The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Carl Trueman

California dreaming: “The Doctrine of Scripture”

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Friends towards the west coast of the US of A might be interested in this year’s Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference on “The Doctrine of Scripture” on the 3rd and 4th of November.

Dr. Carl Trueman is the keynote speaker and will be addressing the doctrine of Scripture from the late medieval period to 1700. He will have four lecture sessions and two Q&A sessions.

Dr. James Renihan will be lecturing on moral law and positive law in Scripture. He will provide exposition of key passages demonstrating how these two aspects of law function in Christian doctrine.

Dr. Richard Barcellos will be lecturing on hermeneutics and the formulation of the doctrine of the covenant of works. He will discuss some hermeneutical principles of seventeenth-century federal theology and how the doctrine of the covenant of works was formulated utilizing those principles.

More information is available at the conference site here or at RBAP.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 22 July 2014 at 09:03

The Bible and creation

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For a nice blend of topics, sit back first for a leisurely Trueman on the sufficiency of Scripture, and then enjoy a bracing Mohler on the age of the universe. The former provides a good basis for the latter.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 27 June 2013 at 08:08

Twinterview: Brits abroad

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A few weeks ago I introduced the concept of the twinterview. Basically, I ask two people joined by some common bond or interest the same set of questions, and we get to compare and contrast the answers.

The twinterview series kicks off with Derek Thomas and Carl Trueman, both of whom were born in the UK and both of whom are now living and working in the USA, both of whom are bloggers at Reformation21, and both of whom kindly agreed to answer my questions. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement, but feel free to engage politely in the comments section.

I am very grateful to Derek and Carl for their willingness to participate, not least in answering some fairly blunt questions honestly, openly and fully.


1.  What do you see as your primary or most important public role (are you pastors, preachers, scholars, teachers, writers, or are these unhelpful distinctions)? If you could be only one of those things, which would you (feel obliged to) choose, and why?

Derek Thomas: Definitely, pastor or under-shepherd. After all, this is a New Testament word (ποιμήν and verb ποιμαινω). Part of the reasoning behind my insistence over the past sixteen years to be fully involved in the local church as well as the academy has been my view that theology is for the up-building and edification of the church. This involves more (though, no less than) imparting information. Without caring for the souls of men and women and children, theology and preaching has little or no purpose. Frankly, I have no interest in theology that cannot be applied pastorally. Indeed, since God himself is a Shepherd (Ezek. 34, John 10), the shape of my sanctification should also be shepherd-like. I think I could be content, pastoring in a small country church for the rest of my (useful) life.

Of course, this question is a little bit like the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question. Pastors are meant to be scholars-teachers – “Study to show yourself approved, a workman that does not need to be ashamed” (2 Tim 2:15, at least, this is the King James rendition, more or less). If we are to “rightly divide the word of truth” (ESV), we need to study a great deal to ensure its outcome. So, pastor-scholars-teachers, scholar-pastors-teachers then, in the Reformation/Puritan tradition (they were surely both). Teaching is essential and therefore a educated ministry ensuring an educated church is necessary. Something John Stott wrote in his final book (The Living Church) comes to mind when, commenting on Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” he said something like, “the Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem that day.”

Carl Trueman: I am first and foremost a churchman. I am committed to the local congregation both as a Christian and as a Teacher. I am committed to serving my denomination as a member of presbytery. Then, I am a seminary professor and administrator. Finally, I write. Of course, these all overlap in ways that mean I am only making formal distinctions here.

2.  What three things would you be especially grateful to see happening in your particular sphere of operation and influence over the coming year?

DT: An upturn in the market to bring my 401K back from its three year-long nosedive comes to mind, so that I can retire. But seriously, perhaps the following:

I find myself doing three things: preaching, teaching (at a seminary) and writing and perhaps I can address this question along these three lines of thought:

i. I have recently moved (after 17 years in Belfast, 12 years at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi) to work alongside Sinclair Ferguson at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia. South Carolina. I made a decision when I moved from Belfast to destroy most of my sermons (Agh!) so that I would not be tempted to repeat them and grow lazy in sermon preparation. I continue to preach new sermons on a weekly basis but still flounder as to what true preaching looks like. I have taught courses on homiletics but am more and more convinced that it’s better “caught than taught.” I am an avid reader of books on homiletics, and the recent 40th edition of Lloyd-Jones’ lectures at Westminster Seminary (Preaching and Preachers [Zondervan]) remains my favorite. When I grow up (I am 59), I want to learn how to preach.

ii. I still teach for the academy (RTS) on a weekly basis and have recently begun to see that I am now in my “last phase” as far as providing any direction and influence for young, eager (restless) seminarians.  I want to be able to convey that apart from the gospel, all instruction is just Pharisaic advice: interesting at best, deadly at worst. 

iii. Writing is mainly about guilt: missed deadlines and undisciplined routines. But my intention is write a book on John Bunyan, and it’s only half done.

CT: I have been called as Pastor of my local church from August. I would love to see the congregation grow both numerically and in terms of its knowledge of the Christ and the faith. On the seminary level, I am leaving administration and moving back to full-time teaching; I hope as an institution we can continue to attract the same high quality of students that Westminster has come to expect. In terms of writing, I need to fulfil a few outstanding contractual commitments. So I hope for time to do that.

3.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of working in an academic environment? Do you feel you have developed or atrophied in particular areas because of that environment, and what steps can an academic take to prevent the negative impacts?

