Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Rod Dreher has a typically pungent piece on the matters that have apparently caused much hilarity and Scotch drinking in Moscow, Idaho.  I wonder what Rod's particular problem is?  Is he an idiot incapable of reading English?  A buffoon who doesn't understand the brilliance of self-published Muscovite rhetoric?  Some envious and evil figure out to destroy a venerable ministry?   Or a bitter and nasty nobody, using the opportunity for a bit of one-up-manship? We eagerly await enlightenment as to which of the standard simplistic categories Rod is to be assigned and thus dismissed.

Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at his blog, Douglas Wilson has an interesting post on why Christian women are prettier.  I was particularly struck by this paragraph:


"Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. The former is an avid reader of Cosmopolitan and thinks she knows 15K ways to please a man in bed. The latter is just plain surly about the fact that there even are any men."


So there you have it.  That is Mr Wilson's sophisticated take on the psychology of non-Christian women: they either aspire to be sex mad prostitutes or, failing that, turn into butch lesbians.


I guess he must be describing my mother because she is not a Christian -- but I am not sure at what point in her life she quite fitted this description.  I must have missed it.  When she married, still chaste, at 20?  Throughout her 46 years of faithful, devoted marriage to dad?  When she patiently and lovingly nursed him through his long, final, painful illness, administering his meds, lifting him on and off the toilet, attending to his most basic and undignified bodily needs? During the years since his death when she has been faithful to the memory of 'the only man I will ever love', to use her phrase?


To be sure, she is not a Christian.  She needs Jesus as her saviour.  But I suspect the reduction of non-Christian women to whores or lesbians says more about the psychology of the writer than it does about my mother.  And maybe other mothers too?


Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Can Christians vote for Carly Fiorina for President?  If so, aren't the questions of whether women should lift weights in the gym or how they should give traffic directions to men a bit of a non-issue?  Or am I missing something here?  I think we should be told.

Posted on Wednesday, September 02, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The return of Tullian Tchividjian to a ministry role is scarcely surprising, though the speed would no doubt make even Jimmy Swaggart green with envy.   It is the logical outcome of the culture of celebrity which has been consciously cultivated most disappointingly by some in reformed evangelical circles over the last decade.    Those who have decried the critics of celebrity culture as hypocrites because they too are known outside of their local neighbourhood really missed the point.   Celebrity is not just about being well known.  It is also about developing informal and formal extra-ecclesiastical structures of authority (and thus of accountability, or lack thereof) which focus on specific personalities and subserve the needs of those personalities.   Thus, for example, the faux intimacy of twitter helps build a popular, informal base of support.  Twitter followers come to think they really know the individual.  They then believe his propaganda, conflate message with messenger, and can ultimately even subordinate message to messenger.  This rapidly morphs into an angry bodyguard when the beloved celebrity is threatened.


At a more formal level, the language of accountability is transferred from church to specially selected individuals or parachurch organizations.  This is where it becomes really complicated.  If money changes hands, then an already problematic arrangement is potentially corrupted.   If no money changes hands but the parties have a mutual interest in brand protection and promotion, the same applies.  Thus, for Tchividjian, Paul Tripp, PCA officebearer and of Paul Tripp Ministries, entered the frame, having escaped just in time from that other place to which he had recently been called to help keep the pastor accountable, Mars Hill, Seattle. In the ensuing context (or perhaps 'contest'?), the Presbytery was bound to lose because it is bound by rules of due process which pay no heed to concerns other than the honour of Christ's name, the well-being of the church, and the spiritual health of the offender.


No one begrudges a man the chance to earn a living.  Further, I doubt that WillowCreek PCA has done anything wrong at a technical level with regard to the PCA’s Book of Church Order.  Tchividjian has been defrocked and has not been restored to ordained office.  Morally, however, the situation is this: a man deemed unfit to hold teaching office just three weeks ago is now occupying a position of teaching influence in the same denomination.  Maybe not illegal, but certainly irresponsible towards both him and those he will influence.  At the very minimum it is also most discourteous towards the Presbytery which acted to remove him and whose informed judgment in the matter has been for all practical purposes rejected. This raises interesting questions regarding of the practice of Presbyterian polity for the PCA.  Why has a PCA minister apparently played such a strange role in this?  And does the PCA really want ministerial development in the hands of a defrocked minister? 


