Book Review: The Wages of Spin

Ever notice the increasing tendency in Evangelical circles to view disagreement as a troublesome, intrinsically oppressive thing? Fence-sitting is much more popular; that, and ignorance (or dismissal) of Christianity’s deep historical roots.

And of course, as Carl Trueman wryly observes, the point of having a debate is not to have “a conversation, and then to agree to differ as we all sit around in a mutually affirming, self-congratulatory love-fest.” The point is to establish which position is right (as the Apostle Paul repeatedly points out in Acts).

With The Wages of Spin, Carl Trueman delivers twelve critical essays on historic and contemporary evangelicalism. They’re short, they’re sharp, and they’ll challenge you to think about – and to have an opinion on – things that matter.

Oh, and your vocabulary will probably be tested, too.

It’s only April, so I can’t really start nominating for Best of the Year award; that said, I have the sneaking suspicion that The Wages of Spin will prove to be the best piece of non-fiction I read in 2012. Yes, it’s that good.

Anyone who has read Trueman will know that he’s about as far removed from “easy reading” as the east is from the west. I mean that as a compliment. This guy will truly stretch your brain, and in all the right ways. Just lend him your time and attention. Both will be well spent.

At less than 200 pages, The Wages of Spin may not look intimidating, but it can start to seem that way once you’re inside. Don’t give up. It’s all part of the brain-stretching process. And if you find yourself feeling very small next to the author’s genius, rest assured – that’s normal. I can only imagine what size hat he wears…

Each essay is well-reasoned and well-written, and thanks to Trueman’s witty style, you’ll be both educated and entertained. The first piece, Reckoning with the Past in an Anti-Historical Age, is one of the finest refutations of anti-historicalism (especially as it pertains to Christianity) that I’ve ever read. We’re treated to an examination of the rise of television-driven visual culture in The Undoing of the Reformation, and What Can Miserable Christians Sing? makes a brilliant case for Psalm-singing in church. And that’s just the beginning.

Two of the essays are devoted to defending B.B. Warfield, and I confess I found them to be a little dry. However, I attribute this not to a fault on Trueman’s part, but to my own ignorance of Warfield, his times, and the controversies surrounding him. That’s an ignorance I fully intend to remedy.

Below are some of my favorite passages from Trueman’s writings. If, for some reason, I have failed to convince you that this is a must-read, the words of the author himself will lend credence to my recommendation. No skimming, ‘kay?

From the Introduction:

[L]ove what I say, hate what I say, either are acceptable responses; but please try not to be indifferent to what I say. Indifference, the plague of modern Western culture in general and evangelicalism in particular, is at best the result of intellectual laziness, at worst a sign of moral abdication. (p. 10)

From Reckoning with the Past in an Anti-Historical Age:

The removal and destruction of traditions and histories which actually have some roots in the real past has frequently not liberated humanity but rather left aching voids which have been filled with synthetic traditions and histories which are indeed truly the invention of those who promote them; and arguably these have proved far more manipulative than many which have gone before. Multinational consumerism reduces all of life to a bland and rootless present, and as humanity finds itself free-floating and rootless, it desperately strives to create (rather than rediscover) for itself a history and a network of tradition which will give it value and identity. The death of history and the death of tradition has not proved to be a liberating experience; it has merely created a hole into which any old fairy-story can now be fitted. (p. 34)

From The Undoing of the Reformation?: 

Put simply, then, the question of the importance of words to the Christian church is a question of theology, not methodology: to marginalise preaching in our church life and outreach is to marginalise words; and to marginalise words will inevitably involve marginalising the Word himself. (p. 62)

From Theology and the Church: Divorce or Remarriage?:

None of this should be read as an attack on Christian experience. It is simply to point out that such experience is the result of the gospel, not the content of the gospel. To claim otherwise is to open the door to relativism. Once the gospel starts being presented primarily as that which brings such-and-such benefits, be they freedom from alcohol abuse or just emotional highs every once in a while, the distinctive peculiarity of Christianity is lost. Islam too gives people self-respect, cleans up neighborhoods, gives a sense of purpose; self-help programs have brought many back from the brink of self-destruction to decent lives; and, while Christianity gives me a sense of meaning and worth, so, I believe, does ferret-breeding for some people. So what have I to say to the perfectly contented ferret breeder? Not a lot, if Christianity is primarily about feelings, whether of satisfaction, happiness, or otherwise. I have Jesus; they breed ferrets. Result in both cases: happiness. So what’s the difference? The difference, of course, lies not in the experienced effect but in the cosmic bottom line: Christ is God acting to save for all eternity; ferrets are good only as temporary distractions from the deeper realities and concerns of life. (p. 73)

