Carl R. Trueman


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What A Tangled Web

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Friday, April 15, 2022
We have abortion bills that flip-flop on fetal personhood and candidates for the Supreme Court who defer to biologists while trying to avoid gender essentialism. This conceptual chaos, rooted in a denial of reality and responsibility, can only lead to chaos. To quote Sir Walter Scott, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Confusion over what it means to be human continues to dog public life in the West. Soon after Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party shadow secretary for women, revealed that she does not know what a woman is, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson deferred the same question to biologists. That move was odd: It was obviously an attempt to play to the progressive trans lobby, but it actually revealed Jackson’s lack of understanding of the current debates surrounding gender. Jackson implied that she sees the issue as one of biological essentialism. Contra de Beauvoir, it would appear that she believes one is born a woman; one does not become one.
It is easy to poke fun at the confusion that ensues when reality is denied in the service of the latest political fads and fakeries. Yet while we laugh at the silliness, we may forget that the real confusion here is not over the political excesses of gender theory and the supine surrender of our leaders in the face of its obfuscations. The deeper issue is the confusion over what constitutes a human person. And that has tragic consequences for the most vulnerable in our society.
As a case in point, consider two bills currently under consideration in the Maryland House of Delegates. Both deal with abortion and are clearly meant to be preemptive strikes in case Roe is overturned by the Supreme Court. House Bill 1171 (Declaration of Rights – Right to Reproductive Liberty) proposes a change to the state’s constitution so that Article 48 will read as follows:
That every person, as a central component of the individual’s rights to liberty and equality, has the fundamental right to reproductive liberty which includes the right to make and effectuate decisions regarding the individual’s own reproduction, including but not limited to the ability to prevent, continue, or end their pregnancy. The state may not, directly or indirectly, deny, burden, or abridge the right unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.
In many ways this is standard pro-abortion fare, assuming as it does that the baby in the womb lacks personhood and thus has no rights.
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Liturgy of the Powers

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Thursday, March 24, 2022
The latest form of body dysmorphia—rapid-onset gender dysphoria—is fueled by extremely wealthy lobby groups with a vested interest in identity politics. Backed by a medical establishment for whom ethics is little more than a supine acceptance of technological possibilities, and enabled by a political class that lacks a moral backbone, these groups are shaping the country’s pediatric care. And the cost will be catastrophically high. 

The trans revolution reached new heights of absurdity last week when the BBC asked Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party’s shadow secretary for women and equalities, to define “woman.” Dodds proved singularly incapable of doing so; after saying that “it does depend what the context is,” she equivocated for several minutes and refused to give a direct answer. Her party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, later came to the rescue, telling Pink News that “trans women are women.” That is not, of course, an argument. In fact, by using the term “woman” without offering a definition, Starmer merely begs the question. But arguments and definitions are somewhat passé in our current political climate. Uncritical and obsequious recitation of the liturgical response that the progressive lobby demands is the order of the day. That not even all trans people buy into this mantra is never mentioned. They have, to use trendy progressive jargon, been made “invisible” by the political powers that be.
Dodds made a pitiful spectacle; she is an ironic victim of the anti-culture of endless inclusion that is now consuming the West. To be qualified for a job, one must have a basic understanding of the specific task at hand. The car mechanic needs to know what a car is; the brain surgeon needs to be able to recognize the brain. A politician tasked with safeguarding women’s rights should therefore know what a woman is and be able to articulate that understanding in public statements. “What is a woman?” hardly seems an unexpected or unfair question to ask the shadow secretary for women. And yet she fluffed it.
The rationale for the transgender movement is couched in arcane and rebarbative prose. But its underlying dynamic is nonetheless straightforward. It is based upon negations—denials and repudiations of traditional categories. Such categories, the gender theorists claim, create the illusion of an authority grounded in nature, posit ideological forms as the truth, and thus marginalize and exclude any who do not fit.
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When Evil Is Called Good

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
There is a clear push to grant LGBTQ+ ideology a favored legal and cultural status that enforces it without compromise. It also labels any and all dissent as morally evil. You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see where this is all heading, or at least where those in power hope it is heading. 

