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!’  

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

La Diva just sent me this comment from her blog which she was 'so humbled' to receive:

Aimee. More and more you demonstrate fine writing and clear thinking [CRT: She's hanging out with me.  Hey, some of my magic was bound to rub off]. It is also apparent to me that you are twice as smart as the English fellow you have to work with [CRT: I say! Steady on!  Do I detect the typical American prejudice against those who write with an English accent?] and twenty times smarter than the other one [CRT: So, if I do the sums, that makes me only ten times as smart as Pruitt??  Which ranks me where on the scale of intellectual prowess -- somewhere between a jellyfish and a pro-biotic yogurt?]. Thank you for the courage to speak into difficult and controversial subjects [CRT: Credit where credit is due: 'Tis true -- La Diva has courageously taken on the corrupt celebrification of the nail polish, handbag, and hairspray industries, for the benefit of womankind everywhere]. The unfortunate tendency in Christian circles is that voices like yours are marginalized [CRT: If only!  Life would be so much more peaceful in the Underground Bunker.  If anyone knows how we might marginalize this woman, please let us know.  And soon.  We are getting desperate here.] by people with vested interests and narrow agendas [CRT: Todd and I resent the idea that our agendas are narrow, sir.  They have all the breadth of a middle-aged bald guy's girth]. I look forward to hearing more from you [CRT: Not, I suspect, if those nice people in white coats from the institution catch you first].

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Analyses of the ‘Trump Moment’ in American politics vary in the details but what is clear is that disillusionment with the Washington Establishment -- oft touted in previous elections but rarely seen as having practical electoral significance – might finally be having an impact.   Years of the elites on both sides patting each other on the back, ignoring the concerns of many ordinary Americans, and corralling public discussion using the canons of political correctness have precipitated something of a backlash.  There seems be widespread cynicism about leadership which has now opened the way for Trump. 


One question to ask is whether this instantiation of a rejection of established leadership and political protocols might be indicative of a wider cultural phenomenon.   To bring it closer to home: Could we be on the brink of a ‘Trump Moment’ in the conservative evangelical world.

The signs are all there.   Big Eva organizations such as the Gospel Coalition have self-consciously sought to drive and thereby control the small-r reformed world by buying up the talent and overseeing who gets to speak, what gets said, who gets reviewed, who is in, who is out.   Other groups, as I have recently pointed out, have become businesses, making big sums on gospel products and the performance of orthodoxy before the adoring home crowd.  And the small pool of names that populate the leadership of all the Big Eva organizations indicates an establishment elite which ultimately shares a common interest in protecting each other’s brands.  The chances of internal reform seem remote.

Nowhere is this problematic culture more evident than in the (non) fall-out from scandals.  Numerous big names have been caught out: plagiarism, bullying, cover ups, adultery, Ashley Madison – you name it, they’ve done it – yet, just like politicians, they offer quick repentances and make come-backs in the time it takes the rest of us to make a cup of tea.  And small, hard-core activists are always available to form a hashtag-wielding mob and rubbish any nay-sayers as hypocrites, legalists and worse.   The potential for a leadership dangerously detached from the people and insulated from legitimate concerns of the constituency who ultimately bankroll the operation of Big Eva seems to be being realized before our eyes.

All of the conditions for a Trump Moment in Big Eva reformed evangelicalism therefore seem to be in place.  True, the leadership and the big organizations have thus far proved remarkably resilient.  I keep expecting the bubble to burst but, like Amazon reporting losses year after year, the disasters and the scandals are repeatedly tolerated by the Big Eva stock market, presumably in the hope of a long-term rally.   But I do not believe it can be sustained indefinitely.  Then we may not be facing a market correction but a backlash, not simply against the current leadership but against the theology it has promoted and against the church in general.  Who knows what will replace it?   If secular politics are any guide, the replacement could be much worse.  That would be tragic because the price will be paid not only by the myriad of humble pastors who simply seek to care for their people but also by the church in general.

Posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

This just in from an Australian reader who takes exception to my advice on London hostelries.  Always happy to offer constructive response to those who need some guidance on life's questions:

Dear Dr Carl,
I used to admire your wit and intelligence [CRT: Good man!  Though the past tense gives cause for concern....], but "All true beers are served flat and at room temperature, as you know.  The first mark of real civilization" is an affront to all thinking people and to civilisation [CRT: Check the OED; although they may not have that in Oztralia]. Either the 'z' is ironic, or you really have been living among the uncivilised for far too long [CRT: Or maybe, just maybe, I read the OED....] – and I'm writing that as an Australian, for goodness sakes! [CRT: Ah, you have a medical condition.  I'll go easy on the sarcasm then]
The only rule for beer – the colder the better… [CRT: For Australian beer, being tasteless, that is certainly the only way it should be drunk.  I understand where you are coming from on this].
Please send photo of sack cloth and ashes. [CRT: Will this do?]


Posted on Sunday, April 03, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

I am happy to give blog space to a guest post by Mark Jones, furthering the conversation on the theology of the recent creed from Ligonier:

Mark writes:

“We affirm that as truly man, Christ possesses all the natural limitations and common infirmities of human nature and that He is like us in all respects except for sin." - Ligonier Christology Statement, Article 7

In my original critique of the Ligonier Christology Statement (and “Creed”), I noted that they should not have spoken in the present tense in Article 7 of Christ's common infirmities, as if he still partakes of them. I believe this is an incorrect way to speak of Christ in his exalted state. But in a recent article defending the Affirmations and Denials, Steve Nichols seems to think Article 7 is sound.

The Son of God possessing "common infirmities" as a result of the incarnation is the language of WCF 8.2. According to Nichols' post, all Ligonier meant by it was to say that Christ is still truly human in his exalted status. Having done quite a bit of work on the Westminster documents and Christology in that era, I am pretty sure Nichols is making a mistake.
All one would have to do is point to WLC Q/A 52, which explicitly rules this out as applying after the resurrection.
Q. 52. How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?
A. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God,...
Article 7 is a misstatement that Ligonier cannot wriggle out of, and it proves that they have made an erroneous statement. Instead of recognizing the error when I first pointed it out, Ligonier subsequently put up an article defending the use of "common infirmities" to describe Christ's present exalted status. This seems very strange to me.
Personally, I am yearning for the day when I will no longer have any more "common infirmities". I will not possess a nature liable to hunger, sadness, and decay. Rather, like Christ, I will be conformed to his glorious image, and thus raised in power! The promise of no more “common infirmities” belongs to my hope. To say that Christ still possesses them is to suggest, however unwittingly, that I will possess them in my glorified estate. And that, to me, is not good news at all.
Of course, if this was about theology it would be easy for Ligonier to recognize the error and change it (along with the other errors). But this is not about theology, and I doubt it was...

Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

As is well known, the Spin Team are more than happy to answer listeners' questions and here is one that came in yesterday, reprinted here with permission and commentary:


Hello Dr. Trueman! My name is ***** and I'm a prospective student of Westminster. Firstly, I've been listening to your lectures on iTunesU and have thoroughly enjoyed them. [CRT -- C'mon, man, there's much more you could say -- about my rapier wit, classical learning, etc. etc.] Secondly, I also listen to Mortification of Spin and thank you for your contributions there as well as it has helped prepare me for ministry [CRT -- yes, I do my best to counteract the PCA nonsense of TP and the ditzy blonde ramblings of the Byrd.  Glad my efforts are appreciated by someone.] This may seem like an odd and random contact, [CRT: not compared to many we get, trust me....] but my wife, her family, and I will be traveling to England and Ireland this July [CRT: Avoiding Wales is always a good move, for reasons too obvious to need pointing out]. We'll be spending some time in Dublin, County Kerry, and London. I was wondering if you know of any good pubs in those areas. [CRT: Is the Pope Catholic?  Is Liechtenstein small?] I know you're from Gloucestershire, [CRT: Come on you cherry and whites!] and I hope this request doesn't seem patronizing in anyway [CRT: Look, I've had the Top Men email me.  I know patronizing when I read it and you're doing fine], but since I tragically don't know any Englishmen personally [CRT: I just cried a little.  You, my friend, have never lived, and probably never drunk tea while listening to The Who], I thought I'd contact you [CRT: So young and yet so wise....]. Please let me know! Cheers and amen.


