January 17, 2021

When it becomes “The Thing,” RUN!


But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. (Carl Trueman)

It seems to me that the proper response would be for us to look earnestly for every possible way to draw together, to make common cause, to pray together, to build one another up, and especially, if possible, to share the Eucharist.

It seems to Carl Trueman that the proper response is to explain how his Christian tradition is better than all the other Christian traditions . . . (Alan Jacobs)

I see no triumphalism in what I wrote, but simply a plea that the Reformed tradition has much to commend it at a time when state and cultural hostility to Christianity is growing. (Carl Trueman)

• • •

the-thing-from-another-world-margaret-sheridan-kenneth-tobey-1951Today, I offer my thoughts on a debate that has been going on between Carl Trueman and Alan Jacobs, reflected in the back-and-forth quotes above.

It has been complemented by a Twitter exchange about Trueman’s article and an article by Rod Dreher that used Trueman’s piece to spark a discussion about our various church traditions. Now, it’s my turn.

[I encourage to at least read Trueman’s original post at First Things and Jacobs’s response before going on. Click on the names above for the links.]

Count me among Trueman’s critics. Sorry, Carl, but in callin’ ’em like I see ’em, I say your article was triumphalism. I agree with those in the Twitter conversation who found it parochial, full of boasting and false claims to uniqueness.

For Carl Trueman, “Reformed Christianity” has become “The Thing.” And whenever something other than that which is absolutely essential becomes “The Thing,” it’s time to run, not sign on.

Perhaps a better way of critiquing this article would be to say that it represents an embattled “Remnant Theology.” In Trueman’s view, the “Reformed” tradition (he is a pastor in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church — does this qualify him to speak for all the “Reformed”?) gives us the best chance to survive in exile because it enables us to drink from the stream of doctrine, faith, and practice that God has always kept pure by his providence, and which has been a source of nourishment throughout the checkered history of the church. Here is how it plays on the big screen:

Whenever the church has entered a “Dark Age” [cue dramatic music in minor key], those holding the “Reformed” faith have arisen [switch music to major key and swell to great crescendo] to hold fast the Truth, maintain a faithful remnant, and keep the torch of the Gospel burning so that it might be passed on to succeeding generations. Soli Deo Gloria!!!

This view of church history spouts the same fallacies I wrote about in last year’s post, “There Is No Narrow, Pure Stream.” It is remnant theology, philosophically akin to Landmarkism, and it amounts to doing church history with blinders on, tracing a straight, unambiguous line from:

The Apostle Paul (who showed us in Romans that sound systematic theology is the preeminent virtue) [jump 300 years to] — Augustine (the font of a true understanding of Paul, especially re: predestination) — [jump 1100 years to] — Luther (well, at least the sola fide part) — [include] — Calvin (who got it more right than Luther) — [jump to] — the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the 17th century, along with Westminster Standards, which represent the pinnacle of Sound Doctrine™ — to the New England Puritans in America, our Pilgrim fathers. — Stop. — It was pretty much downhill from then, until J. Gresham Machen took his great stand against liberalism in the 20th century, and groups like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (surprise! Trueman’s own church) were formed.

We all have our hagiographies, our company of saints, and this is a short list of the ones the Orthodox Presbyterians and others like them venerate.

I like this approach better: “I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

the thing from another world 6Remnant theology informs what is perhaps the most revealing (and appalling) statement in Trueman’s article: “Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone.”

That amounts to an admission that the tradition he represents and lauds was and is not about “recovering” and “restoring” the faith once delivered to the saints and explicated in the great ecumenical councils of the church, but about “adding” emphases that were peculiarly important in the 16th century and which became defined and institutionalized contra other Christian traditions.

To say this is to claim that only the “Reformed” have the pure gospel. They are the Remnant, purer even than those who shaped the Creeds.

But then, confusingly, on the other hand, Trueman describes the gospel which the Reformed tradition teaches in these terms: “We are dead in sin and need to be united to Christ, the God-man, who lived and died and rose again for us and for our salvation. United with him, we look beyond the ephemera of this world to the eternity beyond.”

And I would ask, what truly Christian tradition doesn’t define the gospel like that? This is mere Christianity! This is the “great room” in which we all meet together. This is the essence and substance of the Creeds. This is a clear basis for unity among all true believers.

There’s much more. For example, Carl Trueman has the gall to suggest, with regard to worship, that Reformed liturgy alone can provide the “ballast” Christians need to weather the various destructive “liturgies” the world throws at us every day. As you all know, I am a confirmed believer in traditional liturgical patterns of corporate worship, but to suggest that the “Reformed” liturgy as practiced in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is somehow superior to all other traditions that follow the same or similar patterns is ludicrous.

