Understanding the Times

To remain as informed as possible on what is going on in Evangelical Christianity in our time I read and listen to many varied sources. Some of these sources you may or may not view in as good a light as others and some may not be “up there” like they used to be. I am convinced that a lot of that is perception and opinion and we must be discerning–being as wise as serpents while as innocent as doves as we seek to learn what God is teaching us. I still subscribe to Tabletalk Magazine  from Ligonier Ministries even though they have guest writers each month in it of the type that I often warn you good people about. However, they also often have gems that make my subscription worthwhile. I received my September 2012 issue today and it is quite good. The interview section in this edition is of Carl Trueman who I deeply respect. – Mike Ratliff

Here is the interview:

Understanding The Times

TT: PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR CONVERSION AND YOUR CALL TO MINISTRY.

CT: I first heard the gospel at a Billy Graham rally in Bristol, U.K., in 1984. I then started going to church and reading the Bible along with Christian literature. It was through J.I. Packer’s God’s Words that I really came to understand God’s grace.

My call to ministry came much later. While teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary, I became convinced of the need to be under church oversight. Thus, I pursued ordination in the OPC. Last winter, the church where I also served as teacher voted to call me as pastor beginning in August 2012. I continue to serve at Westminster but also serve part-time at the church.

I am a firm believer that the call to ministry needs both an internal component (one should desire it) but also an external dimension (one must be judged competent for it). Only the people who have to sit and listen to you can really know if you are meant to be a preacher.

TT: WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS PROFESSOR OF CHURCH HISTORY AT WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY?

CT: As professor of church history, I teach master-of-divinity courses on the ancient and Reformation church periods. I also offer electives on various topics relating to Reformation and Presbyterian history and theology. Of course, few come to seminary to learn history; most come to do biblical studies or theology or counseling. With that in mind, I strive to make history more than names and dates. I strive to inculcate an attitude to the past and a way of reading history that provides students with critical skills for understanding their own culture and their place within it.

TT: WHAT IS THE CHIEF ROLE OF THE SEMINARY, AND HOW SHOULD SEMINARIES RELATE TO THE CHURCH?

CT: Westminister has three main purposes: to train men for ordained ministry; to train men and women for other leadership roles within the church; and to train men and women in theological and biblical research. Of these three, the first is our primary reason for existence.

The relationship between church and seminary is important . Obviously, what is taught in the lecture theater will sooner or later find its way into the pulpit. So, seminaries have a responsibility to make sure that what they teach is orthodox. How that is ensured is more complicated. The story of Princeton is one of how the denomination went bad and pulled down the orthodoxy of the the seminary. yet, history is also full of independent seminaries that have gone bad, quite independent of any adverse denominational influence on them. In my time as vice president of academic affairs at Westminster, we moved to a position where all future faculty will have to be ordained ministers in their first three years of appointment. We are an independent seminary, but that move keeps our professors accountable not only to the seminary’s board but also to the courts of the church.

TT: WHAT ARE THREE REASONS WHY EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD HAVE A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF CHURCH HISTORY?

CT: You need to have some grasp of church history in order to know why the church thinks, speaks, and behaves the way she does.

You need to have some grasp of church history in order to avoid reinventing the wheel–theological and/or ecclesiastical–every few years.

You need to have some grasp of church history in order to have an appreciation of how God has preserved and sustained the church over the generations.

TT: WHAT ARE TWO BOOKS ON CHURCH HISTORY THAT EVERY LAYPERSON SHOULD READ?

CT: This is tough. Only two? Well, I would have to say the first is Roland Bainton’s life of Martin Luther, Here I stand! It is a little dated but a great read and helpful in understanding what exactly was at stake in the Reformation.

Second, Iain H. Murray’s D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, volume 1. I have major issues with Murray’s interpretation of the career of MLJ in the 1960’s and beyond, but this first volume is a marvelous story of one very influential man’s call to the ministry.

TT: WHAT IS THE “REAL SCANDAL OF THE EVANGELICAL MIND”?

CT: Lack of historic orthodoxy. The evangelical world seems obsessed with “engaging culture” even as the average Christian’s knowledge of the basics of the faith diminishes. You can go to heaven without being able to offer a Christian appreciation of film, art, or music; one cannot go to heaven without knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He has done.