Of course,  I would recommend the Ten Bells in Whitechapel -- historic for its connection with Jack the Ripper, with some good ales, and the Nag's Head at Covent Garden. The latter offers great pub grub and decent beer in one of my favourite parts of London.  All true beers are served flat and at room temperature, as you know.  The first mark of real civilization.


CRT: In an earlier version of this post, I referred to my beloved Gloucester Rugby Club as the cherry and reds.  This has now been corrected.  I am ashamed of my typo.  Truly.


So glad to have been of help.

Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

In wake of my product placement post, a correspondent recently drew my attention to the rise of the Reformed celebrity endorsement as a most unwholesome phenomenon.  Of course, such things are not entirely new.  Book commendations are an example of such.  I have done plenty – far too many – of those.  But there is an important difference between the typical book commendation and the new type of product promotion that is emerging.  It is the distinction between an innocent recommendation and a paid endorsement.  

When I write a book commendation, it may or not be well-informed, but I am not in any way motivated to do it by the notion of financial gain or obligation.  Put simply, I do not get paid by the author or publisher.   But when someone is on the payroll of the organization whose products they puff, they are not merely someone impressed by said products and thus volunteering to promote them.  They are paid spokespersons.   They are akin to Michael Jordan promoting Nike, with a vested interest in you buying what they are promoting.  And that needs to be acknowledged, lest the public be deceived about what is really happening.

I receive a small stipend from the Alliance.  If I promote Alliance material, I therefore  do so as someone with a financial interest in the organization, not simply as somebody enamoured of the intrinsic importance of the Alliance in an otherwise disinterested way.  That is why I would never do so in my church’s worship service for that would be an obvious conflict of interest.   By contrast, I also write for the website of First Things but receive no remuneration for my blogs there.  Were I to promote the FT blogsite in some context, therefore, I would do it simply because I believe in what the FT team is trying to do.  No conflict of interest would be involved.

So, as we move into the next phase of the celebrification of the Reformed world, that of the paid endorsement masquerading as innocently helpful recommendation, there are a couple of useful questions for congregants  to ask (maybe at the annual meeting?) when an already well-paid pastor introduces some parachurch product into his worship service.  What dollar figure does said pastor enter on his annual tax return as originating in the bank accounts of the not-for-profit he is promoting?  What proportion of his gross annual salary comes from said organization?  If the answer is more than zero, then there is almost certainly a further question about conflict of interest which needs to be addressed, even if only to reassure the congregation that the pastor is, like The Kinks’ David Watts, ‘of pure and noble breed.’  No pastor or organization with nothing to hide would object to transparency on such issues.  In fact, I would imagine they would heartily welcome it.

Were I ever to promote Alliance material in my church, I would not only be willing to report my small Alliance stipend to the congregants whose tithes pay my pastoral salary but I would consider it absolutely necessary -- the only way to defuse any suspicion of conflict of interest.  Congregants have a right to know who is pulling their pastor’s strings.  And that typically means knowing who is paying him what amount.  After all, once money is involved – and it can be big money even in the small subculture of the Reformed church – it is a fine line between paid product endorsement and rather devious product enforcement.  

Ah, yes, product enforcement – the other side of this sinister subcultural coin.  But that is another blog for another day.  Sufficient to the day’s post is the depressing truth contained therein.


The author receives minimum wage from the Alliance.  His soul does have a price but he’s currently holding out for a lot more.

