Strewing Reformation Out of a Hat

Carl Trueman has been kind enough to issue a clarification and a quasi-challenge, which is better, I suppose, than a queasy challenge.

First his clarification:

“I do have a problem with the term ‘Christian worldview’ because it is vague to the point of being philosophically useless even as it has proved rhetorically and politically useful.”

He goes on to mention various topics that represent profound worldview differences, but where professing Christians disagree — transubstantiation, salvation by free grace, covenant baptism, and so on.

“The list could go on but the point is clear: professing Christians disagree on all of these things and yet convictions on all of these things shape our view of the world. In short, there is really no such thing as ‘the Christian worldview’ in the singular; there is rather a variety of Christian worldviews.”

Well, okay, but this would have to mean there is no such thing as Christian doctrine either. It also means there is no such thing as a Christian church. There is no such thing as Christianity in the singular, because there are way too many disagreements and traditions. But now we are sounding like the pomos.

The Christian worldview has to be grounded in Scripture because the Christian worldview is simply Christian doctrine applied to the world. Whatever mental adjustments we make to understand the phrase Christian doctrine, we also make to the phrase Christian worldview.

So we have to watch how we are using our terms. When I say that thus and such is Christian doctrine, I mean that it is taught in the Bible and that all Christians are obligated to believe it, whether or not they do. I would do the same thing with the phrase Christian worldview. The Christian worldview prohibits abortion-on-demand and homosexual marriage, for example. This does not mean that all professing Christians do, or even that all professed adherents of “the Christian worldview” do. It means that such Christians ought to. If they do not, then they are, to use a word that I know Carl Trueman knows how to use in other settings, “wrong.”

We then come to his quasi-challenge. Despite his disparagement of the efforts of the transformationalists, I really believe Trueman when he says that he would much rather live in the society envisioned by the transformationalists than the one he is stuck in now. But he believes that he is stuck here, and that the way to prove him wrong is to get him unstuck. I am tempted to call him Carl Trumpkin because all I can hear at this point, as we cluster around to get him unstuck, is “bedknobs and broomsticks!”

“I know in which world I would rather live; thus, I look forward to the transformation of the latter into the former by my critics and truly wish them well in their endeavour.”

But it is not “their” endeavor, but rather “ours.” Trueman may be a reluctant ally, and I really wish he weren’t reluctant, but I do count him an effective ally. Here’s how he could be a far better one. While we are busy trying to rebuild this stupid gate, why doesn’t he use more of his ammo on Sanballat? When Tobiah the Ammonite delivers his witticisms about foxes jumping on walls, I would love to hear a Trueman retort aimed in that direction.

“The basic point in my post was, of course, not that Christianity has never made a difference to society.  Kuyper did make a difference (which I never denied) as did others — e.g., Thomas Chalmers, William Wilberforce, George Muller, Thomas Guthrie; but even acknowledging that, the lack of proportion between the rhetoric of some of today’s transformationalists compared to what they are actually achieving is really rather embarrassing.”

What Trueman is missing here is the fact that all these men mentioned are safely dead and in Heaven, and their biographies have been written. We may now safely build the tombs of the prophets, and shine up the marble floors real nice. But during the course of their lives, it was still safe (among the respectable) to call them every kind of idiot you wanted to.

Not only is there a disparity between our results and Wilberforce’s, but there was a huge disparity between Wilberforce’s early results and his later results. There is nothing being said about The King’s College now, or New St. Andrews, or Patrick Henry, that could not be said, and forcefully, about Kuyper, Chalmers, et al. before their successes. Nobody ever waltzes in, strewing reformation left and right like roses out of a hat.

In the middle of every reformation, it is God’s purpose and intent to overwhelm us with the task. He does so in order that we not make the mistake of thinking we did this ourselves. We do not serve a local grove baal responsible for uplift throughout our little valley. We serve the God who raises the dead. And as Trueman points out, we do meet that qualification. We supply the carcass, and now it is God’s turn.

“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

Why does God love cliffhangers? Why does He take His beloved ones through the gauntlet? There are many reasons, but one of them is that reformers are the kind of people that I would not feel safe entrusting easy victories to.

Why is there such a disparity between our rhetoric and what we are actually achieving? This is the way it always is. Was there disparity between Paul’s rhetoric — to present every man perfect in Christ, forsooth! — and his inability to keep people from stoning and leaving him for dead outside their towns? Well, yeah.

And when Nehemiah was in the middle of his lunatic reformation project, he had to contend with the enemies without, of course, but also with the discouragement within.

“In Judah it was said, ‘The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall'” (Neh. 4:10, ESV).

Along the wall, the people were sitting on the stones, talking about Trueman’s recent post about how bad the rubble was. This sense of discouragement is rational. It makes perfect sense. The empirical data support it. It labors under the sole disadvantage of not being true, and therefore not what we needed to hear from our friends.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Ben Bowman

    I have a feeling I’ll be laying down my Christian doctrine and worldview at the feet of Jesus when we are face to face.

