Posted on Monday, November 30, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Paul Helm dropped me a note to comment that, although it is true that we live in a world which fears exclusion, there are still many socially acceptable voluntary organization which do exclude people: political parties, for example.

This is a good point.   I would respond by saying that a full account of the unacceptability of church discipline, theological and ethical, in today’s society would clearly need to take into account not simply the fact that it involves exclusion but also the specific reasons for such. In the eyes of the world, for example  discipline for adultery or for denial of the resurrection would seem to be self-righteously countercultural in the first instance and somewhat pedantic in the second.  

Further, the traditional image of the church and much of the rhetoric of the church is that of inclusion. Come all you who are burdened etc.   Thus, there is a dramatic dissonance between the public perception of what the church seems to be saying she is and what, by excluding certain types of people, she actually is. 

Finally, we might add that the failure over many generations of the church to implement proper discipline has left even those within the visible church somewhat confused as to who she is, what she should believe and what behaviors she should tolerate.    When the question, Who owns the church? (or more likely, Who owns this particular congregation/denomination?) has been made practically unclear over time, then the general cultural fear of excluding people combines with dissonant rhetoric and ecclesiastical chaos to create significant unpleasantness and further confusion.

Posted on Monday, November 30, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The third area where Machen anticipates the kind of dilemmas now faced by the contemporary church is in the matter of discipline.  In a post-Freudian, post-Foucaultian world, the very notion of discipline sounds repressive and abusive, yet Machen clearly understood that this is vital for a healthy church.

Machen grasped the basic Pauline point that the primary area of combat for the church is the church itself.   Writing in the midst of the Roman empire, Paul has almost nothing to say about the empire; instead, he focuses his attention on the doctrine and discipline of the church.  The war will be against those who have an appearance of godliness, yet who deny its power.  

Sound teaching and sound behavior are thus the two focal points of Paul’s thinking regarding the church.  It is arguable that the church, at least the conservative Protestant church, has generally done a better job of promoting the former than the latter.

Thus, in his own day Machen stated the following in Christianity and Liberalism:

The greatest menace to the Christian Church today comes not from the enemies outside, but from the enemies within; it comes from the presence within the church of a type of faith and practice that is anti-Christian to the core.

There is no doubt that Machen was thinking here primarily of liberal theology and the way in which the church had allowed its exponents into the ministry and onto the mission field.  Yet notice that he cites not only faith but also practice.   The principle to which he points – the sheer lack of discipline – is surely an essential component of our current situation.  It is also one for which conservatives need to take proper responsibility.   Many churches have done a decent enough job of maintaining an orthodox confession of faith on paper; but practice has undone them.  The battle against liberalism has been generally conceived of as a doctrinal struggle.  And so it is.  But in the current climate, the connection between doctrine and ethics is critical; and practical failures are proving lethal.

It is very clear that the ethical practices – or lack thereof – of the church has fundamentally weakened her testimony not only externally before the world but internally before congregations.  The Roman Catholic child abuse scandal has shattered her testimony on matters of sexual ethics.  Many of the best writers on sexual ethics and identity are Roman Catholics but their crediblity in the wider world is undone by the past behaviour of their church.

Yet conservative Protestants should not think that they are really in a any better position.  The easy evangelical acceptance of no-fault divorce and other unbiblical criteria for the dissolution of marriages, as well as (anecdotally) frequent failure to hold adulterers, spousal abusers and the like to account, has left her compromised with regard to maintaining the idea that marriage should be for life and between one man and one woman.  Marriage was not redefined in 2015.  It was redefined the moment that Christians decided to accept the legitimacy of no-fault divorce and thus turned marriage into a temporary contract of convenience rather than a lifetime covenant to be broken only under the most extreme conditions.  Every time an unrepentant adulterer takes communion, every time a session or an elder board lack the courage to stand up to those who have violated the marriage covenant, then they witness to the church's redefinition (and thus rejection) of the Bible's teaching on marriage.

We might express the issue this way.  A church’s creed, what she actually believes, is embodied in the range of beliefs which she allows to be expressed from her pulpits and  a church’s ethics are embodied in the range of behaviours in which she allows her members to engage.  Failure to make the official paper standards of confessional orthodoxy into the actual practical standards of belief and practice in the church is lethal.

