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Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.

Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.

1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.

GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)

2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:

The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …

The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.

Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks

concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions

because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:

there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:

In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.

I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?

3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.

The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.

Excerpts follow:

… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …

The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.

Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …

Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …

The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …

4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.

The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.

On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.

Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.

Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:

Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.

He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:

Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”

Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.

Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.

I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:

Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?

Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.

Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.

5/ Finally, I found Dr Carl Trueman‘s article on First Things, ‘President Trump, Therapist-In-Chief?’

Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.

Trueman says:

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.

He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.

However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.

6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.

D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:

I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.

So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!

… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological

This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:

… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.

The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …

And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.

I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.

Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.

In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.

In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.

For the past several days, I have been running a series on N T ‘Tom’ Wright‘s New Perspective(s) on Paul (NPP).

NPP is error-ridden and works-based. Today’s post concludes with four more articles — from two pastors and a theologian.

Over the past week, I have received some feedback on these posts indicating that those who criticise NPP have not read the many marvellous books written about it. How dare people criticise 20th and 21st century revisionism?

Critics have the books, all of which point to semi-Pelagianism and a misunderstanding of St Paul. For those who wish to remain in their error — have at it, if you must, but please do not expect the rest of us to follow blindly.

The Revd Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois, tells us in Part 1 of 2 in his series on NPP that this theology is revisionism borne of the 20th century. NPP denies legalism then cloaks itself in it. Furthermore, Gilley cautions us about the postmodernist thinking therein:

There are other developers and promoters of the NPP including James Dunn of the University of Durham, but it is important to note that all of the aforementioned scholars would be considered liberal in their theology and understanding of Scripture. Enter now N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and leading New Testament scholar (author of 43 books) who claims to be an evangelical and is accepted by many as such. It is Wright who has become the conduit through which the NPP teachings have entered the evangelical church. For this reason, as we examine the NPP, it is the writings of Wright with which we will interact, principally his book What Saint Paul Really Said.

NPP is about salvation which the Christian maintains through church membership. In Part 2 of his examination of NPP, he tells us that this is called covenental nomism (emphasis in the original):

One does not earn a place in the covenant through works (except the work of baptism). However to maintain one’s position in the covenant requires obedience to the laws of the covenant. One enters the covenant by faith but stays in by works.

Dr Wright has furthermore stretched St Paul’s epistles to include reconciliation with the Jewish people. I have explained my position on this previously and conclude, as has been the case with my spouse, in-laws and me, that we do so individually by the grace of God.

On this and the subject of works, Gilley says that the NPP contingent assert:

Paul is not really concerned about the individual’s standing before God. His concern is about the status of Gentiles who are now joining the Jews in the covenant community. Paul is laying down boundary markers for those in the community (the church); badges that tell who is “in,” not requirements for getting “in.” Since those who practiced Judaism were already in the covenant community, so say the NPP scholars, the only issue is how to integrate Gentiles into the already-established community.

So, we must therefore become Pharisaical through ‘works’ and obedience to the Law as they see it. Clearly, Jesus Himself told us that this was not the case. Please see my passages from John’s gospel for further reference (Christianity and Apologetics page near the bottom).

And there is the political activist-theonomist dimension as Gilley notes (as did Michael Horton). Emphases mine below:

I see many things wrong with this definition of the gospel; two are outstanding. First, it transfers the focus of God’s people from the proclamation of redemption to social enhancement of the planet. For, as Wright points out, His gospel is not merely the announcement that Jesus is Lord (something true before the cross, by the way) but the rallying point from which the church is to “bring the whole world under the lordship of Christ.” Our mandate under the NPP is not to rescue people “from the domain of darkness, and transfer them to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). Rather our mandate is to rescue the planet and ultimately to crown Christ as lord over all earthly systems and structures. God’s people are to set up the kingdom which Christ began. This is a clear “kingdom now” perspective found in postmillennialism. That is, we are in the kingdom now and our job is to advance the kingdom to the point where Christ can declare kingship over the earth and ultimately reign in person. For now this shakes out to be a social agenda.

This becomes even clearer when vital aspects of the true gospel are either minimized or eliminated altogether. Thus, my second concern is even more serious, for in elevating the social agenda the redemption agenda is devalued. Take the all-important doctrine of justification, for example. Conservative Christians have agreed that justification is defined as Christ forgiving and taking away our sin and giving us God’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). The NPP rejects this definition replacing it with Christ’s eschatological victory for the nation of Israel.