I could go on, but grant me the opportunity to temper my rant.

What Trueman calls the “Reformed” tradition has much of value to offer the church, and I appreciate what he has to say about robust preaching, the centrality of Christ and faith, a nourishing liturgy, the use of the Psalms in worship, habits of catechism and family devotion, a providential understanding of history, thoughtful consideration of the relationship between church and state, and so on.

I also do not have any problem with someone being an advocate for his tradition, expressing his love and appreciation for it, and encouraging others to benefit from its virtues. Indeed, if this article had been written from the standpoint of, “Here’s what the Reformed tradition has to offer the Church in these days of exile,” then I would have commended it as generous and helpful.

A time of exile is not when we should splinter into a bunch of little groups that try to stay pure contra not only the culture but also one another. It may be, as Ross Douthat says in the Twitter exchange, a good time for each tradition to clarify its own beliefs and come to appreciate more fully the resources it has in its history, doctrinal emphases, and practices. But it is also a time to know that we are members of one church, and to reach out to support each other by sharing those resources and partnering together in mission for the life of the world. It is not a time to withdraw, clutching ever more tightly to “the truth” as we see it. It is a time to be generous, open-hearted good listeners, neighbors and friends to one another in the faith. We need each other more than ever.

sg043006-arness3tCarl Trueman’s article shows no indication that he understands that or finds that desirable. Despite noting on occasion that his church has much in common with other traditions such as Roman Catholicism, Trueman suggests that what he calls “Reformed Protestantism” is the only path that will fully sustain and nourish God’s people in exile.

This is remnant theology: only a small, faithful company of saints are equipped well enough to survive.

In this article at least, “Reformed” has become “The Thing.” And that makes me want to run, not embrace it.


  1. I’m with you, Mike. I really don’t like it when a particular group claims exclusive knowledge of the truth.

    We Lutherans, with the exception of some of the more conservatives branches, like to say that we do know the truth…but that others know it, too.

    Aside from that aspect of it, I don’t like the past of Reformed theology that has one look inward (it’s in their Westminster Catechism, ( I do believe ) R.S. Clark sent it to me once when we were debating who has greater assurance…Lutherans…or Reformed. Of course I pointed out that our assurance is in the external Word and sacraments, alone….totally apart from anything that we do, say, feel, or think. And that didn’t set well with him (Clark)…even though that same assurance is there, available for him and the rest of the Reformed, as well.

    • “debating who has greater assurance”

      You and Clark aside…that’s quite something right there. A debate about which system leads to greater assurance. Neither of which just says “faith/Jesus” as the answer…

  2. should read “part”…and not “past (last paragraph)

  3. I don’t agree with Trueman’s argument but neither do I see it as triumphalistic or arrogant. Yes, there were a few things he said that were a little bit strange in the context of his argument, but by the same token, many of the portions quoted here and in Jacob’s rebuttal make much more sense within that context.

    Have we really gotten to the point where we see the claim that one’s faith tradition is best equipped to handle the challenges of the day, or is most aligned with the teachings of Scripture, is seen as damaging to Christian unity? I would certainly hope that Trueman, as a respected teacher of theology in his denomination, would be able to claim these things about his tradition. I of course understand that there are many reasons besides doctrinal ones that a layman might choose a church/faith tradition, but if you are going to be a leader in your tradition it would seem important to my that you affirm the confessions of that tradition and hold them to be the most accurate exposition of Christian doctrine among other traditions.

    Many of the claims that Trueman makes about the Reformed tradition I could also make about confessional Lutheranism. But these competing claims would not be barriers to discussion but rather the foundation on which robust theological debate is laid. I don’t think Trueman is advocating remnant theology, merely arguing that Reformed Christianity is best theologically equipped to handle the challenges of the coming days.

  4. I don’t mean to give offense to Roman Catholics, but as far as I know, the Roman Catholic Church still officially claims, notwithstanding its ecumenical efforts, to be the one true expression of the Church in its fullness, the only one in unbroken and ongoing continuity with the historic Apostolic Church, where one may assuredly and certainly find Christ in doctrine, ministry and sacraments, though one may fail to find him anywhere else. I don’t believe you will find an official statement by the RCC that it considers itself one model and expression of the Church among many equally valid expressions and models. Does this mean that the RCC has made something besides what is absolutely essential “The Thing”, and everybody should go running?

    • My intention is not to pick on the RCC. I believe that, if it were possible for intelligent and informed Christians of the first couple of centuries to have an over-view of the various churches that exist in our contemporary world, they would not recognize any as self-evident extensions of the Church as they knew it in their time. I think they would find aspects of every major tradition reflecting their own experience and understanding of the Church, and that they would also find developments in every major tradition that they would find troubling and out of keeping with their own experience and understanding. There is no narrow, pure stream,; furthermore, I don’t believe that those first Christians lived in a narrow, pure stream, either.

