Posted on Friday, June 10, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I am delighted (We are not worthy!) to be able to publish the following guest post from my friend and mentor, John Calvin, as a rejoinder to those who think 1Cor. 11:3 is a knockdown argument for eternal submission and its relevance to understanding male-female relations.  He also asked me to warn people about univocal predication and simplistic moves from the economy of salvation to eternal, intratrinitarian relations.


He says, that as Christ is subject to God as his head, so is the man subject to Christ, and the woman to the man.  Let us take notice of those gradations which he points out. God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.


Posted on Thursday, June 09, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Wayne Grudem -- with whom I do share a cordial personal relationship (politics and now Nicene issues aside) -- has weighed in on the issue of the day.  Again, I am grateful for the measured but firm response.


To respond: I accuse no-one of rejecting the Nicene Creed of 325, as he states (at least in the version of the post available at 13:52 on Friday).  Nicene orthodoxy is actually defined at Constantinople in 381.  I simply state that those who get rid of eternal generation and speak of eternal submission are outside of the bounds set by 381 -- which is the ecumenical standard of the church catholic, albeit in the West subject to the revision at Toledo.


If Nicaea 325 is the standard of Nicene Trinitarianism with which he and Bruce Ware are operating, then I understand why they think an appeal to the homoousion is sufficient.  But history and the church catholic say otherwise.  Eternal generation etc. etc. are also of critical importance, as Constantinople 381 indicates. 



Posted on Thursday, June 09, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at ref21 my Alliance colleague Nick Batzig has, at my request, graciously allowed a non-Alliance author, Bruce Ware, to offer a measured but firm reply to Liam Goligher and myself.  I am also thankful to Denny Burk for passing on a copy to me in advance, with Bruce Ware’s permission.


 I leave Liam to speak for himself to the substantive theological issues which he raised but here is my surrejoinder on the narrow historical/theological/creedal point which I was making:


1.    Simply claiming the homoousion is not enough to make one a Nicene Trinitarian.  Were it so, history would make no sense.  After all, the term was adopted in 325 but it was another 56 years before Nicene Trinitarianism was finally defined.  The intervening years were largely spent battling over the nature of the relations.  One of the keys to the resolution of this problem was the concept of eternal generation.  Thus, I never denied that Professor Ware claims the homoousion, nor asserted that he is an Arian.  The point at issue is that of the nature of the relations.  In his writings, Professor Ware explicitly rejects the Nicene notion of eternal generation while asserting that of eternal functional submission.  That is in fact a very radical move to make, though not uncommon today.  Yet its popularity does not make it consistent with a Nicene position. In fact, rejection of eternal generation puts you definitively outside of Nicene Trinitarianism.  And that is what I was arguing.  And I cannot see how claiming the homoousion while altering your understanding of the relations does not leave your position vulnerable in the long term to one of the many problems which were debated and rejected between 325 and 381.


2.    In his response Professor Ware argues that the Bible teaches eternal functional submission. I have never doubted or denied that that is what he and others think the Bible teaches. Nor do I doubt that there are historical precedents for this position.  Nor, incidentally, do I reject as anti-Nicene the idea that the relational ordering within the Trinity has any significance for the economy – the medieval era contains fascinating debates within the boundaries of Nicene orthodoxy on why the Son and not the Father became incarnate, for example (and I use it only as such -- this is not an endorsement) Aquinas, Summa 3a.3.8.  I simply deny that contemporary notions of EFS are compatible with the nature of the relations as understood in Nicene orthodoxy as defined in 381 and since then held by the church catholic. 


Nicene Trinitarianism involves a host of commitments – to divine simplicity as classically articulated by Gregory Nazianzus, to the unity of the divine will, to inseparable operations and, of course, to eternal generation.  Repudiation or revision of any one or more of these involves a revision of the whole and thus ceases to be Nicene Trinitarianism.

