Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at First Thoughts, Collin Garbarino offers some very perceptive comments on the Driscoll plagiarism affair.  He makes the point that such activity receives a failing grade at his university.  I would only add that at Westminster it also involves automatic suspension from the degree program followed by discussion with the powers that be about whether Christian ministry is really an option for the perpetrator.

One sentence in particular stands out: 'Ghostwriting is lying, and plagiarism is stealing, and there seems to be a lot of it going around.'   No further comment is necessary, for that says it all.

For some time now I have been harping on and on about the corrupting effects of celebrityNietzsche.jpg culture on conservative evangelicalism.  I think I was wrong: we are not dealing these days with mere celebrities; the ethical transgressions we are witnessing would indicate that we are actually dealing with a form of evangelical Nietzscheanism whereby the leaders of the movement are, to borrow a phrase, beyond good and evil.   This should have been clear when Driscoll embraced T D Jakes as a brother.    If you can do that and still have the leaders of a flagship evangelical group wish you well in your future ministry as you depart from them, then the ethical precedent is set and the fix, as they say in America, is in.  You are an evangelical Superman, transcending normal ethical categories --- though I suspect not so much because of a will to power as a will to PR.

My guess is that one of two scenarios will play out in the coming weeks.  First, it is possible that the reformed evangelical world will take this opportunity to put its house in order in an open and public manner: those who were swift to criticise Ms. Mefferd will offer apologies as public as their original pejorative statements; publishers will pull books they know to be ghost-written and they will dismiss the brand names on the covers of the same from their list of approved authors; churches will suspend pastors who plagiarise or who employ ghost writers and place them under discipline; and other Christian organisations and conferences will withdraw their goodwill and invitations to speak from the same.  This will cost money; it will not be popular in many quarters; but what price integrity?  And what a powerful signal to the watching world.

Second, it is possible that we will see a re-run of the Elephant Room debacle.  The whistleblowers will be maligned, marginalised and then safely ignored. Maybe, if we are lucky, there will be a public statement talking about 'errors of judgment' and 'mistakes that have been made' along with a humble commitment to 'do better in the future.' The movers and shakers will either keep silent or reassure everybody that it is all under control and being dealt with appropriately behind the scenes.  A decent period of quiet will then ensue. And shortly thereafter it will be back to business as usual.   That too, one might add, will be a powerful signal to the watching world.

As I have said before, I am not remotely postmillennial, so you can probably guess what I think will happen.  As Karl Marx commented with reference to Louis Napoleon, history repeats itself -- the first time as tragedy, then as farce.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I commented at the weekend that Janet Mefferd's allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll should be fairly easy to establish on the grounds that we have empirical evidence in the form of texts to compare.  She has posted a link to photographic plates here.  Regardless of whether one is instinctively inclined to like Ms. Mefferd or Mr. Driscoll, text is text and you can judge for yourselves who is in the right.  The second set, from comments on the Petrine epistles, is particularly noteworthy.

Elsewhere, Frank Turk has highlighted a few weird aspects of the whole affair.  Again, I make noMolesworth crystal ball.jpg comment on his statements as he provides evidence by which one can judge for oneself the plausibility of his interpretation.

This could well prove an interesting test case for the ethical stature of conservative evangelicalism.  Is there an evangelical industrial complex out there or is there a morality which transcends and ultimately regulates the evangelical marketplace?

Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

It may not be quite as significant as the moment when Jimmy met Robert met John met John PaulLed Zep.jpg but, if you want to kill a bit of time while waiting for the levee to break, the latest Mortification of Spin is available.  Not exactly Batman and Robin meet Spiderman and Thor but, hey, we're on a budget here and don't want to find ourselves in the Puppetmaster's bad books.  This show is a happy half hour when Todd meets me meets Dan meets Frank to talk cessationism. When the Mortifiers of Spin meet the Pyromaniacs, you can expect all the hallmarks of our respective approaches to evangelical life: subtlety, understatement, charitable ambiguities, plenty of agreements to differ, no jokes, unconditional respect for and deference to the Top Men, and a decisive preference for centres over boundaries.  We can also assure you that, as always, we will refuse to criticize anyone we haven't first taken out for a skimmed pumpkin latte made from organic coffee beans at the fair trade cafe.   Oh, and by the way, don't miss the point when the Vatican spokesman calls in to the program to confirm that the Pope is not Catholic.  How he got our number, goodness knows.

Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The controversy surrounding Janet Mefferd's interview of Mark Driscoll is interesting for a variety of reasons.  There is one aspect of it which has yet to attract comment as far as I can tell.  That is the way it brings out another aspect of the celebrity culture which has so corrupted the young, restless and reformed movement.

My interest here is not who was right and who was wrong.  That will no doubt be fairly easy to establish as the claims which Janet Mefferd made should be empirically verifiable.    I would only comment that, in my own interactions with Janet Mefferd, I have always found her forthright but fair.  I am concerned in this post only with what the reactions to the interview tell us about the culture of celebrity in the subculture that is evangelicalism. 

I have tried a number of times to make the point that being a celebrity is not the same as being a public figure.   Anyone who acts in public is, to a greater or lesser degree, a public figure.  Celebrity brings with it such matters as a culture of false intimacy with complete strangers and a charismatic authority rooted in the person not in an institution.  Thus, influence is often predicated on personality, not on the intrinsic merits of arguments etc.

The Mefferd-Driscoll controversy points to another aspect of celebrity culture: celebrities are routinely allowed to behave in ways which would not be tolerated in ordinary mortals.  For example, being drunk on the job and hurling abuse at an employer would make one unemployable in the real world.  Not for Charlie Sheen. A conviction for rape would be enough to have you characterized as a monster in the real world who had forfeited the right to sympathetic media exposure.   Not for Mike Tyson or Roman Polanski (just ask that champion of women's rights, Whoopi Goldberg).   In short, normal rules do not apply to celebrities in the same way as they do to others. 

The same is true in the celebritydrome of the evangelical subculture.   Driscoll is a classic case in point. For example, he has claimed that God gives him explicit images of the sexual sins of other people.  He has embraced prosperity teacher and denier of the Trinity, T. D. Jakes, as a brother. He has written an explicit book on sex. Most recently, he engaged in a cringe-inducing publicity stunt unworthy of a spoiled teenager. For most of us, any one of these things would have ended in church discipline and (in the Jakes' case) removal from office.  Yet in all of this, the fan base and those with a vested interest in capitalizing on his success grant him free pass after free pass. 

So the fall-out from The Janet Mefferd Show has been interesting even as it has been entirely predictable.  The fan base and those with a vested interest in Driscoll's reputation rally around their hero while excoriating Janet Mefferd.   In so doing, they ironically demonstrate why shows such as Janet Mefferd's can be so very important: if the conservative evangelical world continues to be increasingly dominated by one or two huge media-style organizations, the conversation will be corralled and controlled, the hard questions will not be asked, and the leaders of such organizations and those over whom they choose to extend their patronage will not be held to account.

If, in your quest to promote yourself, you ask to appear on a particular show, you should be tough enough to take whatever that show throws at you with equanimity. The intricate and risky dance between celebrities and media is part of the game you have chosen to play, indeed a large factor in what has made you famous and influential.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.  In such circumstances, you should also accept that Janet Mefferd's job is not to make you look good or to keep her comments within the accepted bounds of evangelical correctness as defined by you or by any other Top Man.  Her job as a radio journalist is to ask the hard questions and hold you, me or whomever she is addressing, to account.  

But you can still sleep easy at night knowing this important truth: blessed are the celebrities, for they will be rigorously held to a much lower standard of behaviour than the rest of us.    

Posted on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

A while back I bumped into somebody who mentioned that he was 'talking to my people' toMy People.jpg arrange for me to come and speak at his church.   Somewhat puzzled, I asked him who 'my people' were.  Equally puzzled, he responded that they were the people he contacted to arrange for me to etc. etc.  I then explained that I had had a series of assistants when Vice President at Westminster (beginning with the peel.jpginestimable Mrs. Peel, pictured left) who helped me be in the right place at the right time with regard to Seminary business and even remembered such things as my cell phone number for me.  Having relinquished my administrative position, however, I had also relinquished that advantage in life.   Finally, the penny dropped: the gentleman realized that the person responding to emails sent to the account which bears my name was none other than the person whose name was on said account: me, myself and I.  Yes, if you email me and I respond, it is me.  Then again, if you email me and I do not, please be assured that it is me who is ignoring you.

Last week I was having breakfast with a friend who works in the publishing industry.  He commented on the fact that now, when his company asks someone to speak at a conference, they almost always have to pay for the person to bring along a personal assistant.   At the upper levels of reformed evangelicalism, we are now dealing with (as Babs once sang) people who have people, the luckiest -- or shall we say 'providentially blessed' -- people in the world.  And, of course, so many of the key authors now have personal literary agents --  though I cannot resist noting that, in a deceptive twist of adjectival language, it typically seems to be the least literary Christian authors who often require the services of the same.   Market forces are wonderful upholders of standards, are they not?