Last week, three news stories threw into sharp relief the ambitions of the sexual revolutionaries who govern the United States. First, there was the predictable outrage from the usual elites concerning Florida’s Parental Right in Education Bill, which would significantly restrict the teaching of LGBTQ+ ideology to schoolchildren. Second, it emerged that Washington State has a policy preventing teachers from revealing a child’s gender transition to parents. And third, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki condemned a directive from Texas governor Greg Abbott that calls on state agencies to protect Texas minors by investigating cases of children receiving “abusive gender-transitioning procedures.”
Each story reveals a particular aspect of the current sexual revolution. The criticism of Florida shows just how deeply the progressive elites have imbibed the notion of expressive individualism. Actress Kerry Washington condemned the Florida law, declaring that “Children deserve to be who they want to be. To be their true selves.” That such a statement makes sense to her and presumably to many of her 5.5 million Twitter followers testifies to how the notion of authenticity, tied to a sexualized notion of childhood, is now unquestioned orthodoxy in our culture.
Washington State’s policy is a reminder of how deeply government agencies have bought into trans ideology, and how they are using it to drive a wedge between parents and children. By the state’s own philosophy, the child is the gender he or she claims to be. So the state holds that the child defines who he truly is, but that the child’s parents have no right to know. That is disturbing in the extreme.
As to the Biden administration’s attitude toward the Texas directive, the president and his entourage seem to believe it is inappropriate, and indeed morally disgusting, to investigate institutions involved in gender transition to see if they conform to current Texas law. Psaki said that Abbott’s guidance was “designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most.” Our administration believes that loving and caring for trans kids apparently means enabling them to do irreparable damage to their bodies at an age when they have no idea what the consequences will be later in life. The lobbyists have so perverted the narrative, and the current administration has so enabled that perversion, that yes, evil is called good and good is called evil.
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Decadence On Display

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Monday, February 28, 2022
To be fair to them, the #NeverTrumpers are probably the victims of an honest misunderstanding. When elected, Joe Biden claimed that the adults were back in charge. My guess is that the #NeverTrumpers naively assumed he meant “adult” as in “grown-ups.” The Brinton appointment indicates that he likely meant “adult” as in “bookstore” and “videos.” It’s a mistake anyone could have made

The appointment of Sam Brinton, a very public “queer” activist, to the U.S. Department of Energy is merely the latest sign of decadence in the dying culture of the West. Brinton, a man of such exotic and public perversions that I cannot in good conscience describe them here, is a sign of the times. It is, of course, not his perversions that are problematic with regard to his basic competence as a public official. It is the fact that he is an exhibitionist who uses his twisted sexuality to bully others in the workplace with the specific intention of “educating” the public, as Rod Dreher documents with a notable lack of squeamishness (you have been warned).
What is interesting, of course, is that this is yet another sign of how the Biden presidency seems not simply mortgaged to the radical extremists of the left but positively committed to promoting their causes. And that raises interesting questions about the #NeverTrump evangelicals.
One of the interesting aspects of #NeverTrump evangelicals was the absolute refusal to allow for any legitimate reason to vote for Donald Trump. Joe Biden, they claimed, was going to restore some dignity to the office of president of the United States. Character counts. And so it does.
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The Dogmas that Must be Questioned

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Friday, February 25, 2022
Out of love for human beings made in the image of God, we Christians must oppose the well-funded political lobbyists determined to prevent trans people from having the care and help they need. And we need to take back the rhetoric of love, and in our attitudes and our actions toward those struggling with his pernicious form of politicized body dysmorphia, show that it is we who truly desire their safety and well-being.

Various LGBTQ+ groups have expressed outrage (is there any other idiom for expressing disagreement today?) over the British Equality and Human Rights Commission’s calls for Scotland to delay its move to “simplify” its criteria for gender recognition (i.e., make it easier for men and women to identify as the opposite sex and to enjoy legal protection thereof) and for England and Wales to slow down legislation outlawing “conversion therapy.”
Stonewall, the U.K.’s most prominent LGBTQ+ outfit could not contain its anger at this “attack on trans equality” and human rights. The LGBT Foundation went further, immediately cutting all ties with the EHRC. That Stonewall did not go quite that far might have something to do with the money that flows into its coffers from the British Conservative Party’s government.
In amidst the usual huffing and puffing about human rights, the LGBT Foundation statement contained the following paragraph:
“EHRC has ignored the experiences of trans and non-binary individuals who have undergone unnecessary trauma. They suggest that LGBTQ+ lives are up for debate and medical scrutiny. They disregard expert opinion and lived experience—a humiliating and dehumanizing action against our community with real-world consequences.”
Now, anyone who has ever reflected on the LGBTQ+ alliance knows that it is at best a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” a confected political mirage designed for one thing and one thing only: the displacement of the normative status of traditional sexual mores and notions of human identity. Other than that, the L, the G, and the B have next to nothing in common with the T and the Q (which does not even have a stable definition). The former all assume that biological sex is critical to identity. The latter repudiate that. And as the near-total cultural triumph of the movement approaches, it is not surprising that cracks in the edifice are starting to appear. We now find that even the EHRC is having doubts about the validity of lumping together matters of sexual orientation and gender identity in the campaign against the catch-all category of conversion therapy. Indeed, it should be patently obvious to anyone—gay or straight—that outlawing any attempt to change the mind of someone who thinks they are born in the wrong body is not following the science. Rather it is to force queer and gender theory on the medical profession under penalty of law.
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“Playboy” Makes Perversion Woke