And while I am happy to hear that none of this is driven by identity politics, it does raise one more question.  Even if we were to grant that Nicene orthodoxy is wrong and Bruce Ware is right --- what does any of this have to do with male-female gender relations?  The answer, I believe, is nothing at all.


I am puzzled at the angst my post seems to have generated.  I have really said nothing more radical than, for example, ‘Someone who rejects transubstantiation is not a Tridentine Catholic.’   Thus, my question still stands: what is the status of Nicene orthodoxy in modern Calvinistic evangelicalism in the USA?


Update 6/12/2016: I am grateful to Michel Barnes, via Steve Wedgeworth, for pointing out that the term homoousion did not become a major point of debate until the mid to late 350s.   I overstated the earliness of the term's significance, though I do not believe that this impacts the overall point I am making.

Posted on Tuesday, June 07, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The two timely posts by friend of MoS, Liam Goligher, have focused very specifically on the revision of the doctrine of God being offered, and endorsed, by some leading complementarians.   Frankly, as Liam points out, we need to keep our issues with the earthly politics of gender out of our reflections upon the eternal being of God.  Any fair reading of Nicene Trinitarianism would show that the concepts of the unity of the divine operations and the assertion of one will in God make analogies of intratrinitarian relations to human notions of submission inappropriate, even as we must allow for distinction and order among the divine persons.  And when it comes to submission in scripture, the explicit New Testament model for such in marriage is the relationship of the incarnate, crucified Christ and the church, not that of the Father and Son in eternity.  Paul’s choice of analogy would seem most significant.


So why, I wonder, have the Diva and I been slapped with the ‘downgrade’ label for distinguishing women teaching Sunday School from women holding ordained office and preaching, while the eternal submission of the Son to the Father is deemed quite acceptable – as long as it serves New Calvinists in their proposals about gender?  And this issue is not some cranky Old School Presbyterian distinctive we are talking about—it is the Nicene faith of the catholic church.   Could it be that it is the tastes and priorities of contemporary conservative evangelicalism which have been subject to the real downgrade?


That this species of subordinationism has been endorsed by New Calvinist leaders is disappointing.  The movement has been swift to deal with errors on the doctrine of scripture or justification but, historically speaking, errors on the doctrine of God have more often been the real source of problems for the church, whether we are thinking of Arians in the fourth century, Socinians in the seventeenth, kenoticists in the nineteenth or open theists in the late twentieth.


Now, the evangelical prioritization of, say, the understanding of salvation over the doctrine of God is in one way understandable.  Justification has a more immediate existential impact than Nicene Trinitarianism and is also easier perhaps to grasp as a concept.  But salvation cannot be blithely disconnected from God’s being and identity without significant long-term cost. One might be able to do that temporarily but sooner or later there will be a heavy dogmatic price to pay.  History is a consistent witness to that fact.  


Because we live at a time when good teaching on the differences between men and women is needed more than at any previous moment in history, it is sad that the desire to maintain a biblical view of complementarity has come to be synonymous with advocating not only a very 1950s American view of masculinity but now also this submission-driven teaching on the Trinity.   In the long run such a tight pairing of complementarianism with this theology can only do one of two things.  It will either turn complementarian evangelicals into Arians or tritheists; or it will cause orthodox believers to abandon complementarianism.   The link is being pushed so firmly that it does not seem to offer any other choice.  


The leaders of the organizations which represent New Calvinism have weathered storm after storm, from Driscollgate onwards, by maintaining a firm grip on the mainstream New Calvinist media, by licensing just enough criticism to reassure concerned onlookers, and by stoic public silence in the face of numerous scandals and controversies.  But this one is surely too big and the stakes are too high.  It has to be addressed.  We are not here dealing with the rogue actions of some boisterous celeb preacher in a Mickey Mouse tee-shirt; this is a specific form of theology which is deeply embedded in the very foundations of one of the movement’s professed central distinctives.  The New Calvinist leaders need to speak up, and they need to speak up now.


