Carl R. Trueman

“Yes, I am a Christian, Just Like Those Over There”

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Friday, February 3, 2023
I would not deny that I am an “elite” myself. I trade in ideas. I teach at a college. I write books. My hands are soft through lack of doing what anything that my grandfather might have referred to as “real work.” And the challenge this poses for me is: Who are truly my brother and my sister? When the line is finally drawn, on which side will I stand? With the people who belong to my class or the people who belong to my church?

There are a number of ways to look at the current divisions that are emerging in traditional Protestant and evangelical circles in the USA. The old fault line between those who affirm and those who deny the reality of the supernatural—the line that marked the old liberal-fundamentalist divide of the early 20th century—is not particularly helpful, given that the most significant debates do not focus on that particular kind of issue. Rather, other buzzwords—Donald Trump, abortion, gender, sexuality, Christian nationalism, social justice, critical race theory—reflect the points of contention.
Protestants thought they owned the USA. They no longer do, and they are struggling to adapt to this new reality where they still think their voices count but how to make them count is not clear. Thus, one way to understand our divisions is as a set of conflicting responses to our new social order.
Another way, however, is to see what is happening as the exposure of a class division, long latent but now increasingly clear. It has been interesting to see the muted response in some evangelical quarters to the Dobbs decision.
Read More
Related Posts:

No Mercy Without Rules

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Any Christian leader who manages to separate mercy from rules in such a way as to prioritize the former over the latter would not really be merciful at all. Rather, he would be seriously delinquent in his duty. He might even be merely pandering to the spirit of this age.

Announcing the death of Benedict XVI on its Saturday front page, the New York Times drew a contrast between his papacy and that of his successor:
The two men were reportedly on good terms personally, but it was at times an awkward arrangement, and Francis moved decisively to reshape the papacy, firing or demoting many of Benedict’s traditionalist appointees and elevating the virtue of mercy over rules that Benedict had spent decades refining and enforcing.
As a Protestant and (at best) an amateur observer of things Catholic, I cannot comment on the fairness of this analysis. What is interesting, however, is the way the language, in its contrast of mercy with rules, points to deeper issues within society as a whole, Catholic and Protestant, religious and secular. In fact, mercy is incoherent if there are no rules, rules that are rightly believed and applied. Only if there is a rule, and a just rule, can forgiveness for its transgression be seen as an act of mercy.
More pointedly for Christianity, underlying the comment is the notion that rules can neither be motivated by nor embody mercy in themselves. This is a common but dangerous idea that, if true, would prove lethal to the faith. It is also rather selectively applied today. Christianity makes it clear that human beings are designed to be a certain kind of creature. We are free and self-determining in a way that other creatures are not: The swallow instinctively builds a nest but we design houses freely and intentionally. Our freedom, however, operates within certain parameters as set by the limits of human nature. I cannot jump off the Empire State Building and fly, for example, or dive into a cauldron of boiling oil and expect to emerge unscathed.
Read More
Related Posts:

Words Matter. Definitions Matter.

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
What is happening is not a merely semantic game or the demand that we deny reality. It is the assertion of power. Speaking truth to power—real truth that reflects reality—is thus a term worth appropriating from the left. For it is in our speech, in our speaking, that the first line of resistance to this power-grab can be mounted.

There has been much concern expressed about the recent decision of the editors of the Cambridge Dictionary to supplement the definition of woman as “an adult female human being” with “an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.”
It is for sure a disturbing development but it is also worth remembering that dictionaries are an interesting phenomenon. In part, they are prescriptive: they help to stabilize a word’s meaning by giving formal definitions of said word. But they are also descriptive, in that they reflect the way a word is used in various contexts. Thus, the Cambridge Dictionary also includes “a wife or female sexual partner” as an informal definition, though this seems to have provoked no outrage, either past or present, for the simple reason that it may not be an exhaustive answer to the question “What is a woman?” but nonetheless reflects a common cultural use of the term.
Other terms have changed their dictionary-defined meaning over time. “Tory,” for example, originally meant a dispossessed Irish outlaw, typically used as a pejorative. In the American War of Independence, it was used for those colonists who supported the British. Now it typically means a member or supporter of the British Conservative Party. Yes, it might still be used as a pejorative, but that is not necessarily so. And Tory as Irish outlaw no longer merits a reference in the Cambridge Dictionary because that usage has long since vanished.
Read More
Related Posts:

What Gives Me Hope in the New Year

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Friday, January 13, 2023

Yes, the culture is a mess. Yes, I fear what the world will look like in which my granddaughter will grow to adulthood. Yet I rejoice at the blessing I have in being able to see her, to hold her, and to delight in her. Christianity is, after all, a religion that sets priorities. Dealing with the crazy people reducing our culture to rubble is important but it should be cheerfully done. After all, it is hard to be unhappy when cradling one’s granddaughter in one’s arms.

Much of the last three years of my life, when I have not been in the classroom, I have been giving public lectures and interviews on the major changes and challenges that the sexual revolution and its various offshoots—the transgender chaos, the pressures on free speech—have helped to unleash. It is a bleak story that does not become more encouraging with each retelling. And more times than I care to remember I have been asked at the end of these lectures or interviews what gives me hope or keeps me cheerful in such circumstances.
In flippant moments, I state the obvious: “I don’t read Twitter” or “I never believe what my wife tells me people say about me online.” But then I offer the serious answer: We know who will win in the end. God’s promise is to Christ’s church, and, by His promise, all will be well.
That is true, but as with so many truths that trade in claims about the distant future or lack any easily articulated immediate content, it can also be trite. Not trite in the objective sense because it is, as noted, true. But trite in the subjective sense, in that it is an easy answer to give and one that can on occasion be an excuse not to engage seriously with the present, rather like telling the bereaved husband that it’s OK, he will be reunited with his wife on the day of resurrection.
Read More
Related Posts:

What is Orthodox Protestantism? A Brief Response to Rod Dreher

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Monday, January 9, 2023
Institutional unity is important as a witness to the truth. I for one do think it ridiculous that in the USA alone there are numerous presbyterian denominations who hold substantially the same doctrinal position but exist as separate institutional bodies. Yet even so, the problem of defining Protestant orthodoxy is not simply a Protestant problem.

Taking his cue from my recent article at First Things, Rod Dreher asks a most reasonable question: what is orthodox Protestantism?
The problem with defining the term is that orthodox Protestantism is, in one sense, an abstraction. It correlates with no single institution. Thus, the Roman Catholic is here at an advantage, at least in theory: orthodox Catholicism is what the Roman Catholic Church upholds as true and practices in her worship. The unity of the institution makes the question straightforward. As there is no single orthodox Protestant church, the question is inevitably more challenging.
The way I was using the term in the article was with reference to the points of consensus of the Protestant confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thus, when one compares, say, the Lutheran Book of Concord with the various Reformed confessions, significant points of agreement emerge: on the Trinity, on the Incarnation, on the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ for salvation. We might summarize this as agreement upon the creedal faith of the early church, refracted through the debates over sacraments, salvation, and ecclesiology in the Reformation. Significant points of antithesis do exist within Reformation Protestantism, particularly on the Lord’s Supper as a point of division between Lutherans and Reformed, but aside from this significant issue, there is a high degree of fundamental commonality.
When one looks specifically at the Reformed confessions, the consensus is even stronger. E.F.K. Müller’s collection of Reformed confessional documents, Die Bekenntnisschriften der reformierte Kirche, is fascinating in this regard: the documents are drawn from across Europe and represent the productions of churches in a wide variety of linguistic, political, and cultural contexts. Yet there is substantial unity on all major topics. From the doctrine of God through the Incarnation to grace, justification, the word of God, the church, sacraments, and the afterlife, a clear core of orthodox Protestant teaching is there, despite the diversity of contexts–a diversity arguably much greater than that represented by the bespoke diversities of today, given the lack of information technology, easy and efficient transportation, and pop cultural unity in the sixteenth century (no international Manchester United Supporters’ Club in Luther’s day), things that are now a commonplace in our globalized world.
Catholics will no doubt respond that I am offering a false unity here. I have chosen those texts that reflect the core of Christian belief I myself prefer and, by privileging them as normative, have granted Protestant orthodoxy a coherence that it did not possess then and does not possess now.
Read More
Related Posts:

When Identity Politics Consumes Theology

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
That some now need to be able to see Jesus as female to see him as savior is nothing more than the assertion that his first-century Jewish human nature is insufficient for our present purposes. It is to demand that he be made in our image, rather than us in his.

