Carl R. Trueman

The Dangerous Logic of Hate Crimes

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The problem here is that today “reasonable” has no real content. Indeed, the legislation uses the adjective “reasonable” again and again as the essential criterion in judging whether an act or statement is a crime, but it offers no definition. That is surely a worrying lacuna. We should remember that this is a world where J.K. Rowling’s (to me perfectly reasonable) claim that we don’t need to talk about “people who menstruate” because we have the term “women” can be described by GLAAD as “dangerous.”

Yesterday, April 1, Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act 2021 went into effect. The date may amuse some, but this new law is unlikely to prove very funny in the long run. It abolishes the common law offense of blasphemy, a law that has not been invoked in practice since the mid-19th century. At the same time, it consolidates previous laws dealing with, for example, expressions of racism, while extending their scope to include stirring up hate against someone or some group on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.
Religious leaders, politicians, and lawyers pushed back against the legislation in 2021 and this version of the law is modified to include new protections. Indeed, the law makes clear that discussion of certain matters, including both religion and transgender identity, is protected.
But there is a problem here: Who decides what counts as hatred? I have always found the idea of hate crimes in general to be somewhat perplexing, especially when applied to acts of physical violence as a reason for escalating penalties.
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Trumpite Evangelicalism or Bidenist Catholicism?

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Monday, April 8, 2024
Given the extremity of the president’s rhetoric and the confident damning of any who might demur, it seems legitimate to ask (yet again) how much gender theory and gender “science” Joe Biden has read. One has to assume he is an expert, given that he feels comfortable dismissing anyone who dissents as motivated by hate and bigotry. If that is not the case, then it is worth noting here that it is not just Trump’s boorishness that damages democracy. It is the practice of dismissing anyone who disagrees with you as evil and hateful. That destroys the kind of forbearance and respectful discourse needed for democracy to function properly.

Cultural times are hard for traditional Christians. American evangelicalism has proved a fruitful target for those both outside and inside the church who want to stir up popular panic about Christian nationalism, racism, homophobia, and all the other ill-defined but nonetheless mortal sins of our day. Evangelicalism is presented as the root of all contemporary evils. Donald Trump’s recent hawking of a Bible bound together with America’s founding documents simply adds fuel to this fire. But in a week where it seemed that Trump’s would be the most blasphemous action of a leading politician, President Biden outdid him at the last minute, declaring that this year Easter Sunday would be an official day of trans visibility, and predictably characterizing any who disagreed with him as motivated by hate. 
As conservatives decried the declaration, so the president’s supporters pointed out that the trans day of visibility has been held on March 31 since 2009. Its coincidence with Easter this year is just that: a coincidence. But this scarcely exculpates the president. There was no need for a formal White House statement on the day. More importantly, the underlying theology of trans ideology that problematizes the human body and legitimates hormonal and genital mutilation assumes an anthropology at odds with Christian teaching, which requires respect for the human body and the distinction of male and female. So the president was still celebrating the desecration of the image of God, even as his opponent desecrated the word of God. 
The White House statement was very disturbing yet revealing in its rhetoric. Here is a representative passage:
But extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families—silencing teachers; banning books; and even threatening parents, doctors, and nurses with prison for helping parents get care for their children. These bills attack our most basic American values: the freedom to be yourself, the freedom to make your own health care decisions, and even the right to raise your own child. It is no surprise that the bullying and discrimination that transgender Americans face is worsening our Nation’s mental health crisis, leading half of transgender youth to consider suicide in the past year. At the same time, an epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, especially women and girls of color, continues to take too many lives.
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Assisted Suicide and the Happiness Imperative

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Monday, April 1, 2024
Where once bodies were givens that decisively shaped our identity, now they can be reconstructed if their sexed nature is a hindrance to a sense of psychological well-being. Inevitably this plays into all issues of life. Abortion is considered a right because the baby in the womb can be a hindrance to the happiness of the mother. And it has made euthanasia first plausible and now even desirable. The Swiss assisted suicide pod is only the most obvious example of this.