And the really big lesson in all this?   It seems that when certain people are handling your public relations issues, the pastorate may not be such a dangerous calling after all.

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

A number of good new books have landed on my desk over the last few weeks.


John Macleod, Scottish Theology in relation to Church History.  These are lectures given at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1939.  They have been available for man years but are republished here with a new foreword by Ian Hamilton, and with footnotes that help the reader better understand Macleod’s allusions.  Macleod was one of a number of Free Church of Scotland students who left the denomination in the early 1890s over the Declaratory Act which watered down the terms of confessional subscription.  He later returned to the post-1900 Free Church once the Act was no longer in force.   A leading student of Free Church history once told me that Macleod was a brilliant man who had committed intellectual suicide because of his refusal to read literature that might not reflect his own theological commitments.  Nonetheless, he was a learned man within his limits.  Certainly, this is no scholarly tome but as a good read which gives an overall understanding of Scottish theology since the Reformation, it is worth a purchase.


Brandon D. Crowe. The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption (P and R).   This book by my New Testament colleague, is a great devotional book and fine popular study of the General Epistles, often treated as the poor relations to Paul and Hebrews.   The volume would work well for private study and also for small group discussion.  Preachers will find the practical, down-to-earth approach very helpful for thinking about how to expound these letters for congregations.  He strikes just the right balance between indicative and imperative.


Lynette G. Clark, Far Above Rubies: The Life of Bethan Lloyd-Jones (Christian Focus).  I met Mrs L-J a few times in the eighties when we both worshipped at the same church in Cambridge.  She seemed a very sweet and godly lady.  This is her story.  Married to the greatest preacher since Spurgeon, she was nonetheless a very humble woman who gave up a career in medicine to be a pastor's wife, living a life that was marked by prayer and service for the church.  She was a remarkable wife, mother and woman of God and  great example of the fact that sacrifice for God is no sacrifice at all.  I gave a stack away at church and have received nothing but positive comments on the book.


Kevin DeYoung, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden (Crossway).  I read this over breakfast last Sunday and I have to say it is quite the best ‘big story of the whole Bible’ children’s book I have ever seen (not that I have seen too many, you understand).  Lavishly illustrated, drawing lots of redemptive-historical connections, written in a gentle, conversational style, and with enough of the gory bits to hold the attention even of your typically amoral and psychotic under-ten year old, this is well worth a purchase.  I gave a whole box away in church on Sunday.  As soon as the service ended, the Cornerstone Under Tens Militia descended on me in a virtual recapitulation of the eighth plague. Thankfully, I had nearly enough copies to satisfy them, and so was able to escape with my life -- though I have had to submit an order for more, under threat of reprisals if I fail. I expect this to be a staple of books giveaways in the future.


Andrew and Rachel Wilson, The Life You Never Expected: Thriving While Parenting Special Needs Children (IVP UK).  While I like all the books on this list, I have perhaps saved the best till last.  Andrew is a pastor in the UK and he and Rachel are parents to two severely autistic children.  This is a moving account of their family life, with short chapters offering both narratives of their experience and penetrating reflections upon how the Bible speaks to them in their various circumstances. It is not a story of simplistic answers and trite happy endings.  Rather, it is the story of their sometimes agonizing struggle to find biblical contentment in the place and circumstances where God has placed them.  To be honest, you need to read the book for yourself.  It would merely cheapen it for me to offer an anemically pious summary of such a passionate, heart-wrenching and yet deeply hopeful story.  It will benefit not just parents facing similar issues but all pastors, elders and church members who are called to love and support families facing such difficulties and yet who foten feel ill-equipped to do so.  Sadly, US readers will have to wait until next summer to get theior copies, when Crossway will issue an edition under the slightly different title The Life We Never Expected.