The recent outcry surrounding a sermon at Trinity College, Cambridge, in which a Junior Research Fellow apparently attempted to find transgender references in artistic depictions of the crucified Christ, is yet another incident that speaks to various pathologies set loose in our culture.
First, it is important to note that the idea that ascribing female genitalia, or subtle intimations of such, to Christ is not new with the advent of the trans issue. I recall similar arguments being made by Church of Scotland theologian Ruth Page in her book, The Incarnation of Freedom and Love, though she did so in the service of feminism not transgenderism.
Every era has its particular blasphemies but sometimes the blasphemers are merely repurposing the work of an earlier generation. This latest silliness may be shocking, but it also made me roll my eyes: another wannabe radical offering a retread of second-hand sacrilege as if he was breaking important new ground. Is this what Trinity College, alma mater of great minds from Newton to Wittgenstein, now rewards with research fellowships? Truly we live in a day of small things. And minds.
Read More

Related Posts:

Identity Politics on the Right

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Friday, December 16, 2022
The tawdry Achord affair has revealed an ugly side to a certain part of the American Christian world. Real white supremacy really exists and is a real sin. It requires real action and real repentance from those Christians who espouse it. But in reacting to this, we need to be careful not to fall into the sin of ingratitude for other things—such as the country, warts and all, that we call home. 

The recent controversy surrounding Thomas Achord, a classical Christian school headmaster exposed for running a white supremacist Twitter account, has proved instructive on a number of fronts. It demonstrates that real racism and white supremacy do exist, a point that the grade inflation to which these terms have been subjected by the professional anti-racists of the last few years has served only to obscure. We must not allow the trivialization of racism to blind us to the places where it actually is. It is also a reminder that a radical right that cannot effectively operate a pseudonymous Twitter account is unlikely to be seizing control of America by force any time soon. The views Achord and his Twitter cronies expressed were vile; their impotent online posturing unintentionally comedic. And then there was the personal abuse to which Alastair Roberts, the man who exposed the situation, was subjected by professing Christians—a reminder that for some Protestants, all Scripture is inspired and perspicuous, but some parts (e.g., the imprecatory bits) are apparently more inspired and perspicuous than others (e.g., the references to kind words deflecting wrath, turning the other cheek, observing the Ninth Commandment, and those pesky sections on not insulting brothers in the faith).
Beyond the bluster, though, two other issues struck me as noteworthy. First, it is clear that identity politics has a home on the reactionary right just as it does on the progressive left. This is no real surprise: In a world where everything has become politicized, such a scenario was bound to come to pass. The danger for Christians is that the apparent polarizing of society makes the stakes of political debates seem extremely high. In such a situation, extreme positions become attractive, even irresistible. As otherwise ordinary Christians see the country slipping away from them and into the hands of those whose culture war seems to have no moral limits, there is a temptation to repay like with like and to become the mirror image of the other side. This has to be resisted.
Read More
Related Posts:

David French and the Future of Orthodox Protestantism

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Orthodox Protestants in America can now have clarity on the way forward and the choices that lie before them. The elites are accommodating, as I predicted they would be. And new leadership is now needed, one that understands the exile nature of the church, the inevitable opposition of the world, and the importance of opposing the abolition of man at every turn.