DT: I write from my own personal experience. I could not survive in a purely academic environment. Partly, I think my call is first of all to be an under-shepherd in the context of the church and therefore I have maintained a dual relationship throughout my seminary experience, preaching and involvement in the day-to-day pastoral “messiness” of church life.  It keeps my feet on the ground.  I regularly tell my students that I have no interest in theology that can’t be preached. Additionally, it is my conviction that there is some danger in teaching future ministers and missionaries and counselors if we (as teachers) are not regularly involved in ministry. Seminary professors who sit loose to the local church have no business teaching. The church is Jesus’ way of growing and discipling all of us. I am therefore subject to elders on a day to day basis (over fifty of them, in my case).  That’s Jesus’ way of keeping me spiritually and academically accountable.

CT: The obvious danger is that one becomes too absorbed in abstractions or preoccupied with tiny molehills as if they were giant mountains. I think it was Henry Kissinger who declared that the reason academic disputes are so ferocious was because the stakes are so small. There is also a temptation to want to fight every battle; and, with the advent of the internet, that temptation is set to become stronger. I am aware that I quite enjoy a scrap every now and then, so I have to work hard to resist this last one.

In terms of development and atrophying, my wife might be a better judge of that! I think my theology has improved and deepened over the years. Being Academic Dean has injected a healthy and appropriate ability to compromise and to be pragmatic (in a good sense of knowing which hills are worth dying on) and has also taught me things about leadership I would never have gained from reading a book. On the atrophy side, I often find myself wishing that I had done something different with my life or had remained a straight-down-the-line academic at a secular institution. Life is full of conflict; but when that conflict is theological and ecclesiastical, it can leave one very jaded about Christianity and the church. Thankfully, the Lord is good and such periods of self-pity and disillusionment have not (thus far!) persisted. And the paths have really fallen for me in comparatively sweet places: Westminster is an easy calling compared to working on a shop floor or working down a mine or sweeping the streets.

As to what helps with the negative impact, the answers for me are threefold: developing a mentality where my job at the Seminary is primarily a means of supporting my family. That keeps things in proportion. That is not to say the other aspects are not important to me; but they are not as important to me as this. Then there is a need to eliminate academic ambition: I am fortunate to have done all that I ever wanted to do in the academic world before I turned forty; everything else is now a bonus. If I am run over by a bus tonight, the academic world will not have missed any significant contribution I have yet to make. These two things combine to mean that my identity is less and less wrapped up with my academic theological work. Finally, I try to work as hard as I can, and in whatever capacity necessary, for my local church. I am on the clean-up rota; I help my wife teach pre-kindergarten Sunday School; we open our house each month for students. None of these things involve any great personal sacrifice but they help to remind me that we are meant to serve.

4.  How “Reformed” is the “Reformed resurgence”?

DT: Well, for good or ill, Colin Hansen’s epithet – “Young, Restless and Reformed” in Christianity Today a few years ago is doomed to stay for a while. As a sociological comment, it is accurate enough. There is a restlessness among a group of largely “young” people who are deeply suspicious of tradition, dead orthodoxy, anything that isn’t perceived to be trendy, and perhaps the rampant individualism and rightly crying foul at the lack of social awareness that has marked the evangelical (“conservative”) churches in the late twentieth century, much of it under the guise of “separation of church and state” or even two kingdom theology.

The resurgence, the New Calvinism – call it what you will – is real: I teach in a seminary that manages to attract large numbers of (largely) young, r/Reformed students every year, and my sister seminaries attest the same thing. I can recall, forty years ago, when “reformed” was code for “small, insular and defensive.” Conferences that once attracted double digits have been replaced by convention centers holding 10,000. Clearly, something is going on; something that is deeply encouraging.

I know that some of my friends look askance when I tell them that the church in which I minister has 2,500 members (most of whom are there on Sunday mornings, and maybe a third are present on Sunday evenings). I understand (I do, honestly!) the mentality that is deeply suspicious that large numbers means compromise, dilution and possibly “American.”

But how Reformed? This sounds like asking Scrooge to attend the party. I’m loath to be a downer on what appears to be upbeat and encouraging. But if I were to make some observations they would fall into three categories: i) I remain skeptical of their doctrine of the church. If we take 9Marks as a standard (and why not?) then the resurgence isn’t even close. Too much of this remains extra-ecclesiastical or even non-ecclesiastical. The “I can worship fishing on a boat, or sipping my tall half-skinny half-1 percent extra hot split quad shot (two shots decaf, two shots regular) latte with whip” at my local Starbucks on Sunday and bring in the kingdom (whatever that means). ii) I remain skeptical, too, of the resurgent understanding or commitment to holiness. Many are reacting against a legalistic, fundamentalist background, and are drawn like butterflies to a lamp to the un-conditionality of justification that declares us law-keepers. But mention the “third use of the law” or its equivalent and the “l” word (legalism) pops out like a genie from the (same) lamp. iii) De Young and Gilbert have done us a valuable service in addressing missiology – what it is, what it isn’t – calling out perceived notions of kingdom and its relationship to culture (why is “reformed” culture so, well, middle-class, techo-centric and affluent?). iv) I am deeply suspicious of a movement that is largely driven by the term “young”. Right, I’m past being young, well past it; but there is a smattering of ageism at work here, what Lewis termed chronological snobbery. The resurgence is socially networked (preferably Apple), prone to regarding “authoritative” whatever someone has posted on a blog that morning, thereby missing the role that valid Christian tradition plays in defining orthodoxy.

I could go on…

CT: That, of course, depends on how one defines ‘Reformed.’ If you understand it in terms of the Reformed confessions and church orders which stem from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, then it is not very Reformed at all. It is largely baptistic and exhibits a separation between theology and church life/organisation which is alien to the confessional traditions of Christianity.

If you understand it as ‘anti-Pelagian’ or committed to four or more of the five points of Calvinism, then it is fairly Reformed; but that is a rather minimalist definition of the term.