“In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” So opines Orson Welles’s character, Harry Lime, in the movie The Third Man. Well, to the cuckoo clock we can now add the assisted suicide pod that has passed an independent legal review confirming that it conforms with Swiss law.
The advent of assisted suicide is both emblematic of the deepest concerns of contemporary Western culture and of the way in which the taboos of yesteryear are being overthrown at an alarming rate. As to the first, it is clear that personal happiness is now the foundational criterion for judging the morality of acts and institutions. This is not the happiness of earlier generations. When, for example, the Founders subscribed the Declaration of Independence and asserted a right to “the pursuit of happiness,” they assumed this “happiness” had an objective moral shape. They assumed the world possessed such, that it was discoverable, and that happiness, private and public, was found by living life in conformity with it. Happiness today is subjective, not objective.
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Nihilism—in Nazi Germany and Today

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, March 13, 2024
Ours is a time of anthropological crisis when we as a society cannot agree on what it means to be human. In such a context, theologians who faced that issue in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s are obvious dialogue partners upon whom we can draw.

Twice in the last ten days my dear friend and colleague Fran Maier has drawn attention to the importance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the church in America today. At the Catholic Thing he noted that this year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the Barmen Declaration, in which a number of prominent theologians in Nazi Germany publicly opposed the “German Christians” who were seeking an accommodation with Nazism. Bonhoeffer was one of the signatories. Then, at the launch event for his fascinating new book, True Confessions, he quoted from Bonhoeffer’s letters, that it is “only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
That Maier, a Catholic, calls on Bonhoeffer is a sign of the times. This is not simply because in the current climate Catholics and Protestants share common cultural concerns. It is also because the great temptation of our day, that of conflating politics with Christianity, is intense. The stakes are not as high as they were in Germany in 1934. But the principal challenge for Christians, that of remaining faithful as witnesses to the gospel rather than enablers of those whose politics resonate with our cultural tastes, is the same.
Bonhoeffer may be the most famous German theologian to oppose Hitler and Nazism, but he was not the only one. Another who speaks to our times is Helmut Thielicke, a Lutheran theologian and pastor. Like Bonhoeffer, Thielicke was hounded by the Nazis, though he survived and was even able to pastor a church for a while in the 1940s. A polymath and a preacher, he wrote a massive theological ethics as well as a critique of Bultmann. Many of his sermons and lectures were collected and published. Also like Bonhoeffer, he was not an entirely reliable guide to traditional Christianity. His historical context was Nazism but his theological context was neo-orthodoxy. The latter was always somewhat more “neo” than “orthodox” at key points.
I first encountered Thielicke when I picked up a copy of Man in God’s World in a used bookstore in the late 1980s. It’s a series of lectures on Luther’s Small Catechism that he delivered in Stuttgart Cathedral in the early 1940s. What caught my attention was the fact that the series continued through the Allied bombings of the city. Thielicke knew that every lecture he gave would be the last gospel message that some members of his audience would ever hear. That gave them an urgency and a relevance I have not encountered elsewhere. Perhaps never has Richard Baxter’s comment about preaching as a dying man to dying men applied to anyone as pointedly as to Thielicke in Stuttgart during the war.
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Unpacking “No Creed but the Bible”

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
The best scenario for Christians, therefore, is to acknowledge that all of us have creeds and confessions—all of us think the Bible means something and that its teaching can be formulated in a manner that is concise and summarizes the Bible’s position on a whole variety if important. But we should not stop there. We move from such an acknowledgment to look to the great creeds and confessions of the church to see what “forms of sound words” have been useful throughout history to keep the church faithful to the gospel message. Time is no guarantee of truth, but if a creed—say, the Apostles’ or the Nicene—has served the church for over 1,500 years, that says something about the consistency of its content with what the Bible says. Of course, a church today can produce its own statement of faith. But why reinvent the wheel when tried and tested creeds and confessions already exist?