In two recent articles on the Respect for Marriage Act, David French both argues that the legislation contains provisions sufficient to protect religious dissenters and apparently accepts the legitimacy of same-sex unions as civil marriages. These essays have caused much consternation in the Protestant evangelical world. I, by way of contrast, welcome them. At last, the future for Protestant Christians, and the choices we will have to make, are becoming clearer.
Now, I have never met French and only written about him once that I can recall. Ironically, that was when I defended his strategy of politeness in civil engagement over against Sohrab Ahmari’s criticism of “David Frenchism.” In the tradition of good deeds never going unpunished, French’s one engagement with my work (of which I am aware) was a blunt response to my 2021 article “The Failure of Evangelical Elites.” In his reply, French defended himself, criticized me, and deftly avoided my central contention: that evangelical elites will prove unreliable and compromised as the cultural revolution rolls on. In fact, I had not even mentioned French in my essay, but apparently he saw himself indicted. That he responded just days before speaking as a guest at my own college put the dear colleagues who invited him in an embarrassing position. I chose to remain politely silent for their sake, but the incident left me wondering about exactly where the politeness I had earlier defended was now to be found.
Well, life once again mimics art, and it is now clear that French was right to see himself indicted in my essay. Elite evangelicalism is clearly making its peace with the sexual revolution and those of us who will not follow suit are destined for the margins.
The story is bigger than David French, though, and the question “whither French?” is of comparatively little interest compared to that of “whither orthodox Protestantism?” Any answer at this point is purely speculative, of course, but here are my thoughts.
Read More
Related Posts:

The Age of Ingratitude

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
We live in an age marked by infantile ingratitude…that means we live in an age when we do not really know how to live at all. Ingratitude has dehumanized us. 

In the times of turmoil in which we live, various candidates suggest themselves as ways of capturing the essence of our epoch: the age of anxiety, the age of identity politics, the age of polarization. All touch on some obvious aspect of our current struggles. But perhaps a better title might be the age of ingratitude. This captures a deep but often unnoticed pathology of our troubled era.
Take, for example, the books, blogs, and tweets devoted to being unthankful for anything and everything. We might dub this the Ingratitude Industry, not only because of the sheer quantity of ungratefulness, but also because of the lucrative careers that are made by selling ingratitude as a commodity. Strange to tell, Christianity—a religion predicated on divine grace and corresponding human gratitude—offers numerous examples. Many a career has been made in recent years by attacking the churches and institutions of “white evangelicalism.” And many such careers belong to those of whom we would never have heard if they had not obtained their degrees or platforms from the very “white evangelicalism” that forms the raw material of the commodified ingratitude they now sell to the public as prophetic utterances.
But the Ingratitude Industry is not confined to erstwhile religious types. As an immigrant, I love my homeland, but I also love the land that has given me a home. It seems to me odd, therefore, that so many Americans are obviously and vocally ungrateful for their country. Odd, too, that so many of these anti-American Americans want to throw the borders open—not, as one might expect from their rhetoric, to allow those of us trapped in such an apparently irredeemable and systemically racist country to escape from it, but to let others enter the same. Others who, it seems, would be rather grateful for the opportunities for which many Americans have such contempt. Ingratitude in such circumstances is not merely ugly. It is incoherent. But so is it always with those who insist on biting the hand that feeds them.
Read More
Related Posts:

When Critical Theory and Perverse Sexuality Collide

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
We need to see gender theory as it parlays into trans activism in the same light—a pseudo-scholarly justification for destroying parental rights and exposing children to sexual perverts and medical profiteers.

Mermaids, the UK activist charity pressing for transgender treatment for minors, has been in the headlines recently. First, the group has been trying to reverse the charitable status of the LGB Alliance. The Alliance is an organization that lobbies for the rights of LGB people has yet fallen foul of Mermaids because of its opposition to trans ideology. All is not well in the world of the rainbow coalition.
Second, a Mermaids board member was forced to resign last week after it emerged that he is an apologist for pedophilia. In an article at Unherd, Julia Bindel (herself a lesbian) outlines in gruesome detail the views of the board member concerned, Dr. Jacob Breslow. In fact, let us call them “perversions” not mere “views” because that is what they are, as her quotations from his work makes graphically obvious.
Breslow, is (inevitably) a professor of “gender studies” at the London School of Economics where his profile on the school’s website is most instructive and raises two obvious questions.
The first is this: to what extent are the current iterations of gender studies, particularly in the manner in which they address transgenderism, really just a means by which adults are able to indulge their pedophile fantasies? It is interesting that Breslow is interested in “the queer life of children’s desires.” By that, he does not mean that he is interested in the typically unformed and often confused sexual desires of young children as they enter puberty and settle into sexual adulthood. Gender theory denies any norms for sexual desires and can therefore grant normative authority to any and all sexual desires it chooses.
Read More
Related Posts:

Scroll to top