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
In modern America, morality is nothing more than the sum total of the tastes of the moment. When free love and throwing off the sexual restraints of earlier generations was hip, Hef was a godlike figure who was the public face of a family restaurant chain. Now that the human cost of this revolution has become clear, Hef is a demon, denounced even by those who owe their livelihoods to him and to the capital acquired by his peddling of sleaze.

Some years ago Playboy declared that it would no longer feature photographs of nude women. While this may sound like progress, it was unfortunately less a sign of morality than a sign of the times—an indication that the static and (by later standards) tame photographic fodder that the magazine promoted was incapable of competing with internet pornography. And of course, Playboy‘s new policy was short-lived. It did not last even two years, for Playboy without nudes would be rather like Model Train Monthly without pictures of diminutive toy trains. Playboy exists to profit from making it socially tolerable, if not exactly respectable, to gawp at pictures of nude women. Only a fool would believe otherwise. The interviews and articles offer nothing more than a pretext for purchasing a copy.
Well, it seems that Playboy is once again trying to clean up its image and, in the process, contradict its own reasons for existence. This time the move comes in advance of an A&E documentary series that will reveal in detail the perversions and sleaze of its founder, Hugh Hefner. In an open letter last week, the organization variously declared itself to be “a brand with sex positivity at its core,” a workforce that is 80 percent female, and a company that continues to “fight harassment and discrimination in all its forms, support healing and education, redefine tired and sexist definitions of beauty and advocate for inclusivity across gender, sexuality, race, age, ability and zip codes.”
It is hard to see how a magazine that helped make pornography mainstream through its combination of titillating photographs of starlets and interviews with serious cultural figures should do anything but voluntarily close itself down at this point. Perhaps more than any other media outlet, it is responsible for the paradoxical equation of “sex positivity” with a trivialized notion of sex and indeed what it means to be a woman. And the fact its workforce is 80 percent female is surely irrelevant. When I was a postgraduate student and lived next to the docks in Aberdeen, 100 percent of the “workforce” standing under the streetlights that I passed on my way back from college each day were women. That was no sign of their liberation.
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Why Preaching is Central to Priesthood

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Thursday, February 3, 2022
Preaching will only gain in practical importance as the aggressive myths of this present age are preached at us from every soap opera, commercial, and TikTok video. If the church is (humanly speaking) to survive, she needs to confront these falsehoods with the truth proclaimed in the preached Word. Chrysostom’s legacy is not just sacramental. It is also prophetic. And if we are to carry out the church’s prophetic calling, we too must make sure that our preaching is powerful and central. That is one important way to honor Chrysostom’s legacy.

Years ago, when teaching at a seminary, I was responsible for the course on the ancient church. In every class I have ever taught, I have regarded it as my chief task to introduce students to the great primary texts on the subject at hand; in this course, I made sure that they became acquainted with John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood. Of course, any book with the word “priesthood” in the title was not an obvious choice for the Presbyterians who generally populated my classes, but it was nonetheless a text that proved popular and, if emails from graduates are any basis for judgment, useful to those who went on to ordained ministry.
Orthodox and Catholics may be surprised by that. Chrysostom’s conception of the ministry is, after all, highly sacramental, with baptism and the eucharist at its heart. But it is not just the sacraments that are at the heart of Chrysostom’s understanding of ministry. As his nickname indicates, he was an outstanding preacher. On the Priesthood demonstrates that the proclamation of the Word was a vital part of his conception of the ministry.
His chapter on the ministry of the Word is, perhaps unintentionally, one of the most amusing. In a section on how to handle responses to sermons, he advises preachers to pay no attention to criticism from laypeople as, untrained as they are, they are incompetent to offer such. The sting in the tale, of course, is that the same principle applies to praise. The admirer is no more competent than the critic; and just as criticism should not cause the preacher to be despondent, so praise should not tempt him to pride.
Amusing pearls of wisdom aside, Chrysostom’s greatest lesson for the church today is arguably the importance he ascribes to the preached Word in his account of the priesthood and in his own ministry. In our day, secular indifference to religion is rapidly changing to positive hostility throughout much of the West.
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Shall We Cancel the Theologians?

