Trueman, Toilets, and Transformation

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.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Frank Turk

    Oh Doug — This post seems to be a radical exercise is entirely missing the points. That is: all of them.

    1. Thanks much for recognizing that Carl is on the right team, but the idea that somehow there are Top Men at all is part of Carl’s lampoon here. By no means does he want to be on Morning Joe or chat with people who help him be important. His point in this respect is simple: all heroes are distractions at best from what really matters.

    2. The Postmil axe you are trying to grind (God luv ya for it) isn’t really the issue here. The question of whether or not we should be faithful (or even if we want to “succeed”) isn’t at stake here: whether or not we ought to be sorting this out using goalposts is the question Carl is considering. You sort of joke-off the janitoral effigy Carl has trotted out, but his point there is very nuanced: somehow we look up to the Kuypers and the Kellers and forget that the real daily work of the kingdom is in the hands of the custodians and rectors (in the most local sense possible).

    3. The real question Carl is asking here is whether or not there’s any legitimate way to represent a singular, universal “Christian Worldview.” You completely escape without answering that at all, and I know you’re clever enough to feel that question poking you in the gizzard. His idea that we have to escape American Middle-Classism in our ethical thinking in the same way we have to escape post modernism and atheism has to be wrestled with, because while the Father’s house has many mansions, it doesn’t look like a suburban cul-de-sac.

  • Matthew

    [Rises to begin slow clap]

  • Peter

    I’m rejoicing in your use of the ESV….toilets, turkey, trueman, and transformation not withstanding!

  • Joseph Randall

    I have always equated transformationalists to those who want to pour so much effort into the dying outward body when it is wasting away everyday and our inner man is being renewed day by day.

    Yes, by all means, take care of your temple – but it’s going to shrivel up and die, no matter how much you eat right and exercise.

    This world is under a curse. It will remain under a curse until Jesus returns (Romans 8). Until then, the 2nd law of thermodynamics will not be reversed. Only when Jesus returns will we get new, glorified bodies. And only when Jesus returns will this world cease to be under the curse of Him Who subjected it to this curse in hope.

    What am I missing?

  • Douglas Wilson

    Peter, I do use it from time to time — in this instance, I just wanted to avoid the use of the KJV word “paddle” in that verse.

  • Jane Dunsworth

    I can’t believe you dealt with the example of a biblical approach to toilets, and didn’t point out the very post you made just the day before yesterday on how toilets relate to biblical thought.

  • Douglas Wilson

    Jane, oops. I missed that.

    Frank, totally legit question. Coming up, tomorrow mebbe.

  • Michael A. Coughlin

    I am not sure Hebrews 12:1 implies that there are folks in a balcony witnessing our deeds.

    My understanding is they are witnesses “for Christ” by whom we are surrounded in the sense that there is plenty of examples of how God has used men of faith before us.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Ianopolis

    I may be confused about the identity of those pressing for a “Christian worldview”. Based on Trueman I would take away that those pressing this idea are speaking of transforming society by coverting people to thinking about certain issues in a certain way. However, the sense that I usually hear that terminology used is in regards to transfroming the thinking of those WITHIN the Church. I see it as a response to the realization that many of us aren’t doing a very good job teaching those growing up in the church how to apply their faith to all areas of life.

    So I might grant that the hopeful result of many who use the term “Christian worldview” is a societal transformation. That being said, I think the means by which that transformation occurs is through the transformation of the minds and lives of Christians. Isn’t this how those early Christians turned the whole Roman world upside down?

    Now as far as defining a singular Christian worldview, I will admit this may not be possible in regards to the question of whether red ties are preferable to blue ones. However, I don’t usually hear that term thrown about over issus such as that. For the issues usually being addressed by such terminology (e.g. should sexual sin be embraced as virtuous) I do think it’s possible to arrive at some singularly Christian answers.

    I may be confused about who these “transformationalists” are (I am just a layman), but as one who doesn’t shy away from using terms like “Christian worldview” I just don’t see myself in this critique. Am I wrong to want to see people come to Christ? Am I wrong in thinking that when people come to Christ it will actually change the way they think and act? Am I wrong to want a lot of people to come to Christ? And am I wrong in thinking that if a lot of people come to Christ it will change the way a society thinks and acts?

    I appreciate the point that Christians are not even close to having that kind of influence over the American culture as a whole, but when you are in a pitch black room a tiny light seems all the brighter.

  • John R.

    No, Frank. Pastor Wilson hit that about as well as it can be hit. I think it’s perhaps you who really don’t understand the (R2K) point being made by Hart (and echoed by Trueman’s sympathy for it).

