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What I’m Reading: REFORMATION by Carl Trueman


Using blog space to say “Trueman nailed it” is the e-equivalent of using cup space to say “Coffee is hot.” Obviously. Nevertheless, I’m glad to say that Carl Trueman’s collection of essays published as Reformation is a very worthwhile read. I expected it to be a helpful reminder of Reformation history and its relevance to ministry today, and it was. But it’s more practical and devotional than I expected. Trueman connects the dots between Reformation theology and modern pastoral ministry under three basic themes:

  • First, (especially in chapter 2, “Meeting the Man of Sorrows”) Trueman writes with conviction and warmth about the centrality of the cross. “God-centered sermons must by definition be Christ-centered sermons if they are to contain even a drop of grace,” he writes (p. 27). It is in the cross where we see God’s glory, and love, and holiness. But it’s also in the cross where we see God use  weakness and suffering for His glory. “Suffering and weakness are not just the way in which Christ triumphs and conquers; they are the way in which we are to triumph and conquer too” (p. 49). Trueman writes elsewhere, often, against the triumphalism of the modern church and the need for a godly view of suffering and lamentation. This is significant for a church that is comprised of weak, suffering people and is called to reach weak, suffering people.
  • Second (in chapter 3, “The Oracles of God”), Trueman gives a theological and practical discussion on the pastor’s responsibility to preach the Word. There is power in God’s inspired Word, both when it is printed and when it is preached. Thus, Trueman calls preachers to fervent, expository preaching which demonstrates a grasp of systematic and biblical theology. Such text-based preaching is vital in its own right, but also because it teaches people how to read their Bibles (as Dr. Mark Minnick consistently reminded us when I was in school). “As he preaches the Bible week by week,” Trueman writes, “[the pastor] is not simply bringing home the message of salvation on a Sunday but is equipping his people for reading, studying, and appropriating that message of salvation during the week” (pp. 96-97).
  • Finally (and unexpectedly, in chapter 4, “Blessed Assurance”), Trueman unpacks the Reformers’ understanding of assurance. I say this chapter was unexpected because it’s fairly obvious that the Reformers dealt with Christ (part 1) and the Word (part 2). But the issue of assurance was and continues to be a central difference between biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism—the idea that based on Christ’s finished work we can know that our peace with God is certain and eternal (1 John 5:13). This is a vital doctrine. But it’s also extremely practical, for Bible preaching churches are filled with people who struggle with the issue of assurance of salvation. If you haven’t noticed, you’re either not approachable or not listening. It’s an excruciating struggle, and one for which shepherds must be equipped to help sheep. Trueman addresses the issue by pointing people away from subjective experience and toward objective truth about God and Christ. I do wish he had addressed the experiential “fruit” motif that is prominent in biblical discussions on assurance, as in 1 John. But his pointing us away from ourselves and to God is helpful. Pastors, listen to this challenge regarding the whole tenor of our pulpit ministries:

“In making preaching centre on God, on his saving acts and supremely on Christ, the preacher will automatically be creating an environment where the eyes of the congregation are drawn away from themselves, whether they be preoccupied with a morbid introspection or with an unhealthy excitement concerning their own experiences.”

The church needs leaders who will be relentless in biblical, God-exalting, Christ-centered preaching, and will thus “create an environment” in which people are more mindful of what God has done than what they have done.

This little book is an easy read (just over 100 pages), but very rewarding. It will be a huge help and encouragement to my pastor friends. It will engage your heart, your head, and your humor. Classic Trueman. I commend it to you.

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Related Tweet: “Theory: There is no Carl Trueman. D. A. Carson and Patrick McManus write articles together then use CT as a pseudonym.”

Thank God for “mundane, anonymous, non-descript people.”