  5. Dan Crawford says

    Triumphalism arises from an almost deliberate blindness about history. Thus the Episcopal Church proclaims its moral and intellectual superiority by announcing “Christ died to take away our sins, not our minds”, embracing in its hierarchy, clergy and members nearly every kind of heresy and heterodoxy. The Roman Catholic Church sometimes acts as if the entire history of the papacy reveals no corruption at all. The willingness of both Western and Eastern Christianity to align itself with all kinds of worldly power to protect their interests and influence is sometimes regarded by them as divinely ordained. The Reformation Churches point gleefully to the defects of every non-Reformed Christian tradition (and one another) while ignoring how often they have been the source of a multitude of fractures in the Body of Christ. If we Christians, no matter what ecclesiastical tradition we embrace, acknowledged that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we might begin to purge ourselves of the triumphalism that so infects us all. We might actually begin to believe that the Church for all its flaws is not simply our church but it all belongs to God.

    • This.

    • +100

    • But there’s a difference between triumphalism and a truth claim; if one becomes convinced of something (whether it have to do with politics or religion or science or what have you) and thus publicly claims it to be true in opposition to other conflicting viewpoints, he is not guilty of triumphalism. We should not make an exception for claims about doctrine and the orthodoxy of any particular faith tradition in the name of ecumenicism. It is completely possible to maintain a healthy respect for other traditions, and to accept those in other traditions as brothers in Christ, while still maintaining that your own is the most faithful to Biblical orthodoxy. We may not have a “narrow, clear stream,” but we do have Scripture, and as long as that is our norm for Christian doctrine and practice it is entirely appropriate to robustly argue for its doctrines and, if there is a particular faith tradition that best exemplifies them, to hold that tradition up as such. Perhaps Trueman is wrong. I myself think that he is wrong. But the proper response to him, in that case, is to criticize his argument, not to criticize the mere fact that he is making the argument.

      • Jacob, I did criticize his argument, in several key aspects: in terms of his narrow, parochial view of church history and his take on the gospel and worship.

        And again, I also said that I appreciated many aspects of what he had to say. The fact is, I don’t have a beef with many of his arguments, for I too am a Christian in the Reformed tradition. I just don’t get the point, other than claiming that the Reformed are the true believers, and an article on an ecumenical blog seems a rather funny place to post that. As I’ve said repeatedly, if his concern is about helping Christians in exile, the piece would have served the Church must better had it recognized the strengths of the Reformed tradition within the one holy, apostolic Church and not standing apart from it.

      • Dan Crawford says

        A truth claim with no acknowledgement of the sin and scandal in one’s denomination is triumphalism.

  6. The entire notion of exile leaves me cold. Surely the culture in the US has Christianity where it wants it. That is as some form of practice that is to be done privately( and by many of the elite today as practiced by those who are clinging to myth or an older metanarrative that needs to be deconstructed)but not to inform the way forward. Rod Dreher jumped on Trueman’s article because he has been promoting a form of the Benedictine option for going forward in our culture for years. I read Trueman say that Scot McKnight contacted him privately about the local church being the way forward. This keeps, I believe, with the Wendell Berry, Front Porch Republic understanding of the way forward. There is something about this all- a type of bunker mentality- that rubs me wrong. I think I communicated the gospel of Christ to many a modernist and post-modernist as a school teacher. And as an older ambassador I think Christianity proclaimed in the marketplace of ideas is the most pragmatic system. My communication has always been based on performance. I think our model- Jeshua hamashiach- empowers people to live better. Of course, I stand by Michael Spencer’s analogies in the USA in his “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”. Let’s become part of the movement of being God’s people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture. That salt has proven to be almost unbelievably effective wherever it is applied. I personally think fiisrt of Wesley’s England…….but also in Switzerland, Germany, France, Ireland…..and today in Africa, South America. Maybe it will take quite a few missionaries from those places to wake the USA up. Maybe some of them have come to the US shores as refugees as we speak. But let’s not live like exiles.

    • Yes. I didn’t focus on this, but his claim that we are in “exile” is as inflated as his response to that claim.

      • It depends on how one defines “exile”. If it means evangelicals no longer function as the gatekeepers and guardians of public theology and morality in this country, then it could be said that they are in “exile”. Of course, most of us here would probably say that wasn’t such a bad thing.

        I think Christianity proclaimed in the marketplace of ideas is the most pragmatic system. My communication has always been based on performance. I think our model- Jeshua hamashiach- empowers people to live better.