Two subsidiary points are important here.   First, Machen’s chapter in Christianity and Liberalism on the church is also an implicit polemic against broad-based, minimal creed orthodox churches.  The historic confessions were elaborate and they were elaborate for a reason: in institutional practice, Christian orthodoxy contained a certain level of ineradicable complexity such that, if this was lost, the institutional maintenance of orthodoxy would be nigh on impossible.  The doctrine of, say, the Lord’s Supper, stands in positive connection to a network of other doctrines.  To change one often requires modifications of others.

The modern age showed a remarkable distaste for the precision and elaborate nature of traditional confessions.  This connects to the aesthetics of our age.  The repudiation, for example, of scholastic theology was as much the result of a dislike of the kind of objective doctrinal elaboration which scholasticism represented as it was of any deficiency found in scholastic systems.  This is a pity, as precise definitions often allow charitable nuance between differing positions.  Take, for example, that between heresy (something which if consistently and persistently maintained denies the gospel) and error (something which merely represents some aspect of biblical teaching in a faulty way but which does not contradict the gospel).  Deny this scholastic distinction and one has no choice but to characterize those with whom one disagrees on almost any point, however minor, as being always heretical.

Practically, we might also note that an institution such as Princeton Theological Seminary was not undone so much by direct liberalism as by the piety of a tolerant orthodoxy which manifested itself in precisely the kind of practical laxity relative to precision and complexity to which I have alluded above.  In my experience, churches, institutions and organizations do not go bad because of coups by liberals.  They go bad because otherwise orthodox people sit on their hands – hands of whose cleanness they are always so very proud, yet hands which are clean only because others have dirtied theirs by taking the tough decisions and putting their careers and reputations on the line.  The spineless orthodox sleep safe at night only because the very people they so often despise have first made the ecclesiastical and institutional streets safe for women and children.

Second, Machen’s argument points to the failure to connect the church as institution to the church as confessional body which is itself the function of a suspicion of traditional institutions.   In an era where, to use Rieff’s taxonomy, we see the rise of psychological man and thus the downgrade of forms of external authority, it is inevitable that institutions become increasingly implausible to the extent that they represent external authority rather than means of individual self-realization.  In short, the decline in church authority is simply the institutional manifestation of the general decline in forms of external authority in our society.

In Machen’s day, these two combined to create a situation where there was a deep fear of excluding anyone from the church, even those who had ceased to believe in her confessional standards.  And if that fear of exclusion and dislike of dogmatism was pungent in Machen’s day, then today, in the wake of the Holocaust, the Balkan crisis etc., the cultural fear of exclusion has become all pervasive.  Combined again with the psychologizing of identity and thus the location of oppression in the psychological realm, this has placed confessional Christianity in a beleaguered position, both culturally and institutionally.  Yet exclude we must, at local and denominational levels, for if we fail to draw practical and doctrinal boundaries, then we abolish doctrinal and moral boundaries and thereby abolish Christianity.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I recently had the pleasure of doing a double act with my old friend, Bruce Gordon, of Yale Divinity School, at the launch of the new journal, Unio cum Christo.  Bruce's lecture (on Calvin and Bullinger) and mine on Benito Mussolini's little known biography of the Bohemian reformer, John Huss, are both available here.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

On Monday, I offered some reflections on Machen's analysis of liberalism in terms of Philip Rieff's arguments about the rise of psychological man.  Another theme in Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism is liberalism’s functional abandonment of history as a source of any authority.  This is again quite consistent with the Romantic/psychologizing trajectory of the modern age, for history too is a kind of external authority.  Where once history and tradition might have been seen as liberating, as giving an identity to people and thus a place from which to engage the world, history is now seen more as something oppressive, something to be overcome, if we are ever to be our true selves.   Indeed, Karl Marx captured the attitude of the modern world quite brilliantly at the start of his 1852 essay, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:

Men make their own history, but they do not make the history that they choose; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

That history is a nightmare is surely one of the defining convictions of this present age.  Yet this was not the position of Machen and this is a vital part  of his rejection of liberalism.

