Posted on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I am glad to see that Dr. Albert Mohler has entered the discussion of the Trinity and Nicene orthodoxy with a firm but measured and gracious piece on his blog.


Again, though, I believe some friendly clarifications are in order by way of response, in the hope that these will help focus and shape future discussion in a productive and amicable manner.


First, the debate is really not about Nicaea 325.  It is about the Nicene Creed as agreed at Constantinople in 381.  Thus, as I (and others) have noted before, the issues of inseparable operations and eternal generation are key to understanding whether one’s position is within or without the bounds of Nicene orthodoxy.   


Second, as to motivation, I cannot speak for all involved in the discussion but I myself have no desire to damage evangelicalism or to assert egalitarianism.  I simply want to know the precise status of Nicene orthodoxy in the American evangelical world – surely a reasonable question, given evangelical claims to represent historic Christianity – and, as a pastor, to counter the bad practical consequences of bad theology.  No more, no less.


Third, Dr. Mohler mentions specifically the allegation that Drs. Grudem and Ware are not Nicene and dismisses such a claim as nonsense.  That is a bold statement, particularly given the intervention of Lewis Ayres on the issue.  But rather than appear adversarial at this point, let me close by quoting an evaluative description of the theological positions of these professors from a book co-edited by Professor Ware and thus, I would submit, neither an especially hostile witness, nor likely to be an egregious and nonsensical misrepresentation of their views.  It is from the article by Kyle Claunch in the collection of essays, One God in Three Persons, edited by John Starke and Bruce Ware (pp.88-89, the bold font emphasis is mine):




"One often overlooked feature of such a proposal [on eternal submission of Son to Father as articulated by Grudem and Ware] is that this understanding of the eternal relationship between Father and Son seems to entail a commitment to three distinct wills in the immanent Trinity.  In order for the Son to submit willingly to the will of the Father, the two must possess distinct wills.  This way of understanding the immanent Trinity does run counter to the pro-Nicene tradition, as well as the medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation Reformed traditions that grew from it.  According to traditional Trinitarian theology, the will is predicated of the one undivided essence so that there is only one divine will in the immanent Trinity.



"By arguing for eternal authority and submission in the Godhead, Ware, Grudem, and others are not abandoning all traditional Trinitarian categories.  Rather, drawing on the distinction between the one divine essence and the three divine persons (a distinction that is basic to Trinitarian orthodoxy from its earliest mature expressions), they are making a conscious and informed choice to conceive of will as a property of person rather than essence.  The model of a three-willed Trinity then provides the basis for the conviction that structures of authority and submission actually serve as one of the means of differentiating the divine persons."

Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I do not have the time to respond to all of Dr. Grudem’s Ref21 post.  His use of the sources is critiqued in detail elsewhere.  But as I am named in his piece, some remarks are in order.


There are a few strange moments.  For example, Grudem quotes Bruce Ware in support of his position.  Now, given the fact one of Goligher’s charges is that Grudem and Ware are both wrong on the Trinity, then it is surely no cogent counter argument to claim that ‘No, we must be correct because we agree with each other.’   


Grudem also makes a key statement about eternal generation which deserves attention:


‘But just what is meant by "eternal generation"? In what they have written, I cannot discover what they mean. To substitute the words "paternity" and "filiation" provides some Latinized terminology but those terms simply mean "existing as a father" and "existing as a son," which tells us nothing more. Quite honestly, I find it impossible to say whether or not I agree with "eternal generation" until someone explains, in ordinary English, what he means by it (not just what it does not mean). (If "eternal generation" simply means "an eternal Father-Son relationship," then I am happy to affirm it.)’



What can I say in response?  Well, many Christians struggle with the idea.  It is technical and to understand it requires some technical knowledge. But it is one thing as an ordinary Christian to have questions about this and quite another to redefine or reject it as someone who aspires to teach the church as whole on this point.  It is that which makes this comment of more moment and concern.  The creedal tradition is of course corrigible in light of scripture; but one must first understand that tradition in its fulness and its depth before one declares it to be inadequate or wrong or irrelevant or confusing.



First, a good explanation in ‘ordinary English’ can be found in the translation of Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics II, pp. 308-10.   Bear in mind, however, that this is merely a distillation of the church’s teaching through the ages and no substitute for reading more deeply on the subject.



Second, to take ‘eternal generation’ as meaning simply ‘existing as a father’ and ‘existing as a son’ would be an error.  Such a view of generation is not even true of the created order.  To say that my sons came from me by way of generation is not merely to say that I exist as their father and they exist as my sons; it is to make a causal connection.   Nor by way of analogy is it true of the Father and Son in eternity.  Grudem is confusing a relation for a cause. 