Yet, recall that Jesus said (John 18:36):

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

The gospel message has nothing to do with a vulgar (Isaiah 64:6) manmade let’s-help-Christ-save-Himself construct. It is to do with salvation, not politics, theonomy, interpersonal harmony or the environment, however else NPP proponents would like to paint it.

More significantly, Gilley posits that (emphasis in the original and mine in the second sentence):

one enters the covenant by faith plus works (baptism), is sustained in the covenant by involvement in the church, and is maintained in the covenant by obedience. You can understand why many see the NPP as merely a thinly disguised road to Rome.

Another article, by Dr Carl Trueman, Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, is called ‘A Man More Sinned Against than Sinning? The Portrait of Martin Luther in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship: Some Casual Observations of a Mere Historian’ and is published on Dr R Scott Clark’s Westminster Seminary California faculty page.

Trueman contends that N T Wright and the other NPP authors have not read St Augustine or Martin Luther properly:

For Protestants, the issue is particularly acute. Given the role of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith both in the theology of the Reformation, and as perhaps the defining feature of Protestantism over against post-Tridentine Catholicism, the kind of revision being proposed by the New Perspective involves a fundamental re-definition of what Protestantism, at least in its conservative, confessional form, is.


We should, after all, not lightly throw out at least 500, if not 1500, years of church teaching. We need to be acutely sensitive to the magnitude of the moves we make in this area and thus proceed with modesty, caution, and careful scholarship.

He goes into a useful historical précis (see subhead ‘Luther in the New Perspective: A Brief Historical Overview’). Trueman says that, although N T Wright is more prominent in NPP circles, James Dunn is the NPP proponent who has hit Luther the hardest. That said, neither Wright nor the others are off the hook in this regard.

Then, Trueman points out, we are faced with the stigma of ‘individualism’. What do NPP authors mean by that word? Trueman observes (emphases mine):

When, for example, does it begin? With the arrival of knives and forks rather than a communal eating pot? Perhaps the man who invented knives and forks was the first individualist. Or was it with the advent of the Cartesian principle of doubt? With the development of the genre of autobiography? Or with the development of copyright legislation or the notion of personal property, intellectual or otherwise? I have not time to discuss these in more detail; but I do want to make the point that the complexity of issues which even this brief litany of questions brings to the surface underlines the fact that we must think beyond cliches if we are to do justice to the nuances of intellectual history in general and the church’s theological tradition in particular

Given that the term has no obviously given meaning, what exactly does Dunn mean by Luther thinking of justification in distinctly individualistic terms? It would appear that what he sees Luther as doing is emphasising the vertical dimension of salvation between God and believer as taking such prominence within his soteriological scheme that the corporate aspects of salvation and Christianity are weakened and eventually eliminated (this process reaching its terminus in the existentialist reading of Luther found in the work of Rudolf Bultmann).  This development is seen as the logical outworking of Luther’s theology and not necessarily something which was explicit in Luther’s own work or even of which he was consciously aware.

Trueman readily acknowledges the horrors of the Holocaust, but traces those back to the Enlightenment, which was as important in Germany as it was in England, France and early America:

Nevertheless, even if we allow the ideas of particular individuals a significant role in the formation of a nations social, political, and cultural values (and that in itself is a philosophically contentious position with which I am profoundly unhappy in such a bald form), Luther’s Christianity is by no means the sole candidate for criticism as far as Germany’s recent history goes: the philosophy of Hegel and Bismarck’s policy of Realpolitik are also significant intellectual sources of modern Teutonic totalitarianism.

As far as works-based holiness movements and denominations are concerned, Trueman observes:

Now, we all know that Luther’s analysis of the Christian life, as found, for example, in his Commentary on Galatians, came to exert a profound influence on the popular piety of later conversionist evangelicalicalism, partly through its impact and appropriation by John Bunyan and John Wesley, whose writings and life stories were to have such an effect upon shaping eighteenth and nineteenth century popular piety; but we must beware of blaming the earlier Reformers for problems that develop in later tradition. The Reformers felt no tension between their emphasis on infant baptism and that upon justification by faith; and it is illegitimate for us to import such tension back into their writings or to impute the problems of later Protestant theology to questions which they allegedly left unanswered. One can hardly leave a question unanswered which was never asked in the first place.

