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.

Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The prize for the most confusing statement of the day (and maybe the week) goes to the Gospel Coalition, who apparently found this statement worth tweeting:

 

"It’s more masculine to be attracted to men yet obedient to God than attracted to women and disobedient to God."

 

You can read the full article here.   Which you will have to do if you are to stand any chance of answering the Diva's favourite question when confronted with pseudo-profound, pretentious gibberish: What does that even mean?

 

The use of the idea of masculinity in such a way no doubt plays well to the testosterone-obsessed gallery, while the strange parallel the author draws between the illegitimate expression of a legitimate desire and the refusal to act on an illegitimate desire represents a category confusion which thus cannot substantiate the claim -- even if, merely for the sake of argument, we allow that the claim about being 'more masculine' actually means anything. Which it doesn't.   And, given TGC's imprimatur, this is a most unhelpful and irresponsible tweet (even by the exacting standards of the medium) for the church as a whole. 

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

My trip to Belfast last week to speak for the Reformed Presbyterians and the Evangelical Presbyterians was a great reminder of the truth of Chrissie Hynde’s lyric, some things change, some stay the same.

 

As to staying the same, I find that every time I visit Ulster I am invited to some clandestine meeting or other.  Last time I spoke to a gathering of ministers and ministerial students in a deserted and disused manse on the north coast.  Seriously, I did.  From the looks on their faces, passers-by clearly thought something sinister was going on. This time I met at Colin the Book’s request with the Provisional EPCI – OK, they are the same guys as the EPC and the PCI but they wear balaclavas and partake of the water of life and (some of them anyway) the Halfling’s Weed.  Like the OPC, then – prepared for peace but ready for war. I also stayed once again with the Watsons, wonderful and kind people who have the misfortune of being the Pope of Ealing’s parents-in-law.  We must pray for them in their affliction.

 

As to change, if I had been told on my last visit two years ago that my next visit would involve addressing the Reformed Presbyterians on the matter of transgenderism, I would have said you were mad.  Completely mad.  But such are the times in which we live.  A morally conservative place like Northern Ireland is changing rapidly, in line with the general chaos now reigning supreme in the western world.   The need for the church to teach her young people well and thoughtfully on such issues is now an absolute imperative.  And if places like Northern Ireland are crumbling on issues of sexuality, there is no hope for anywhere else that they will be immune to this deadly nonsense.  Yet Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.   Some things indeed do change, but the problem -- the inventive creativity of human sin --and the solution -- the  all-sufficient Christ  -- do not.

 

The highlight of the trip, though, was preaching at the EPC family day/general assembly on Saturday and then at Stranmillis EPC in Belfast on Sunday. Any general assembly that does its work in one hour -- yes, one hour! -- has to be a model for the rest of the Presbyterian world.   And the EPC is like the OPC – a small, no-frills Presbyterian denomination.  It is a reminder that Christianity is at its best on the ground, where ordinary people simply believe and seek to live as Christians.  The congregation at Stranmillis is a similar size, and has a similar ethos – serious about the gospel, relaxed about life, friendly to all – that marks the congregation of Cornerstone OPC here.  Strange to tell, at no other church do I feel so much at home preaching than at this small gathering in Belfast.  A real home from home.

 

And that brings me to my main point: those interested in the history of Presbyterianism in general and Irish Presbyterianism in particular should purchase a copy of Ernest C. Brown’s history of the EPC, By Honour and Dishonour, available via Colin the Book.   It is a labour of love and a wonderful history of a tiny but tough denomination that, like the OPC, has punched above its weight.  Central to the narrative is the Davey heresy trial and the role of the student of Machen, W.J. Grier who, after the split from the PCI, was to minister in Stranmillis for many years.  A number of theologians, including my friend and fellow Father Ted aficionado, David McKay offer reflections on the trial and its aftermath -- a section worth the price of the volume in itself.  And here, to add a human touch, is a picture of David explaining Irish cows to me during a break in Friday's lectures. 