Carl Trueman commends mundane ministry in this typically insightful post. Here’s a taste:

“In the real world, many, perhaps most,  of us worship and work in churches of 100 people or less; life is not loud and exciting; big things do not happen every Sunday;  budgets are incredibly tight and barely provide enough for a pastor’s modest salary; each Lord’s Day we go through the same routines of worship services, of hearing the gospel proclaimed, of taking the Lord’s Supper, of teaching Sunday School; perhaps several times a year we do leaflet drops in the neighbourhood with very few results; at Christmas time we carol sing in the high street and hand out invitations to church and maybe two or three people actually come along as a result; but no matter — we keep going, giving, and praying as we can; we try to be faithful in the little entrusted to us.  It’s boring, it’s routine, and it’s the same, year in, year out.   Therefore, in a world where excitement, celebrity, and cultural power are the ideal, it is tempting amidst the circumstances of ordinary church life to forget that this, the routine of the ordinary, the boring, the plodding, is actually the norm for church life and has been so throughout most places for most of the history of the church; that mega-whatevers are the exception, not the rule; and that the church has survived throughout the ages not just—or even primarily—because of the high profile firework displays of the great and the good, but because of the day to day faithfulness of the mundane, anonymous, non-descript  people who constitute most of the church, and who do the grunt work and the tedious jobs that need to be done.   History does not generally record their names; but the likelihood is that you worship in a church which owes everything, humanly speaking, to such people.”

(HT: Ryan Shanahan)

Trueman Recommends GM4M

Carl Trueman made a typically comical post at Reformation 21 today in which he gave Gospel Meditations for Men some love, calling it “a delightful and helpful little book of daily meditations.” He calls it “a great idea for a gift.” I agree! You can buy it in time for Father’s Day here. Thanks, Carl!

More kind endorsements here. Psalm 115:1.

My Two Cents on Rick Warren and Desiring God

This has been rumored for a while, but SharperIron confirmed with Desiring God yesterday that Rick Warren has indeed been invited to participate as a speaker at their 2010 conference. There will surely be a loud response to this from various perspectives in the days ahead. Phil Johnson’s brief tweet gives a taste of how it’s being received by some conservative evangelicals. Buckle up. There is a “red sky” this morning, sailors. The blogosphere is about to erupt with all things Piper and Warren, I imagine.

My two cents?Very quickly…

1. I’m disappointed. I’m surprised, though perhaps I shouldn’t be. Piper has shown in the past that he likes to push the envelope, as when he included Douglas Wilson and Mark Driscoll in the DG conference. The invitation to Warren just reveals how serious he was in comments to Mark Driscoll about how far he’s willing to bend for fellowship:

“Let me tell you how I think and how I decide who I’m going to hang with. As I look across the broad spectrum of Evangelicalism and all the different styles, what concerns me is doctrine. And if Mark Driscoll holds those nine truths firmly in his left hand, then I don’t care what’s in his open hand.”

I guess he means it. But…

2. This is different. Warren is the church marketing guru of our generation. He’s pushed decisionism and Finney-type tactics to new heights, and conservative evangelicals (such as Carl Trueman) have responded with concern, or indignation, or rolled eyes. In fact, he’s done things that are downright ecumenical. So this isn’t just a matter of “style.” He’s confused the “G” in T4G. To use Piper’s analogy, I’m not sure that what Warren does with his “open hand” makes real agreement with what’s in his “left hand” possible, despite what he may say in a doctrinal statement.

3. This could be a game-changer. It may not be as significant as Graham’s pushing fundamentalist unity to the brink via his LA and NY campaigns, but I think it could be a watershed decision. Will T4G-type evangelicals agree or defend it? I can’t imagine that, even as influential as Piper is. Will they speak out publicly? Will they look the other way? Probably all of the above; they’re a diverse bunch. It will be interesting to see. But as much as MacArthur-types love Piper, this sort of thing could push their tolerance and even their collaborative efforts to the breaking point.

4. This demonstrates that there are still very significant differences between even Calvinist-leaning separatists and conservative evangelicals, or at least with Piper. I love the man. I’ve grown from his teaching ministry more than anyone else’s, bar none. Still, this is a big deal. Though separation from fellow believers is often maligned, this demonstrates what happens in its absence.