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Perhaps six days is a little short for an accidental feminist retrospective, but, given the feedback Aimee and I have received for our two posts on John Piper, the time seems ripe for such.  Some cheered us for speaking out against the increasingly patriarchal sounds coming from leading complementarians.  Others jeered at us for betraying the gospel.  So to help the  dazed and clear up the confusion, here is a final helpful summary of what we actually claim:


1. Women should not be ordained.

2. Men should take the spiritual lead in their families, although marriage is not to be construed in terms of submission to the exclusion of other biblical categories.

3. But male-female relationships elsewhere are complicated and attempts to parse them narrowly along strict lines of submission simply end up utilizing more or less subjective and nebulous categories.

4. This leads to logical confusions, inconsistencies, silliness and, at a more sinister level, a view of women as ontologically inferior to men.

5. Therefore we need to be careful in these areas not to allow our churches to become cult-like by binding the consciences of believers and creating cultural attitudes which can legitimate abuse.


Interestingly enough, the key point on which our conclusions turn – number 3 above – was basically conceded by John Piper in the podcast in question.  The problem is that he then seemed functionally to ignore this, perhaps on the basis that it is better to be safe than sorry.


By my reckoning, the position articulated by us Spinners is perfectly consistent with the theology of the Bible as expressed in the Westminster Standards and thus with that of historic, confessional Presbyterianism.   It also places us only slightly, very slightly, to the left of Vlad the Impaler in the context of modern American society.  Indeed, it surely makes me unemployably conservative even within great swathes of the evangelical world.  Hysteria about this being a sell-out is just that: hysteria.   Yet it also perhaps has a deeper significance.


That this position is now apparently deemed by many to be a contentious compromise is surprising and would perhaps indicate that the loudest and most influential voices on the issue are moving complementarianism distinctly to the right, encouraging it towards positions more akin to patriarchy, and pushing its remit into the micromanagement of lives via expanded church power, whether explicitly or in more subtly coercive ways. That is very disturbing. While I have little interest in complementarianism as a social movement myself, I worry at the influence such voices may have on congregations and Christian families.  It would thus be very helpful for groups like CBMW to make it clear where they think the acceptable rightward boundary of their movement is. And, while we’re at it, it would also be useful to have some of the talented women involved in the complementarian movement speaking up on the apparent direction being taken by some of the leadership.  Such women have made signal contributions to the church over recent years and the influence of this  rightward trend would seem set to become the pressing issue of the day within their circles.  This is not a moment for silence.


In the meantime, if you get lost on your travels over Labor Day weekend, better wait for the next available man so that you can ask him for directions. That should help you avoid crises of conscience.   In fact, why not sidestep the dilemma entirely and simply use a GPS?  Though please do make sure it is set to a male voiceover.  Better to be safe than sorry, after all.

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Yesterday my fellow Spinblogger, Aimee Byrd, offered a penetrating and welcome critique of the advice given by John Piper to an inquiry about whether it was legitimate for women to serve as police officers.  She cited this passage in particular as problematic:


At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way a husband will, but he will be a man. At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.


The passage is arguably even more problematic than Aimee allows.   It seems to me to make women in themselves into nothing more than defective beings and to rest upon a definition of complementarity which is really one of radical, across-the-board subordination.   It also leaves me wondering what I can say to single women in my church.   Find a man, any man, to submit to in some context or other?


The whole piece also indicates the problems that occur when the issue of male-female complementarity is detached from the specific issues of marriage and church.  Once you try to extrapolate to the world at large, three things follow.  First, you find a proliferation of questions such as this and indeed even more trivial ones – for example, how a woman should answer a man asking for directions when he is lost.  Second, you become increasingly dependent upon subjective and vague criteria for making decisions, criteria which are as malleable as those in positions of (sub)cultural authority – formal or informal -- wish to make them.   Third, the consequent complication of even the most routine male-female encounters creates a world where people are practically infantilized.  They are ever fearful of doing the wrong thing even in situations of no real consequence, and always dependent on the advice of the gurus who own the criteria mentioned under the second point – and who now have power and influence way beyond the bounds of that ministerial authority given to the church and her officers.