 

My only criticism of the volume is the picture of the Pope of Ealing on page 213.  I cannot help but feel it would have been better if the publication had been delayed a year so that the much better looking 2016 speaker could have been featured instead.

 

Seriously, a great book.  Congratulations – and much gratitude – are due to Ernest for his labours on this project.  May it enjoy a wide readership. A reminder that fidelity to the truth is neither glamorous nor often easy but is that to which all Christians are called.

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Last week’s post brought some of the usual reactions – Why do I write about celebrity all the time?  Why do I appear to be hitting friends?  Given that my arguments seem in danger of being dismissed because of perceived flaws in my character and motivation, some response to personal criticism finally seems appropriate.

 

Very little of my time is actually spent on this matter of evangelical celebrity marketing and its baneful effects.  None of my books, none of my print articles, none of my lectures, and none of my sermons have ever taken it as a major theme.  And over the last few years it has been at best a secondary interest even online compared, for example, to issues of religious liberty and sexual politics.

 

Two repeated claims have been that I too am a celebrity and that I am parasitical on the culture I criticize because I only ever write my comments via parachurch sites.  As to the first, well, the ladies at head office did put my face on a coffee mug for a joke which then took on a life of its own, and numerous wits have dubbed me the anti-celebrity celebrity – a title I do wear with some sinful pride. But even if I were proved a hypocrite, that would not invalidate my arguments, only my character.   And it might actually strengthen my case, being an example of the Rochefoucauldian homage that vice pays to virtue.

 

As to the second criticism, that I am a parasite because I only have a parachurch platform, well, the Jewish writers at First Things would probably dispute the terminology.  But even so this blog is linked to the Alliance, a parachurch ministry.  Yet my (oft repeated) point has never been that parachurches in themselves are wrong.  It is that parachurches are wrong when they capture that part of the Christian’s imagination which should only be occupied by the church.  It is that parachurches are wrong when they come to supplant roles that really belong only to the church.  And, above all, it is that those parachurch leaders are wrong who consciously leverage their status in parachurches to exert far-reaching power over others, even outside their own organizations.  Two attempts of which I am aware have been made by such men to have me fired simply because of articles I have written critiquing them and their organizations.  That is evil, not simply distasteful.  Thankfully, the Puppet Master is nobody's puppet.

 

What the leaders of the celebrity parachurch world need to ask is not whether I am a wicked hypocrite but whether the crises they have faced repeatedly over the last decade are merely incidental to the culture of Big Eva or actually represent a problem which is an unavoidable part of the project.  Todd Pruitt’s post on platform building would seem to indicate that at the very least Big Eva offers unfortunate opportunities and illicit temptations which no normal human being can resist.   Some people are making big money out of this.  Others are enjoying massive influence within our subculture simply by virtue of their status within the feudal hierarchy, not because of any ecclesiastical mandate or exceptional competence or talent they possess.   Those facts are most potent – and most problematic.

 

So why do I criticize the world occupied by so many of my (now former?) friends?  Because it is fatally flawed, has refused to acknowledge the validity of any criticism, and has proved consistently incapable of policing itself, to the increasing detriment of the church and of the theology I love.  The insulated culture which it has carefully cultivated for over a decade and the behind-the-scenes bully-boy tactics it is willing to deploy against critics mean that it will almost certainly be giving birth to more scandals and crises in the next few years.  If it was just about a good conference or two, there would be no problem.  Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional conference?  But it has become a matter of brands and of platform building, with all of the nonsense that brings with it -- the fatuous Facebook updates, the Twitter trivia, the constant, daily self-promotion on social media with only occasional flashes of any substance.  It thus looks increasingly as if it is really about power and influence for their own sake and not, pace the rhetoric, for the sake of the gospel and the church  And that’s a real problem.

 

If further disasters are to be avoided, it will be necessary to spend more time meditating on the material of the criticisms and less time mulling over the motives of the critics.  But, as Ethan Edwards might say, ‘That’ll be the day!’