Further, for Grudem to claim eternal generation is not defined requires him to ignore the history of the concept’s development in the third and fourth centuries and flies in the face of the testimony of the church and of the large literature on this topic since then. Again, it is incumbent on a teacher in the church, if he chooses to reject church teaching, to do so from a position of knowledge.  I refer the interested reader to the Cappadocians, the medieval scholastics, the Reformers, and the great theologians of the seventeenth century; and also to the scholarly works of such as Lewis Ayres, Steve Holmes, Gilles Emery, and Richard Muller on the history of Trinitarianism, and Kevin Giles (as endorsed by Robert Letham, of whom Grudem approves) on eternal generation.  These should more than adequately compensate for this deficiency in the recent interventions of Goligher and myself on the matters of eternal generation, paternity and filiation. 



And this brings me to a very basic but very important hermeneutical point which I emphasize to my students again and again: theological texts have contexts, synchronic and diachronic, and these contexts are critical to understanding their meaning.   


Perhaps this is nowhere more true than in discussions of the Trinity.   Indeed, of all theological topics, the Trinity has involved the development of the most specialized and finely-tooled conceptual vocabulary over extended periods of time.  The result is that it is very hard indeed to pull out isolated sound-bite quotations, slap them down on the page, and really have any idea what the authors are actually saying.  Where Trinitarianism is concerned, the doctrine simply cannot be tweeted with any hope of success, despite recent efforts to the contrary.   


Here’s an example I sometimes use in class: if one reads Tertullian on divine substance, directly connects this to later discussions of substance in the Middle Ages, and thereby assumes that he was orthodox on the issue by the standards of later years, one would be wrong.  Substance for Tertullian had a profoundly material aspect.  The same need for understanding terms in context applies to the word hypostasis – in 325 one was anathematized for holding to three hypostases, in 381 for not holding to three.  The reason?  The word underwent a fundamental change of meaning in the middle of the fourth century, a change crucial to understanding why the church uses the language she does.


Therefore, simply throwing out a handful of quotations from a small number of albeit respected theologians may have a certain rhetorical power but it is of no real use in clarifying the matters at hand. Whether all or some or none of them support Grudem, we cannot tell simply from the quotations.  After all, that which he quotes from Jonathan Edwards seems as it stands to say the exact opposite of what Grudem claims.   We need context – diachronic and synchronic – to understand what is being said in each case. Again, Hodge’s use of the language of subordination surely needs to be understood against the background of Turretin, whose Institutes was the textbook from which Hodge both learned and later taught theology.  His background – theological and linguistic -- was not that which Grudem blithely reads back into him.  To repeat: the Trinity cannot be tweeted.  


And just to return to where I started. Let us all reflect for a moment on the dramatic significance of Grudem’s claim about eternal generation.  What he is saying is that the church catholic has for over 1600 years been affirming theologically and liturgically, as the key ecumenical summary of its faith, a document – the Nicene Creed – which in one of its core and defining assertions is superfluous or virtually meaningless or confused (or a wax nose which means whatever any Christian chooses).  That is surely far more audacious than disagreeing with a selective concatenation of decontextualized quotations from Charles Ryrie and a few other evangelical luminaries.


It also brings me back to the point of my very first post: whatever else Dr. Grudem is advocating and however sincere his motives may be (which I do not question), it is not Nicene Trinitarianism.

Posted on Thursday, June 16, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Carlton Wynne, my neighbor in the Bowels of the Earth at Westminster, ST prof, and stalwart of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, offers some thoughts on the Trinity while I head off briefly to Ref21 to address LGBTQ matters.


Properly identifying the God of Scripture and his relationship to issues of male-female complementarity in marital, ecclesiastical or broader cultural contexts requires exegetical sensitivity and prolonged reflection on historic, orthodox trinitarianism. I do not intend to engage in either of those tasks here.

Instead, I hope to address, albeit indirectly, the specific question of whether “submission” (or “subordination”) properly characterizes relations among the persons of the Trinity and, if so, in what sense. To that end, I offer a common trinitarian distinction and a feature of Reformed federalism.

The distinction is between (a) the necessary and incommunicable personal properties that belong to the persons of the so-called “immanent” Trinity individually (namely, the Father’s paternity, the Son’s filiation, and the Spirit’s procession) and (b) the voluntarily willed missions that characterize intratrinitarian relations of the so-called “economic” Trinity (namely, the Son’s being sent by the Father and the Spirit’s being given by the Father and the Son in redemptive history).

Traditionally, in the Western church, the personal properties of the persons are said to be irreversibly “ordered,” constituted by the Son’s proceeding from (and, occasionally, confusingly, and in that limited sense, “subordinate” to) the Father, and the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father and the Son. But this order (taxis) does not denote the kind of authority and obedient submission one finds among the missions of the Son and the Spirit in redemptive history.