That’s not to say that we need to revert to trench warfare between “them” and “us.” As I’ve said (here and elsewhere), I think the fundamentalist and new evangelical categories are so outdated and simplistic as to be essentially useless in our day. I’ve said that I’ll endeavor to make alliances on fidelity to Scripture, not labels. That’s still true. But issues like this aren’t mere “turf protection.” It’s not a matter of “this guy met with that guy who once had dinner with a guy who spoke for that guy.” This is an overt endorsement and fellowship with a man who has famously and consistently led Christians and non-Christians in the wrong direction on crucial topics. It is about truth, and alliances with the likes of Warren are indefensible.

All that to say, I think this could cast a long shadow.

Update: If you’re not inclined to read through the comments section (and I don’t blame you), I’ve offered a response to the videos of Piper’s explanations here.

Quick Hits (3/11/08)

Lots and lots of little bits to pass on, some of which is important. The first one? Not so much. But it’s funny.

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Timing Is Everything

I’ve driven for 20 years without getting a speeding ticket. Twenty years! Well, I picked a doozy of a time to get my first. The car? A borrowed Lexus. The passenger? Stephen Jones, following a day of preaching at TCBC. The witnesses? My little girls. Mommy thoughtfully pulled over to give the girls a clear view of their father getting accosted by a police officer. Nice.

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Mahaney on the Pastor and Reading

C.J. Mahaney’s take on the importance of the pastor’s reading is worth the read:

“And I would want to encourage pastors who I think might be tempted to view reading and study as selfish. I view reading and study as one of the most important ways I can serve the church. So it is not a selfish act for me to set aside this time. It is really the most effective way I can serve this church, by tending to my soul and by preparing for the various forms and expressions of ministry. The best way I can serve a church is by responding to the command to watch your life and watch your doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). It is the example of a pastor over a period of years and decades that will make a difference in the life of a congregation. And therefore I want to guard my heart from growing familiar with the pastoral world, growing familiar with God’s Word, growing familiar with corporate worship, growing familiar when I am listening to preaching, growing familiar when I am taking communion, growing familiar with God. I want to guard my heart from that. And the best way I can do that is by attending to his Word and applying his Word to my heart on a daily basis. I think that is the most effective way I can serve those I care for and those I have been called to serve and lead.”

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Home Schooling Under Fire

Speaking as a home school dad and the pastor of many home school families, this is alarming.

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SI Discussion 

The SI discussion of Matthew Hoskinson’s 9Marks article “A Christian Fundamentalist Travel Guide” (discussed at MTC here) is interesting. Though it gives me no joy to admit it, I think Joseph’s comment about the failure of fundamentalists to publish scholarly materials biting them in the long run is insightful.
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Piper on Machen and Separation

I’ve noted a number of times that I’m appreciative of Piper’s biographical sketches. Today, jogging and driving, I got to take in his lecture on J. Gresham Machen. I enjoyed the first 60 minutes, as they familiarized me with Machen, a man I need to learn more of. (Suggested reading, anyone?) The last 30 minutes contain Piper’s conclusions, then a Q&A time that includes his discussion of separation and his take on staying in the BGC. Frankly, those comments lack the typical clarity and sharpness I’ve come to expect from Piper, and (not surprisingly) I disagree with his take on separation and the way to determine when one is polishing brass on a sinking ship. It’s fascinating to hear him work through it, though.

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“He’s a machine.”

Turns out that the “he” of this video is Zach Hamilton, my friend and the son of my friend, Paul Hamilton who pastors Westerville Bible Church near Columbus, Ohio and serves as the current President of the OBF.

Typical Bible-thumping fundamentalist. :)

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Ryle’s Holiness

I finally finished up Ryle’s Holiness last night. I’ve been reading it with a friend from TCBC, and it’s been a very profitable study. It ends on a high note: chapters 18 (Unsearchable Riches) and 20 (Christ Is All) exalt Christ as the center of biblical Christianity, and indeed of all that exists. Thrilling stuff.