From The Importance of Evangelical Beliefs:

Christianity is a scandal – it is always going to be foolishness to those wise in their own wisdom – and we must be careful that credibility in whatever sphere we work in is not bought as the cost of evacuating Christianity of precisely those scandalous elements which constitute its very essence, whether by linguistic shifts such as that from “resurrection” to “Easter event”… or by the admiration, endorsement, or uncritical appropriation of the views of those who think nothing of denying the very foundations of the faith… we must beware of striving to make our evangelicalism too respectable. (pp. 154-155)

From The Marcions Have Landed!:

[T]he emphasis on God’s love to the utter exclusion of everything else has become something of a commonplace. We see this in the collapse of the notion of penal substitution as an evangelical doctrine. Now, maybe I’m missing something, but of all the things taught in the Bible, the terrifying wrath of God would seem to be among the most self-evident of all. Thus, when I hear statements from evangelical theologians such as “God’s wrath is always restorative,” my mind goes straight to countless Old Testament passages, the Bible’s teaching about Satan, and New Testament characters such as Ananias and Sapphira. There was not much restoration for any of these folk – or are being swallowed alive by the earth, consumed by holy fire, and being struck dead for cheating the church actually therapeutic techniques intended to restore the individuals concerned? And when leading evangelicals tell me that penal substitution is tantamount to cosmic child abuse (don’t laugh – this is seriously argued by some leading evangelical theologians), I’m left wondering whether I should sit down and explain the doctrine to them, or whether I should merely tell them to go away and grow up. Do they really expect the church to take such claims as serious theological reflection? (pp. 167-168)

From Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Big Issue:

Let me make myself clear at this point: I consider any move by churches to recognize as legitimate the sexual union of homosexual and lesbian partners to be at fundamental odds with the clear teaching of scripture. It is an offence to God’s holiness and, moreover, it is pastorally cruel and callous to the highest degree, effectively denying those involved the possibility for repentance for sin and of God’s love and grace. I also consider the holding of office in a church by someone who is openly committed to living in a homosexual relationship to be a travesty of Paul’s teaching about the qualities necessary for those called to lead in the congregation of the saints. But, then again, I also consider denial of the resurrection, the trashing of scriptural authority, the mocking of the death of Christ, and the casual trampling of any number of theological truths also to be at odds with scripture and to be just as pastorally cruel and callous. For me, homosexuality is not the issue; it is rather a symptom of our failure in these other areas; and to treat this as some kind of Rubicon is to misread the signs of the times. (p. 185)

24 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wages of Spin”

  1. I have the ten-volume Warfield, “Inspiration and Authority of The Bible” and “Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings”

    You’re welcome to borrow.

    Also, one of the speakers at Clarus this year was Fred G. Zaspel. His first lecture was on Warfield and his cut at soteriology. That might be a good entry point. I also have a copy of Zaspel’s shorter work on Warfield you can borrow..

    1. Thanks, Pastor Brainerd! I’d love to borrow those sometime, and will add them to my TBR list. And thanks for recommending Zaspel’s lecture, too – I’ll look it up and give it a listen. Sounds like a good introduction. :)

  2. Ink, take Tom Brainerd’s offer to read Warfield. I have ten volumes sitting in my shelf. Warfield is challenging reading, to be sure. I loved Wages of Spin. I have a book on John Owen written by Trueman that I had yet to read. Dr. Trueman’s lectures are readily available on iTunes U. I listened to his series on the medieval church. Excellent stuff.

  3. you caught my attention on this blog. at first i was thinking bible verse, the wages of sin,,,,,,,then i relooked, the wages of spin………u got me hooked on this one….

  4. Your little excerpts truly give the flavor of the book’s message. Until now, I have not heard of Trueman…but I will be checking into his other works! Thanks for the review!

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