The feature of Reformed federalism is the added fact that the missions of the Son and the Spirit in the covenant of grace are rooted in an antecedent, eternal and intratrinitarian covenant (pactum). In this “counsel of peace,” or covenant of redemption (pactum salutis), the Father, Son, and Spirit relate to one another as distinct willing agents in a way that does not contravene the single, simple will that they are as God and the Author of all divine works ad extra: the exhaustively divine Son, as Son, voluntarily wills to subject himself to the Father in order that he might merit and administer salvation to the elect, to the glory of the Father (cf. John 4:34; Gal 4:4; Heb 10:5–7); and the exhaustively divine Father, as Father, voluntarily promises to send and equip the Son in and with the exhaustively divine Spirit (cf. John 6:38, 10:36, 17:4; Acts 2:33). The “economic” relations among the persons established by this covenant are distinct from the personal properties of the immanent Trinity, and yet these same relations never began in time. They are as timeless as the covenant of redemption of which they are a piece.

Therefore, even though the irreversible order (taxis) of the persons, as they are distinguished by their individual personal properties, does not denote the authority and submission to the Father that one finds in the missions of the Son and the Spirit in redemptive history, there has, nonetheless, at least from the perspective of the covenant of redemption, always been authority and submission in the Trinity. This trinitarian matrix should give pause to those who reject any and all submission of the pre-incarnate Son to the Father, even by way of an eternal covenantal appointment, on the grounds that it allegedly denies the simple will of God; likewise, it should lead those who affirm the pre-incarnate Son’s submission to the Father to do so in terms of God’s voluntary decree alone.   

The point is this: it is important, when venturing to affirm or deny “submission” (or “subordination”) in the Trinity, to identify whether one is referring to (a) the eternal and necessary personal properties of the triune persons, on the one hand, or (b) the distinct and voluntary missions which those same divine persons agreed pretemporally to undertake by virtue of the covenant of redemption. When this is done, one is in a good position to discuss further how one understands each side of the distinction, as well as how the two sides relate to one another.  

Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

UPDATE: Professor Denny Burk (with whom I have always previously enjoyed a cordial relationship and who is a brother in Christ, whatever our disagreements on this issue) has contacted me to offer to delete the relevant Twitter discussion and to assure me that he in no way meant to call into question my integrity.    I am very grateful to Denny for this clarification.  I leave the original post as is because I am aware that others have raised the same concerns but ask that it be read in the context of his contact with me.


This morning I was alerted to a Twitter thread involving Professor Denny Burk and others which speculated that my motivation for raising the Trinitarian issue was driven by some kind of incipient feminism or desire to justify women elders or women teaching in the church.  I do not usually respond to such speculative personal criticism and have no time for Twitter as a serious medium for discussion, but as Dr Burk is a man of some stature in the evangelical world and as this exchange calls into question my integrity with regard to my ordination vows, I consider it appropriate to offer a brief reply.  



1.     I am not motivated by any ecclesiological, let alone feminist, purpose.  I am motivated by a desire to see bad teaching corrected so that both this generation and future generations will be saved from some of the erroneous positions of the past.



2.     Even if I were secretly motivated as claimed, then that would merely speak to my flawed character, not to any flaw in my argument.  



3.     My basic point remains: if you argue for EFS and/or reject (or even regard as negotiable) eternal generation, then you stand outside the bounds of the historic Nicene Christian faith as set forth at Constantinople in 381 and held thereafter by the church catholic. I understand that many hold these views sincerely, without realizing the historical/theological/creedal implications; but my point has been confirmed by both Michel Barnes and Lewis Ayres.  The argument on that issue really is now closed, which may – if I might speculate a little myself -- explain why the polemic has now apparently moved in some quarters to character and motivation. 



When I was an undergraduate, my Ancient History professor once told the class that there were three ways to respond when your argument had been shown to be wrong.  The best was to concede the point in public and humbly change one’s mind.  The second best was simply to keep silent.  Not so humble as the first but at least the damage was limited.   The third option – and the one he said nobody should ever take – was to keep tenaciously clinging to the position which had been refuted. 



Complementarianism as currently constructed would seem to be now in crisis.  But this is a crisis of its own making -- the direct result of the incorrect historical and theological arguments upon which the foremost advocates of the movement have chosen to build their case and which cannot actually bear the weight being placed upon them.  And I speak for the whole MoS Team – and many others who have written to me over this past week -- when I say that Protestant evangelicalism can only really gain if it embraces the full riches of the historic Nicene Trinitarian Faith.



All Liam Goligher and I did was pull on a rope.  The next thing we knew, the whole ceiling came crashing down around us.   If that tells you anything at all, it is surely something about how well the ceiling was constructed in the first place.


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.