Trueman concludes that NPP is great — for those who have not read the New Testament or its supporting texts:

It too must be beautiful, but only if you don’t know the primary texts …

It is on the basis of their consistent and careful application of these procedures that these scholars ask me to trust them when they tell me that the whole of Christian tradition is basically wrongheaded over salvation, that the Reformers were more guilty than most in the perversion of the gospel, and that I should trust them as the only people since Paul to have understood what the gospel is all about. Well, in those areas of their writings where I am competent to judge their application of historical procedure, I find them sadly deficient.

Finally, the Revd Charles E Hill, a pastor with Third Millennium Ministries (‘Third Mill’) published an article, ‘N T Wright on Justification’. He presents an exegesis of Paul’s epistles. In laymen’s terms, he concludes:

What does this redefinition do for Wright? It keeps justification (reckoned righteousness) at the point of “ecclesiology” [church membership] rather than “soteriology.” [salvation] Justification is for him the presentation of your card at Costco: Are you a member? Here’s my card. I pronounce you justified, come in. This happens every time you go to Costco.

But for Paul justification is not a test of a membership already possessed, a test which can be repeated each time your “righteousness” is called into question. It is the eschatological pronouncement of God, once and for all, that those who believe in Christ stand before God as fully forgiven, fully righteous, on the basis of Christ’s propitiation for them. This reckoned righteousness is not an abstract thing. Elsewhere Paul says that our righteousness is not our own, not based on law or works, but is the gift of God (e.g. Rom. 3.24; 4.4; 10.3-4; Phil. 3.9).

What difference does Wright’s redefinition of justification make? I think it risks minimizing the importance of sin and of the atoning significance of Christ’s death. I’m not saying he denies the atoning significance of Christ’s death. But when you minimize the central importance of sin, you necessarily call into question the centrality of Christ’s atoning death …

The whole coherency of justification as meeting the problem of the wrath of God against sin, and therefore as being absolutely grounded in the substitutionary atonement by Christ which diverts that wrath from us, is lost or obscured in the membership interpretation. These things may not yet be denied by Wright, but there is no intrinsic connection between them and justification, as I see it, in Wright’s view.

I hope this has helped many — whether from the left-wing or right-wing of Protestantism — to understand the error of New Perspectives on Paul. Whilst realising that NPP wishes to right 20th century wrongs, it is going about it in the wrong way — revisionism.

You might also like Dr Ligon Duncan’s forensic examination of the various NPP authors, their theology, why they are popular and more on the error of NPP.

End of series

Yesterday, I featured Dr Carl Trueman‘s comments on the importance of leisure time, as evidenced by Martin Luther’s Table Talk, a miscellany of thoughts which his friends compiled based on their conversations with him outside of formal teaching sessions.

Today, thanks again to Dr Trueman and Martin Luther, we look at more from Table Talk, specifically, the nine marks of a good preacher, as featured in Reformation 21.  A summary of the first five of these are in ‘Luther on the Marks of a Good Preacher I’:

– ability to teach

– possession of a good mind

– eloquence

– clarity of speech

– a good memory

Why these traits over other more spiritually-minded ones?  Dr Trueman explains:

In short, the person should be able to think and speak clearly, two traits which are often intimately connected.  It seems like common sense, but these basic elements are often neglected by churches, seminaries, sessions, elder boards, presbyteries and classes.   To put it bluntly: if you cannot put a decent, clear sentence into English and speak it in a way that others can understand, you are not called to the ministry, no matter how much that inner voice tells you that God is calling you to preach, or your mum tells you you’d make a wonderful pastor.

That does not mean that you cannot be of great use to the church; but clarity of mind and speech are absolutely basic, just as important as godly zeal and sense of call (internal and external), for the office of preacher.   We need to be careful that we do not over-spiritualize the call: just as someone with St Vitus’ Dance should never be allowed to be a brain surgeon, so the one who cannot speak with coherence and confidence should not be in a pulpit.


The task for the church is thus twofold: to create a culture which reflects the Pauline culture where to desire to be an elder is a good thing, elders are honoured, and elders who teach are considered worthy of double honour; but also to avoid the kind of Protestant sacerdotalism where many think the only way of being of true value is to hold ordained office.   That requires church officers to be true servants of the people; and to have the courage to tell someone who cannot teach that, however powerful the inner call, they are not called to be a teacher.   Not an easy balance; and the latter in particular might prove tough in a culture where it is considered self-evident that every member has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of ministry.