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Contemporary Christians need to remember that our hands are not so clean. Anyone who uses a computer or smartphone to decry racism or call for reparations for American slavery can only do so because of contemporary slave labor in China. Does the fact that others own the slaves who make the goods we buy make us less guilty than Luther or Edwards? Are the past sins of long ago, committed by others, more heinous than the contemporary sins of far away to which we are all now connected?

Cancel culture shows no signs of abatement. The Spectator in Britain ended the year speculating on whether comedy itself will now be a thing of the past. Cancel culture is incompatible with comedy and humor. Meanwhile, the venomous reactions to those who dare to affirm the importance of biological sex, such as J.K. Rowling, continue unabated. Even the word “mother” is under attack from the highest levels of government. It is hard to imagine that a society can survive long term that denies reality and reinforces its lunacy with an adamant refusal to laugh at itself.
Yet there is a form of cancel culture emerging within the ranks of Christians. It operates with selective pieties drawn from the wider woke culture and reflects, whether by accident or design, the same self-righteousness that marks the secular world. Two obvious examples are current attitudes toward Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards owned slaves and was thus a part of America’s original sin, the consequences of which we still live with today. Luther is worse. He is notorious for the violently anti-Jewish nature of some of his later works. In a post-Holocaust world, that is highly problematic. Some years ago, while working on a book on historical fallacies, I did considerable research on the Jewish question in Luther and was distressed to find that his anti-Jewish works had been reprinted by the Nazis as part of their own propaganda and were also available today on viciously anti-Semitic websites.
The question—and it is a very legitimate question—is whether we should continue to take seriously such men who failed so signally to conform to moral positions that we now regard as self-evident and, indeed, a consistent application of the Christianity into which they both had such signal insights. Should we cancel them?
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The Strange Fate of “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter”

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
The moral tastes of popular culture are just that: tastes, and thus subject to fashion and, in our social media age, to easy manipulation. Society has no solid foundation on which to build its moral codes. 

Years ago, when teaching at seminary, I used to tell the students that moral relevance in the modern world was a cruel and fickle mistress. However much Christians accommodated themselves to her demands, sooner or later she would want more. Christian morality and the morality of the world simply could not be reconciled in the long term.
Apparently, this no longer applies simply to Christians and other moral traditionalists. It also applies to the artistic class. Last week, Constance Grady at Vox noted how so much pop culture of recent vintage has dated so rapidly. Hamilton, the hit musical of 2015, now appears, in 2021, to glorify “the slave-owning and genocidal Founding Fathers while erasing the lives and legacies of the people of color who were actually alive in the Revolutionary era.” The TV series Parks and Recreation is now considered “an overrated and tunnel-visioned portrait of the failures of Obama-era liberalism.” And the Harry Potter franchise is now “the neo-liberal fantasy of a transphobe.”
While Grady avoids the earnestness of those who regard It’s a Wonderful Life as dangerous or the clichés of those who see Dolly Parton as a tool of systemic racist evil, she misses the deeper significance of the phenomenon she describes. For her, the transformed tastes of pop culture connect to the fading fortunes of Hillary Clinton and the values she represented. That makes sense. But there is a deeper cause of the shifting morals of popular culture and that is that our society has no stable framework for moral reasoning. It is therefore doomed to constant volatility.
Of course, the moral tastes of culture have always changed somewhat over time. What is notable today is the speed at which they change and the dramatic way they repudiate the immediate past. It took forty years for John Cleese’s Hitler impersonation to be deemed offensive (and then, oddly, by a generation for whom Hitler was little more than a name in a history textbook). But now, jokes that were unexceptional five or ten years ago might well cost a comedian his career today. The moral shelf life of pop cultural artifacts seems much shorter now and the criteria by which they might be judged far less predictable.
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