This article is part of the Unpacking Culture series in which we examine a well-known axiom and weigh any true or positive aspects of it against any negative or misleading connotations of the phrase.
An Important Truth
Many Christians from non-denominational evangelical backgrounds may well have heard the phrase “no creed but the Bible” at some point. Perhaps a pastor has used it while preaching or somebody has used it at a Bible study or in conversation about what Christians are supposed to believe. As a statement it is concise and clear. But the key question is, Is it a faithful and useful principle for guiding how we as Christians think about Christian truth and authority?
Before offering some criticism of how the principle of “no creed but the Bible” is sometimes used, it is first useful to understand what important truth those who use it are rightly trying to protect. That truth is the unique authority and sufficiency of the Bible as the source and criterion for Christian doctrine. This scriptural principle is something that is rooted in the Reformation when the Protestant Reformers asserted that many of the claims of the medieval church—for example, purgatory, indulgences, and the elaborate theory of transubstantiation—not only lacked warrant in Scripture but were arguably inconsistent with scriptural teaching. They were inventions or speculations of a church that claimed access to a tradition of Christian truth that was independent of the biblical revelation.
Against this background, “no creed but the Bible” highlights an important truth: the Bible provides the content of Christian doctrine and the principles for judging whether a doctrinal claim is true or not. Is justification by faith? Yes, for Paul teaches that in Romans. Can someone buy God’s favor through the purchase of an indulgence? No. Not only does the Bible never teach that, it teaches against it, as in the case of Simon the Magician in Acts 8. The desire to protect scriptural sufficiency is therefore something to be commended.
But does this mean that creeds and confessions—statements of faith that summarize biblical teaching—are problematic and should have no place in the church? Does the use of a creed or confession necessarily mean that the unique authority of Scripture has been compromised? Not at all. And it is important to understand why.
First, we all need to acknowledge that no Christian has no creed but the Bible in a comprehensive and exhaustive sense. To understand why, one need only reflect on the fact that nobody simply believes the Bible.
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STDs in the USA

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, March 6, 2024
Human history indicates that the self-evident nonsense of an idea is seldom a barrier to it becoming the dominant philosophy of its age. That man is born free and is everywhere in chains is one. That sex is a cost-free, light recreation is another. 

According to a recent CDC report, cases of syphilis are rising in the United States. The report offers an interesting window on contemporary American culture.
First, it features the usual exceptionalism for health issues that are a part of the progressive remaking of society. Just as smoking a cigar is bad but puffing on a joint is OK, so spreading illnesses by being unvaccinated is evil while spreading disease through sexual indulgence is a mere technical problem. And it cannot be addressed in terms of any broader moral framework beyond that provided by “experts”—typically not moral philosophers or theologians but scientists. The CDC is calling for a “whole-of-nation” response to the syphilis phenomenon—a vague phrase, but one likely to be fleshed out with condoms and antibiotics rather than government funding for teaching about chastity and personal moral responsibility. For chastity and responsibility are concepts that assume a moral framework for sex, the very thing our culture has now spent many decades repudiating.
There is a real but simple lesson here for Western culture: While there is a cure for STDs, there is no cure for stupidity. The sexual revolution is one of the most obviously failed experiments ever attempted in human history and yet, rather than reject it, society keeps forging ahead. All the evidence of its failure—the urban scourge of single parenthood, the elaborate menu of diseases, the rates of abortion, the falling birth rates, the objectification and exploitation of women—is regarded as a bug of the system, a set of technical problems to be addressed with technical solutions. Then there is the development of a linguistic culture designed to render any criticism illegitimate. Children from homes where mum and dad stayed together are “privileged,” as if the love, self-discipline, and fidelity of their parents was somehow bought at the unjust cost of denying that to some other child. To point out that certain patterns of sexual behavior greatly increase the chances of catching STDs, or that a life of promiscuity might be setting the stage for twilight years of loneliness, is to be judgmental or self-righteous. Strange to tell, the same is not typically applied to those who advise that it is dangerous to cross a busy road at rush hour without waiting for a break in the traffic.
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Desecration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, February 28, 2024
As the Christian transformation of the Roman Empire was marked by the emergence of the liturgical calendar and the turning of pagan temples into churches, so we can expect the reverse to take place when a culture paganizes….Time and space are reimagined in ways that directly confront and annihilate that once deemed sacred.