        I have to take issue with this. The kind of life Jesus calls His disciples to – radical forgiveness, radical generosity, radical faith in His death and resurrection – can never be seen as “practical” or “better” by any who haven’t been led by the Spirit. From a worldly point of view, it will *always* seem as foolishness.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > The entire notion of exile leaves me cold … There is something about this all- a
      > type of bunker mentality- that rubs me wrong.


      And both parties in this this debate can have this discussion, publish all their writings, have interviews, be on the radio, etc…. and no authority does anything to stop them, and quite possibly the authorities do not even bother to notice. This is “exile”???

      Sorry, this portrayal of the situation is absurd, and downright silly.

      Christianity in the West, especially in the USA, is not persecuted or in exile. It is being smothered by prosperity and success, its primarily injuries are those it has inflicted upon itself.

    • “The entire notion of exile leaves me cold.”

      Me, too, unless it’s “Exile on Main Street.”

  7. Looking around the American church landscape, I see no reason for triumphalism from any corner.

    There is a real famine of the Word out there. Go to any of the above mentioned churches on any given Sunday and you’ll be lucky to hear the Promises of God over all the calls for you to either save the world…or the calls for you to improve yourself.

    Very few places are reminding you of the seriousness of your sin…and what God has done about it.

    And that is the essence of the church’s business. For anyone else (non-Christians) can do, are able to do all the rest.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > There is a real famine of the Word out there.

      I disagree. There is famine of relevance and credibility.

      • A famine of relevance? You’ve got to be kidding me. Evangelicalism has poured every cent into pursuing that for the last 50 years. I’m with Matt Chandler when he says “Trying to make the Gospel relevant is like trying to make water wet.”

        Credibility, on the other hand…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          They may have made massive investments in relevance… that does not mean they made wise or effective investments.

          Relevance is “do you matter?” Does the church in any way effect or intersect with peoples regular day-to-day lives. The answer is rather pervasively “no”.

          Relevance is *not* being hip and trendy and on the cultural edge – that’s popularity. Not the same thing. And trying to be popular is a certain way to not be popular.

          • Before the Evangelicals pursued “hip and trendy” relevance starting in the 70’s, the radical theologians of the 60’s focused on an ostensibly more existential and authentic relevance, a relevance intended to “intersect with people’s regular day-to-day lives.” Ironically, they actually made themselves entirely irrelevant, perhaps because, academics theologians that they were, they actually had no idea what was relevant to and intersected with the regular day-to-day lives of most people.

            If Evangelicals mistake popularity for relevance, the radical theologians mistook their own measure of what it meant to live in the modern world for the place where theology and faith should intersect with daily life.

            Where is the happy medium between the two kinds of mistake, and who has the wisdom to discern it?

          • Well if you’re gonna define it that way, then I certainly agree!

            …any suggestions on what “effect or intersect with peoples regular day-to-day lives” looks like in a local congregation? What should we be doing? (And I am being serious, “irrelevance” is so tiring.)

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > any suggestions on

            It is really really hard. The church has abdicated so many roles it once prominently held.

            It also depends on what “local” means.

            For a commuter church… that is even harder. The church’s power is as diffused as its people are diffused through the region.

            But for an actual local church – one with a population living within the proximity of the church – just start with anything you can come up with.

            We just had a terrible winter. Several local churches organized people, went out and cleared bus stops [removing feet of ice], and sent out word for elderly or disabled people to contact them for help clearing snow. The transit agency collected photos of people clearing stops, and what group they were from, and posted them on its web-site. People still talk about that – months later.

            One local church recently did something that really surprised me: I went to pickup my pizza at the pizza shop. The clerk said “No charge, St. Marks paid for your order”. Apparently they made a deal where, for that Friday, they paid for every third order until the fund pool was drained. Attached to the pizza was a nice – and VERY SIMPLE – note, just saying that the people of the local community were important to them and were always welcome to attend participate there [and the list of the service times]. That’s it, nothing pushy, or guilt-inducing. I already have an affiliation, but… I was tempted. I was very impressed by that as a “marketing” technique. The cost of a pizza is nothing to me – but I have no doubt it matters more to many others. Something like that needs to be followed up with some type of actual engagement [I see that more an more here] but I was impressed, and when I mention that other people are too – and everyone to whom that happened [I’ve met several] remembers it. That is a deposit of good-will.

            Do you have a local paper or e-paper? They are usually interested in volunteer journalists. In your congregation do you have anyone who wants to write? That can be a great way to get into the conversation.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          I think the forgiveness of sins is relevant … and from that perspective, Adam may indeed by right!