  • RFB

    I enjoy and respect Pastor Trueman, and in this issue I have been disappointed. His words seem demoralized and despondent from having his values “routinely mocked or ignored”. Maybe he needs some R&R; he definitely needs to regroup and “quit you like men, be strong.” How about some advice from Lewis B. Puller: “”We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded.
    That simplifies our problem of getting to these people…”

  • Tim Bayly

    The humor of Doug remonstrating with Prof. Trueman in response to Trueman’s critique of Tim Keller’s transformationalism must not pass unnoticed. But the humor of Prof. Trueman writing as if Tim Keller actually desires to bring about transformation of anything is even more humorous. Is anyone with me in scratching my head and looking cross-eyed?

    How on earth have we arrived at the point that defending the postmillenialism of Edwards requires us also to defend today’s Gospel Transformationalists as they blather on about being “in the city, for the city?” The only thing Tim Keller has in common with Jonathan Edwards is that both of them occupied pulpits in New York City.

    Take Doug and his work, for instance: his public preaching bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Apostle Paul in his sharpening his point at the precise place where culture shows its greatest hatred of the Father Almighty whereas, at precisely the same places, Gospel Transformationalists dull their point.

    Regardless of how they sell themselves, both R2K and Gospel Transformationalist men are viewed by the pagans at the controls of the wrecking ball as equally innocuous. No one ever considered John the Baptist, Jesus, or the Apostle Paul innocuous, though; the civil magistrates had them all in prison.


  • Anthony Bradley

    I’m suspicious. I’m smelling a little 2K theology in the Hart/Trueman Show. I explain this over at Acton:

  • BJ

    Reformers must never have an easy victory. Gospel Transformationalists and Tim Keller and Doug Wilson must follow the same path as Edwards and Kuyper and Chalmers. It was the path of Nehemiah and Paul and John and company. It is this path that utterly crushes human pride. All of it! And in doing so, our emphases morph and our theologies are continually tweaked. Sometimes this leads to brotherly disputes, internal disagreement. This does not create a new worldview or alter our message or its foundation. This is where prof. Trueman totally misses the mark.

  • Douglas Wilson

    Tim, here I thought I was defending Greg Thornbury . . .

  • David Douglas

    If Trueman’s sentiments were true, early Christians would have told the Roman’s to become Christians one-by-one certainly not do anything so rash as abandon their gods, temples, or circuses, nor for the entire empire to convert Christianity. An early council would have been convened to discuss how to stop that nonsense in its tracks and give the whole thing back.

    The fact that they might not have seen that their faithfulness would result in a wholesale change in culture was no reason for them not to be faithful. With biblical examples and historical examples, we are more or less obligated to add vision to our faithfulness.

    The fact they made rather a hash of running an empire was no reason for them to reject what God gave them. It does however obligate us to prepare to do well when another opportunity like that, arising from years, decades, or centuries of faithfulness, appears.

  • David Douglas

    How does one create breaks for new paragraphs?

  • pduggie

    “In the middle of every reformation, it is God’s purpose and intent to overwhelm us with the task.”

    Maybe. In Deuteronomy, Moses point seems to be that if the MOABITES and EDOMITES could kill the giants in THIER lands, you really ought to have no trouble trusting God to do it to.

  • Tim Bayly

    >>How does one create breaks for new paragraphs?

    Chuckling and remembering one of my Wisconsin elders whose favorite expression was “Beats the heck out of me, Mabel.”

  • Tim Bayly

    Doug wrote: “I thought I was defending Greg Thornbury…” Speaking of taking over the presidency of King’s College, the Religious News Service reports Thornbury commenting: “This is historic Christianity’s last and best shot to lead from the center of culture with Christ at the center.” Russ Moore added Thornbury “is Jonathan Edwards meets Rolling Stone magazine.” As my dear sister would say, there you have it.

  • David Douglas

    I like the phrase: “Beats my pair of Jacks.” I picked that up from P.J. O’Rourke, who probably did not invent it, upon which pretext, thin or otherwise, I often neglect attribution.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    David — You can make a fake brake…er…break…using the blockquote tag. Don’t that just take the cake?

  • Douglas Wilson

    Tim, have you a copy of Greg’s book on Carl Henry?

  • RFB

    In a certain sense or level, this is transformative: “Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.”

  • Scott P

    I suppose that if enough individuals are transformed by the gospel than societal transformation is inevitable. Most attempts at societal transformation seek to take short cuts. That is actually giving too much credit since our task as assigned by Christ is to spread the gospel, not to reform a world system that we are told is ruled by Satan. “Societal transformation” puts temporal circumstance above eternal. I would point out that it can quickly degenerate into things like killing your neighbor to free his slaves or establishing a family destroying welfare state to help the poor.

  • John

    This is to be the lion of our age?


  • Tim Bayly

    Sorry, I took my eye off the ball. No, I have no copy.