The controversy surrounding the recent funeral for Cecilia Gentili at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York has been well-documented in the press. Gentili was a transgender prostitute, an atheist, and a misogynist who denied that women’s bodies were of any real relevance. The service has been decried by Catholic conservatives as blasphemous—among other things, it featured prayers for transgender rights and a eulogy that praised Gentili as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores”—and celebrated by Catholic progressives. The priest in charge of the cathedral has issued an apology, claiming that when he agreed to host the service he had no idea of what was to transpire. A Mass has even been offered by way of atonement.
The incident is eloquent testimony to the nature of this moment in American, even Western, culture. That actor Billy Porter played a lead role at the funeral is unsurprising: If anyone could be said to represent the real presence of the absolute absence of intellectual or cultural substance, it is he. Only a cultural vacuum could be filled by such a caricature, and his comment on the funeral bears testimony to this: “There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. But just make sure that you do, you allow yourself to do that, so that we can get to the other side of something that feels a little bit like grace.” What exactly that means is anybody’s guess.
One obvious question is why an atheist man convinced that he is a woman and committed to a life of prostitution would wish to have a funeral in a church. One answer is that the struggle for the heart of a culture always takes place in two areas: time and space. As the Christian transformation of the Roman Empire was marked by the emergence of the liturgical calendar and the turning of pagan temples into churches, so we can expect the reverse to take place when a culture paganizes. The pagans will respond in kind. And so we have a month dedicated to Pride and church buildings used for the mockery of Christianity. Time and space are reimagined in ways that directly confront and annihilate that once deemed sacred. A funeral in a Catholic cathedral for an atheist culture warrior is a first-class way of doing this.
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How Consumerism Trains Us to Devalue the Past

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, February 13, 2024
The impact of consumerism is one reason why church sessions and elder boards often spend more time than is decent on discussions about worship and programs. Someone will make the point that certain young people have left because the worship is not to their liking and thus the church needs to rethink how it does things. Laying aside the fact that, for most of us, no church gives us everything we want in worship but we are nonetheless happy to attend because the word is truly preached it is interesting to note the session member’s response: we need to do something, to think again about worship.

Losing Respect for the Past
Consumerism can be defined as an overattachment to material goods and possessions, such that one’s meaning or worth is determined by them. This definition is reasonably helpful but misses one key aspect of the phenomenon: it is not just the attachment to material things but also the need for constant acquisition of the same. Life is enriched not simply by possessing goods but by the process of acquiring them; consumerism is as much a function of boredom as it is of crass materialism.
What has this to do with rejection of the past? Simply this: consumerism is predicated on the idea that life can be fulfilling through acquiring something in the future that one does not have in the present. This manifests itself in the whole strategic nature of marketing. For example, every time you switch on your television set, you are bombarded with advertisements that may be for a variety of different goods and services but that all preach basically the same message: what you have now is not enough for happiness; you need something else, something new, in order to find true fulfillment. I believe this reinforces fundamentally negative attitudes toward the past.
Think for a moment: How many readers of this are wearing clothes they bought ten years ago? How many are using computers they bought five years ago? Or driving automobiles more than fifteen years old? With the exception of vintage car collectors, the economically poor, and those with absolutely no fashion sense, most readers will probably respond in the negative to at least one, if not all three, of these questions. Yet when we ask why this is the case, there is no sensible answer. We can put a man on the moon, so we could probably make an automobile that lasts for fifty years; most of us do little on computers that could not have been done on the machines we owned five years ago; and we all get rid of clothes that still fit us and are quite presentable. So why the need for the new?
A number of factors influence this kind of behavior. First, there is the role of built-in obsolescence: it is not in the manufacturer’s best interest to make a washing machine that will last for a hundred years. If that were done, then the manufacturer would likely be out of business within a decade as the market became saturated. Such is a possible but unlikely scenario. Developments in technology mean that longevity will not be the only factor driving the market.
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Can Christians Attend Gay Weddings?