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            A stranger telling you about your sins is unlikely to result in much openness. That is the problem – the church has become a stranger. A stranger is irrelevant, he is just some guy who is wandering through your neighborhood, wait a moment, and he’ll have moved on to somewhere else. Move in across the street, then you are relevant. Keep your yard well kept, engage in conversation at the corner store, help out with cleaning up the park and in time I’ll be open to talking to you about greater matters. But drive through with a loud speaker and tell me about my sins… next time I’ll be double parked so you can’t get through.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      There is a real famine of the Word out there. Go to any of the above mentioned churches on any given Sunday and you’ll be lucky to hear the Promises of God over all the calls for you to either save the world…or the calls for you to improve yourself.

      How does this differ from the Brezhnev-era Soviet cure-all of “Increase Political Consciousness Indocrtination”?

      Very few places are reminding you of the seriousness of your sin…and what God has done about it.

      And those that are are bashing their people over the head 24/7 with Guilt Manipulation until they go over the Berlin Wall.

      • We are guilty. No need to “bash” people with it. But we do read the Scriptures and preach about how we are ALL (including the preacher) derelict in our duty. And how that dereliction leads to death. It’s what Jesus referred to as a “sickness”. This brings the sinner to repentance, by God’s grace.

        That’s part one.

        Part two is the proclamation that God in Christ Jesus came for the sick…not the healthy. And that He loves sinners. Real sinners. This raises the sinner to new life, by God’s grace.

        I’m not sermonizing you…but since you seem to lack understanding of the purpose of a law/gospel sermon…I thought I’d lay it out for you in simple terms, why we do it that way.

      • And all of that, that I described above, leads to freedom.

        Freedom from the religious ladder-climbing spirituality project. Freedom from the self-improvement project.

        Death…and then resurrection. There is real freedom in it. That is what we are all about. Freedom in Christ.

  8. Chaplain Mike:

    This is spot on. One thing that happened on the way to earthly power and authority was expanding scope of fellowship based, not on the Cross but, on the shared antipathies toward those who were “other”.

    So, what passes for “progressivism” in many conservative and protestant-derived churches (such as mine, the Churches of Christ) is no more than buying into the same socio-political culture wars that so gave life to what passed for religion in American fundamentalist Christianity.

    Fellowship is extended based not on shared appreciation of God’s grace but on a mutual realization that we dislike the same things (and the same people) along with a desire to welcome such friends into some sort of community. They’ve become less judgmental towards those they’re incline to like while retaining a full sectarian sense to those not worthy.

    Well, since that is not working Dr. Trueman, in his way as so many in their own, is washing his hands of the whole thing. Not so as much the disciples shaking the dust off their shoes as their own Zedekiahs walking up and slapping the Micaiahs they despise for telling the truth to power. They’re unleashing their pox on us, not realizing that we already seen too many hurt by religious disease from the trade blankets they brought before, and that too many of us are already immune to their words.

  9. Thanks for this Chaplain Mike! As I read your description of Remnant theology and saw the view of the progression of theologians, I realized I am guilty of this kind of thinking. You have made some very compelling points here that challenge me. Thank you!

    Dan Newbanks
    Blacksmith Priory

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Remnant Theology = “Everybody’s got it wrong except for MEEEEEEEEE!”

      And except for the “Trail of Blood” attempt at an alternative Apostolic Succession, the same view of church history as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day-Adventists.

      • “Remnant Theology = “Everybody’s got it wrong except for MEEEEEEEEE!”

        And then there’s the glorious flip side, if you can’t stay in the bunker: “Oh Noes, which of the 2500 Remnants is the one true Remnant!” —-> crash, burn.

        It’s like Pascal’s Wager: This is comforting until you realize that any fool can challenge you its challenge. “Yeah, but what if I’m right….”

  10. Trueman doesn’t make a good case why the Reformed tradition is the last best hope for Jesus. Jacobs rightly points out that other traditions share the important doctrines.

    Gracious of First Things, a Roman Catholic site, to host Trueman’s article.

    Trueman does point out something that’s becoming increasingly relevant: the matter of sex defining what a church is or isn’t. Who knew that gay rights would become such a factor? It has become a decoy leading us away from the true gospel. Trueman also seems to point out that the Roman Catholics have got a head-start of several decades, from their opposition to the Pill and other contraceptives. Their stand against gay marriage was to be expected, but now it’s come to the front among Protestant churches, with opposition seen almost as hate-crime. I agree with his observation on that, but find his cheerleading of Reformed tradition waspish and amusing.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sex tends to make people stupid and/or crazy and/or obsessed.

      Christians on the macro level are no execption.

  11. David Cornwell says

    “Who knew that gay rights would become such a factor? It has become a decoy leading us away from the true gospel.”