I rarely read complementarian literature these days. I felt it lost its way when it became an all-embracing view of the world and not simply a matter for church and household.   I am a firm believer in a male-only ordained ministry in the church but I find increasingly bizarre the broader cultural crusade which complementarianism has become.  It seems now to be more a kind of reaction against feminism than a balanced exposition of the Bible’s teaching on the relationships of men and women.   Thus, for example, marriage is all about submission of wife to husband (Eph. 5) and rarely about the delight of friendship and the  kind of playful but subtly expressed eroticism we find in the Song of Songs.  Too often cultural complementarianism ironically offers a rather disenchanted and mundane account of the mystery and beauty of male-female relations.  And too often it slides into sheer silliness.


To borrow a phrase, yes, I guess I am in some sense an accidental feminist.

Posted on Monday, August 10, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Karl Marx commented that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.  When it comes to ministerial falls, sadly the tradition today is to go straight to farce.  Thus it is with Tullian Tchividjian’s fall and rise.  All of the celebrity conventions are there: The use of a well-known counselor brought in specially, the faux intimacy of the twitter feed, and now a slick podcast on coming back after a fall – less than two months since his confession that he betrayed his wife and broke his marriage vows.  There are even the predictable fans out there who seem to think that Tchividjian is essential to the gospel, as the message clearly depends upon his return to the pulpit ASAP.   I confess, I have no idea why he has this compulsive need to make the whole of his life a public performance or why people fall for it.  Patronizing pseudo-pious answers about seeing how great God’s grace is are beside the point.  This is showmanship so let's call it what it is.   Do such people exist in private in any meaningful way, I wonder?

I first came across Tchividjian in the context of his misunderstanding of Martin Luther as a supporter of his view of grace.  Eventually, I offered to fly to Florida to debate the issue with him.  His rather weird response was to go on some radio show and accuse me of breaking the Ninth Commandment.  At the time,  a number of his more ecclesiastically savvy supporters argued that such a debate was unnecessary, that he was a churchman and thus answerable only to church courts.  That response was a mixture of confusion and clarity.  Confusion, because ignorance of history is not in itself a matter for ecclesiastical discipline.  I simply wanted to correct his embarrassing misunderstanding of Luther’s thought.  Clarity, because yes, he is a minister and thus discipline matters do fall under the authority of Presbytery and due process.

So where is Presbyterianism in this latest debacle, a matter which most certainly falls under the category of a discipline matter?  Tchividjian is, or at least was, a Presbyterian pastor.  That binds him by solemn vow not simply to teach certain doctrines and to live in a certain way but also to act relative to his sin according to certain principles and processes.   When he finds himself delinquent in doctrine or life, he should report himself to his Presbytery and place himself under its discipline and pastoral care.   Anyone interested can find the relevant vows and processes in the PCA Book of Church Order, Chapters 19.3, 21.5 and 38.1.  His fellow Presbyters, not some life-coach to the Christian stars and least of all his Twitter followers, are the ones to lead him to repentance and to determine the passage back to Christian fellowship (though not, I believe, in the case of an adulterer ever back to a teaching or ruling office within the church).   Has Tchividjian followed this process?  He is bound by vow so to do and thus part of the evidence of a humble and contrite heart is precisely this submission to due process.

Perhaps he is following the PCA Book of Church Order's provisions.  But everything, from the role of Paul Tripp to the verbal diarrhea on Twitter, looks to me unlike any typical Presbytery discipline/pastoral process with which I am familiar.   More likely a comeback is being set in place and that that has been the case from the start.  And when we find slick podcasts about come backs after failure popping up on the web less than two months after the crisis – well, that seems more consistent with advice one might perhaps receive from another body beginning with a ‘p’: not ‘Presbytery’ but ‘Public Relations Consultancy.’