Makes me wonder: even if you are naive enough to think I am wrong on celebrity reformed evangelicalism, are the leaders of the same perhaps taking themselves just a tad too seriously, with all those self-named ministries, agents, personal assistants and assorted entourages? 

Still, perhaps I am misreading the situation. Maybe I should get my people to talk to your people about that one.  As for me,  I have no army of people for I am my people -- or should that be 'person'? And when I travel, I'm just the man in a man in a suitcase.jpgsuitcase.   And a pretty small one at that.

Posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The BeeGee's edited book on the atonement, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, is finallymolesworth runs.jpg here.   There is also a website with accompanying promotional video.  Just in time for Christmas.   

Posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at Credo, friend of Ref21 and indeed of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, baptist pastor and theologian, Fred Zaspel, has posted some moving reflections on the recent loss of his daughter Gina, at age 29.

Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

This week we have the pleasure of interviewing Boyce College professor, Denny Burk, on his new book, What is the Meaning of Sex?   The book itself is excellent and we are grateful to Denny for giving his time to the podcast.    

Posted on Monday, November 11, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I have a few things to report from around the patch today.

First, it is that time of year again.  Yes, the Banner of Truth Trust once again honours the
Santa Murray.jpgseasonal convictions of one of its early supporters, Professor John Murray, by offering its books at a special discount for Christmas.  The Trust has been producing quality Christian literature for decades and many of us have taken regular advantage of its unwavering commitment to the liturgical calendar in order to stock our shelves with beautifully produced and worthwhile books.   So as you down your Yuletide cognac, make sure to toast the memory of one of the men who made it all possible.

images.jpgSecond, the Boys from Brazil have launched a Portuguese language equivalent of Reformation 21 under the auspices of the Alliance.  It can be found here.   Earlier this year I was in Brazil and met with said boys.  They told me that once upon a time they had wanted to be young, restless and reformed. Oh my. But having read Ref21, they said that they had realized that it is ok to be simply Calvinist cranks.  Praise indeed.  I have a lump in my throat even as I recall the conversation.  Keep up the good work, brothers, and do not let the Top Men buy your souls.  Oh, and while we're at it, boys --- make sure to keep all references to Chelsea FC far, far away from the blog.   Normal Ref21 rules of decency and taste apply, after all.

gatiss.jpgThird, congratulations are (over)due to Lee Gatiss (pictured left at the Church Society's annual Puritans and Prelates Halloween bash.  At least I hope that is what it was.  Otherwise, the spirit of Hooper is clearly dead....).  He has piloted the NIV Proclamation Bible through to publication.  This Bible has helpful introductory essays, concise introductions to each biblical book and decent cross referencing.  With a special focus on helping preachers and Bible study leaders, it strikes a nice balance between the plain text and an overly heavy interpretative apparatus.  I go back and forth on whether I prefer the ESV or the NIV (both having strengths which complement the other's weaknesses) and so this well-bound volume is a welcome addition to the bookshelf.

Finally, Danny 'Jekyll' Hyde's book on infant baptism, which is the one we give away on thejekyll-hyde-243x304.jpg literature table at Cornerstone, is now available in Spanish and can be downloaded for free via his church's website.   One of the best introductions to the subject available.  Readable and accessible (but, in this particular edition, only if you read Spanish, of course.....)

Posted on Thursday, November 07, 2013 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Earlier today in a post over at First Thoughts I offered some reflections on the way in which identity has been psychologized.   Then, as if on cue, my attention was brought to this piece of Mumpitz which is apparently what passes for serious reflective journalism in one of the country's top schools. 
Here is a classic quotation:

"Cissexism is, simply put, the belief that men should be men and women should be women."

Err, yes, I think I'm tracking with you.  Sounds like a good idea.  Or am I missing something?

Oh, wait, that's bad, is it?  Thank goodness there is a strategy to deal with this outrageous kind of thinking:

"To address cissexism at Georgetown on an individual level, all you have to do is present yourself in a way that is not "appropriate" for your gender."

Sorry, old chap, when it comes to this one, I'm a bit of a Ray Davies man myself: 'I'm not the
seedy searle.jpg world's most masculine man but I know what I am and I bet I'm a man...."  Plus, I don't think I'd look good in twin set and pearls.

A phrase about lunatics, asylums, and internal transitions of institutional power comes to mind.