    I am seeing this more and more. How a church defines itself on this issue almost becomes it creedal affirmation. Some churches dump almost everything else, but the pro-gay stance becomes its Sunday morning statement of faith. Or just the opposite. One must be anti-gay rights or be out. Rather than looking for ways to find common ground, spending time, energy, and hostile emotions to find ways to split from one another. [written in haste before church]

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One must be anti-gay rights or be out.

      Or YEC.
      Or Dispensationalist. (Beware of words of more than five syllables ending in “-ism” or “-ist”.)
      Or Rapture Ready.

  12. What we see in Trueman is true of any variety of Christianity. Being Reformed myself, there are many camps in this tent. There are the Reformed, the TRULY reformed, and the Truly TRULY REFORMED. I have met a few of the latter, who thinks he is going to be the only inhabitant of heaven, as God himself isn’t Reformed enough.

    Can we see the temptation to do that in any one we happen to be in? The truly Catholic, the truly Baptist, etc…..?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Don’t forget the Truly TRULY TRULY REFORMED. (When being Truly TRULY REFORMED isn’t Reformed enough — “DIE, HERETICS!”) Kind of like ISIS making themselves more Islamic than the Taliban (because the Taliban — already more Islamic than Mohammed — weren’t Islamic enough).

      I have met a few of the latter, who thinks he is going to be the only inhabitant of heaven, as God himself isn’t Reformed enough.

      A.W.Pink Syndrome. The ultimate theoretical end-state of Protestantism.

    • We have met The Thing, and he is us.

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Reformed = “Who needs Christ? We have CALVIN! CALVIN! CALVIN!”

    • I’m with you.

      Can you imagine having to live in Calvin’s Geneva?

      What a dreadful experience that surely must have been.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Calvin was the Supreme Ayatollah of Geneva, and not just because his beard would have done justice to a Shia cleric. His Whitewashing of the Churches (including calligraphing Bible verses over the remaining flat white walls) even matches what the Wahabi do to mosques they take over.

        I’ve long thought Calvin’s emphasis on God’s Omnipotence and Predestination and “thing” for a detailed airtight theological system to be parallel to Mohammed’s, though the two men came from far different backgrounds. Just from those parallel memes, I would expect some similarities in their fruits. And both Calvin and Mohammed have their fanboys who are More Calvinist than Calvin/More Islamic Than Mohammed. With a lot of Can You Top This among those fanboys as to Who is the Most Pure.

        Extreme Islam also has this Can You Top This/More Pure/Reformed/Islamic Than All Those Apostates dynamic — from the Wahabi (Reformed/Purifying the Faith back to its original form) to the Taliban (Truly Reformed) to ISIS (Truly Truly Reformed).

  14. MikeInIowa says

    I don’t see the problem here. Chaplain Mike, with all due respect, Trueman’s article gives answers to what most come on here railing about. Yes I agree that it may come off as exclusive but any branding is going to come off as such. And yes, many of the benefits he mentions in his article are not exclusive to the Reformed tradition but practiced in others as well with the same vigor and benefits.

    The rants on this sight against American Evangelicalism are justified. The happy clappy, transform the world, abusive, legalistic, materialistic church is part of the reason we find ourselves where we are today. But it is also a culture that has become hostile to all things Christian and a desire to do what is right in their own eyes. I believe as many who comment on this sight would, that it is a lack of biblically solid, liturgical, confessional churches that have made Evangelicalism come off as just another place to be. There is nothing exclusive when the church simply becomes the end, rather than a means to the end.

    I think Trueman has made his case. From the other link I think Rod Dreyer is making his. Alan Jacobs seems to be having a knee jerk reaction that no one can claim a brand without coming off as arrogant when he quotes ‘your best thinking got you here’

    • I said in the post that I appreciate what CT has to say about his tradition, but it could have been presented much better in the context of the one true and apostolic church.

      We did a series on “streams” that are flowing out of evangelicalism into post-evangelicalism, and the new Calvinist movement is one of those. I could have accepted Trueman’s piece even had it been framed as a critique of evangelicalism.

      But as it stands, what is its purpose? To recruit other Christians to his church? To defend the Reformed tradition — if so, against whom? To merely celebrate his own kind? Why post it on a Catholic site, then?

      As written, it stands merely as a proud boast that his tradition is uniquely equipped to face the challenges of our day.

      Well, whoop-te-doo and good for them. What are the rest of us to do, convert or die?

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    A time of exile is not when we should splinter into a bunch of little groups that try to stay pure contra not only the culture but also one another.

    Turning on each other as Heretics BEFORE wiping out the Infidels? Usually predators don’t start eating each other until AFTER they’ve killed off all the prey.

    This is remnant theology: only a small, faithful company of saints are equipped well enough to survive.