Indeed, the question which the leadership of the various groups associated with New Calvinism -- the Gospel Coalition, CBMW etc. -- must answer is simply this: do you consider Nicene orthodoxy to be a non-negotiable part of your movement’s beliefs?  Now, we live in a free country and, as Protestants, we are committed to scripture alone as the norming norm.  Thus, you are free to say that Nicene orthodoxy has no place in the church today. You are also free to say that it is something of secondary importance on which Christians can differ.  You are even free to say that the Creed of Constantinople and the Chalcedonian Christology which flowed from it are erroneous and contrary to biblical teaching.  But make no mistake: in doing any of these things you place yourself and therefore your movement not simply outside of the boundaries of the consensus of the confessions of Reformation Protestantism but also outside what has historically been considered orthodox Christianity in its broadest sense.  That is your prerogative and if your conscience and your understanding of the Word of God bind you to it, then you must do it. But you need to be honest and transparent about what you are doing.


Subordinationism was found wanting in the fourth century and set aside for very good reason.  It is thus surely time for somebody of real stature in the New Calvinist world to break ranks with the Big Eva establishment and call out this new subordinationism for what it is: a position seriously out of step with the historic catholic faith and a likely staging post to Arianism. For if this is allowed to continue with official sanction or simply through silent inaction, then the current New Calvinist leadership will have betrayed the next generation in a deep and fundamental way.  Far more so, I might add, than those who allow a talented woman to teach the occasional Sunday school class. 


And when, in thirty years time, Arianism is rampant among young evangelicals and the usual suspects are licensed by the powers-that-be courageously to lament the fact that nobody saw it coming and then to offer sage advice on how to handle it, please remember folks – once again, you heard it here first.  Yes, you did.  You really did.

Posted on Sunday, May 15, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I have always been fascinated by the fact that, when Elijah scores his spectacular victory on Mount Carmel, he almost immediately plunges into depression.  More fascinating, however, is the LORD’s response.  The first thing He does is make sure that Elijah has food and rest.   While Christians have a tendency to spiritualize anything that presents itself in terms of spiritual symptoms, it is clear that God understands that we are embodied creatures.  Spiritual symptoms may actually be the result of physical causes such as exhaustion and hunger.


The Good Book Company (aptly named) has published a little book by my fellow countryman, Christopher Ash, on ministerial burn-out.   I hate to agree with Todd Pruitt, but his rule of thumb on Ash is a sound one: If Ash has written it, it is worth reading.  His works on marriage, on Job, on preaching and now this are all important in their different ways.


In this work, Ash addresses the frequency and the range of ministerial burn out.  It has a range of causes: Sheer exhaustion, bitterness of soul, over-commitment.  As with most problems, there are probably as many unique combinations of causes as there are instances in which burn-out occurs.


It is odd to read a book and see described the warning signs in one’s own life.  I am very fortunate to love my work, to teach students I love teaching, to write for websites in whose missions I believe, to preach to a congregation that is appreciative and friendly to me, and to do a podcast with two individuals who are – well, bearable on the whole (hey, you have to work with what you can get these days….).   The advantage is obvious: It makes work a delight.  The disadvantage is more hard to discern: I have a wife who also needs my time, and I have a mind and a body that need rest and relaxation. 


What shocked me about some of the testimonies of burn-out in this book was how suddenly it had descended.  A pastor goes to bed one night feeling buoyant and strong.  The next day he is mentally incapable of facing work again, a condition which lasts for months.   That is sobering.  It made me take notice.  I keep fit, I love my work, I am not aware of being slowly ground down by it – but when my wife told me recently that I had been, to use her phrase ‘on the go for seventeen days without let up’ I needed to take notice.  Damage can be indiscernible, incremental.  Work can be a form of self-righteousness.  And when one enojys it, it can also be a form of self-indulgence, feeding belief in one's indispensaibility and importance.


Ash is aware of all this -- acutely aware, having suffered his own breakdown a few years ago.  He thus offers seven very simple and basic pointers for pastors and indeed for anybody who is in danger of overworking themselves.  We need sleep.   We need rest.  We need friends.   We need inward renewal.  We need to beware celebrity, because this will distort our time priorities.  We need to understand there can be recovery from burn-out.  And we need to delight in grace and not in our own gifts.