Part of the problem is that terms such as `Reformed’ and ‘confessional’ have come to be used by many as having nothing more than doctrinal significance. For me, they also carry with them clear implications for church life and ministry. One cannot separate Reformed theology from Reformed practice, even if there is some legitimate debate about the finer details of the latter.

Simply put: belief in predestination does not make you Reformed in the sense that the word carries in my world. Nevertheless, we should rejoice that good doctrine is being grasped by so many young people. That is a good thing, even if not as perfect as we might hope.

5.  What counsel would you give to a young man considering and assessing a possible call to the ministry of the Word of God?

DT: Put yourself firmly and securely under the oversight of a competent session (elders) and don’t believe Aunt Joan who thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Don’t think that the church is going to put out its arms to welcome you, seeing you as the hero it has been looking for. Ministry is service, Jesus-shaped service, which means humbling oneself, considering others more important, and a call to suffering if needs be. Please don’t say, “I need x amount of dollars or I’m not even going to consider you as worthy of me.” Read John Owen on Mortification, Calvin on Cross-bearing and Self-Denial (Institutes, Book 3) and several biographies of missionaries (like David Brainerd, John Paton, Jim Elliot).

CT: First, you need an internal call, a desire to teach and preach the word but you also need more than an internal call. Have you external evidence that you are being led in this direction? Have you had opportunities to teach and preach? Have they been well-received? Look at the qualifications for eldership in Paul’s Pastorals. Do you meet the criteria? More important, do other people think you meet the criteria?

Second, do not rush. When you are in your twenties, a year can seem a long time but it is not really so. Paul clearly assumes most people in church leadership positions will be older – family men, men established in their communities, men who have a track record of godliness and spiritual reliability. So go and receive the appropriate ministerial training but do not necessarily assume you should then go straight into a pastorate. I am taking on my first pastorate this year, aged 45 with 28 years of being a Christian, a decade of secular work experience, a decade of teaching at seminary, a marriage of nearly 22 years, two more or less adult children and service on two kirk sessions behind me. I hardly feel qualified now. I could not have done it aged twenty-five!

6.  What advice would you give to a young pastor who asked what means he might use to remain faithful to God and in the work of the ministry over the anticipated course of his life? What particular warnings about particular dangers might you offer?

DT: What did Robert Murray McCheyne say? Congregations will forgive a minister almost anything so long as they think he loves them. Love the people. And then, love them some more. It’s not about you; it’s about Jesus and them.

Be accountable. Develop a relationship with your elders (and if not all of them, at least some of them) who will hold you accountable. Attend conferences of ministers for the sheer purpose of being nourished and refreshed. And unless it’s a settled conviction from God that you remain celibate, or you have already made the choice (and a poor one), marry well, not first of all a “looker” but someone whose intent is to ensure that you do the work God has called you. Pace yourself: this is a long-distance race. I’m not sure that every “burn-out” victim is genuine.

For me, my most feared danger is cynicism: just when you think you have seen everything, along comes a professing Christian who does the unthinkable. It makes me wonder if the gospel really does change people’s hearts. I must remind myself that Bible believers did these things, too and that the gospel is not “God saves those who are worthy of being saved.”

CT: For me, my marriage has been key. A faithful, down-to-earth wife who does not believe the propaganda I tend to spread about myself is a gift beyond price. If you have one, listen to what she says. You will not regret it.

Then there is the basic, common sense things: make sure you are accountable. Formally, this will be to elders or to the presbytery but often that can be too remote a relationship to work effectively. Have a close friend whom you trust who can rebuke you when you step out of line and encourage you when you are despondent.

Stay away from situations where you are likely to fall into temptation. We all know what things tempt us in particular. Be proactive in avoiding contexts where the temptation can take hold.

Try to sit under good preaching as much as you can. I love preaching; but I miss not sitting under good preaching more often.

7.  I believe that I am right in saying that you both held Baptistic convictions at one point. As a Baptist, I am intrigued (not to mention grieved!): would you be willing to explain why you felt compelled to make such a shift (i.e. to Presbyterianism), and – apart from the obvious with regard to the nature of baptism – what impacts has that change had on your theology and practice? Do you think you have lost anything by the change?

DT: Wow! What a question! Will you still be my friend if I answer this one?

It was traumatic and difficult. I hurt some people in the process (my good friend, Geoff Thomas for one). Geoff was my mentor. I still regard him to this day as one of the half dozen men and women who have shaped my life. He impacted me when I was a very young Christian. I made the shift because I felt it impossible to maintain a purely credo-baptist view of baptism. If I single out a few things, they were:

  • My inability to convince someone like Simeon that the New Covenant was “better” than the Old in relation to children.
  • Rom 4:11 and Col. 2:11-12 seemed decisive in arguing the strongest possible connections between the boundary markers of Old Covenant and New Covenant and what they signified.
  • Jeremiah 31 and the promise of the New Covenant was best viewed as promising the abolition of cultic restrictions than of ensuring that the “pure church” view (they shall all know me because every member of the church has made a profession of faith).

In the end, however, it was a “gestalt” – more of “a looking at the whole in a different way.” The various “pieces” of the puzzle took shape. The whole was more convincing than the parts. The unity of administration of the covenant in regard to offspring made more sense than a semi-dispensational approach that insisted that circumcision was first of all a sign of national identity (an ethnic boundary marker) and only secondarily something of spiritual significance.

Did it make any difference did make to my theology and practice.  I suppose, a more congruent way of thinking “family” rather than “individual” in ministry.  Of course, a commitment to covenant theology is an enormously embracive theological “system” that views the entirety of redemptive history as more of a unified story.

Did I lose anything? A life in Aberystwyth!