Posted on Monday, February 29, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

The arrival of a new Christological creed from Ligonier Ministries raises some helpful questions.  Over at Reformation 21, Mark Jones seems generally appreciative of the intention while critical of some of the theological shortcomings and wording of the various documents. Yet, while sharing Jones’s concerns, my hesitations about the project are somewhat different.

One concern at which Jones hints is that a parachurch group has produced a creed, an ecclesiastical, ecumenical, liturgical document.    One (debatable) response to him might be that gatherings such as the Westminster Assembly were not obviously ecclesiastical in origin and authority, and that the Belgic Confession, while deriving its official status from an act of the church, was the work of one man.   Setting aside the strength or weakness of such a claim, one thing still seems obvious: today’s parachurches, such as Ligonier or indeed the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, are not direct analogues of something like the Westminster Assembly.   Apart from anything else, these modern parachurches are brands.  Of this more below.

One might also respond to Jones by saying that the statement is not a creed, and that churches use many things – hymns, Bible translations, written prayers – which are produced by individuals, have no specific ecclesiastical origin or status, and yet are useful in her life and worship.  In response to this, the document’s own statement of purpose is helpful:

For the glory of Christ and the edification of His people, the Ligonier Statement on Christology seeks to encapsulate the historic, orthodox, biblical Christology of the Christian church in a form that is simple to confess, useful to help teach the church’s enduring faith, and able to serve as a common confession around which believers from different churches can rally for mission together. This statement is not a replacement for the church’s historic creeds and confessions but a supplement that articulates their collective teaching on who Christ is and what He has done. May Christ use it for His kingdom.


It is clear that the import of the first sentence means that we should read the term ‘supplement’ in the second as ‘stand alongside and be formally, materially, and functionally interchangeable with’ etc. etc.   For, if this is ‘a common confession around which believers from different churches can rally for mission together…. [and] articulates their collective teaching on who Christ is and what he has done,’ then it is intentionally designed to perform a distinctive catholic, ecclesiastical, and ecumenical purpose.   It is also hard to see how the statement could be used in a public worship service other than at that point in the liturgy where the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed might be placed.  For me as a Gloucestershire man, the First Law of Sheep Identification surely applies to such things: if it is white, woolly and goes ‘Baaa!’ then, call it what you may, it’s quite definitely a sheep.  Thus, if it looks like a creed, sounds like a creed, and functions liturgically like a creed, then, hey, guess what?  It’s a creed!

This is where the brand aspect becomes a matter of concern. After all, the text carries the name of Ligonier.   Should the church integrate a brand into its liturgy in such a fashion?  One might respond in the positive, pointing to the fact that churches use hymn books and Bibles which are attached to particular editors and publishers.   But again, the act of creedal formulation, and the insertion of such a creed into the liturgy of a church as an act of corporate, ecclesiastical, ecumenical confession, carries a solemn and special significance which goes beyond the singing of a hymn or the adoption of a Bible translation.  As the document itself declares, this composition is specifically designed for common confession, for rallying together, and for mission.  

To repeat: as its very name indicates, this Christological statement is inextricably and explicitly bound to a brand. Not to a congregation.  Not to a denomination.  Not to an ecumenical church council.  Not to an otherwise anonymous group of theologians who gathered in a specific geographical locale with a narrowly defined purpose  and who, at the close of business, went their separate ways.  It is bound to a brand, a very particular, influential, and ongoing brand.  

Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with being a brand – I work for one and, indeed, I am writing for one here and now; but – forget the contestable parachurch issue for a moment – brands should not be intruded into territory traditionally occupied in church life and public worship by ecumenical creeds.  When they do so, whether they intend it or not, such brands risk promoting themselves in and through a central part of the liturgical action of the church.  This is therefore the key question that needs to be asked by all churches contemplating adding this to their liturgical repertoire: should we adopt for the purpose of common confession, for rallying together, and for our mission, a creed which is so unavoidably associated with a specific brand?   