Now, while he dealt with doctrine in a specific chapter, this theme is not singled out in such a way but rather pervades much of what he says on other topics.  Thus, for example, throughout the book it is the fact that Jesus Christ actually happened, was an historical person, really did live, die, and rise again, that underpins the truth value of doctrinal formulations.  To reject the authority of history is thus to engage in a form of Docetism.  It is also to reject the authority of doctrine or to turn doctrine into the psychological constructs which undergird liberalism and make Christinaity into nothing more than a religion of sentiment and feeling.  As Machen eloquently expresses it:

From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened.  And from the beginning, the meaning of that happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine.  ‘Christ died’ – that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’ – that is doctrine.  Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

History therefore has authority, external authority, which makes demands upon the present.

Machen’s concern for history, however, is broader than just the biblical story and its importance for doctrine.   Because he held to a high view of the church as an institution, and of her offices, officers and confessions, history was inevitably of vital importance to the particularities of Christian belief and practice in the present.

Thus, the history of confessional and denominational divisions also carries an authority for him.  This is not because he thinks divisions are in and of themselves a good thing.  Far from it.  He regards them as in one sense disastrous.  Indeed, the failure of Luther and Zwingli to agree at Marburg was a catastrophe.  Yet he does not regard it as being as catastrophic as a doctrinal indifferentism that would simply ignore or minimize the differences that exist between, say, Reformed and Lutheran or Calvinist and Arminian.  Such divisions are to be taken seriously because they represent disagreement on substanive issues. One of the things we can learn from church history is therefore what is and is not of critical importance.

The same can be said for Machen’s respect for creeds and confessions and for the church as an institution.   While he is a good Protestant and thus gives no ultimate authority to such things, yet he clearly has huge respect for historical tradition.  And that is because he acknowledges that history possesses authority of a sort.   We are who we are, we worship and speak as we do, because we inherit the language and the liturgies of previous generations.  History gives us our place to stand as Christians in the present.

Again, we can now turn to Philip Rieff and see that Machen’s particular point about Christianity finds a more general expression in his writings on culture.  One of the inevitable concomitants of psychological man is his repudiation of history.  History, after all, along with its concomitants – law codes, institutions, traditions etc. – is an obvious form of external authority which hinders self-realization and authenticity.   In a posthumously published work, My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority, Rieff writes of what he calls ‘the coming barbarism', describing it as a radical severing of the present from the past in order to repudiate any authority which the latter may possess.   To quote him at length:

Cultures are constituted by the union of the living and the dead in rituals of living memory.  Never before, in our late second world, has the authority of the past been sacrificed with a more conscious effort of forgetfulness.  Forgetfulness is now the curricular form of our higher education.  This form guarantess that we, of the transition from second to third worlds, will become the first barbarians.  Barbarism is not an expression of simple technologies or of mysterious taboos; at least there were taboos and, moreover, in all first worlds, the immense authority of the past.  By contrast, the coming barbarism, much of it here and now, not least to be found among our most cultivated classes, is our ruthless forgetting of the authority of the past. [MLATDW, 106]

The specific example Rieff then goes on to highlight is that of abortion.  To borrow his language, abortion is the flushing away of human identities down the memory hole. It is not just the slaughter of a person.  It is the eradication of history.

We can see how this principle applies to recent marriage debates.  That gay marriage is historically unprecedented in an absolute sense has ultimately carried no weight whatsoever in the interpretation of the Constitution.  Of course, we must acknowledge that lack of historical precedent should not be an absolutely decisive factor in legal judgments; but that such now carry so little weight compared to the tastes and predilections of the present moment is a stunning and significant cultural development. History as history carries no positive authority at all.  Our culture is such that precedents, legal, moral, social, must all fall before the devices and desires of those who would make us no more than the sum of our present pleasures and personal satisfactions.

The idea that history is oppressive is deep in our culture and it is part of the essential Gnosticism of the postmodern world.   And Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism is undergirded by the belief that theological liberalism is itself a species of such anti-historical sentiment, both in its rejection of the connection of history to doctrine and in its lack of concern for the historic testimony of the church throughout the ages. 

Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

On the back of Todd's post yesterday, about Steven Furtick and the Southern Baptist Convention, there comes this from his friend, Perry Noble

In his essay on the Brumaire coup, Karl Marx quotes Hegel as saying that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  I wonder if the heroic battles fought by a previous generation of SBC leaders over biblical authority will now be squandered by the current generation. They made the ecclesiastical streets safe for... silliness? Perhaps they won the battle for the Bible only to lose the war over trivia.  We have most certainly moved from tragedy to farce.  The question is: Will anyone do anything about it?

Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As Aimee pointed out yesterday, the LORD does act on occasion to teach us a lesson and my confidence that having only biological sons would protect me from having to be in touch with my more tender emotions has proved ill-founded.  Of course, the great thing about being in the OPC is that the only emotions I have really needed to exercise are anger and righteous indignation. The ideal denomination for one such as myself. Yet by grace, the Mad Woman has indeed made me a better person.

Still, the basics of the dating game are fairly simple: Yes, one day, my "son", you may sit by my adopted daughter on the couch.   When is that day?  Well, why not pitch for the tenth anniversary of my death, assuming you live that long -- which on current odds seems somewhat unlikely.  That would seem a mutually acceptable time, I think.

In the interim, I take Cromwell's advice to heart: I'll trust in God -- but, trust me, I keep my powder dry.  Very dry.

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

To begin with a question: What would Gresham Machen think of the current state of the union with regard to sexual ethics and the connection between these and the increasing pressure on religious freedom?  I suspect he would be shocked by the particularities of the case, that the most private of human activities has become the most pressing public issue of the day and the single biggest factor in the challenge to religious freedom in the United States.  Yet he would also surely roll his eyes, for recent changes in America do little more than confirm his belief that the church is a body of pilgrim people, never truly at home in this world prior to the consummation of all things at the end of time.

So far so prosaic and predictable.  The world is going to dogs and, if the church ties herself too closely to it, then she will go to the dogs too.  Everybody knows that all pessimistic Presbyterians – particularly English Presbyterians – hold to some version or other of this basic narrative.  Today it is obvious that conservative Christians placed too much confidence in conservative politics to further their ambitions and now there is a price to pay.  Thus, we are experiencing a kind of spiritual market correction which is exposing not only our latent political weakness but also the fact that the historical norm in America – the cultural dominance of Christianity – is actually to be understood as the theological exception.  The Bible gives no hint that such dominance is ever to be expected or taken for granted by the church.   None of this would have surprised Machen, as can easily be demonstrated in a careful reading of his works, not least Christianity and Liberalism.

Yet, while 'He told you so!' and 'O tempora, o mores!' may well be somehwat self-satisfying responses, there is surely a more interesting question to ask here: To what extent do we find in Machen’s analysis in Christianity and Liberalism an anticipation of the forces which have served to bring about the current chaos in society?  This question is both more challenging and, I believe, more instructive in thinking about a way forward.  Thus, in this brief paper, published here in four parts, I want to highlight a number of interconnected areas where Machen’s analysis of liberalism is relevant to the contemporary world. 

Doctrine versus Feeling

The first area of interest is the point which underlines much of Machen’s analysis in Christianity and Liberalism and that is that Christianity is a religion of dogmatic assertion, while liberalism is a religion of sentiment or feeling.  Machen summarizes it this way:

[I]f any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message.  It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts.  In other words it was based on doctrine.

In speaking of Christian liberalism in this way, we might say that Machen was addressing the specific Christian form of the slow but steady changes in the idea of truth which had most recently drawn much of its impetus from nineteenth-century Romanticism and which, in the twentieth century, was rapidly appropriating the language and ideas of psychology.  The notion that doctrine was essentially an expression of the religious self-consciousness, whether of individual or community, was part of a wider phenomenon.  It represented the appropriation of the Christian idiom for the articulation of an increasingly psychologized understanding of reality.

At this point, the thinking of modern psychological sociologist, Philip Rieff, is a fruitful source of reflection.  Rieff famously saw history as involving a series of changes in the understanding of human beings.  Political man, who found his meaning in the life of the classical polis, gave way to religious man who found his meaning in the religious rites and structures of the  Middle Ages.  Religious man then gave way to economic man, who understood life’s meaning as intimately connected to economic relations of production and exchange. This economic man was, in fact, something of a transitional phase, bridging the way to the Last Man.  The Last Man was psychological man.  