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Monday, February 5, 2024
There are also obvious reasons why a Christian should never attend a gay wedding. If marriage is rooted in the complementarity of the sexes, then any marriage that denies that challenges the Christian understanding of creation. It is one thing for the world to do that. It is quite another for Christians to acquiesce in the same. Further, the biblical analogy between Christ and the Church means that fake marriages are a mockery of Christ himself. Of course, that applies beyond the issue of gay marriage. A marriage involving somebody who has not divorced a previous spouse for biblical reasons involves that person entering into an adulterous relationship. No Christian should knowingly attend such a ceremony either.

To update the famous comment of Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in the sexual revolution, but the sexual revolution is interested in you. Some of us are still privileged enough to be partly sheltered from this revolution. I count myself as one, along with those whose detachment from real-life pastoral situations apparently qualifies them to sell political pedagogy to others. But as the push among the progressive political class to dismantle traditional sexual mores continues apace, it is harder and harder to find a pastor or a priest who has not faced a difficult question from congregants about Christian obedience and their livelihood. Only last week a pastor friend told me of a member of his church who, as a manager of a business, has been ordered to integrate the bathrooms and is now faced with complaints from women staff who feel their safety and privacy have been compromised. It’s easy to decry right-wing scaremongering in the abstract, far more difficult to give advice to real people who have to make decisions that could cost them their careers. 
The sexual revolution has revolutionized everything, to the point where questions that once had simple answers have become complicated. For instance, the question “Can I attend a gay wedding?” comes up with increasing frequency and is proving less and less easy to answer, as Bethel McGrew’s closing paragraphs in her recent World column indicate. It is not hard to guess what reasons a Christian might give for attending a gay wedding: a desire to indicate to the couple that one does not hate them, or a wish to avoid causing offense or hurt. But if either carries decisive weight in the decision, then something has gone awry. A refusal to attend might well be motivated by hatred of the couple (though in such circumstances, an invitation would seem an unlikely event) but it does not have to be so. To consider a declined invitation necessarily a sign of hatred is to adopt the notion of “hate” as a mere refusal to affirm.
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Lessons from the Lutheran Tradition for 2024

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Lutheranism has much to offer the church catholic at this moment in time. Like all confessional Christianity, it is anchored in realities that transcend the political particularities of our day; and it also reminds us of the church’s true task and realistic expectations in a time such as this.

This week I had the privilege of speaking at a seminar for the Collegium Fellows of Doxology, a group of Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastors committed to spiritual care and counsel. There are serious theological differences between the Lutheran tradition and my own Reformed tradition, most obviously in the area of the Lord’s Supper. But there is an ethos that binds confessional Protestants together in a world where Catholics are in frequent turmoil over the actions of the present pope and where evangelicals are tearing themselves apart over attitudes to the current political malaise that has enveloped American public life.
Toward the end of the seminar, one pastor asked what I thought confessional Lutheranism could offer to the church catholic at this moment in time. My answer was threefold.
First, confessional Protestantism in general, when faithful to its defining documents, focuses the minds of believers upon the great truths of the Christian faith that take no account of the vicissitudes of the age. God, Trinity, Fall, Incarnation, redemption, and grace: These are truths that feed the mind and the soul, regardless of which side wins and which side loses elections. And they are the central concerns of the great confessional documents of Protestantism. Whether the Book of Concord for Lutherans; the Westminster Standards for Presbyterians; the Three Forms of Unity for the Reformed; or the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Homilies for Anglicans—all speak of the eternal weight of glory that is to come and thereby relativize the slings and arrows of this world as so many light, momentary afflictions. The implications of this are liturgical: The church goes about its ordinary work of proclaiming Christ in Word and Sacrament even as earthly regimes come and go. Thus it was in the time of Nero. So it is today.
I went on to say that confessional Lutheranism, more specifically, has two particularly important contributions for the church catholic today. First, the Lutheran distinction (echoing Augustine), between the heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom. This distinction is vital, especially in a time of deep political division and seductive political temptation. Much has been made of Christian nationalism as an “existential threat” to the nation and to democracy. Setting aside the rather fluid definitions of Christian nationalism, even in its most extreme form it is unlikely to pose a significant threat to society at large. But it may well prove to be a threat in the much smaller world of our congregations and denominations, where a confusion between church and world and between the power of the Word and the power of the sword would devastate the gospel.
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