Tag Archives: carl trueman

I Want You All to Call Me Loretta

“Apparently Facebook just added 50 new ‘gender options,’ or something. From now on, I want you all to call me Loretta.” – Well Spent Journey (via Facebook)


LORETTA: “I want to have babies.”
REG: “You want to have babies?”
LORETTA: “It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.”
REG: “But… you can’t have babies.”
LORETTA: “Don’t you oppress me.”

I can’t help but be reminded of this piece by Carl Trueman, from September of last year: “In his poem Marmion, Sir Walter Scott famously commented on lying as follows: ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.’ It seems that this line was never more apposite than when it comes to the plastic politics of contemporary sexual identity.”

 

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Trueman on the Medieval Church

I’ve had a zealous appreciation for Carl Trueman’s writing ever since reading The Wages of Spin (best non-fiction book I read last year). He is seriously awesome. If you aren’t acquainted with his work, get acquainted with it. In fact, here’s a chance to do just that.

A good friend of mine recently directed me toward Trueman’s lectures on Medieval Church history, a subject often derided and dismissed in our day (even within Protestant circles). The tendency is to regard the Medieval period as “the Dark Ages”, a time of superstition, savagery, and stagnation. This – as Trueman points out in his impeccably British way – is “arrant nonsense.”

Protestants may not go quite so far, but we can still be tempted to bypass the Medieval period and jump right to the Reformation, which is an utterly wrong-headed way to go about studying history, much less church history. To put it bluntly:

Without the developments that took place in the Middle Ages, we would have had no Reformation. Those of you who come from Protestant traditions, if you want to understand those traditions – why they are the way they are – one of the pieces in that puzzle has to be a proper understanding of the Middle Ages.

There are eleven lectures total, and all of them are available for free via iTunes U. Go download and listen to them. It will be time well spent.

More Than Doctrine, But Not Less

St. Theophan the Recluse:

Christian faith is not a doctrinal system but a way of restoration for fallen man.

Question: how does “restoration for fallen man” make any sense apart from doctrine? And how is one supposed to communicate the need for (and beauty of) this restoration without using doctrinal language?

As my pastor pointed out, “restoration for fallen man” is, in and of itself, a deeply doctrinal statement with massive implications. How did man come to be fallen? What does this fallenness mean? Can man truly be restored? If so, how? These are doctrinal questions in need of doctrinal answers. We help no one – least of all the lost – when we pretend otherwise.

Spurgeon understood this well. “The gospel,” quoth he, “is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men’s understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers. Hence, if we do not teach men something, we may shout, ‘Believe! Believe! Believe!’ but what are they to believe? Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing. ‘Escape!’ From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the punishment of sin. ‘Fly!’ But whither? Then must you preach Christ, and His wounds; yea, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice. ‘Repent!’ Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin? What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin ? ‘Be converted!’ But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? What from? What to? The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. ‘That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good,’ and it is ours as the Lord’s instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it, and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark, but in the power of the Holy Ghost we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.”

(Hark! What is that I hear? ‘Tis the sound of St. Theophan having his butt handed to him by the Prince of Preachers. C.H. didn’t even break a sweat.)

St. Paul:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

The Christian faith isn’t just about head knowledge. It cannot be reduced to doctrine. But to echo the words of Dr. Trueman, “it cannot be meaningfully separated from it either.”

The Pest of Nebulous Tradition

From Reformed Is Not Enough (p. 51):

God has created us in such a way that we do not have the luxury of a “no tradition” option. If we attempt it, the only thing we succeed in doing is incorporating a good deal of confusion into the tradition we hand down. This was seen by one wise Baptist pastor, who said, “We Baptists don’t believe in tradition. It is contrary to our historic position.” Our children grow up in our homes, and they learn countless lessons there – about worship, liturgy, devotion, cultural incarnation, and more. Most of what they know about these things is invisible to them. It is the teaching office of the Church, in part, to point out, identify, explain, and teach the biblical basis for such traditions. If there is no biblical basis for something, and the tradition is pernicious, then the point of the scriptural teaching should be in order to remove that tradition.

But the real pest is nebulous tradition. Traditions are at their worst when they grow up and are simply assumed in the bones, with no examination. But sinful human beings always need accountability – and sinful human opinions and traditions are the same. Those who compare themselves with themselves are not wise (2 Cor. 10:12).

“We do not have the luxury of a ‘no tradition’ option.” I love that. It reminds me of the case Carl Trueman makes in his book on creeds and confessions: namely, that the world is not divided between those who have creeds and those who don’t. It is divided between those who have creeds that are available for public scrutiny, and those who have private creeds, unavailable for others to see and test by Scripture.

In the same way, we are not looking at a division between people with traditions and people without traditions. Everyone has traditions. But not everyone tests their traditions by Scripture to see if they are worth keeping. Those who fail to do so are walking a dangerous road with a vertical drop at the end. The fall won’t be pretty.

Book Review: The Creedal Imperative

creedal-imperative-carl-r-trueman-paperback-cover-art“No creed but the Bible.” Few slogans have a stronger foothold in today’s evangelical vocabulary. It’s catchy, sounds pious, and appears to set forth a high view of Scripture. For many, it’s just another way of affirming sola scriptura.

But it isn’t – not really. It is, in fact, a remarkably incoherent thing to say. It’s also ironic, given the fact that the Bible itself teaches the need for creeds. Such is Carl Trueman’s position in The Creedal Imperative, and I must say, he argues it brilliantly.

The book opens with an examination of “the cultural case against creeds and confessions,” and then moves on to explore the foundations of creedalism, the classical Protestant confessions, the centrality of creeds to Christian doxology, and the usefulness of creeds and confessions within the church.

Tried and tested over the years, the best creeds contain solid theology clearly expressed in appropriate language. The question is not so much ‘Should we use them’ as ‘Why would we not use them?’ They do nothing but ensure that biblical content and priorities are kept uppermost in the worship of the church.

As Trueman points out, every Christian and every church has a creed – even if their creed is to have no creed. There is no division between the haves and the have-nots. The only division is between those who have creeds and confessions that are written down and available for public scrutiny, and those who have creeds and confessions that are private, unwritten, unavailable for public scrutiny, and therefore not subject to testing by Scripture to see if they are true. And that, says Trueman, is a serious problem.

I want to argue that creeds and confessions are thoroughly consistent with the belief that Scripture alone is the unique source of revelation and authority. Indeed, I want to go somewhat further:  I want to argue that creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church, and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words which was so precious to the aging Paul as he advised his young protege, Timothy. Linked to the latter point, I want to make the case that it is at least arguable, based on Scripture, that the need for creeds and confessions is not just a practical imperative for the church but also a biblical imperative.

This is Trueman at his finest: passionate, eloquent, erudite, and challenging. His arguments are strongly and cogently presented, but he avoids the “distasteful, not to mention sinful, tendency among many confessional writers to look down with scorn and derision on those who are not confessional.

I trust I have not written in that spirit; rather, I hope that this book will go some way to persuading nonconfessional Christians who love the Bible and seek to follow Christ that confessionalism, far from being something to fear, can actually help them to better protect that which is so dear to them.

I will warn you that despite the book’s comparatively short length, it is not light reading. To offer a slightly modified version of Boromir’s famous phrase, “One does not simply read a Trueman book.” This is a book to study and re-study – so grab your highlighter, pen, and notebook and get down to business.