  • Andy Dollahite


    I’m struggling to follow the first two points of your critique. I admit the problem is prolly my lack of mental dexterity, but if you’d humor me I’d be grateful.

    1) I still don’t get how your first sentence relates to anything Doug wrote. Are you implying Doug wants to promote Christian celebrity in any way other than the way Hebrews 11 does?
    2) Isn’t the point of Doug’s post-mil axe precisely a rejection of any kind of “goalposts?” Isn’t “All of Christ for all of life,” and myriad works published by Canon (e.g. Loving the Little Years, Notes From the Tilt-a-whirl, Angels in the Architecture) affirmation “that the real daily work of the kingdom is in the hands of the custodians and rectors (in the most local sense possible).”
    3) Looking forward to Doug addressing your question.

  • Evan D

    Trueman’s piece is yet another diatribe against our this worldly as well as other worldly hope in Christ. Paul’s statement “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19)assumes that we do indeed have hope in this life. It is an axiom but for some reason any message that declares that Christ really is King….here…now, is a *social gospel*. There is a deep ingratitude our current “reformers” have for what has passed before us by way of Christian civilization. I expect it from Baptists but not from Presbyterians.

  • RFB

    “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

  • Andrew Lohr

    Compare Christendom to Islamodom, Atheodom, and Pagandom–does this show something of the difference trust&obeying Jesus makes, the difference a Christian worldview (however badly worked out) makes?

  • Andrew Lohr

    Trueman and Hart seem to say we (Christians) are losing in the culture war. So? By the same kind of argument, from newspapers, Hal Lindsey has been proving for 40 years that the rapture is about to happen soon. Read the Bible, you worldly saints. Say, Judges. If the Israelites were losing, it wasn’t because God couldn’t give them leaders or make them winners. Read Job, or the crucifixion narratives. If the saints are suffering, it may be God is up to something. Pray the prayer Jesus taught us. It starts with “Hallowed be Thy Name”–consider God’s infinite glory–not with “we’re outnumbered.”

  • http://www.twotablesatx.blogspot.cpm David Cassidy

    Wilson swings…there’s a drive…deep to left field….it might be…it could be…it is! A homer off the left field jumbotron for Wilson. Holy Cow! Pass me a bison dog and a beer.

  • http://www.twotablesatx.blogspot.cpm David Cassidy

    Seriously, I really dig Carl and his entertaining writing is a breath of fresh air. But hey, this is just too thin a slice of pie on which to judge the whole feast. Losing the culture? Long gonzo, and for a while. Heck, there’s little covenant culture left to speak of in the Church, much less an Austin or Manhattan deli. So? We live where we live when we live. If I was a hebrew 200 years into a 400 year Egyptian exile from the Promised Land, my job would be to pass on the promise, keep the grave of Joseph well marked, and make really good monuments for the Egyptians…OK, and a decent leek and onion pie. That doesn’t mean I’d be losing; it means I’d be doing what one does to prepare to win. Lots of stuff is wretchedly unpleasant now and likely to get worse before it gets better. But rejoice. And again I say, Rejoice.

  • http://www.twotablesatx.blogspot.cpm David Cassidy

    And on reflection, maybe I should’ve had Doug hitting one out over the RIGHT field fences. he doesn’t seem to be the type to pull it to the left.

  • Lewis

    Doug, Do you bury your poop in the dirt?

  • dghart

    But Greg Thornbury hasn’t done anything yet, except to know Eric Metaxas.

  • RFB

    But Mr. Lohr, we can’t, there are giants in the land!!!

  • Douglas Wilson

    Lewis, I do observe the general equity of the law.

  • Douglas Wilson

    Darryl, it is also true that at the beginning of the story Daniel hadn’t done anything except get captured. Read the story, man!

  • Aaron Snell

    Two ironies here, to my mind: 1) Carl Trueman kinda talking like an anabaptist, and 2) Doug Wilson using a baseball metaphor to critique an Englishman.

  • Doane

    Frank, “because while the Father’s house has many mansions, it doesn’t look like a suburban cul-de-sac.”

    Why not?

  • Phil

    Two immediate thoughts come:
    From Tennyson’s In Memoriam, “All our systems have their day// They have their day and cease to be// They are but broken lights of Thee// And Thou art more than they
    And John 11:13-16 Only after The Lord allows Lazarus to stay sick and get buried do His friend’s request receive a favorable response. But the disciples only think in terms of zealous martyrdom.

  • Lewis

    Doug, You better hope your town doesn’t have a poop (sludge) waste-to-energy plant! And that it doesn’t power the local bakery or you will be eating some Ezekiel Bread! (Ezekiel 4:12)