Posted on Monday, May 16, 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???? 

 

TO: THE MONSIGNOR OF WESTMINSTER

 
ESTEEMED AND LEARNED SIR
 
GREETINGS!
 

 

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.

 

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

When Willie Philip led his congregation out of the Church of Scotland in 2012, he asked if I would write to the Presbytery of Glasgow, to plead with them to be reasonable over the legal issues surrounding the building.  Willie and I had then known each other for nigh on twenty-five years, since the time my girlfriend (now wife) and I would borrow his VW beetle with the insane clutch control and lack of brakes to take the kids from Bon Accord Free Church of Scotland Youth Club to the local swimming baths.  He and I did not see eye to eye with regards to the C of S evangelical strategy and had indeed clashed angrily over it on a number of occasions.  But I wrote the letter out of respect and affection for an old friend caught in a very tight spot and taking a tough stand.  I did warn him that the Presbytery would simply tell me (politely) to get knotted.  And guess what?  They simply told me (politely) to get knotted.   It somehow seemed to capture the moment -- the moment which a new book from Banner of Truth, A Sad Departure: Why we could not stay in the Church of Scotland by David J. Randall, explains with great insight.

 

 

The book is a sober and poignantly personal read for me.  I recognize the names of many friends and former students in the narrative.  Some were fellow students in Aberdeen in the late 80s.  Others I later taught at Nottingham and, again, in Aberdeen.  I little knew what tough stands and sacrifices they would be called upon to make within a few decades.  Still less did any of us have any inkling that homosexuality would be the issue upon which they would leave the Kirk.  And I still enjoy cordial relationships with some of those who chose to stay. There are good men on both sides, even though my sympathy lies very much with those who separated.

 

 

At the heart of the recent departures has been the series of actions by the General Assembly which has moved the Kirk towards legitimizing homosexuality.   There are various pieces to this.  Most notoriously, the transfer and installation of an openly gay minister in a congregation in the Aberdeen Presbytery in 2009 caused a storm of protest.  Ironically, of course, he was already an ordained minister (though his ordination had occurred before the issues with his sexuality had emerged) and had not been defrocked when he decided to leave his wife and then enter into an openly gay relationship.   This case was followed by years of attempting to square the circle, speciously appeasing the conservatives while yet giving the liberals all that they wanted.  During this time there was a steady stream of departures, culminating in the Big Beasts of C of S evangelicalism – churches like St. George’s-Tron in Glasgow  and Gilcomston South in Aberdeen -- taking their leave of the Kirk in 2012 and 2013 respectively.  Some have joined the Free Kirk, some have kissed the Pope of Ealing's ring and united with the International Presbyterian Church, some have gone independent.

 

 

Were they right to leave?  Yes.  Absolutely.  No doubt in my mind on that score.  Once it becomes impossible to protect the preaching of the gospel and to suppress heresy within the Church, then the Church has lost the mark of the Word.  She has thus ceased to be a church at a denominational level at least, regardless of what individual congregations may do.  Departure should never be hasty or precipitate; but once the matter is done, it is time to go.  Those who remain need to ask themselves what their strategy for returning the Kirk to orthodoxy is.  How are they going to take control of the teaching institutions?   Of the Presbyteries?  Of the committees?  Of the administration in George Street?  Of the General Assembly?  If they have no strategy for all – not just any one – of these things, then they have no real rationale for remaining beyond the pitiable pieties of Presbyterian pipe-dreams.

 

 

Randall does an excellent job in explaining the evangelical position.  He also points to the incoherence of those who remain in the C of S while claiming to disagree with her position on sexual ethics.   As he argues on p. 45, acceptance of the teaching of the Church on the issue once it has been legislated is what Presbyterianism means.  He could well have referred to Charles Hodge’s statement on such an ecclesiastical point: once the Church as a whole has made a formal decision on a matter, ministers have but three options – they can wholeheartedly support the position, passively accept it, or peaceably withdraw.  The specious claim that one can remain a good Presbyterian while repudiating the denomination’s official teaching is simply disingenuous and inconsistent with being a good Presbyter.  One might add that it is an inconsistency lost neither on liberal insiders nor observant outsiders.   As to those who have adopted the 'Rick Astley Protocol' and declared that they will never give up on the Kirk, no matter what she does – Randall skewers that as strategically disastrous.  One might also add it indicates a complete absence of any real Protestant understanding of the Church.  Of all the options, this one is the most self-evidently self-defeating and ridiculous.

 

 

Randall is, I believe, too generous to the quiet infiltration strategy of William Still and his disciples. There were many flaws in Still's approach but the most obvious was that it failed to take account of the nature and signficance of legislative and administrative power in Presbyterian denominations. Guarding one’s one pulpit and congregation is vital but it makes no difference to the Church at large, for denominational power in Presbyterianism is exerted by Presbyteries, Synods, and Assemblies, and to influence those one must sit on the relevant committees, turn up to meetings, make life difficult for all the right people. Boring work, thankless work, often unpleasant work -- but ecclesiastically vital work nonethless.  It is thus the Stillite policy which must take considerable blame for the institutional weakness of the evangelicals as they engaged the liberals in the current battle.  Yes, the Barrier Act helped delay things a bit -- God bless the Barrier Act!  Every Presbyterian denomination should have one! -- but far more could have been done if there had been fifty years of a proper, carefully orchestrated ecclesiastical strategy.

