.  And, of course, on the quality of Wittenberg beer.   Not sure how much ground for optimism that gives for the ongoing reformation among the Southern Baptists -- perhaps sweet tea has a similar effect -- but I hope it is of encouragement to more than just the Lutherans out there.

Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

puppet master.jpgAs you can see, the team had rather a lot of fun at the marathon recording session last week, even though the Puppet Master showed up to cast his long, sinister, cold shadow over the otherwise happy proceedings.  The first fruits of the party, the latest Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit, is now up, in which  we discussrat pack.jpg what to look for in a good church. 

Todd wants comfy armchairs on a lavish stage, a lady with big hair ministering to the congregation in song, a Country and Western aesthetic.  What can one say? You can take the boy out of the Southern Baptist Convention but you can't take the Southern Baptist Convention out of the boy.   Shirley -- I mean, Aimee -- thinks music trumps everything. I kid you not.  Just take a listen -- and it wasn't even a trap.  Quite shocking --- but, like Todd, she is PCA so we should perhaps make allowances.  She also wants a coffee shop in the church foyer, along with liturgical mixed martial arts.  As for me -- no flimflam, no fancy tricks, no big hair. Just the means of grace.  Ordinary.  Very Ordinary.  But hey, I'm OPC.  What do you expect?

Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Immersed in Luther this week, I have a couple of posts up my sleeve.  The first is slightlyKatie Luther.jpg unusual, in that I appear to have scooped Classical Frank, my music consultant in Mississippi, in noticing that a new cd, Luther's Wedding Day, has just been released which offers a putative reconstruction of the kind of music which Martin and Katie may have had to accompany their nuptials. 

The tale of the Luther wedding is always a fun one to recount in lectures.  Suffice it here to note that any minister fortunate enough to marry a skilled home brewer is much to be envied.  Mrs Luther was also a force to be reckoned with -- she sat for numerous portraits by the great Lucas Cranach the Elder and always complained that he never made her as beautiful as she really was.

The second is the release of the first volume of Bach's Lutheran Masses, to which I am listening as I write (surely some mistake -- Del).  Interviewing Dr Diane Langberg last week, I asked her how she manages to maintain a healthy outlook on life when she is faced every day with dealing with ugliness and depravity.  Among other things, she mentioned filling her life with as much beauty as possible, and mentioned Bach in particular.  This cd is a great example of that.

Some may wonder why Luther retained the language of Mass in a Protestant context, Luther.jpgafter he had repudiated the theology associated with the medieval sacrament.   In fact, the decision was in large part a pastoral one.  Luther was very conservative aesthetically, partly because he was aware of how disruptive the Reformation was for ordinary people.   Thus, he did not want to upset them more than necessary and, if he could retain the old forms but fill them with new Reformation content, then so be it.  Thus, the word was retained whilst the theology and the liturgy were transformed.

Posted on Monday, January 13, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Lorimer,_Ordination (200x155).jpgI had the pleasure yesterday of administering ordination vows to two new elders at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (see the photo), an experience enhanced by the knowledge that I am now no longer the youngest member of the session there.  Working with The Shadowy Figure Known Only as the Librarian and the Artist Formerly Known as the Session Clerk, among others, I have for too long been the closest link we have to that ghastly aberration known as yoof culture. 

One part of the ordination service struck home.  It was the description of the role of elders in connection to the minister:

[T]hey should have particular regard to the doctrine and the conduct of the minister of the Word, in order that the church may be edified, and may manifest itself as the pillar and ground of truth.

'Particular regard': in other words, holding the minister accountable for his doctrine and life is central to what it means to be an elder. And it is encouraging as a minister to know that I have good men who are watching my life and doctrine closely so that the church will be edified and not led astray.  What minister who knows his own heart would trust himself to lead a congregation on his own and according to his own wisdom? 

The other encouraging aspect of this is that these are not Yes Men.  These men were not elected by me: they were elected in a congregational vote by the members of the local church and in which I did not cast a ballot.    True, as a session, we had been looking at the congregation for a while to identify potential elder candidates; but the congregation had the right to nominate anyone and also the right to reject anyone we as a session chose to suggest.

Again, I was struck by the transparency of good church government when it works well.  Whether one is in a congregational or presbyterian church, the twin issues of transparency and leadership accountability are vital to healthy life.   There must be transparent processes whereby the elders and minister can be held to account by congregants.  And there must be a culture among the elders whereby the minister is held to account for his life and doctrine.  It is not complicated: a decent book of church order and a few good men, elected by the congregation, are all that is needed.

It is also why the parachurch must not supplant the church.  Parachurch organisations -- including the Alliance -- tend to be staffed and run by self-selecting groups. Indeed, leadership accountability has been shown in recent years to be perhaps the biggest problem in such groups; and my prediction is that it will continue to be so.  True, at the Alliance those of us who write and speak did not invent the organisation -- it predates me by quite some time; and we are accountable not to each other but to the Puppetmaster and to the Board.  We have not selected those to whom we answer; they have selected us.   But we must never over-reach ourselves and try to exert powerful influence over those to whom we are not accountable in a clear and transparent way.   Power and influence in the Christian world must be directly proportional to transparency and public accountability.  If not, the result will inevitably tend over time to petty despotism and worrying corruption.

In the meantime, every minister needs good local elders, men whom he has not chosen, who see him each Sunday, who hear him preach and pray, who connect with him during the week, who see how he treats his wife and his children, who observe how he speaks to visitors, who know how he relates to his neighbours, to keep him accountable both to the Word of God and to congregation which he serves.  Anything less, anything other, is simply unbiblical and in the long run a recipe for disaster.

