Minority Report: Unpopular thoughts on everything from ancient Christianity to Zen-Calvinism by Carl R. Trueman
Now, this guy I like.
I read and enjoy Trueman’s posts on the Reformation 21 blog, so when I saw this in my local bookstore it was a no-brainer to buy it. The book comprises a collection of Trueman’s blog posts, but begins with four longer essays. In the introduction Trueman describes his book as “without a theme and with no obvious market” but were I the publisher I would have printed the longer essays at the end of the book, as they could be somewhat off-putting to the general reader. So my advice would be to buy the book, but start reading it half-way through.
Despite Trueman’s claim to be writing without a theme, there are consistent themes that run through the chapters. Trueman is professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary (as well as being editor of Themelios) and in his writing seeks to help the reader ask questions of current cultural and theological givens against the backdrop of church history. For example, he is consistently critical of an evangelicalism which no longer means very much:
What is evangelicalism? It is a title I myself identify with on occasion, especially when marking myself off from liberalism, another ill-defined, amorphous, transdenominational concept. But in a world where there are “evangelicals” who deny justification by faith as understood by the Protestant Reformers, who deny God’s comprehensive knowledge of the future, who deny penal substitutionary atonement, who deny the Messianic self-consciousness of Christ, who have problems with the Nicene Creed, who deny the Chalcedonian definition of Christ’s person, who cannot be trusted to make clear statements on homosexuality, and who advocate epistemologies and other philosophical viewpoints which are entirely unprecedented in the history of the orthodox Christian church, it is clear that the term “evangelical” and its cognates, without any qualifying adjective, such as “confessional” or “open” or “post-conservative,” is in danger of becoming next to meaningless.
Although resident in America, Trueman is a Brit, and brings a very British, somewhat sarcastic, sense of humour to his writing. Which is probably why I enjoy reading him so much. Here is a good example:
One of the questions I have been asked with some frequency… is why my contributions… tend to have something of a facetious edge to them. I am tempted to answer simply that that is the kind of person I am. If you want a bland blog, there are plenty of options out there, but, as Mariah Carey doesn’t do stairs, I try my best not to do bland. Whether I’m successful or not is unclear, though the amount of hate mail is encouraging in this regard: please keep sending it in; it means a lot to me and, judging by the adjectives alone, I know it means a lot to you too.
The American’s might not get that, but it really made me laugh! In fact, Trueman writes in a way I like to think I would, if only my IQ score were several points higher. He is phenomenally well read and sharp and brings a surgeons scalpel as well as a demolition hammer to the issues he discusses. It’s a long time since I’ve added quite so many squiggles in the margin to a book – pretty much everything seems worthy of underlining. There is so much here that I would like to quote that this review would just become a slightly shorter version of the book. But if you are brave enough, and sometimes enjoy the bracing slap of provocative theological insight across the flabby cheek of contemporary evangelicalism this is a book to read yourself. For brilliant insights into why the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity is so important; and into Ted Haggard’s fall from grace; and into our cultures obsession with youth, this is a book to chew on.
In his quest for subverting received wisdom Trueman is unafraid to upset some Evangelical apple carts. I’ll finish with this quote which stands as a good example of his unsettling style:
There are those who can write thousands of words on a man like Martyn Lloyd Jones with scarcely a word of criticism. Yet one assumes the Doctor, for all his great achievements, was still totally depraved like the rest of us; one assumes therefore that he did many things that were at least ambiguous in their impact and effects; and one might reasonably expect anyone writing on him, even his staunchest allies, to reflect this basic fact. Indeed, a study of him, warts and all, might well be more useful than a hagiography which leaves the reader either crushed (“I can never be like Lloyd Jones”), depressed (“if only the church had another Lloyd Jones everything would be alright…”), manipulative (“Well, the Doctor would have agreed with me…”), or positively dangerous (“Hey, maybe I should simply ignore the doctrine of the church as well!”). That the last few sentences almost certainly guarantee me splenetic hate mail merely proves my point. C.S. Lewis is another example: why is it that evangelicals have to make him into an evangelical in order to feel comfortable learning from him? He was not an evangelical, would have repudiated the designation, and is often useful to evangelical readers precisely because of his differences with the broad evangelical tradition. To have to make him – or any other great of the past – into something which conforms to that with which we are comfortable is both thoroughly patronizing towards Lewis and an act of narcissism which insulates us from allowing his thought to critique us.
Wow! Any evangelical prepared to go for those shibboleth’s has got to be fun to read!