Parts of chapter 19 (Wants of the Times) could have been written as a modern polemic against postmodernism. I’ll close this post by quoting several chapters from it because it is so timely. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume the following was taken from Carl Trueman’s The Wages of Spin. There’s nothing new under the sun:

I cannot withhold my conviction that the professing church is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by skeptics and unbelievers without. Myriads of professing Christians nowadays seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with color blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound. If a preacher of religion is only clever and eloquent and earnest, they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be. They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error. Popery or Protestantism, an atonement or no atonement, a personal Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit, future punishment or no future punishment, “high” church or “low” church or “broad” church, Trinitarianism, Arianism, or Unitarianism, nothing comes amiss to them: they can swallow all, if they cannot digest it! Carried away by a fancied liberality and charity, they seem to think everybody is right and nobody is wrong, every clergyman is sound and none are unsound, everybody is going to be saved and nobody is going to be lost. Their religion is made up of negatives; and the only positive thing about them is, that they dislike distinctness, and think all extreme and decided and positive views are very naughty and very wrong!

These people live in a kind of mist or fog. They see nothing clearly, and do not know what they believe. They have not made up their minds about any great point in the gospel, and seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought. For their lives they could not tell you what they think is truth about justification or regeneration or sanctification or the Lord’s Supper or baptism or faith or conversion or inspiration or the future state. They are eaten up with a morbid dread of controversy and an ignorant dislike of “party spirit,” and yet they really cannot define what they mean by these phrases. The only point you can make out is that they admire earnestness and cleverness and charity, and cannot believe that any clever, earnest, charitable man can ever be in the wrong! And so they live on undecided; and too often undecided they drift down to the grave, without comfort in their religion and, I am afraid, often without hope.

The explanation of this boneless, nerveless, jellyfish condition of soul is not difficult to find. To begin with, the heart of man is naturally in the dark about religion, has no intuitive sense of truth and really needs instruction and illumination. Beside this, the natural heart in most men hates exertion in religion and cordially dislikes patient painstaking inquiry. Above all, the natural heart generally likes the praise of others, shrinks from collision and loves to be thought charitable and liberal. The whole result is that a kind of broad religious “agnosticism” just suits an immense number of people, and specially suits young people. They are content to shovel aside all disputed points as rubbish, and if you charge them with indecision, they will tell you, “I do not pretend to understand controversy; I decline to examine controverted points. I dare say it is all the same in the long run.” Who does not know that such people swarm and abound everywhere?

Now I do beseech all who read this message to beware of this undecided state of mind in religion. It is a pestilence which walks in darkness, and a destruction that kills in noonday. It is a lazy, idle frame of soul which, doubtless, saves men the trouble of thought and investigation; but it is a frame of soul for which there is no warrant in the Bible, nor yet in the Articles or Prayer Book of the Church of England. For your own soul’s sake dare to make up your mind what you believe, and dare to have positive distinct views of truth and error. Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions; and let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party–spirited, narrow or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colorless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.

What I’m Reading: The Wages of Spin, with Thoughts on Carl Trueman

Wages of SpinI was introduced to Carl Trueman “The Teacher” by my online friend Andy Naselli. Andy linked to a series of Trueman’s articles on John Owen last spring, and I listened to them while I ran or mowed my lawn. After enjoying a couple of the lectures, I emailed Andy and casually asked “Who is Carl Trueman?” His reply: “Who’s Trueman?!” I considered myself reprimanded.

I was introduced to Carl Trueman “The Man” by Led Zeppelin, oddly enough. I took exception with his admiring LZ in a post at Reformation 21 (here). After whacking him for it at MTC (here), I notified him of the post. That note and his response ended up getting posted at Reformation 21 (here, on their homepage here, and with a bit more information here). The mud-slinging has continued ever since.

Not really. Though Trueman is grievously wrong on that issue and on his broad-brushing of all fundamentalists as mean-spirited nitwits (here), we’ve developed an interesting sort of friendship via email. I asked him a while back which of his books I should read first, and he sent me an autographed copy of The Wages of Spin. As much as I would have loved sending him an autographed copy of my own book, I had to punt on that one. I sent him a copy of Barrett’s Complete in Him, if nothing else to show him that the caricature of fundamentalists that exists in his mind is, well, a caricature of fundamentalists that exists in his mind. (Aside: the company from which I ordered it initially sent a copy to a pastor in India. Oops. Or not.) He’s promised to send me another in time, at which time I’ll send McCune’s Promise Unfulfilled. That should be interesting. Continue reading