Carl Trueman

Reformed Theology

While there is no single liturgical from demanded by Reformed theology, Reformed churches typically regarded Scripture as regulating worship in a manner which presses towards an aesthetic and formal simplicity focused on prayer, the reading and preaching of the Bible, the sacraments, and singing, the latter of which was historically psalmody but now generally includes hymns as well. Such worship is seen as a practical manifestation of the Reformed commitment to the sufficiency of scripture, not simply for doctrine and ethics but also for church practice.

The term “Reformed Theology” has a range of meanings in contemporary church life and theology. It can be used to refer to the beliefs of any Protestant movement that adheres to a broadly anti-Pelagian understanding of salvation, as, for example, in the Young, Restless, and Reformed phenomenon. At a more technical level it refers specifically to Protestant churches that hold as confessional norms the Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Standards, or (in the case of Reformed Baptists) the Second London Confession.
History
The Reformed churches trace their origins to the Reformation in Switzerland, specifically to that which originated in Zurich in the 1520s under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531). Zwingli’s reformation was distinguished from that of Luther theologically in its emphasis upon Scripture as the normative rule of liturgical practice (hence, for example, Zurich churches removed stained glass windows and developed a very simple, Word-centered form of worship) and in its denial of the Real Presence in the Lord’s Supper. This latter point led to a formal break between Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, an event which divided Reformed and Lutheran churches in perpetuity.
While Zwingli provided the initial formative impulse for Reformed theology, others soon came to play prominent roles. Heinrich Bullinger continued the Zurich reformation after Zwingli’s death; Martin Bucer implemented similar reforms in Starsbourg; John Calvin, Pierre Viret, Guillaume Farel, and Pierre Viret, among others, implemented reform in Geneva and its environs. Then, in the later sixteenth century, Reformed churches spread across Europe. To France, the Low Countries, England, and Scotland. By the end of the seventeenth century, churches adhering to Reformed theology were found.
During this period, Reformed theology also planted itself within the university system and this led to a flowering of Reformed thought in the late sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth centuries, of which John Owen in England and Gisbertus Voetius in the Low Countries are perhaps the two greatest examples. Such a fertile period was not to last, however, and the impact of Enlightenment patterns of thought on universities by the end of the seventeenth century meant that Reformed theology, rooted as it was in traditional metaphysics, was soon either modified beyond recognition or displaced within the curriculum.
In more recent centuries, Reformed theology played a significant role in the political and cultural life of the Netherlands, particularly through the figure of Abraham Kuyper who founded a denomination, a newspaper, a university, and a political party. He also served as Prime Minister. In Kuyper, Reformed theology came to take on a cultural ambition not seen since the Reformation of the sixteenth century and, through Kuyper’s friend and colleague, Herman Bavinck, found one of its most articulate and talented theologians. The latter’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics represents the last great attempt to offer a comprehensive account of Reformed theology in dialogue with modernity. One unfortunate dimension to Dutch Reformed theology was the role it played in South Africa where it was used as partial justification for apartheid, although, in a more liberal form, it also proved a resource for those who opposed the regime such as Alan Boesak.
In Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland and its educational institution, New College, provided some theological leadership particularly through its preeminent theologians, William Cunningham and James Bannerman. In America, Princeton Theological Seminary was the center of Reformed theology in the nineteenth century, and its two most famous faculty, Charles Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, also made significant contributions to Reformed thought, particularly on the issues of evolution and scriptural authority. Further, thanks to American missionary endeavors, Korea, and then after partition, South Korea, became a center for Reformed theology in the non-Western world.
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Expressive Individualism and the Church

Why do we worship? Not “we” as in some abstracted notion of the people of God but “we” as individuals. Do we worship to be made to feel good or do we worship as a response to the being and work of a holy God, and thereby conform ourselves (and understand our experiences and feelings) in light of that God? Unless it is the latter then we are allowing our own complicity in expressive individualism to drive our worship.