 

 

Of course, such a strategy would have required courage in the Presbyteries, courage which was often thin on the ground among the anointed successors of William Still. Preaching to the appreciative home crowd is one thing.  Speaking up in a hostile Presbytery is quite another.  I remember one former C of S candidate telling me of how he was fried alive at a Presbytery meeting as a young man over his opposition to women’s ordination.  And the prominent Stillite evangelicals sat there in silence.  Not a hill to die on, apparently – well, not a hill for them to join a student who was dying thereon anyway.   William Still left a legacy of great preachers and men of prayer in the Kirk.  But his pitiful ecclesiastical strategy gave them no foundation upon which to mount a successful rearguard action against liberalism.   And now the current crop of men in their thirties, forties, and fifties has been called upon to pay a painful price for the decades of ecclesiastical quietism pursued by their fathers in the faith.

 

 

Yet I still remain perplexed as to why the gay issue brought things to a head.   The official teaching of a Presbyterian denomination is always a function of its confessional documents as they connect to the terms of ministerial subscription.  Those terms had been decisively loosened many generations before homosexuality became the major issue it is today.  For example, I know first-hand that a former minister of the very Aberdeen congregation which called the gay minister denied fundamental tenets of the faith with impunity throughout his career.  The problem with fighting on the gay issue is that this matter only became a problem because so much else that was so vital had already been made thoroughly negotiable.  There is a lesson there.  And there are also some grim optics: these men who left were not homophobes (whatever that means these days) but by making this the issue upon which to stand, they ran the risk of appearing as such.  "So denial of the resurrection is acceptable but gay sex is not?"

 

 

This is a good, though very sad, book.   I am glad that the Kirk’s loss has been the strengthening of other denominations and the freeing up of congregations from the putrid garbage of the politicized sexuality which lies at the rotten core of the current liberal "Christian" project.  I am glad that less evangelical money is going to promote heresy and undermine orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  And I am glad that those who have taken the brave step of separation no longer have to waste time at Presbyteries defending the most elementary doctrines of the faith.     I only wish it had happened earlier.

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 03, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Church membership – that formal, public means of expressing your commitment to a congregation and of that congregation's commitment to you – is an important, in fact a vital, non-negotiable, part of being a Christian.  As James Bannerman commented, the New Testament knows nothing of isolated Christians, only Christians who belong to a church.  And as a pastor with a need to prioritize my time, I consciously devote more to those who have actually committed to membership at Cornerstone than to those who may attend week by week but for whatever reason will not commit.

 

Communicant membership should not be undertaken lightly nor in ignorance, and thus many Presbyterian churches hold membership classes.  We do ours in a day.  One church in Philadelphia runs its membership class over ten weeks.  Pruitt takes a little longer, going up to eleven weeks.   Why he simply doesn’t make the tenth week louder, I have no idea, but there you go -- must be a hold-over from his Southern Baptist days.

 

Good materials for membership classes need to do several things.  They need to cover the basics of gospel.  They need to cover the fundamentals of the Reformed faith.  They need to familiarize people with the confessions and catechisms that express the church’s beliefs.  And they need to explain the privileges and obligations of church membership, and the basics of church polity.  In addition, they also need to give some denominational and congregational history.  Yes, the church is universal but she exists in specific local forms; and while the particulars of such may not be of the essence of the faith, they can help the potential member to understand local distinctives and perhaps even eccentricities.  Not that the OPC has any such eccentricities.  No, never. Well, hardly ever....

 

Given all this, it is a real pleasure as a pastor to recommend Ken Golden’s new book from Christian Focus, Presbytopia: What it means to be Presbyterian.  In this short volume, Ken provides the reader with the basics of the membership classes at his own church, an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation in Iowa.   In three basic sections – Christian Essentials, Reformed Distinctives, and Means of Grace – Ken covers all the basics.  Then, in two appendices -- a glossary and a sample liturgy -- he offers help for the neophyte in becoming accustomed to the lingo and the services forms of a Reformed church.  From a pastor's perspective, this is a most welcome volume.  As I noted above, all congregations need to give some particularized history which no general text can cover.  But otherwise, this is all one needs.

 

The book is a superb, inexpensive, easy-to-read resource and one which I imagine we will be using at Cornerstone to help prospective members understand what we are about and why we look and sound the way we do.  Highly recommended.

Posted on Monday, May 02, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The Spin was told last week that the Big Eva Establishment will likely not engage us on the complementarianism issue because of our decision to adopt a tone of mockery relative to certain expressions of the movement.  Being ridiculed is, of course, an occupational hazard for those who say ridiculous things; and I had always thought there were other reasons why we are generally ignored by Big Eva or only engaged in a passive-aggressive kind of way.
 

Nevertheless, I do seriously hope that the complementarian establishment engage Scot McKnight who has today published a set of theses for what he believes to be a more biblically balanced complementarianism.  It is actually what I thought the Bible always taught, rather than the reactions to third wave feminism which now seem to have gripped the complementarian imagination.

 

Here’s a taster:

 

[T]he truly complementarian talks about serving his wife the way Christ served the church and tells us stories about what he did recently for his wife.

 

Read the whole thing here.
 

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As a taster of what is to come on the Spin podcast -- we spent today recording and pulled in some high-powered guests.  Tony Esolen -- Renaissance man, professor of English, translator of Dante, scourge of Fox News ('It was like trying to explain quantum physics to a golden retriever') -- talked to us about how to destroy the imagination and humanity of our children, before waxing eloquent on transgenderism and then on the moral structure of pedophilia.   We also interviewed American Conservative writer, Rod Dreher, on the Benedict Option and whether he, as Eastern Orthodox, is really more pessimistic and cynical than us Calvinists.  Finally, we spoke to, well, not the Fifth Beatle but the Fourth Spinner, 'Mad' Max Benfer about men's ministries.  Plus we recognized the achievement of another Desperate Theologizer and ambushed TP on the issue of women teaching.  All to come in the coming weeks and months.  Oh, and I made my case off-camera for Hall and Oates being to blame for the destruction of civilization as we know it -- trust me, Hall is merely the front man; Oates is the real evil genius behind their diabolical scheme for world domination.