    A “small, faithful company of saints” whose minimum number is exactly ONE.
    (i.e. A.W.Pink Syndrome)

  16. I’m somewhat surprised no one has commented on Trueman’s statements about the gospel. Am I reading too much into it, or did he really say that the Reformers had to “add” the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone to what the early church taught? I continue to be stunned by that wording.

    • Kent Haley says

      I thought that wording was amazing also – on many levels. I understood the reformed position to be that the reformers were simply recovering the true faith of the early church, not adding to it. However, maybe Trueman is being a little more honest about church history than some other reformed folks though. The reformers did the church a wonderful service in reforming the church and stripping away many of Rome’s medieval errors and abuses. However, I don’t believe the early church fathers articulated the reformed doctrine of justiciation by faith alone as we now know it. So, I think in one sense, Trueman is correct, it just seems strange for a reformed theologian to say it this way.

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Well, Ken Ham had to add the Doctrine of Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles…
    And Darby & Lindsay had to add the Secret Rapture Doctrine…

    Everyone has to add a litmus test to PROVE They are Correct (and You’re NOT).

  18. A small point since I noted that someone pointed out that the RC church sees itself as the Remnant.
    Well I’m RC (albeit a bit mutinous at times) & I don’t think that’s very helpful.
    The church sees itself as having an unbroken and apostolic line from the apostles but it doesn’t say that all truth is therein held or even that the church’s line is always holy. It acknowledges the truth and faith of it’s separated Brethren.
    What some RC’s struggle with is an actual collective of RC’s who call themselves The Remnant. They even have a newspaper with that title. A vociferous band who believe they are the only ones to carry the sword of truth.
    We all have our problems.

    • Christiane says

      I’m proud (in a good way, I hope) that my Church does honor the validity and strength of the faith of other Christians. I was brought up to respect the faith of others as something dear to them, but I was also taught that my Church had the gravitas of its very direct link to the ones who passed down to us the teachings of the Apostles, and our bishops were formally sacramentaly anointed by those who came before in direct chains back to the first bishops.
      Does this form in me some kind of ‘hubris’? No, I hope not. If anything, inherent in the teachings of the Church is the call to humility before the Lord, and service to those in need in His Name. I don’t have the ‘assurance’ of my ‘salvation’ and the ‘knowledge’ that ‘the others’ are going to hell that is so prevalent among those who bear that doctrine as core to their faith, no. I live in hope and in complete trust in Our Lord, that He will show mercy to all who are ‘lost and confused and without a shepherd’ . . . a universalist ? no . . . I realize that the free will given to us is both a blessing and a curse, and for some, that free will allows them to turn away from God and to embrace the darkness . . . but judging them? no . . . that is not our place, and for those who think they ‘know’ it is their place to judge others to hell, I have only pity for their blindness to their own sin of pride.

      So, ‘Catholic’ is seen in many ways, but from the inside, it is a challenge to LIVE in a flawed world as though it were possible to heal, to bless, to do what is right, to build for good, to forgive, to encourage, to nurture, to be ‘with’, and to share burdens of those who suffer . . .

      I must leave the self-righteousness judgement to those who ‘know’ and ‘are saved’ . . . and I hope for them in the end that they may be able to one day pray the Sinner’s Prayer, this:
      ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ . . . and I know He will be, and for me that knowledge is enough ‘assurance’ for this earthly life.

      some soggy thoughts on a rainy Sunday

      • Amen.

        • Ooh, PS I don’t think the assurance of salvation is a bad thing; I think it just means that we should be so sure of God’s love and goodness that we can have a kind of humble presumption that God will sweep us up into those gracious arms at the end and welcome us home. It’s not an ‘Un’ catholic thing Christianne.
          It’s a theology of hope I believe. Something we speak of in the Mass. “Looking forward to the hope if our salvation”.

          • Christiane says

            Hi JO,
            I think I understand your meaning about ‘hope’ and about ‘salvation’, and in your context, I must agree that you are right about this . . . I think I have heard it explained also in my Church that we ‘have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved’ . . . which also is not alien to the doctrine of ‘hope’ . . . and I think in sacred Scripture, there is also mention of being ‘saved by hope’ (it’s in Romans 8:24, the tense of which changes in the various translations shown on ‘biblehub’) . . .

            I suppose what I am objecting to so strongly is that ‘smugness’ of the ‘saved’ who look down on ‘the others’ and judge them . . . for me, I cannot fathom how a person can understand themselves as ‘better than’ those for whom they feel contempt,
            when Our Lord strongly opposed such self-righteous behaviors in other. I struggle to comprehend this, but so far, I am at a loss to do so. And this lack of understanding in me has fueled my own frustration with that ‘smugness’ which I find so bewildering.