Psychological man was a category he first introduced in the final chapter of his book Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, and which he then went on to describe in great detail in The Triumph of the Therapeutic.  One of the primary characteristics of psychological man, and the culture which he represented, was the repudiation of any notion that external authority might be a means of liberating that which is internal, subjective and, to use modern parlance, truly ‘authentic.’   Indeed, Rieff described the personality of this modernity in the following way:

The systematic hunting down of all settled convictions represents the anti-cultural predicate upon which modern personality is being reorganized.

As an example of this, we might point to prevalent attitudes to transgenderism which is the species du jour of the repudiation of external authority.  In its radical separation of sex from gender, it repudiates the authority of social conventions and of sexual physiology in order to set the psychological forth as the only ultimate authority which cannot be subject to any other.

My grandfather, for example, would not have had the categories which would have enabled him to understand the phrase, ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.’   The idea that such a psychological conviction might override a physical reality would have been bizarre to him.  Indeed, had he heard such a statement, he would have assumed that it was the brain, not the body, which was dysfunctional.   In the world of psychological man, however, where the will determines the reality, then such a statement becomes authoritative and unchallengeable.   To constrain such a will by external means is not to liberate but to oppress, for the inner psychological life is where truth and authenticity are to be found.

What is interesting is that Machen’s particular theological point regarding doctrine and Rieff’s general sociological point regarding culture are two aspects of the same basic phenomenon, the rejection of external authority and of anything external as being fundamentally definitive of what it means to be human.  To be human for Machen is to understand oneself in terms of revealed biblical categories that exist independently of the individual and which, in a very deep sense, refuse to acknowledge the particularities of the individual as being of ultimate significance.  It is not who I think or feel that I am that makes me who I am.  It is what God says I am that makes me who I am.  And that judgment is external to me and independent of me.  Doctrine is not a communal language for expressing my individual identity.  

The current anarchy of identity in our culture – indeed, the current anarchy of identity which defines our culture – is predicated on precisely what Rieff claims: a radical voluntarism underpinning a form of nominalism which is rooted in making psychology – feelings and sentiments – the basis for truth.  And that is precisely what Machen identified in the liberalism of the churches of his day.

Posted on Thursday, November 19, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

This week, Team Spin gatecrashed the ETS annual conference at Atlanta where we did some interviews and I sat on two panels, one for the Colson Center, on Christianity and culture, and one for President Al Mohler, on Christianity after the sexual revolution.  Odd places for someone whose only academic qualifications relate to the reception of Luther's writings in the English Reformation, but strange times breed strange callings.

Anyway, Todd, Aimee, myself, and the ever-present Mad Woman in the Attic, interviewed Tom Schreiner, John McLean, Scott Manetsch, and Kelly Kapic.  And, most exciting of all, we did this in the no-expense-spared, Big Eva professional standard, legendary Studio 832, aka, the twin bedded room where I was sleeping, temporarily fitted out with four mics, not enough chairs, limited wireless connectivity, and two hand-sized digital recorders. The Mad Woman, a Covenant grad, even makes a cameo appearance on the Kapicast. All we lacked was a couple of bottles of bourbon and permission from the Front Desk to chain smoke, and the environment really would have been as 'sketchy' as a very nervous looking Kelly K claimed it to be.

My paper, 'On Reading Machen's Christianity and Liberalism after Obergefell versus Hodges,' will be published on this blog in four parts over the next two weeks, beginning on Monday.


Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

One of the strangest aspects of American Christian culture to a foreigner like myself is the popularity of dispensationalism.  There are probably many reasons for the large numbers of supporters this system commands in the New World but high among them is surely the role of the Scofield Reference Bible.   There is, after all, a psychological aspect to the book: the notes are printed on the same page as the biblical text, which thereby gives them an (almost) inspired authority, at least from the point of view of the reader.

It is one reason that I have become gradually less and less keen on Study Bibles.  King James I was right when he knew that the Geneva Bible's marginal note on Exodus 1, justifying the deception of the Hebrew midwives, was profoundly seditious.  A tough exegetical issue was rendered simple by the editor and the rest, as they say, was history.  Or radical Presbyterian history, at least.   The visual impact of the aesthetics and arrangement of the page does have theological significance, for it can capture the imagination of the reader in unhelpful and damaging ways.