But, as usual, Luther got it right.

Dr Trueman covers the next four characteristics in part II:

– Knowing when to stop preaching

– Really understanding one’s subject matter so as to sound confident and be convincing

– Committing one’s life and enthusiasm to preaching

– Having the ability to accept ridicule from anyone

On sermon length, Dr Trueman, who is the Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, observes:

There are few things more disheartening as a congregant than hearing a forty minute preacher preach for fifty minutes, a thirty minute preacher preach for forty minutes, or a twenty minute preacher preach for thirty minutes.  Somehow, that last ten minutes can weaken and even destroy the impact of all that has been said in the sermon to that point.  There is no virtue in length for the sake of it … Get up there, say what you’ve got to say as clearly as you can, and then sit down again.  That’s all that’s necessary.   As Luther says elsewhere in Table Talk (2643a), `I hate a long sermon, because the desire on the part of the congregation to listen is destroyed by them, and the preachers hurt themselves.’   And, as usual, Luther got it right.

My personal observation on the next two is that they — the seventh and eighth marks — go together. An all-consuming knowledge and love of one’s subject — Christ and the Gospel — infuses every word a good preacher utters.  He cannot help but make a listener innately feel that the life of Christ and the story of the Gospel is something he just has to know.  Think of your favourite television show — how you can hardly wait to watch it each week.  This is how Martin Luther and other outstanding preachers gathered their audiences. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the famous 18th century evangelist George Whitefield, who travelled between his native England and America.  The man was born to preach and he loved God and His Son from boyhood.  Whitefield had an irresistible urge to tell people about Christ and the Gospel, and he delivered his message such that all who heard it — from Benjamin Franklin to the noted Shakespearean actor David Garrick — also had an irresistible urge to listen to what he had to say!  Both Franklin and Garrick commented on Whitefield’s delivery.  Franklin said that Whitefield’s voice could be heard two city blocks away.  Garrick marvelled at the inimitable way that Whitefield intoned certain phrases, wishing he could do the same on stage.

Whitefield was the sort of preacher whose every waking thought was consumed by Christ and His Good News.  When Whitefield would return to Oxford, he would say:

‘Whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to the spot where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me and gave me the new birth.’

And, of his ordination:

‘My heart was melted down and I offered my whole spirit, soul, and body to the service of God’s sanctuary.’

Sadly, if a candidate for seminary uttered something similar today, his ecclesiastical interviewers would most likely recommend him for psychiatric examination. Such enthusiasm for and love of the Lord is frowned upon these days.   And we in the pews are poorer for it.

This is one of the reasons why Billy Graham struck such a chord worldwide for so many years — when his theology was purer. (Having said that, his belief at the time in UFOs is rather unsettling.) His preaching was, to say the least, unforgettably moving.  Consider that not everyone who heard him speak around the world had a good grasp of English, yet, through his heartfelt enthusiasm for Christ and His Church, they couldn’t help but truly hear — grasp that message.  I know of no one — believer or unbeliever — who ever said that Billy Graham was boring or sleep-inducing.

Back to Dr Trueman:

Sadly, the modern … penchant for cliched phrases and blather … seems more often used an excuse for boring lectures pretending to be sermons than as a basis for passionate, confrontational preaching of the Luther kind, a kind truly built on an understanding of the doctrine of justification as a living, personal reality, not a mere concept, and which in turn actually built a Reformation …  The law and gospel were objective declarations — and yet they tore hearers apart and put them back together again as they were preached, a point of which Luther was only too personally aware and which flavoured everything he did in the pulpit, from overall sermon structure to tone of voice and all points in between.

It all goes back to the old ‘It ain’t what you say but the way that you say it’.

Dr Trueman concludes:

Boring lecturers pretending to be preachers kill churches.  Period. End of story. And interesting lecturers pretending to be preachers kill churches too — not necessarily in terms of numbers (a lecture can, after all, be fascinating and pull in the intellectual punters week after week) but in terms of the formalism they engender — precisely the kind of formalism against which Luther raged so effectively..

Lecturing is not preaching.  That’s what Luther is getting at when he flags up the life or death commitment it requires … Sorry, friend — prose is not verse; lecturing is not preaching; and if, as a preacher, you can’t tell the difference, please resign and do something else with your life before you do any more damage.  Congregations deserve better than long-winded lecturers with more time on their hands than good sense between their ears.

