Trueman on “Tragic Worship”

The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.

 

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power.

Read on at First Things

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Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light, Carl Trueman

The whole article is worth reading. But a couple snippets:

Let me interject a clarification at this point lest I be misinterpreted as saying that mere Christianity is something wrong in itself, a matter to be despised. That is emphatically not what I am saying at all. Salvation does not depend upon the individual’s possession of an elaborate doctrinal system or a profound grasp of intricate and complex theology. Yet this is not my point. What I am claiming is that mere Christianity, a Christianity which lacks this doctrinal elaboration, is an insufficient basis either for building a church or for guaranteeing the long-term stability of the tradition of the church, that is, the transmission from generation to generation and from place to place, of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. What is disturbing is that the advocates of postmodern mere Christianity are not debating how much one must believe to be saved; they are actually proposing a manifesto for the life of the church as a whole, a somewhat more comprehensive and ambitious project. It is the validity of this that I question.”

One cannot critique the inadequacies of the past until one has understood the past; one certainly should not abandon the past on the basis of a caricature; and the kind of historical misrepresentations which undergird certain postconservative analyses of the tradition stands at odds both with the possibility of such critique and with the claims of the very same people that we need to engage with tradition in order to meet the challenges of the contemporary world. Thus, let me put this as precisely as I can: the vigor of my criticism of such writers is provoked as much by their seriously problematic historiography as by any serious heterodoxy within their theology;”

The light may well by dying, but we will rage, rage against it; and be assured, we will never go gentle into that good night.”

Carl Trueman, “Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light,” WTJ 70 (2008): 1-18. (LINK)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas

Minority Report: A Question of Accountability

Carl Truman writes a great article that begins as follows:

Every year a few students ask me my thoughts about whether they should pursue doctoral studies and I respond with what has come to be known as ‘The Speech.’ Essentially, ‘The Speech’ runs something like this: ‘Do not do it if you think you are going to find a job at the end of it; do it for the sake of doing it. There are almost no jobs going in academia these days, and humanly speaking, time and chance are what make the difference between the one who gets the big break and the one who never even makes a shortlist. For every student who finds an academic job, there are countless others who do not. I studied with people much more talented than I am who ended up selling insurance or working in a bank.’

The advice is, I believe, good. The chances of finding a job are slim; and with a PhD you actually make yourself less employable for other things. This is not to say you should not do a PhD; but you need to be realistic about what you can expect. Of course, all human beings are, to some extent, narcissists: I have never given ‘The Speech’ to anyone who did not believe that they were destined to be the one in a thousand who lands the plum job—after all, I ignored similar sage advice on similarly narcissistic grounds more than twenty years ago; but at least I try to bring a little reality to bear on the situation.

There are a couple of other things I usually say as well. If the student is a married male, I always advise him to find out what his wife thinks about the plan. If she is not fully on board, then to pursue such study is stupid: it will place strain on the marriage, breed resentment, and almost certainly end in tears. But there is one other question I usually pose, if not bluntly, then at least in some form: to whom do you intend to be accountable?

Then this:

One of the most important things I do each week is assist my wife in teaching the four-year-olds Sunday School Bible class at my church. It keeps me grounded in reality, as there are few things more humbling than teaching the basics to a reluctant child, few things more delightful than seeing their Bible knowledge grow over the year, and surely few things more important than laying the foundations of the next generation’s Bible knowledge. Teaching such classes is also a pressing reminder that the vacuous pomposity that characterizes so much of the scholarly world is ultimately just a self-important smokescreen for asking and answering a myriad of frequently irrelevant questions. Your colleagues in the doctoral seminar might think you’re a genius, but, believe me, the five-year-old Sunday School pupil does not. She cares not a whit to whom you have spoken this last week, or for whom you have published this last year, or what fine and dandy initials you have after your name. She is more likely to regard you as weird, and if you cannot express yourself clearly and relevantly, she will let you know in her own unique way. Teaching such a class is like being a stand-up comedian in a New York or Glasgow club on a Saturday night: you earn your audience’s respect and attention; and they take no prisoners if you are less than you should be. Humbling indeed. But more than that, teaching such classes demands that you think through the faith not only as an intellectual exercise but also as something which needs to be practically communicated. If you are boring, irrelevant, unclear—or if you do not seem to care about the children—they will pick it up immediately and punish you for it mercilessly. That’s a form of accountability too, and crucial for those who spend their weeks in ivory towers, designing castles in the air.