Posted on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Over at First Things, a Lutheran pastor has offered a critique of Gerhard Forde's Lutheran theology and connected it to the recent fall of Tullian Tchividjian.  Mark Jones has offered a measured response at Reformation21.   Both articles make good points.  Tchividjian's understanding of Luther was historical and theological drivel, a montonous mess confected from cool soundbites.  Whether it played into his fall, only God and maybe Tchividjian himself know.  Certainly adultery is no respecter of theology or even of the correct interpretation of Martin Luther.

My problem with the whole Tchividjian debacle is akin to my problem with the Driscoll disaster.  Even setting aside theological issues, something was obviously wrong for quite a long time before the specific fall -- and would continue to have been wrong even if the public falls had never happened.  If Tchividjian had never betrayed his wife, the earlier questions about seeing him as some kind of evangelical leader would still remain, given the nature of his theology, the way he talked about his critics, and the model of ministry he represented. 

Tchividjian and Driscoll are both products of the way American showbiz aesthetics and values drive so much of the evangelical subculture. Style and swagger and soundbites -- and little else. And they both benefited from the fact that nothing immunizes one to accountability in America like success.  As long as you are successful, no-one calls you on your behaviour, no-one makes you answer the hard questions, and plenty of people are happy to use your name to sell tickets to their gig.  The tragedy is that good men are then allowed to go bad, and outright charlatans are allowed to continue with influence, with groups like TGC backing them until the public relations problems, not the obvious theological and accountability issues, render them too hot to handle -- long after others have been pointing out the obvious. 

The crises of the YRR are recapitulations of the crises of an earlier generation of televangelists, and the comparison I made years ago between the culture of the headline acts of the YRR and the creeps of the 1980s is sadly more apposite now than it was then.  They had their mischief mongers.  Well, looks like we have our equivalents, right down to the loyal camp followers who can never bring themselves to accept the consequences of the failure of their leaders.  Who could have seen that coming?  Well, just about anybody who looked at the branding, the twitter accounts, the swaggering, and the constant self-promotion of these people, and found themselves asking the questions 'Hang on a minute, where does Philippians 2 fit into all of this?' or 'What do these men's local elders think about that?'

Unless the culture of broader reformed evangelicalism in the US changes, the real lessons of these spectacular falls -- lessons which are not primarily theological -- will not have been learned and the phony will continue to be sold as if it were the real thing.

Posted on Saturday, July 11, 2015 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Dave Moore has an excellent post on the selective outrage of evangelicals over gay marriage.  Here is the core of his argument:

"We believe homosexuality is a sin.  We also believe that gluttony, gossip, adultery, sex outside of marriage, racism, unscrupulous business practices, the love of money, divorce, and a whole host of other things are sin.  Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job in communicating a comprehensive view of sin.  We have been selective.  Too many times we have been motivated by fear.  We have avoided addressing certain sins for fear our giving at church will plummet.  Too many of us have come across as both hating the sin of homosexuality and the homosexual.  We could go on with other specifics, but hopefully you get the point.  Our selective outrage has made us not act like Jesus.  We have been rather poor at modeling the “grace and truth” approach of Jesus."


My one point of pushback or perhaps clarification would be this: While I cannot speak for others, the only reason I write regularly in the wider public sphere on the issue is that this is the one being used to leverage restrictions on freedom of religion.  If greed or gossip were being used in that way, I would write against them.    In fact, as I reflect on my Sunday preaching over the last years, I think I have mentioned gay marriage perhaps half a dozen times in the pulpit in the course of 150+ sermons, and then often only as illustrative of some wider point.  Probably I should teach more on sexual ethics than I do, given that one can no longer assume that all Christians necessarily grasp what the Bible teaches. 

It is the task of the preacher to be led by the text, even if the questions he brings to that text are shaped by present concerns, pastoral and otherwise. Our ministry should be as wide ranging and as balanced as the Bible.  But it is the task of the concerned citizen to speak specifically to those issues which are being used to undermine free and civil society.

You can read the whole thing here.