  19. cermak_rd says

    Dreher, not Dreyer.

    As a non-Christian, I don’t really understand this exile business. Aren’t Christians still 70+% of the population? And amongst the non-Christians of my friends, very few are carrying an animus against Christianity as such. And it’s interesting that the ones who are are former Christians. The main issues of conflict are simply over political questions. They’ll be worked out politically or via the judicial route.

  20. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    I look at this slightly differently. Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them.” There is a distinct difference, to my mind, between the emphasis of Jesus and Paul and the emphasis of the Reformation and post-enlightenment theology. What I mean is that the idea that there is some kind of perfect system for following Jesus or growing in faith or being led by the Holy Spirit seems to be largely absent from the NT. And to be honest, I have family and friends who have had their faith nearly shipwrecked in Presbyterian churches (PCA, not OPC), because of the intense focus on head-knowledge and sinfulness. To me, Trueman’s words are like saying that a specific fertilizer is a garden miracle, when in fact different soil conditions matter, and in the end it is the hard work of husbandry, not the fertilizer, that produces a crop.

    • And the medieval Church before the Reformation did not think it had a “perfect system for following Jesus”? How else would one think one knows exactly how many years in purgatory are warranted by each particular sin unless one thought one had the “perfect system”?

      If what you say about Jesus and Paul’s emphasis being different from that of the Reformation, it would be no less different from the emphasis, and highly detailed and exact system, of the medieval Church.

      • I meant, If what you say about Jesus and Paul’s emphasis being different from that of the Reformation IS TRUE, etc.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        I didn’t include the RCC because Trueman’s article was specifically about Reformed theology, but I’m sure there are many groups that tend to emphasize a specific system.

        • Well, I wasn’t referring specifically to the modern RCC in my comment, but to the medieval Church, which was pregnant with everything that subsequently was born in the Reformation and post-enlightenment theology. There has been no more highly defined religious system for following Jesus, and getting to heaven, than the theological architectonics of the medieval Church; the Reformation theologies don’t even come close to that level of specificity and systematizing.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Take a look at the elaborate systems of Angelology and Demonology in the Medieval Church. Accreted for century after century into such a complex edifice of speculation-accepted-as-fact built on minimal source documentation, each generation of theologians taking the speculation of a previous one as fact and foundation for their own speculation. Until you get into the neighborhood of that joke about paleontologists reconstructing an entire extinct hominid species from a single tooth.

  21. CM: Just to confirm what you have said here from my personal experience. In the mid 1980’s I resigned from pastoring an OP church to take a position of being the executive director of a prison/jail ministry and full time staff chaplain in the facility. Less than two years later I was visited by 2 representative from the local presbytery’s governing body/committee and asked repeatedly if I was becoming “heterodox” in my theology and practise. This concern grew out of their concern that I was overseeing bible studies that were being led by people from a wide variety of churches and that I was ministering in a facility without due regard to doctrines that specifically represented the OP traditons and history. In light of an inmate population nearing 800, I thought that to be a bit odd. I knew, after they left, that this was the beginnings of investigation that would lead me to being brought before a judiciary meeting of the presbyterty to face formal charges. After a few more months of reflection, prayer and another bit of information given to me, I wrote a letter to the presbytery, demitting my ordination and leaving them with the farewell “peace to you brothers, I’m out of here”.

  22. Carl Trueman is in a very conservative corner of the Reformed, the OP. In fact, his etherialism is strongly contradicted by most at Calvin College and also the Reformed Church of America. The latter see all the world as God’s and the kingdom as here. They see us working as salt in our societies–not to make society salt but as to be the flavoring, clarifier, preservative.

    That Carl doesn’t mention the Kuyperian aspect of his heritage also smacks of triumphalism.

    • Also will point out that the body of Reformed thought is a beautifully tied package, which can be attractive to less systematic Evangelicals. But Calvinists believe the greatest quality a god can have is absolute control, seen in Calvin’s rule in Geneva as well as his followers’ consolidation of TULIP (and calling it the Doctrines of Grace). Such beliefs end up limiting our understanding of God’s reach/intentions.

      Prioritizing organization creates a nicely arranged but smaller box.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Another similarity between Calvin and Mohammed (and he followers of both). Complex airtight package with a God whose Omnipotence trumps everything else about Him. No need to think, just recite Doctrine.

  23. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “The Thing” is also the name of some roadside attraction/tourist trap on I-8 somewhere SE of Tucson.

    I remember seeing the big signs of “? THE THING ?” and “Mystery of the Desert” along the side of I-8 between Pichaco Peak and Tucson a few years ago. Reminded me of those tourist traps on old Route 66 as a kid.

  24. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Channeling my Inner Dr Demento today:

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