My heart thus fell when I saw that yet another study Bible has recently emerged, this time from Zondervan, under the general editorship of D. A. Carson.  Coming on the back of Ligonier’s rehashed and repackaged Reformation Study Bible, I kept getting flashbacks to a childhood Christmas where I received the same unwanted present from two different relatives.  And then I thought of all the innocent trees that have died to make all this possible.  Think of the trees, people. Does nobody think of the trees?

There are many comments one could make about the plethora of such Bibles.  The most obvious is that, to any with eyes to see, it is a publishing racket, designed to reinvent markets and thus invigorate income streams.  It helps establish the dominance of particular individuals within the evangelical world. It meets no real need in the church.  It is simply a part of the economy of finance, control, and promotion that characterizes today's Big Evangelicalism.  Study Bibles create a need which they then generously fill, a bit like the Apple iPhone, whose constant but trivial evolution keeps the gullible customer permanently dissatisfied and thus willing to shell out cash for whatever comes next.   But perhaps that is too harsh.  At least this one is ‘centered on the gospel message’ which is good and praiseworthy, if completely inane as a statement.  In my experience, the best Bibles I have ever read have generally been centered on the gospel message.  Indeed, if you have a Bible in your possession which is not centered on the gospel message, I suspect you may find that it is not actually a Bible at all but something else entirely -- a novel by Tom Clancy, for example.

It also seems that there is a certain oddity to the endeavor, a kind of incipient megalomania, even if such is not actually intended.  I used to take a copy of whatever Study Bible came immediately to hand into my Reformation class, the one on the Protestant notion of the uniqueness and sufficiency of scripture, open it up to the inside page and say ‘The Holy Bible: Written by God.  But edited by Top Man.’

Well, perhaps I am being too harsh after all.   I have to admit -- I’ve never been edited without improvement.  So maybe there is a place for such things.



Endnote: I am grateful to Phil Johnson for pointing out that the Geneva Bible justified the disobedience, not the deception of the midwives.  I was aware of this but regard the distinction made at that point as rather specious, and certainly lost in the way the note was received.  In any case, the larger point about marginal notes still stands.

Posted on Monday, November 02, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Todd’s post of last week points towards an important aspect of the YRR movement which explains the ubiquitous multitasking of key figures: the highly limited gene pool of its self-perpetuating leadership.  For a movement beset by scandals among some of its key players over the last few years, from those who do not understand the importance of the Trinity through to abusive leadership practices and adultery, it has proved remarkably resilient.   Even when leaders have had to go because of terrible public scandal, they have simply vanished with no subsequent public soul-searching by the organizations who made them great or who were happy to ride on their reputations until such time as that became uncomfortable.


Two factors seem key in this.  First, the major organizations involved in spearheading the movement, such as TGC, Desiring God and the CBMW, tend to have significant overlap in top leadership personnel.  This makes problems in one branch of the movement less likely to be critiqued by others.  Silence on key issues is easier to maintain when different groups share a common pool of leadership.  They thus have both a vested interest in that silence and a means of enforcing it: a virtual monopoly on the trusted media outlets where such critique might appear, and a powerful framework for keeping discipline among the lower orders -- platform patronage and jobs for the boys.  Break ranks and you lose your potential place at the table/conference/blog/bookstore.


Second, the powerful personality-driven nature of the movement also makes it hard for the rank-and-file to offer criticism.  Over recent decades, psychologists have noted a strange phenomenon relative to some financial scams: when people have invested so much in them, it becomes virtually impossible for them to stop giving money, even when they know they are scams, because the emotional cost of accepting that fact is simply too high a psychological price to pay.   It seems that a similar thing happens in religious movements when people invest in a particular organization or person: what has been notable about the various scandals surrounding the YRR is not that these have led the rank-and-file to a more sober and modest assessment of the movement’s leadership but that they have frequently generated even more passionate uncritical devotion to the cause, as anyone who has ever dared blog a criticism will know.


The YRR started with high hopes and did much good.  But the interconnection of its various parts and the clear emergence of individuals in the movement as brands has served to foster a leadership with a very skinny gene pool which cannot serve the church well in the long run.