Posted on Wednesday, January 08, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

On this week's MoS, Todd and I are joined in the Underground Bunker by Dr. Jonathan Master ofsamurai.jpg Cairn University, with whom we then discuss the fascinating, flawed, frustrating, yet inspiring book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers.   Packed full of excellent advice, mystical Welsh lunacy, and a magnificent vision of what preaching should be, the book should be required reading for anyone aspiring to fill a pulpit.  And any writer who uses the word 'abomination' with the same frequency that Todd uses 'journey,' 'tribe,' and 'I feel your pain' has to be worth a purchase.

Posted on Thursday, January 02, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The older I get, the more convinced I am that Augustine is the greatest theologian of them all, from his analysis of human psychology to his reflections on human culture.  I started the new year committed to rereading The City of God and just noticed that Collin Garbarino, over at First Thoughts, is doing the same and is also setting up a Facebook page for those who wish to join him. 

The book is a one of the triumphs of classical literature, among other things an exhaustiveaugustine-city-of-god-175.jpg pastoral response to the fall of Rome, and has had a reach far beyond Christian circles  It was, for example, one of the few volumes kept by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his rooms at Cambridge.   Readers might also be interested in looking at James J O'Donnell's introduction and summary of the work, available online here, Gerard O'Daly's reader's guide, and Jean Bethke Elshtain's reflections on this, and other Augustinian themes, in her brief but thoughtful Augustine and the Limits of Politics.

Here is a taster, from Book II, Chapter XX, describing Roman attitudes in ways that are oddly reminiscent of this present age:

But the worshipers and admirers of these gods delight in imitating their scandalous iniquities, and are nowise concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. Only let it remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us? This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquility; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependents, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man's property, than of that done to one's own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed. Let them be worshiped as they wish; let them demand whatever games they please, from or with their own worshipers; only let them secure that such felicity be not imperiled by foe, plague, or disaster of any kind.

Posted on Wednesday, January 01, 2014 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As we enter the new year, I am delighted to point readers to one of the Alliance's otherstones beatles.jpg websites, Place for Truth, which is overseen by Jonathan Master of Cairn University, and which contains many articles of interest by writers such as David Wells and Michael Haykin. What can one say?  Ref21 is to the respectable and polite characters on Place for Truth as the Stones were to the Beatles. 

shool for scoundrels.jpgOne article which readers may have missed, but which neatly summarizes the significance of recent events in the American evangelical world can be found here.   A Roman Catholic friend recently asked me why it is that reformed evangelicals tend to see RC sins as part and parcel of the very essence of the RCC and yet see the failings of their own heroes and institutions as merely anomalous aberrations which have nothing really to do with an otherwise healthy movement.   I thought it a very fair and pertinent question, especially given the fact that we now know for certain that the problems in the evangelical world are deeply embedded in the structures and attitudes of the corporate culture which seems to control the movement.  As we head into 2014, there is sadly little sign that those who are the public leaders of the reformed evangelical movement in this country actually intend to do much public leading when it comes to the problems that lie at the heart of our corrupt evangelical culture.   It is indeed rather grim and more than a little ironic to think that we might actually have something to learn from the pop music industry about how to respond to serious breaches of professional integrity, given the response to one of the more infamous Grammy scandals of yesteryear.  In fact, I feel a Ref21 neologism coming on:  Millivanillism, n., an established and accepted way in which certain twenty-first century megachurch pastors "write" books and "prepare" sermons.   Remember, folks, like 'Evangelical Industrial Complex,' you heard that word here first.

Meanwhile, do not despair.   There are still a few oases of incorrigible insubordination and insanity amidst all of the sensible conformity and dutiful deference.  Yes, despite the best behind-the-scenes efforts of all the Top Men out there in the Emerald City,steed and mrs peel.jpg the Mortification of Spin has somehow made it into the new year intact.  This time,  it is a Bully Pulpit; and, with Todd claiming to be 'waiting in a hospital to pray with someone,' it is just myself and the Queen of the Golden Nunchucks discussing Christian approaches to human sexuality in light of recent events.

Happy New Year!

Posted on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at Logos, I notice that Dan Phillips' book on Proverbs is now available for pre-order.  That is something to which we Logos users can look forward in the new year.

While tomorrow is the big day, business here will continue as normal.  Thanks to theCagney Bogart.jpg wonders of technology, there will be a new Mortification of Spin available here first thing in the morning.   Purdey is away on some kind of PCA black ops assignment, so it is just Todd and myself, dressed as you can see as Santa's little helpers and full of seasonal goodwill and cheer, discussing the importance of ruling elders in the local church.

Meanwhile, over at my other internet haunt, David Bentley Hart's latest First Things article is available for free download.  As we move into 2014, the centenary of the start of the First World War --- a war that fundamentally redefined Europe, from the nature of international relations to philosophy, literature and indeed religion --- we can surely anticipate a year of very thoughtful reflection on this event from many perspectives.  Hart has to be one of the most thoughtful and provocative writers around today and this  piece is powerful, not least these lines, which I quoted in my sermon on Sunday night:

All memory is tragic in the end: The failures, humiliations, betrayals, sufferings, or calamities that we recall for the most part cannot now be undone; the joys, triumphs, discoveries, and raptures that we recall are for the most part long gone. All memory is haunted by the traces of a fall from grace or of an Eden to which we cannot return.