CT: For me the first thing that attracted me to Presbyterianism was the ecclesiology. Independency (at least my experience of it) seemed to oscillate between a form of anarchy, with concomitant lowest-common-denominator theology and worship, and a situation where the elders wielded total power in a functionally unaccountable way.

As one involved in many parachurch activities, I wrestled for many years with issues of confession, authority and accountability. Confessional Presbyterianism answered many of those questions for me in a cogent manner.

Theologically, I became convinced that the Baptist position was not able to do justice to the unity of the Old and New Testaments.

From Presbyterianism (at least from Hodge, Warfield and Bannerman) I learned the importance of the doctrine of the church, the nature of church authority and of accountability. The single biggest practical impact of this was I was ordained, first as an elder now as a minister, in order to place myself formally under the authority of a church court.

Did I lose anything? Nothing comes to mind.

8.  What do you find to be the particular blessings and challenges of being “Brits abroad”? How might you respond when someone accuses you of abandoning a place that badly needs faithful men of God?

DT: Ouch! You know how to hurt a man. I’ll pass by filthy lucre. Truth is, I’ve never seriously been offered a place to work in the UK following my departure from Belfast. I write only about myself, but the move to USA was a difficult decision, without doubt the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life. I made it prayerfully, consulting a host of people. Am I to “second guess” this process and add guilt to my decision? Not really. I regret (I do) that I am not in the UK, after all, my grandchildren are there.

America is a wonderful country for all its irksome qualities. There are situations where I say to myself, “Americans” – I guess, the stereotypical loud, assured (arrogant) “guy” who thinks in US-centric terms, disdainful of the rest of the world, confident of US superiority and manifest destiny. But this is a stereotype. For all the whining from the eastern side of the Atlantic, more tourists head for America, fall in love with its varied landscape, envy its economic success and gasp at what appears to be a continued blessing on the church (for all its craziness).

Some of the kindest, most generous people in the world are here in the United States.

CT: America is a great place to bring up a family: so much space, a great climate and friendly people. Being in an alien culture also gives one an interesting perspective on one’s home culture. American Christians are also extraordinarily generous in their giving to the church.

The challenge is often knowing who are the genuine Christians and who are the mere cultural ones. It is not so much the case in Philadelphia but in many parts of the South, church is still the place to go to be seen and to set up business deals after the service.

My wife recently remarked to me that, in the UK, we rarely knew how friends at church voted. Politics simply was not part of the conversation and nobody presumed to assume that you voted one way or the other. There is still a certain overlap here between politics and theology, some aggressive manifestations of which can make life uncomfortable for a foreigner. The ‘culture war’ aspect of the church is one of the strangest aspects of the church here from a foreigner’s perspective.

9.  Looking back to “home” – if it still is – what, from your vantage point on American soil and your occasional visits, do you perceive to be the particular dangers to and challenges for Christians and churches in the currently-just-about United Kingdom (apart from the existence of Paul Levy)?

DT: “Home” – it’s a difficult concept to define. I visited the farm in Wales a few years ago where I was raised and spent the first eighteen years of my life. I wanted to take some pictures with a modern SLR camera. I asked the new owners for permission only to be told I was “trespassing” and was told to leave. I had always thought it to be “home” until that moment.

The challenge of meeting rampant secularism with insularity is a real one. Dealing with Levy, an impossible one.

CT: Still home, despite Levy’s residency. Obviously he is a major problem but the situation is easing. I am personally relieved that readers of Ref21 seem, on the whole, to understand that he is a real person and not a symptom of my multiple personality disorder.

I guess discouragement would be one thing. Times are tough.

Another issue would be the potential for complex legal issues relative to freedom of religion in the next ten to twenty years. The danger is always that of a knee-jerk reaction in such situations. Careful and nuanced thought about Christianity in the public sphere is what is needed.

Do I feel guilty for leaving? Sometimes. Do I feel guilty enough to return? No. And, of course, I was never called by any church in the UK to minister; nor did any Christian education institute call me to work for them. So there is a sense in which I have no more abandoned a Christian ministry call in the UK than a business man who takes a job in the States. If I could do what I do here but do it back home, I might return; though as my children grow up effectively as Americans, such a move becomes harder to contemplate even at a hypothetical level.

10.  Are there any particular books you wish you had read, but have never got round to?

DT: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final novel, The Brothers Karamazov.  Started, several times, but never finished.

Dafydd ap Gwilym, Selected Poems (superior to Chaucer and Welsh).

CT: Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate. I heard a radio program on this book last year. It is a massive Russian epic, set in the twentieth century, stretching from the Gulags to the Nazi death camps. It is a blistering study of the evils of totalitarianism in both its Soviet and Nazi forms. The KGB thought it so dangerous that they even confiscated the ribbons from the typewriter Grossman used to type it. It sits, massive and unread, on the shelf next to my favourite seat in my lounge. Maybe this is the year….

11.  Is culture neutral?

DT: Of course not! Culture is an expression of the collective sociological and artistic behavior of a fallen world.

CT: Of course not. It’s a human construct and thus fallen. It is also rarely defined in many of the popular discussions I see of Christianity and culture. There it tends to be understood in terms of either pop culture or high culture. The net result is that it becomes something practically restricted to so some version of the arty-set (the kind of thing which fills the ‘Pseuds Corner’ of my favourite British magazine, Private Eye) or to young people.

Culture is better considered as the set of systems or behaviours which a society has for transmitting meaning and value. When thought of in those terms, neutrality is clearly not possible. It is also not possible to define it simply in terms of art or literature (whether elite or pop) either, which is very helpful for avoiding the kind of elitism or trendiness which Christian culture vultures often unconsciously propagate.

12. If you could have every Christian read three books this year, besides the Scriptures, which would you choose?

DT: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (it should be read once a year); Kevin de Young and Ted Kluck’s Why We Love the Church (a cracking good read on an important topic); John Stott’s The Living Church (final words from a faithful servant).

