Carl Trueman writes with verve and sass, which is of course a good thing, so it is a pity when he whiffs one. Don’t get me wrong — the swing was picture perfect, but the ball somehow still wound up in the catcher’s mitt.
The occasion was a jab that D.G. Hart was taking at the transformationalist vision of King’s College in New York, and its new president Greg Thornbury. In his comments, Trueman took a few extra jabs of his own about transformationalism.
“DG’s critique at Old Life of the bombastic claims about transformationism is akin to one I have made frequently in the classroom about talk of the [singular] ‘Christian worldview': such things are, by and large, code for the expression of the concerns of the middle class chatterati in a blandly Christian idiom. As far as I know, for example, no conferences on the transformation of Christian toilet cleaning or turkey rendering have yet been successfully organised.”
Let us begin there. One of the most remarkable things about the critiques of transformationalism is that they depend, in large measure, on how quickly human beings can come to take things for granted. Toilet cleaning? Let us begin with the remarkable fact that we have toilets at all — which a lot of people still don’t. Is there a biblical approach to sewage disposal? Well, yes, there is (Dt. 23:13, ESV).
And depending on what Trueman means by turkey rendering, there are lots ways we can glorify God in that realm. Thanksgiving is one of the fundamental duties of man, and turkeys sure help.
The apostle Paul insisted that we honor and glorify God in and through whatever we eat and drink (1 Cor. 10:31), and this means down to the last bit of stuffing on the plate. That stuffing is good, and is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:5). So I would be perfectly willing to hold a conference on food issues, turkey included, and in fact I think that is rapidly becoming a dire necessity.
I would also be willing to have a conference on toilets, because there are Christians — and not just a few of them — who love to go along with the periodic pagan panics, no matter how absurd, one of the more recent being that we might be running out of water, and hence their religious mania about using less water with every flush. Which affects the cleaning of said bowl.
But such responses, however fun, and they are fun, are still fooling around at the edges. To his credit, Trueman sees how grim things are getting for Christians, and he wants us to take off the rose-colored glasses so that we will be prepared to take a faithful stand.
“Surely it is time to become realistic. It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies. It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home. The psalms of lament teach us that it is only when we have realistic horizons of expectation will we be able to stand firm against what is coming. If we do not understand that now, we are going to be sorely disappointed in the near future.”
This is a paragraph that has much to commend it. But what it is missing — unfortunately, a key piece — is the realization that this is how God tells the story of His people, and it is in precisely such circumstances that the eucatastrophes occur.
The psalms of lament do in fact teach us that while God is able to deliver us from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, He will not necessarily do so. But whether He does so or not, we are not going to bow down to their idols. It is this kind of backbone — the kind that Trueman has — that is frequently delivered from the crisis, as we learn from those other psalms, the psalms of triumph. Trueman, much to his joyful surprise and muted dismay, will leap over a wall (Ps. 18:29), whether he wants to or not.
Faithfulness is what we are called to. Success is in the hand of the Lord. If He delivers us, then glory to God. If we are all tied to stakes, then may God give us the grace to exhort one another with “play the man, Master Ridley,” seeing ourselves as tinder for a fire that no man can ever quench. If we win in the present, glory to God. If we lose, then glory to God for how our sacrifice will be the raw material that God will use to bless a future generation of saints in their great deliverance.
Trueman looks at the current pornraunch of contemporary Amsterdam, as though that somehow undid all Kuyper’s great achievements. It is certainly sad, for the current Dutch have no Kuyper. But why should this make us feel sorry for the Dutch who did? The Scriptures never teach us to think that Manasseh meant that David’s endeavors were pointless.
No, we are doing what we are doing before a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1). Transformationalists — like Greg Thornbury — are doing what they are doing in the presence of many witnesses, all of whom were as up against it as we are. The cloud reference in that passage makes me think they must all be in a celestial balcony, with places like King’s College center stage, in the center of the spotlight.
Up in the balcony, we see Isaiah, who was sawn in two (Heb. 11:37). Now what good did that do? Then there is Jeremiah, who was imprisoned (Heb. 11:36). There is David, who subdued kingdoms (Heb. 11:33). We have Daniel, who shut the mouths of lions (Heb. 11:33). All of them are watching us, not just some of them.
Notice that up in the balcony, we have both victors and martyrs, but we do not have transformationalists and non-transformationalists. They are all transformationalists. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, and the Christian king is the plant that grows from it.
Look at history. You cannot have Polycarp without getting Alfred. And if you ever get an Alfred, there must have been a Polycarp. This is how God tells the story. Death and resurrection.