There is a real danger for Christians as they assess many modern developments regarding the human person—whether matters of sex and sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, or simply what we might call the generally self-centered nature of modern consumerist life. That danger is the one committed by the Pharisee in the Temple, the one who uttered the words, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men.” That prayer immediately set him apart from his contemporaries and exempted him, at least in his own eyes, from the moral problems of his age.
Expressive Individualism in Contemporary Worship
If expressive individualism is the typical way in which people think of themselves and their relationship to the world, then Christians must understand that they too are deeply implicated. We can no more abstract ourselves from our social and cultural context, and the intuitions that our context cultivates, than we can leave our bodies and float to the moon. Indeed, our first thought must not be that of the Pharisee but rather that of the disciples when Jesus told them that one of them would betray him, “Is it I, Lord?” Such an approach will not only reflect and reinforce appropriate humility; it may also help to free us just a little from the culture that surrounds us. To know how the world encourages us to think and live will equip us to resist it.
Simply put, expressive individualism pervades modern Christian life. Those of us who attend churches with a traditionalist worship aesthetic would likely point to modern praise songs and worship styles as evidence for this. Many Christians view worship as a time to “express themselves”; in doing so, they highlight the benefits of “spontaneity,” or musical arrangements that play to the emotions, or lyrics that focus on first-person-singular feelings. This is low-hanging fruit to make the case that modern Christianity is deeply shaped by expressive individualism.
While the expression of feelings in worship is certainly not wrong—the Psalms are replete with such—the focus on emotions too often becomes an end in itself rather than a stage on the road to bringing those feelings into conformity with God’s Word. The inner psychological state of the psalmist is always ultimately to be interpreted through the grid of God’s revelation. Even Psalm 88, the bleakest psalm with the most painful expressions of desolation, addresses God at the start by his covenant name. The despair is still to be set within the context of God’s covenant commitment to his people. In the world of expressive individualism, however, the truth of emotions is found not in their conformity to God’s revelation but in the sincerity of their expression. When that characterizes a worship song, whether in terms of lyrics or music, it is highly problematic.
So there are legitimate grounds for seeing expressive individualism in contemporary worship.
But the situation is more subtle than that, and worship traditionalists do not have legitimate cause to reach for the words of the pharisee’s prayer simply because they are traditionalists.
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A Society Ashamed of Shame

A sense of shame is nothing of which to be ashamed. Shame and modesty are not in principle oppressive. On the contrary, they are the means by which children learn to grow up, and to handle their emergence as sexual beings with responsibility. They are the cultural codes that help keep women safe. It is shamelessness that is really shameful, and Adidas’s cynical exploitation of the female body for commercial gain is a prime example. The company should be, well, ashamed of itself.

Last week, Adidas released its new sports bra line with an ad campaign that features pictures of twenty-five pairs of naked breasts. The campaign has ignited a debate predictable in both its polarization and its content, with the focus on whether the nudity is appropriate.
The ads may be just another sad example of an attempt to grab public attention without the inconvenience of using much imagination or effort. But they also bear witness to an era in which a sports clothing company cannot rest content with doing what it has always done—selling sports clothing—but has to teach the rest of us how to think about life.
In a telling Twitter exchange, Adidas declared that “breasts are a natural part of the anatomy. It’s time to remove the stigma to allow future generations to flourish.” A follow-up tweet added that “it’s important to normalize the human body and help inspire future generations to feel confident and unashamed.” There is an odd irony here, given that a product designed in part to keep breasts private surely either indicates the importance of privacy or militates against the “normalization” the campaign claims to be promoting. And it is interesting that in our society, someone can claim with a straight face that this kind of campaign is removing some stigma rather than cynically using women’s bodies to boost profit margins. But beyond the irony, Adidas is playing to the intuitions of a culture that has lost all notion of modesty.
Modesty, in an odd inversion, is now seen as shameful, unnatural, and a stigma, no less. This makes sense at a cultural level. Performance, not formation, is now the order of the day, with YouTube and TikTok being far more important to self-image and self-understanding than families, schools, or nations.
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Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety

When Presbyterians and Baptists and free church evangelicals start attending Ash Wednesday services and observing Lent, one can only conclude that they have either been poorly instructed in the theology or the history of their own traditions, or that they have no theology and history. Or maybe they are simply exhibiting the attitude of the world around: They consume the bits and pieces which catch their attention in any tradition they find appealing, while eschewing the broader structure, demands and discipline which belonging to an historically rooted confessional community requires.
It’s that time of year again: the ancient tradition of Lent, kick-started by Ash Wednesday. It is also the time of year when us confessional types brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of a more recent tradition: that of evangelical pundits, with no affiliation to such branches of the church, writing articles extolling Lent’s virtues to their own eclectic constituency.
Liturgical calendars developed in the fourth century and beyond, as Christianity came to dominate the empire. Cultural dominance requires two things: control of time and space.  The latter could be achieved through churches and relics. The former was achieved through developing a calendar which gave the rhythm of time a specifically Christian idiom. It remains a key part of Roman, Orthodox and later Anglican church practice.
The rise of Lent in non-Roman, Orthodox or Anglican circles is a fascinating phenomenon. I remember being on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary a few years ago on Ash Wednesday and being greeted by a young man emerging from Miller Chapel with a black smudged cross on his forehead. That the bastion of nineteenth century Old School Presbyterianism had been reduced to this – an eclectic grab-bag of liturgical practices – struck me as sad. Old School Presbyterianism is a rich enough tradition not to need to plunder the Egyptians or even the Anglicans.
I can understand Anglicans observing Lent. Hey, I can even approve of them doing so when I am in an exceptionally good mood or have just awoken from a deep sleep and am still a little disoriented. It is part of their history. It connects to their formal liturgical history. All denominations and Christian traditions involve elements that are strictly speaking unbiblical but which shape their historic identity. For Anglicans, the liturgical calendar is just such a thing. These reasons are not compelling in a way that would make the calendar normative for all Christians, yet I can still see how they make sense to an Anglican. But just as celebrating July the Fourth makes sense for Americans but not for the English, the Chinese or the Lapps, so Ash Wednesday and Lent really make no sense to those who are Presbyterians, Baptists, or free church evangelicals.
What perplexes me is the need for people from these other groups to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. My commitment to Christian liberty means that I certainly would not regard it as sinful in itself for them to do so; but that same commitment also means that I object most strongly to anybody trying to argue that it should be a normative practice for Christians, to impose it on their congregations, or to claim that it confers benefits unavailable elsewhere.
The imposition of ashes is intended as a means of reminding us that we are dust and forms part of a liturgical moment when sins are ‘shriven’ or forgiven. In fact, a well-constructed worship service should do that anyway. Precisely the same thing can be conveyed by the reading of God’s Word, particularly the Law, followed by a corporate prayer of confession and then some words of gospel forgiveness drawn from an appropriate passage and read out loud to the congregation by the minister.
An appropriately rich Reformed sacramentalism also renders Ash Wednesday irrelevant. Infant baptism emphasizes better than anything else outside of the preached Word the priority of God’s grace and the helplessness of sinful humanity in the face of God. The Lord’s Supper, both in its symbolism (humble elements of bread and wine) and its meaning (the feeding on Christ by faith) indicates our continuing weakness, fragility and utter dependence upon Christ.
In light of this, I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own, from the ancient Fathers as the first emergents to the Old School men of Old Princeton as the precursors of the Young, Restless, and Reformed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer as modern American Evangelical. Yet if your own tradition lacks the historical, liturgical and theological depth for which you are looking, it may be time to join a church which can provide the same.
I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it. As an act of piety, it costs nothing yet implies a deep seriousness. In fact, far from revealing deep seriousness, in an evangelical context it simply exposes the superficiality, eclectic consumerism and underlying identity confusion of the movement.
Finally, it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.
When Presbyterians and Baptists and free church evangelicals start attending Ash Wednesday services and observing Lent, one can only conclude that they have either been poorly instructed in the theology or the history of their own traditions, or that they have no theology and history. Or maybe they are simply exhibiting the attitude of the world around: They consume the bits and pieces which catch their attention in any tradition they find appealing, while eschewing the broader structure, demands and discipline which belonging to an historically rooted confessional community requires. Indeed, it is ironic that a season designed for self-denial is so often a symbol of this present age’s ingrained consumerism.
Carl Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  This article is used with permission.

Living in a “Trans” World

We truly do live in a “trans” world. Not so much the trans of the LGBTQ movement but rather the trans of 19th-century philosopher (and harbinger of postmodern anarchy) Nietzsche’s so-called transvaluation of all values. Once the foundation of traditional values has been destroyed, there is, Nietzsche declared, a need for such transvaluation: That which was once deemed strong must be exposed, while that which was once considered weak must be lauded as strong. 

In an article for Canada’s National Post, Jordan Peterson announced he is no longer a tenured professor at the University of Toronto, having resigned and moved to emeritus status. At the age of only 59, this is an unusual move for an academic. Peterson likely has few financial concerns, given the success of his books and lectures. Nevertheless, he is not retiring because he can afford to do so but because he no longer wants to work in a professional culture dominated by the ideological program that goes under the banner of diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Peterson writes with his usual brio and hits all the usual suspects: corrupt university leadership, politically motivated leftist academics, cowardly professors, and, more recently, corporate elites who are destroying sound business practices just as progressives are dismantling academic standards. His article contains nothing new for the Peterson-watcher but is still worth reading, just to be reminded of how fast, how comprehensive, and how damaging these changes are. At the end, he leaves the reader with a clear picture of how Russian President Vladimir Putin looks upon the emergence of the new, effete West.
We truly do live in a “trans” world. Not so much the trans of the LGBTQ movement but rather the trans of 19th-century philosopher (and harbinger of postmodern anarchy) Nietzsche’s so-called transvaluation of all values. Once the foundation of traditional values has been destroyed, there is, Nietzsche declared, a need for such transvaluation: That which was once deemed strong must be exposed, while that which was once considered weak must be lauded as strong.
Peterson points out that higher education has for years pursued active policies to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds. I, for one, think that is a laudable aim, with the same going for student recruitment, as long as it is simply removing non-academic barriers to such.
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