CT: New book: Andrew Hoffecker, Charles Hodge; classic: Augustine, Confessions; mainstream: George Orwell, Essays.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 1 March 2012 at 10:01

Carl and the Doctor

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 7 February 2012 at 20:10

Fission in mission?

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Carl Trueman gives us his top story of the year:

The Aquila Report, source of all world knowledge for confessional Presbyterians, has published its list of the top fifty stories which it ran this year. At the head of the list is an entry from Anthony Bradley. It is nearly a year old and I missed it first time around but, for any who do not yet check the Aquila Report with any regularity, it is well worth a read. The first point certainly seems to stand in anecdotal continuity with the experience of many of us in rural/suburban churches who have been left wondering in recent years if all of the urban success is the result of the Holy Spirit or simple demographic shifts — shifts which might actually end up subverting the overall mission of the church by concentrating fewer and fewer resources in fewer and fewer hands. Only time will tell. You can read the piece here.

“Here” tells us that the missional church planting movement is mainly attractional, has missed the value of education, has missed the target of real justice in cities, and fundamentally failing to keep up with the pace of cultural change in cities, largely because it has yoked itself to that cultural change. Ouch, and worth pondering.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 2 January 2012 at 15:30

Review: “Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History”

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Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History

Carl R. Trueman

Crossway, 2010, 192pp., paperback, $17.99

ISBN 978-1-58134-923-8

How do you do history? Carl Trueman sets out to answer the question briefly and cogently, examining the issues of neutrality (unobtainable) and objectivity (attainable and desirable) in the study of history, taking Holocaust Denial as a case study. He moves on to the idea of interpretative frameworks, and their strengths and weaknesses as tools (Marxism the example, with Christopher Hill its chosen exponent). Then he addresses anachronism, the pressures and temptations that arise from the collision between the historian’s present and the past object of his study. Finally, he looks at common historical fallacies, a brief survey of typical errors made in the study of the past. After an historical postscript, the whole closes with a paper on the reception of John Calvin’s thought in which the author is presumably seeking to exemplify his principles. Anyone who has sat through a historical paper of some sort in which the historian has surveyed history in order to confirm himself in the precise position which he has always held will appreciate this book. Those who read and study for the same purpose will be rebuked and instructed. The wit of the writing, the emphasis on the practical , and the recommendations for further study make this an excellent historiographical primer which will hopefully help those who pursue church history to go to work with competence and confidence.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 13 August 2011 at 08:29

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Review: “Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative”

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Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative

Carl R. Trueman

Presbyterian & Reformed, 2010, 144pp., paperback, $9.99

ISBN 978-1-59638-183-4

Provocative, punchy and playfully perverse, Professor Trueman writes with gleeful awareness of his contrariness. This republocrat’s fundamental assertion is that theological conservatism and political conservatism do not necessarily walk together in lock-step, in the course of addressing which he turns his guns with deliberate abandon on both the left and (mainly) the right of the political spectrum (including the yoking of religion and patriotism, Fox News, Max Weber, and democracy itself). It is the literary equivalent of deliberately shooting fireworks from the hip: you will enjoy the delightful verbal pyrotechnics, but there may be little real damage done. It relies substantially on the perspective of a British immigrant, and will therefore be of most interest to American believers, although those looking in, and familiar with the more conservative Christian scene in the US, may find it less bewildering and more relevant. This is a volume that raises rather than addresses a variety of interesting issues, and asks some serious questions in a manner so playful as almost to undo itself. I imagine that you will have as much fun reading it as Trueman probably did writing it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 February 2011 at 06:00

Trueman annoys America

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I like Carl Trueman (not personally, not having met the chap, which is not to say I dislike him or wouldn’t like him, but . . . oh, whatever, you get the drift) because he cheerfully asks the questions that are too readily unasked in a society in which religion and culture are too readily conflated:

Finally, how many Christians would never turn out for a Sunday evening worship service because they had their fix on Sunday mornings, but would rearrange all manner of things to make sure they could see the Superbowl? Watching overpaid spandex-clad blimps playing catch, then running for, oh my, at least 5 seconds and six yards before taking a five minute breather, and as a result trousering too much dosh — or meeting with the living God who gave his Son for us, hearing his word proclaimed, and humbly bowing before him in adoration — not much of a choice is it, really? The spandex and hilarious commercials win every time.

Read it all (and read over his evident distaste for the sport itself to the very real point that he is making, which – it should be pointed out – holds good for any number of sporting events in the UK, and indeed across the globe). The point is not that there should be no Superbowl – that’s a different argument, or should be; the point is where our priorities lie as believers.

In similarly pointed vein, may I also introduce Mr Martin Downes (although it is worth pointing out that a lot of conferences in the UK seem to think that they can share the coolness by buying in to the same limited line-up)?

Good questions, gentlemen.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 February 2011 at 15:49

Posted in Culture and society

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Battering Bonhoeffer

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When I first read Eric Metaxas biography of Bonhoeffer, I was both impressed and intrigued. What I was reading didn’t sound quite like the Bonhoeffer who had been described to me by my elders and betters. Had I missed something? Had they? I set out to get some original Bonhoeffer with a view to learning a little more.

Now Tim Challies has added to my interest and unease by blogging about his discovery that some serious Bonhoeffer scholars are significantly unimpressed with Metaxas’ portrayal of Bonhoeffer in a light that seems intended to portray him as evangelical-friendly:

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoyed reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Actually, it’s one of my all-time favorite biographies; it’s readable, engaging and it deals with a fascinating part of history. But lately I’ve come across a few articles by experts in Bonhoeffer who say that it’s just plain wrong—it’s a portrayal of the man that is geared toward evangelicals and, in seeking to make the reader happy, it succumbs to all sorts of errors.