One might summarize all that Ash says under one heading: We are not God.   Our mortal frames and our fallen existence makes us weak – weak in the face of the temptation to turn even our service of God into something of an idol and ourselves into something indispensable for God’s kingdom.  It is surely preferable to be reminded of that by Ash’s book than by having to experience burn-out for ourselves.


As Ash moves through these seven, much of what he says is common-sense.  Thus, when you wake in the middle of the night worrying that you are going to forget to do something, simply make a note of it -- literally write it down in a notebook on yout nightstand -- and then forget about it and go back to sleep.   It is not that Ash says anything profound in these pages.  But he does tell us exactly what we need to do in order to get our priorities right.


I would recommend this book to each and every pastor out there.  In fact, I would recommend it to each and every Christian, for the temptations and problems it highlights in pastoral ministry have their counterparts elsewhere and could be faced by any Christian at any time.  

Posted on Thursday, May 12, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

With human identity now up for grabs and the legal and cultural nastiness surrounding such issues escalating at a disturbing pace, churches need to be prepared for what is coming.


There are three areas, related but distinct, which pastors and church people need to be aware of: the particular reasons why the issues have taken on the form and the cultural significance which they have (yes, we all know sin is responsible – but why this sin at this time in these specific ways?); the pastoral needs of those individuals subject to the kinds of sexual dysfunction being cultivated in the moral imagination of society as a whole; and the immediate and long-term legal ramifications for religious conservatives who object to the new amorality.


Confusion of the first two in particular is lethal.  We must not mistake the sincere agony and lonely battles of the individuals we pastor as they seek to pursue godliness with the political culture that now reigns supreme.  The latter seeks nothing less than total and thoroughgoing conformity to its amorality as a price for membership of civil society, no exceptions allowed.   We cannot be sentimental about the ideology even as we must have compassion with those who fight their temptations every day.  We must also be aware of how fast the law could be changing.  In a week when a CNN poll indicated a majority of Americans opposed to the North Carolina ‘bathroom bill,’ we cannot assume that the plausibility framework for legal decisions will be remotely sympathetic to what – to quote Tony Esolen on the same point for the second time this week – ‘everybody believed the day before yesterday.'


In this context, some may be interested in a conference on June 8 in Bear, Delaware, sponsored by the OPC, where these three topics – the cultural, the legal, and the pastoral -- will be addressed.  Speakers are myself, Randy Beck (Justice Thomas O. Marshall Chair of Constitutional Law, University of Georgia School of Law) and Tim Geiger (Executive Director of Harvest USA).  The subsequent panel discussion will be chaired by Jennifer A Marshall, Vice President for Family, Community, and Opportunity and Fellow of the Heritage Foundation.


On a point of personal reflection, I find myself now in a strange position, reading, writing and speaking more on this topic than on that which I was trained to do -- sixteenth and seventeenth century history.  But historical analysis is a transferable skill, to use the jargon, and these are strange times. The question, ‘If not us, then who?’ is also powerful when we face such potent socially and morally lethal developments. 


It reminds me of a scene in one of my favourite films, Zulu, both for the humanly-speaking incalculable odds against us winning and for the way the permanent sexual revolution has made some of us change tack in mid-life to meet the needs of the day, a change forced upon us and not really chosen.


After the bloody battle between the massed army of the Zulu nation and the handful of British troops under siege in the mission station at Rorke’s Drift, Michael Caine’s character, Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, turns to Lieutenant Chard, played by Stanley Baker:


Bromhead: There's something else. I feel ashamed. Was that how it was for you? The first time?


Chard: The first time? You think I could stand this butcher's yard more than once.


Bromhead: I didn't know.


Chard: I came up here to build a bridge.


It turns out Chard was just what he said he was -- an engineer with no previous battle experience and no desire for any.