As to the ninth mark about accepting being ridiculed by anyone, Dr Trueman writes, simply:

As usual, Luther got that one right as well.

May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers in the UK a fun August Bank Holiday Monday.

Some of you will be enjoying your last public holiday before Christmas.  Others will be using this as a springboard for a week off before work ramps up afresh in early September.  Wherever you are, I hope the weather is good.  This day is often rainy and damp, so it’s always a welcome surprise if the sun shines and temperatures soar.

Carl Trueman, whom I have featured on these pages before, highlighted Martin Luther’s regard for the importance of leisure time.  Dr Trueman, a Presbyterian originally from the UK, is currently the Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He also writes for Reformation 21.  In a recent blog post, ‘On the Virtue of Wasting Time’, he laments the American penchant for helicopter parents packing every minute of their children’s day with a worthwhile after-school activity.  He recalls that his own schooldays included free time after lessons when he was able to play with friends or just relax a bit.  

But the compulsion to constantly be ‘doing something’ also affects many adults in the United States.  Dr Trueman muses:

Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness.  As Kierkegaard once said, ‘Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good’ — a truly amazing theological insight.   Some may think that that maybe going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.

Dr Trueman read Martin Luther’s Table Talk, a miscellany of personal observations and advice, such as these:

‘The sixth mark of a good preacher is knowing when to stop.’

‘One only studies something as dirty as law in order to make money.’

Luther’s friends compiled these bon mots after he conversed with them during leisure time.  Conversation and conviviality over a drink or two are why men have their favourite ‘local’, a pub or tavern. There, they put the world to rights and share a laugh before gearing up for another day of hard graft. 

Dr Trueman cautions us against neglecting meeting up with friends, particularly in an increasingly digtalised world:

… laughter in the face of adversity and hardship not only being vital in this regard but also, of course, an almost exclusively social phenomenon that requires company; drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.

Hear, hear!  So, take time out for refreshment with friends.  It’s every bit as valuable as your household projects and your work.

Carl Trueman monergismcomOne of the stars of the Calvinist blogosphere is Dr Carl Trueman.  He is Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has an MA in Classics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Church History from the University of Aberdeen. He is also an editor and author.

He is also an expert at understanding postmodernism.  In a recent column for Reformation 21, Trueman observes:

… the language of pain and suffering has come to permeate mainstream modern discourse.  Everywhere I look, I find people ‘processing their pain’, ‘feeling the hurt’, or reacting to comments from others that are variously described as ‘hurtful’, ‘insensitive’, or ‘cruel’.

Another opportunity for me to breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘Phew.  I thought it was just me.’   It’s all over the workplace.  A colleague walks in, says, ‘I can’t believe how rude the woman at the sandwich shop was today!  All I asked for was my usual latte and –‘  the story unfolds over a perceived slight between server and customer.  Before long, someone else pipes up and says, ‘Oh, how hurtful!  Can’t these people see how cruel they are?  Oh, I hope that doesn’t ruin your day.’  Oh, for goodness sake, get over it.  People are rude to each other all the time, especially in a metropolis.  Stop the po-mo self-pity and victimisation!

A couple of years ago I had dinner with a friend.  We briefly — because it’s a banned subject here in Britain — got onto the subject of (gasp!) religion.  He said, ‘It must have been terribly difficult being raised as a Catholic.  I feel so sorry for you.  There must have been a lot of pain.’

I looked at him blankly and said, ‘No, there was no pain at all.  Why would you think that?’

‘From what I read, it’s a very strange environment.  A lot of Catholics end up going into therapy.’

At that point, I almost burst out laughing. I was tempted to ask how he had been churched but, frankly, couldn’t be bothered. 

Anyway, back to Dr Trueman.  He is thinking of correspondence accusing him of ‘personal attacks’ by people of whose existence he was previously unaware.  So, how can they be ‘personal’ and can that person really be ‘hurt’?  Isn’t the argument put forth in the essay or blog post the essential?  (Emphases mine throughout.)