Carl Trueman, never one to wade into an argument (!), seizes on C. S. Lewis as an example – and a good one, in my opinion – of the kind of appropriation of major figures to the evangelical cause that often occurs:

I have noticed a general tendency in American evangelical circles to claim anybody who is helpful or admirable as an evangelical of some sort. It is our equivalent of Rahner’s ‘anonymous Christians’ – except we have `anonymous evangelicals.’

The comment thread at Challies’ online gaff is interesting to read. The whole issue is, if nothing else, a helpful reminder of the biases we readily bring to our studies.

UPDATE: Michael Haykin weighs in.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 19:22


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Carl Trueman responds to this:

Well, it is great to see someone striking a blow for the ‘marginalised.’ While we are at it, my wife is pretty marginalised too. As an excellent baker of cakes, she has been shunted to the very periphery of church life. Indeed, the whole of church history can be told as the story of how cake-bakers have been excluded and kept permanently on the margins: just to add insult to injury, her cakes are only ever consumed in the church lobby, after the close of the service — the symbolic exclusion, both spatial and liturgical, could not be more brutally oppressive if the thing had been managed by a politburo chief from North Korea.

Read it all. Snigger a little. What with all that’s marching into the church I am beginning to feel that, as a pastor, I am fully entitled to grieve publicly over my marginalisation in preference of the artist, the cake-baker, and the marathon-runner. I shall start my public rant soon.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 30 November 2010 at 15:25

Posted in Culture and society

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Portrait printing

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Well, hurrah and huzzah! A Portrait of Paul (more information) has been sent to the printers and should have a concrete existence (by which, naturally, I do not mean buried in concrete or tied to a block of concrete and sunk to the bottom of some convenient body of water) by the end of this month, God willing.

In a clear indication that we have unwittingly persuaded otherwise competent judges that we know something, Carl Trueman has the following to say about the book:

This deceptively easy to read book consists of a series of reflections on Col.1:24 to 2:5 by two experienced pastors. In an age where there is much focus on technical aspects of ministry, Ventura and Walker analyse the topic in terms, first, of call and character, and then of the existential urgency with which the great doctrines of the faith are grasped by those called to the pastorate. Intended not just to be read but to be a practical guide in helping churches think through the role of the pastor, each chapter ends with a series of pointed questions, to Christians in general and to pastors in particular, which are designed to focus the minds of all concerned on what the priorities of the pastorate, and of candidates for the pastorate should be. This book is a biblical rebuke to modern trends, a challenge to those who think they may be called to the ministry, and a reality check for all believers everywhere.

Particularly enjoyable here is the employment of the phrase “existential urgency” – I don’t think I have ever been accused of something so unreasonable!

At the moment, orders can be placed with Reformation Heritage Books as well as Westminster Bookstore, Monergism Books, Christian Book Distributors (CBD), and Grace Books International as well as a growing number of other places.

Hopefully I will get some sample chapters up in the next few days, but for now, I can provide the foreword, kindly written by Dr Joel Beeke:

Have you ever wondered what the gospel ministry should be like? Or what kind of minister your church should look for? If you are a minister, have you ever established in your own mind what the ideal and pathos of an apostolic pattern of ministry should look and feel like?

Other than our Lord Jesus Himself, there is no better representative in the Scriptures than the apostle Paul for visualizing the gospel ministry. In numerous letters, Paul makes himself and his ministry stunningly vulnerable. Repeatedly, he sets before us not only the origin, essence, and goal of his ministry, but also its joys, hardships, conflicts, and warnings. Paul allows us not only to view his daily work but also opens up his mind and soul in an amazing way.

In this gripping, well-written book, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker mine the riches of Paul, showing us the mind, heart, and life of a genuine minister who is on fire for the glory of God, the growth of believers, the establishment of Christ’s church, and the salvation of the lost. No minister can read this book without being profoundly convicted of his shortcomings and deeply moved to aspire to more faithful ministry. No church member can read this book without acquiring a better understanding of what a minister should be and without being stirred up to pray for his pastor, or, in the case of a pulpit and pastoral vacancy, for finding the kind of pastor these pages so vividly display.

Having taught in pastoral ministry for twenty-five years at a seminary level, I have never read a book that so powerfully presents a Christ-centered model for biblical ministry as A Portrait of Paul. Books, seminaries, and experience all play an invaluable role in preparing a man for the ministry, but this book affirms, with John Newton, that “none but He who made the world can make a minister.” After you read this book, you will understand Charles Spurgeon, who said, “Do not be a minister if you can help it,” as well as Thomas Watson, who said, “The ministry is the most honorable employment in the world. Jesus Christ has graced this calling by His entering into it.” You will also understand what my father said to me after I was called to the ministry: “To serve as a minister of Jesus Christ is a more important calling than living in the White House.”

A Portrait of Paul is a great book that should serve as required reading in an introductory course on Christian ministry. Every minister should own a copy and read it. Lay people should also read it to understand their pastor and ministry of all kinds in the church of Jesus Christ.