When it comes to surveying the carnage in this battle for human identity, I came up here to teach church history.


Posted on Friday, May 06, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

This just in from our Geordie critic.  Notice there is no reference to the Reg Dwight problem, though I am prepared to concede the last point.  Indeed this video proves both Knopfler's guitar pre-eminence and DS's complete lack of cool.  I mean -- those dance moves???? 





With respect to my churchpersonship (apologies for previous PC error), a fleet of aquatic pachyderms is on its way to you bearing the complete set of the Feline edition of the Works of St Tomass Akwineass (financed by Molesworth Lyns Ltd).


For your edification, all people in our North East are cool, especially guitarists and ukulele players.  Even the monastery whippet rarely ventures out of his shed before the middle of June in case he catches pneumonia.
And regretfully we have to venture the opinion that anyone who thinks that the guitar solo in ‘Telegraph Road’ is as good as that in 'Sultans of Swing' doesn’t know his Calvin from his Cocceius.
Yours gibberlingly,
Hierotwerp Mikhailovitch
Monastery of the Spotted Haddock
Fish Quay
North Shields
Feast of St Craster the Kipperer
Posted on Thursday, May 05, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The indefatigable Rachel Miller is telling another tale. Or is it the same one?   I'm losing count at this point. Given the scale of the evidence (once again) one wonders what some people have to do to lose credibility in the Christian world.  But it is the Year of the Donald, I guess -- though it's a bad sign for society as a whole when the politicians are as teflon-coated as the church leaders.


In the meantime, as I look at the sheer quantity of the evidence, I keep thinking of that comment made by Mary McCarthy about Lillian Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."


Oh, and here is a movie some of the True Believers might find helpful in the circumstances.

Posted on Thursday, May 05, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Dear Carl,

Many thanks for your recent article on this book which I read a little while ago.  Although I am of a different churchmanship [CRT: there is only one churchmanship; if you are of a different one....] and am unacquainted with some of the background, this is indeed a very sad book. [CRT –- I agree.]

However (and turning from the serious issues), I was cheered to see the album cover of The Animals. [CRT – I thought you said you were turning from the serious issues?  Are we talking about the same band here? I mean THE Eric Burdon, THE Alan Price, THE Animals]. Living in Newcastle during that era was definitely a pop music experience. [CRT: I'm glad you think being located in Newcastle with a heartbeat can be described as 'living'.  I can think of other, more accurate,  words for it].  A classmate lived round the corner from one of The Animals [CRT: We are not worthy!  The Alan Price organ break in 'House of the Rising Sun' -- 1' 48" mark -- is one of the greatest moments in pop music].  A master at the school had previously taught at a school Hank Marvin attended, [CRT: Hey, I went to the same school as one of the cellists in ELO.  Not, I should stress, Violinski – that is a vicious rumour being put around by the Top Men to destroy my credibility] and that master gave Hank his first stringed instrument, or so the story went. [CRT: For which we can all be grateful.  Now, you don’t happen to know who gave Reg Dwight his first piano, do you?  I’d like a word with that particular do-gooder….] And when I first played the guitar in public (ghastly), people occasionally enquired whether I had seen the Knopfler brothers.  I used to ask 'Who are they?' [CRT: And you claim to be a Tynesider?]- now we know! [CRT: Indeed.  DS was the most uncool but manificent band in the world.  Telegraph Road contains, in my humble West Countryman's opinion, one of the few truly great guitar solos.]

All the best,  [CRT:Likewise, my Geordie friend!]

Posted on Wednesday, May 04, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

A friend brought my attention to this first-hand account, given in a review of David Randall's book and describing events which Randall himself recounts, of the way in which the 'not a hill to die on' strategy proved so disastrous in the Church of Scotland.  It is a sobering reminder that lack of both discernment and organization can prove fatal in the long run. 


"Essentially they were pietistic congregationalists who had a defective doctrine of the wider church and the biblical basis of Presbyterianism."   That quotation says it all.