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

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.