By using the categories of hurt and pain with reference to arguments, one plays the ace in the postmodern hole and effectively focuses attention not on the substance of a position but on the style; or, perhaps more accurately, one transubstantiates the style into the substance.  There has always been something of this in the nature of argument, of course: many of us have attended debates where our brains tell us that the one protagonist has won, but, frankly, he behaved in such an arrogant way that, when the votes are cast, we side with the loser and give him the spoils.  But the modern world seems to have taken this to the next level: everything with which I disagree is so hurtful, every time I suffer a trivial setback I have to process my pain and ethics and argument are all about aesthetics, not truth or falsehood.

And, here’s why Calvinists like Trueman are such a refreshing antidote to the foolishness of society today:

The impact of all this feeling of hurt and processing of pain is twofold.  First, as noted above, it transforms arguments from debates about truth into debates about taste; and that is lethal for Christian orthodoxy.  Now, Paul does talk about aesthetics at points in his writings, and presenting arguments persuasively surely requires attention not just to what is said but to how it is said. But he railed something rotten against those who denied certain truths and proposed certain myths … The mewling and puking among the more aesthetically inclined over my comments about the film Milk on Reformation 21 are a case in point … In today’s public square, it is apparent that plain speaking is unacceptably tasteless in a way that sanctimonious Hollywood sermons about the political radicalization of gay sex are not.

Yes, why is that?  Cultural pressure from diverse groups in a postmodern era. 

Yet, he notes that true pain — physical or psychological — becomes trivialised:

Late last year, I was sent a column from some webpage where [a Christian] was lamenting that they had lost their job.  Now, I spent eighteen months out of work myself at one point in my life; it was not pleasant and I have great personal sympathy with anyone caught in such a situation.  It quickly strips one of self-respect and dignity; but, believe me, bad as it was, it was not analogous to twentieth-century genocides in Europe; yet this was the analogy this person drew and through which they apparently found the strength to carry on.

Trueman places the blame on our postmodern ‘me, me, me’ culture of ego:

How did things come to such a sorry pass that even in the church there are those who discuss theology not so much in the categories of truth and error but of hurt and pain?  Well, postmodern monkey see, postmodern monkey do.  My guess is that the church has come to ape the world …

In terms of intellectual/cultural history, I suspect the fusion of Marxism and Freudianism in the late fifties and sixties in the work of men such as Herbert Marcuse made oppression less a function of economics and more of being forced to be `inauthentic’ by society.  This, combined with Freud’s view of the subconscious and Marxism’s false consciousness, meant that all disagreements could come to be seen as oppressive, and that, however plausible my arguments against your position might seem, they are really masks hiding my attempts to oppress or control you …

The importance of therapy in modern America is one key sign that the rarified philosophy of these men has penetrated in practical ways to the commonplace level of everyday life and routine.  The net effects are evident everywhere: nobody can dare to say that their position is superior to anybody else’s because that denigrates, marginalizes, represses, and oppresses.   That therapy, conversation, and a general prioritizing of aesthetic categories now grips the church and its own moral and theological discourse should be a cause for real concern.   In a world devoid of truth content, claims to truth are oppressive and thus personal, hurtful, and distasteful; and the church seems, by and large, to be buying into just this kind of namby-pamby nonsense.

Yes, and this is what worries me, too.  And, I hope that the Calvinists — the ‘last men standing’, so to speak — don’t fall victim to it.  But, lately, I’ve begun seeing posts about European heritage-guilt, social justice, voting Left ‘according to the Bible’ (hmm) and super-kewl church services as well as photographs of metrosexually-attired ministers (what was wrong with the authoritative suit and tie?). 

I had almost made a couple of potential converts to Calvinism — and if we’d had a Reformed church nearby, I have no doubt these people would have attended. So, please do not make the same mistake every other church has!  It will only end in tears for the congregation!  (This blog details horror stories from other denominations — see for yourselves!)

But, I digress.  Trueman notes the recent po-mo phenomenon of ‘hurt mail’:

But I think there is more to this phenomenon of hurt and pain than a mere aping of the culture.  It is more cunning and dishonest than that … Hurt mailers, by comparison, are rather more subtle and duplicitous: by claiming pain, they immediately do two things.  First, they make themselves the poor victims; and second, they imply that the targets of this hurt mailing are intentionally malicious perpetrators.  The game is precisely the same as with hate mail — to make someone whom they dislike or whose opinions they discount shut up — but the tactic is different: to win by seizing the moral high ground that belongs to the professional victim.