Trapped in Neverland

I waste a lot of time reading a lot of different stuff when I should be reading more from Carl Trueman. This is a great article, an apt warning.

Today is so different. If the poverty and hard work of my grandfather’s era left men middle-aged at thirty, the ease and trivia of today’s society seems to leave us trapped in a permanent Neverland where we all, like so many Peter (and Patty) Pans, live lives of eternal youth. Where my grandfather spent his day hard at work, trying – sometimes desperately – to make enough money to put bread on the table and shoes on his children’s feet, today many have time to play X-Box and video games, or warble on and on incessantly in that narcissistic echo-chamber that is the blogosphere. The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all.

The answer, then, is not a naïve, nostalgic hankering for a return to an era of poverty and cruel hardship. Rather it is surely obvious: we need to put aside childish things and start acting like adults. Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself.

Trueman on Barth

Anyone know what he means here?

And I have yet to see Barthian preaching fill a church (there is an irony that Barthian preaching, with its `dynamic’ God is so often bland, while the `static’ God of fundamentalism (according to the Barthian critique) has generated some of the most dynamic preaching the world has ever seen).

I think I can guess what he means by ‘dynamic’ God, but if you can elaborate let me know.

From Carl Trueman, What can be learned from Barth?

Carl Truman: ‘Am I Bovvered’

When some stranger takes exception to something I’ve written and emails me to tell me I am an idiot or a child abuser, it hurts. When my kids tell me I’m not a good father, it hurts. When my wife tells me I’ve let her down at times, it hurts. The claims may be referentially true or false but that is scarcely relevant. Whatever the case, they construct a certain reality, and make a certain state of affairs come into being, whether I like it or not. As one of Catherine Tate’s characters would say, `Am I bovvered?’ Well, if I’m honest, yes, at some level I am, even by the most absurd and obviously untrue accusations. After all, somebody out there believes that some silly accusation is the case for them, it is a reality; and knowing this, I find that their reality impinges on mine. To call me an idiot may be idiotic; but it can still make me feel like one.

Great article, worth a read. You need to get to the conclusion!

edit: Can’t risk you skipping the conclusion

In other words, others might tell me I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes, as self-doubt creeps in and the Devil whispers in my ear. But the greatness of Luther’s Protestantism lies in this: God’s speaks louder, and his word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. I have peace in my soul because God’s word is real reality. That’s why I need to read the Bible each day, to hear the word preached each week, to come to God in prayer, and to hear words of grace from other brothers and sisters as I seek to speak the same to them. Only as God speaks his word to me, and as I hear that word in faith, is my reality transformed and do the insults of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself, cease to constitute my reality. The words of my enemies, external and internal, might be powerful for a moment, like a firework exploding against the night sky; but the Word of the Lord is stronger, brighter, and lasts forever.

Truman Teaches Heresy

(ht: Justin Taylor)
Very important point. I really think that often people in our circles can’t feel the force of argument of the positions that they oppose. This leads to a strong parochial position which no one but the leader of the group can really defend. I find it especially disturbing that I see this type of mentality in seminary where the leaders are to be trained.

This from Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (and recently elected Vice President of Academic Affairs), writes:

When I first became a Christian, I found myself in a tradition which held that one should only read orthodox books; indeed, one should only read books with which one already agreed. I understand the logic of this position; and I appreciate the concern which it embodies to protect believers from being misled. Some of the most brilliant and persuasive people in church history have been heretics, and people can be led astray by reading them. Yet those called to be teachers in the church need a solid grasp of orthodoxy; and that demands by its very nature a solid grasp of heresy. That is why I teach heresy in my classes, and why I make sure I do justice to the legitimacy of the questions which underlie virtually every heresy of which I can think; for it is only then that I can truly explain orthodoxy to my students. And I also get a perverse pleasure from using heresy to do that which heretics most despise: promote sound, biblical, historic orthodoxy.

Read the whole thing