One final point.  Part of the problem in today’s church is her loss of historical roots. Groups like Ligonier really have done great work in promoting historic Christianity for which we should all be grateful, but this task really requires more than just preservation of historic concepts.  Historical roots are also properly nurtured by the cultivation of forms and practices which connect the church to her past because they are continuous with that past.  One obvious way of doing that is use of those documents which are in form, content, and function part of her historic identity.  

However good the intention here, supplementing the ecumenical creeds with modern equivalents potentially dilutes the exclusive place which they have held.   Reciting the Nicene Creed connects us in both content and form with Christians around the world and through the ages.  This creed does not do that and is actually only useful at precisely those points where it says what has been better said by its predecessors before.  I fear that the shadow of that modern reformed evangelical disease, the misguided love of theological kitsch as an antidote to weightless evangelical innovation, is ever lurking in the background of this need to supplement the tried and the tested.  

If you are a Protestant who really does want ‘a common confession around which believers from different churches can rally for mission together,’ then simply use the Nicene Creed.  It is not in danger of ever being a piece of kitsch.   It does not risk promoting a brand.  And all the evidence suggests that it has done its job pretty well for some 1600 years.

Posted on Thursday, January 21, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

For any who missed it, the people at Canon Press have released a statement on the recent plagiarism issues. It should reassure the True Believers, provide fodder for those interested in researching the interconnections of personalities and publishing (but please remember -- do not use an uncredited assistant in doing such. See esp. Point 4), and leave anyone surprised by its stated outcome rather vulnerable to being sold the Brooklyn Bridge by some guy in a pub. Rachel Miller responds here, with a combined lesson on Basic Research Methods and Plagiarism 101.


Posted on Tuesday, January 05, 2016 by Carl Trueman on Postcards from Palookaville

Pruitt and La Diva have, as usual, pointed out the obvious: The problems of a culture where women are expected to have agonies of conscience over whether to give travel directions to a man who is lost, or whether to serve as a police officer, but where it is fine to share a gospel platform with a woman preacher (whose gender, incidentally, is probably the least of our concerns when compared to her theology).  So out of Ref Pack loyalty, I add the following:

The whole Passion conference raises the obvious question about what complementarianism now means in practice.  Is it merely ‘nothing at all’? Or is it ‘whatever the leaders of the movement find convenient on any given day’?  Who knows any more?

The incorrigibility of the Top Men of the YRR has been obvious since at least the time of the Elephant Room.  Once that was established, a few cut ties with the movement.  Many more remained silent, and that silence of the fellow travelers on key issues has been an interesting thing to observe over time.  And when it comes to complementarianism, what has been most fascinating during this last year has been the silence from a particular quarter.

I do not really have a stake in the evangelical complementarian game.  Now, to be clear, I do not believe in women's ordination to church office and I do believe men and women are different.  Anyone who doubts my belief that gender is tied to biology and that men and women are different should check my posts over at First Things.  But the CBMW game is too much of a single-issue cause, too wide-ranging and micro-managing, and too shaped by reaction to feminism for my tastes.  It does not really interest me and I have thrown my pennyworth in on the matter over the last year only because people in my congregation read and listen to such material.

There is, however, a constituency out there which surely has a deep concern about this matter: Self-described complementarian women.  And what is stunning is that the Top Girls have remained publicly silent on the weird claims and inconsistent behavior of some of the Top Men on this score.  La Diva has, as far as I can tell, been left publicly twisting in the breeze on these matters.

We do not need a replay of The Bacchae or even a public burning of denim jumpers.  We simply need intelligent critique of the chaos that now is practical complementarianism.  And it would be most powerful and constructive if it came from leading complementarian women. For they are the ones whose cause is made ridiculous by a leadership which promotes a culture of neurotic angst about simple career plans and yet which shares gospel platforms with people channeling Joyce Meyer.  It is time to speak up.

Any takers?  Anyone?