… Expressions of hurt are too often really something else: cowardly attempts by representatives of a cosseted and self-obsessed culture to make themselves uniquely important or, worse still, to bully and cajole somebody they dislike to stop saying things they don’t want to hear or which they find distasteful.

Isn’t this a breath of fresh air?  I would love to hear something like this from the pulpit — anytime, anywhere.  It’s so true and, for that reason, it blows postmodernism out of the water.

For more articles on postmodernism, click here.

Covering ears fotosearchcom‘Why aren’t you SINGING?’

You really want to know?  Because I’m fed up to the back teeth with this feminised brand of Jesus and its moratorium on any hymns that hint at spiritual strength.  I’m also sick and tired of hymns that sound like bad pop tunes.  I’m also tired of churchy songwriters making a mint off of royalties for heretical lyrics and awful melodies. 

Please — leave the Church alone!  How much would I have to pay you to JUST GO AWAY?

Is it any wonder that attendance is falling?  Even more surprising is that neither Catholic nor Protestant clergy can figure it out!  (I make sure I go to a service with no music.)

What can’t we sing anymore?  The list is endless, but for starters, ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ and ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’. 

One Reformed blog addressed the issue recently:

… what do we do when some people—especially blokes—won’t even open their mouths in the songs? (I am talking about committed Christians.)

Answers range from encouraging song leaders to adopt a lower profile to emphasising the reasons why we sing in church.  However, other readers write in to say that many people just don’t know the music and resent being told to sing loudly by an overly-enthusiastic song leader. Emotion and men don’t mix — and rightly so.  I would have added my comment, but they won’t accept pseudonyms.

Strangely, not one of these male commenters — godly and well-versed in theology though they are — suggested that these modern compositions are simply wussy.   That worries me quite a bit. 

Meanwhile, at Reformation 21, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Dr Carl Trueman, shares his thoughts about modern church services (emphasis mine throughout):

I heard recently of a church service involving dressing up in costume and music taken from a Tom Cruise movie.  Now, if I go for my annual prostate examination, and the doctor comes into the consulting room dressed as Coco the Clown, with `Take my breath away’ from Top Gun playing in the background, guess what?  I’m going to take the doctor out with a left hook, flee the surgery, and probably file a complaint with the appropriate professional body.   This is serious business; and if he looks like a twit and acts like a twit, then I can only conclude that he is a twit.

You can tell a lot about someone’s theology from what they do in church.  Involve [pop] music in your worship service, and I can tell not only that you have no taste in music but also that you have nothing to offer theologically to those who come through the church doors; indeed, what you do have can probably be found better elsewhere … More seriously, however, why certain orthodox churches strive to look like them, worries me intensely. Look, it’s rubbish.  So let’s just call it rubbish, shall we?

Back to men, taking into account Dr Trueman’s comment.  The Telegraph (UK) reported on a survey taken earlier this year which found that men don’t like modern church music or any of the other touchy-feely elements of today’s services:

A majority of men, 60 per cent, said they do not like flowers and embroidered banners in church with 52 per cent saying they do not like dancing in church.

Comments gathered from the survey of 400 UK readers of the men’s magazine Sorted also showed many did not like hugging, holding hands or sitting in circles discussing their feelings in church.

Nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed said they enjoyed singing – but added comments showing they preferred anthemic songs and ‘proclamational’ hymns as opposed to more emotional love songs.

Nearly three quarters, or 72 per cent, said their favourite part of a service was the talk or sermon.

My late father would have been in sync with these findings.  I remember clearly the day that Sister Rosemary (who seemed to appear in our parish out of nowhere) and a new liturgist (ditto — but he looked like Carlos Santana, so he was ‘cool’) strode down the side aisle just before Mass one Saturday evening so gosh darned pleased with themselves.  This would have been 1971 or 1972.  All of a sudden, we had Sister on the piano (!) and ‘Carlos’ on electric guitar.  I watched my dad and the other dads visibly stiffen.  ‘C’mon, join in — everybody!’  From that moment forward, it really was just mothers and daughters singing.  After a few weeks of this, it wasn’t long before Dad said to Mom and me afterward, ‘I wish I were a Baptist.  At least they sing real hymns.’  Every other guy was probably thinking the same thing.

Please feel free to circulate this post to your clergy and liturgists.  This cannot be said too often.  Let us restore a sense of gravitas and propriety to our church services, especially if we wish to attract and retain our men.

More on music soon, after I recover.

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