May God use this book in a mighty way to stir pastors and lay people to fervency of heart for the church as the bride of Jesus Christ and for the amazing calling of pastoral ministry. Let us all pray daily for Word-based, God-fearing, Christ-exalting, sober-minded ministers to fill this needy earth with sound preaching, holy lives, and loving pastoral counsel—ministers whose very lives are transcripts of their sermons. This is the crying need of the universal church and of the world today.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 14 September 2010 at 17:16


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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 April 2010 at 21:40

More on humility

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A magnificent, pointed, accurate rant from Carl Trueman.  Pointing out that self-applause is “behaviour that was previously the exclusive preserve of politicians, Hollywood stars, and chimpanzees,” he goes on:

This is madness. Is this where we have come to, with our Christian use of the web? Men who make careers in part out of bashing the complacency and arrogance of those with whose theology they disagree, yet who applaud themselves on blogs and twitters they have built solely for their own deification? Young men who are so humbled by flattering references that they just have to spread the word of their contribution all over the web like some dodgy rash they picked up in the tropics?  And established writers who are so insecure that they feel the need to direct others to places where they are puffed and pushed as the next big thing?  I repeat: this is madness, stark staring, conceited, smug, self-glorifying madness of the most pike-staffingly obvious and shameful variety.

Hooray!  Good form!  Ouch.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 30 January 2010 at 20:03

Posted in Christian living

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More from Trueman on being “Young, Restless, Reformed”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 1 September 2009 at 18:58

Posted in While wandering . . .

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Carl’s cult of choice

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Carl Trueman tucks up together John F. Kennedy and Mark Dever as strange bedfellows to make a compelling case: that a cult of choice leads to an obsession with open-endedness which in turn hamstrings genuine decision-making which promotes denial of responsibility which ultimately cripples the cultivation of genuine leadership.

Carl is always stimulating, even when (I think he is) wrong or incomplete, and this is an essay that for many in the younger generation will make us pause, look within, and see something of ourselves explained.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 08:56

Liberal theology and Kenny G

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I don’t know which you dislike or despise most, but if you have an ingrained distaste for either then you should read this magnificent rant by Carl Trueman, if only for its sustained assault upon the musical reputation of Mr Kenneth G.

kenny-gI will not describe all the things that I would willingly undergo in order to be spared a Kenneth G concert.  However, I think they are outweighed by the things I would willingly undergo to avoid the liberal worship service into which Prof. Trueman waded some time ago, which not only included someone trying to remove all the masculine language from the Living Bible, together with the sound of waves breaking upon a distant shore, but which also featured Kenneth G’s version of Amazing Grace, which I suspect – with a shudder – included one of his fearsome extended saxophone solos.

Really, you should read it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 5 May 2009 at 21:37

Trueman on Wells

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Derek Thomas says:

Carl Trueman reviews David Wells’ The Courage to be Protestant in the latest edition of the The Ordained Servant (denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) here. We saw it coming, of course: Wells’ on “consumerism” and its linkage to capitalism was bound to strike a nerve. Fascinating stuff.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 13:41

Posted in Reviews

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Me the exhibit

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Carl Trueman has some helpful thoughts, carefully put, concerning the death of Jade Goody and comparing her to Princess Diana, and critiquing the empty outpouring of grief that hit the UK in the aftermath of both deaths.  Carl doesn’t touch too much on the religious elements of Jade’s very sad last days, such as the brink-of-eternity desperation to be right with God.  How sad that the only avenue this society and its churches had to offer for a woman who wanted to know that she was heading into unending day rather than night, the only solution she could think of after some thirty years walking God’ s planet, was a christening a few days before her death.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 4 April 2009 at 08:04

Posted in Current affairs

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Cheesed off

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Carl Trueman is cheesed off with recommendations of the film, Milk (for which Sean Penn just won an Oscar).  Read him here and here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 25 February 2009 at 09:17

The real presence

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Carl Trueman has some helpful comments about virtual friendship over at Reformation 21.  He suggests that the lack of genuine, in-the-flesh communication is a significant absence in such relationships.

If even the apostle John on two occasions emphasised that, for all the pen-work and ink-spilling, he wanted to see and speak with at least two of his correspondents – his friends – face to face, in order that his joy might be full (2Jn 12, 3Jn 13-14), should we not take this into account in our definitions of friendship?

See also Facebook friendship #1 and Facebook friendship #2.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 5 February 2009 at 08:43

Posted in General

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Busyness and boldness

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A few good and/or interesting posts to draw to your attention:

  • C.J. Mahaney writes here about the difference between being busy and being diligent, faithful and fruitful.  There is a promise of more to come dealing with various aspects of laziness.
  • The Art of Manliness tells us how to give and take criticism like a man (HT: Reformissionary).  A lot of it is common sense, and some of it ought to be sanctified with a dip in the bath of Scripture principle, but it is worth reading and following.
  • Carl Trueman writes about being trapped in Neverland at Reformation 21.  While I come from a different place and time (at least relatively) and therefore find his chip-on-the-shoulder angst a bit odd, I agree with the problem that he identifies.  I should point out that I have reasonable credentials with which to make a critique: my mother’s father – who worked, I think, with livestock (as an ostler) in Wales – was killed when she was young, and her mother – a wise, witty, independent woman of steel – knew poverty.  My father’s father worked in a London market.  Does that give me enough credibility?  Perhaps not.  Still, the problem of a perpetual adolescence is one that needs to be hit head on.  Increasingly, pastors are called to be parents also to a generation of spoiled and incompetent Peter Pans.
  • Rich Barcellos gives some simple and practical thoughts on prayer meetings.
  • My friend Paul Levy has some pointed comments on virtual church that are worth considering.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 November 2008 at 10:16

Perpetually pilgrims

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A few days ago Carl Trueman drew attention to an article in the London Review of Books about Neil Entwistle, recently convicted of the murder of his American wife and their infant daughter.  Trueman draws attention to the description and analysis of the strange psychological dislocation felt by the English when they emigrate to the US; to the concise but illuminating insights into the English class system, alleging that all you really need to know about an Englishman is what class he belongs to and where he went to school (acknowledging with a degree of tongue-in-cheekitude that as “a lower middle class midlander who went to a state grammar school,” all his insecurities and prejudices are thus explained); and, to the subversion of reality by the internet, giving scope for immaturity, lunacy and all points in between.

I have a number of interests here, particularly with regard to the first point.  First of all, I am married to an American myself.  Secondly, I have for several years been nipping back and forth across the Atlantic as part of my responsibilities both before and after I entered the pastorate, and like to think that these two things give me some insight into that dislocation (though not of the same degree as Mr Trueman), not least through the reverse experience of my wife.  Thirdly, when I came to the end of my university degree I was considering pursuing research in the field of postmodern literature.  I was fascinated by the sense of displacement in so much of postmodernity (a sense of distance and unreality only heightened by the ubiquitous and all-encompassing interweb).  I wanted to ask the question, “Who has a home in a postmodern world: everyone or no-one?”  I decided against the Ph.D. route, for which I am not ungrateful.  I also know that I would have got into trouble (again) for a Christian perspective: I had been ticked off once or twice during my degree for writing sermons rather than essays (ah, the inglorious day I tried to explain to a kindly but godless Bunyan specialist that because she was not a Christian she could not properly understand The Pilgrim’s Progress!).

This morning, while out jogging, I was running over some of these thoughts in my mind.  It was the issue of displacement and dislocation that most stirred me, as it often does.  Where is the Christian at home?

I am not denying for one moment that there is a reasonable degree of familiarity with the place to which we are most accustomed, and that this is ordained by a God who divided a world by languages, and has established and governs nations and states.  I am not denying or defying the attachment to one’s own country and people we naturally feel.

But where is the Christian at home?

The Biblical answer is that the child of God is a stranger in the earth – anywhere in the earth.  One of the early and defining declarations of Psalm 119 is the cry, “I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide your commandments from me.”  It is as a pilgrim that the Christian looks to his God, seeking to be instructed and guided in the manner of his life as he makes his way through an often hostile environment.

Abraham’s experience in Canaan, the Israelites in Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, and then their exile from their homeland – the land of God, and particularly the temple, where God was particularly pleased to make himself known and reveal his glory – are prominent Old Testament motifs which point forward to the reality of the people of God under the new covenant.  When Daniel, in his upper room with his windows open toward Jerusalem, got down on his knees and prayed, he was an alien, geographically and spiritually, looking toward home, the place where God dwelt (the same God, note, who appeared to Ezekiel in demonstration that he was not tied to Jerusalem).

This sense of pilgrimage and its accompanying displacement and dislocation are emphasised in the New Testament.  No-one was more a pilgrim than our Lord Jesus: come from heaven, even in this world he had nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8.20).  He himself warned his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6.19-21).

Writing to the Philippians, Paul speaks to Roman citizens – with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities attendant upon it – who were nevertheless at a distance from Rome, using that experience to emphasise a far higher one: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself” (Phil 3.20-21).  The message: you may live here, but you belong there.

Consider the writer to the Hebrews, speaking of the faith of Abraham and his descendants: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11.13-16).  Of Moses he writes: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.  By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11.24-27).  The application: like them and countless others, run with endurance the race that is set before you.  We are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, and should serve God accordingly.  Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come .

Peter begs his readers “as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1Pt 2.11-12).  Our lives are to be marked by heavenliness precisely because we are sojourners and pilgrims, and that heavenliness is its own potent apologetic.

Does not mean that we despise the good things that we have been given to enjoy (cf.1Tim 6.17)?  By no means!  But it does most assuredly mean that we must cultivate a sense of pilgrimage.  We are strangers in the earth: we do not belong here, and that is not the anguished wail of confusion and loss that so often comes from the throats of bewildered men and women, but the triumphant declaration of a people who have a heavenly home to which they are travelling.

As a Christian, I am displaced; I am perpetually dislocated.  I will be until I cross the river and join my family in the presence of God.  I will be until the return of Christ, when – glorified with him – I shall find my eternal home in the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Do I have a sense of that?  Do I cultivate a sense of that?  I may be more or less comfortable in various places.  I may be more attuned to certain cultures.  I may have an abundance or a pittance of this world’s goods.  But my heart and my treasure, my aspirations and expectations, belong where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Those are the things I am to seek, and those the things on which I am to set my mind (Col 3.1-2).  When I look at what this world has to offer, I am to see the world as a thing created by God, in which I am to have dominion and to exercise a stewardship while I am here.  But I am also to see it as ‘the world,’ ethically designated as opposed to God and all that he has revealed himself to be in Christ, a world which has been crucified to me, and to which I am crucified, through the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal 6.14).  Holding this world lightly, I should be always ready to leave it.

Christ went to the cross to prepare many mansions for us in his Father’s house: let us not dishonour him by building and clinging to our mansions here.  I am a pilgrim here, but I shall be forever at home there.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 20 August 2008 at 12:53

Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 18 August 2008 at 22:24


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Themelios is now an entirely digital magazine published by the Gospel Coalition, with an all-new editorial team (still involving Carl Trueman, who continues to write a regular column, ‘Minority Report’).  It is pursuing a genuinely international flavour, and it will be interesting to compare it and its development with the stance and content of the paper version.  Farewell, pulped trees; welcome, shining screens.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 8 July 2008 at 14:57

Machen’s worrier children

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Carl Trueman reviews Young, Restless and Reformed by Collin Hansen here.  My own review, should you be interested, is here.  I think that there is some healthy overlap between them.  Trueman has some warnings about a movement that relies so heavily on a few powerful personalities, and some encouragements about the abiding relevance of the eternal truth found in the unchanging Word of God.  The latter are particularly helpful for those tempted to chase the latest fad: we will always be out of touch – and, more dangerously, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” – unless we are perpetually and principially grounded in the truth of the Scriptures.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 4 July 2008 at 08:47

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