TT: WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS ACCURATELY REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THOSE WITH WHOME WE DISAGREE THEOLOGICALLY POLITICALLY, AND MORALLY?

CT: That is a simple ninth commandment issue. We should speak truthfully about others.

TT: HOW CAN CHRISTIANS BE RIGHTLY CONCERNED ABOUT HOW THEY ARE VIEWD BY UNBELIEVERS WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE GOSPEL?

CT: Paul makes it clear in 1 Timothy that elders are to be models of behavior for other Christians and to be of good reputation with those outside. Thus, Christians must of necessity be so concerned. This clearly does not involve conforming to the world’s standards of, say, sexual morality, but it does mean that we will be very careful how we confront the world. Paul is very clear that the church judges the church,not the world. So the kind of hateful histrionics we often witness from Christians aimed at the world around us are not good examples of how to engage. Of course, some of this is the result of media hype and spin, but not all of it. Christians are not to mimic the world–no more in style of engagement than in sexual ethics.

TT: HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO THOSE WHO CRITICIZE YOU FOR USING HUMOR IN SERIOUS THEOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DISCUSSIONS?

CT: Humor can be very serious as a pedagogical tool. It is not necessarily flippant or trivial. The Bible is full of humor. Church history is full of those who used humor for good. (Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, and G.K. Chesterson spring to mind as just five of more obvious examples.) Humor is often predicated on mental switches, on leading the mind one way then suddenly springing a trap or doing something unexpected. In other words, it can make people think. (Parables function in a similar fashion.) As a professional teacher, I do not see my job as what many would call an information dump that simply fills people’s minds with facts and ideas. I want to provoke people to think for themselves. Humor is my favorite means for so doing.

Humor, when used properly, also prevents pomposity. I try to make myself and my own sillinesses a regular target. I it also a well-attested survival mechanism. And anyone involved in church or theological education needs survival mechanisms in order to avoid despair or cynicism.

Of course, humor is very subjective, both personally and culturally. What is hilarious to one person might be deeply offensive to another. The writer needs to bear that in mind, but so does the reader. My own tastes tend to be on the absurdist/satirical end of things. If people are offended by what I write, then, once they have realized that is the case, it might be best if they simply avoided reading me.

TT: WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAY THAT EVANGELICALS NEED GOOD, SOLID REASONS FOR NOT BEING ROMAN CATHOLIC?

CT: Rome has chronological priority over any Protestant denomination. Thus, Protestantism was and is a movement of protest. We are by definition protesting against something: the claims of the papacy, the burying of the gospel under garbage, the denial of assurance to ordinary Christian believers. We must never forget these things. We should respect our Roman Catholic friends; we should rejoice in the great doctrine we hold in common; but we must not minimize that which divides us from each other.

Carl Trueman is professor of historical theology and Paul Woolley chair of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a frequent contributor to the online magazine reformation21 and author of numerous books, including The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone, and The Creedal Imperative.

This interview is from the September 2012 edition of © Tabletalk magazine 

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

4 thoughts on “Understanding the Times

  1. “I still subscribe to Tabletalk Magazine from Ligonier Ministries even though they have guest writers each month in it of the type that I often warn you good people about. However, they also often have gems that make my subscription worthwhile. I received my September 2012 issue today and it is quite good.”–

    When does a person know to draw the line??

    I enjoy Kay Arthur although she is espousing some of Beth Moore’s books… I was going to stop listening to Kay because of this. But then I thought well, what if i did that to everyone? Kay still does her inductive bible studies which is wonderful.. I decided that maybe I went a bit overboard with Kay. so I returned to listening to her on my radio when I’m driving.

    I recon if she or anyone teaches false teachings is when I should draw the line?

  2. That’s right Linda. There is one article in the 2012 issue of Tabletalk that espouses Bernard as if he was a “Reformer” of the Church and even comes across as if his “mysticism” was a positive. However, the rest of the issue is quite solid. What should we do?

  3. The Bible supplies us with a perfect example of how we should assimilate information in the Bereans. This particular group of people listened with interest to the information they were given and then they measured this information by their only standard of truth which was the word of God. We live in an age where good, reliable information and fact checking is at our fingertips, so it would be rather foolish of us not to use it.

    If we are unfamiliar with a particular figure from church history, it is wise to do a little investigative work and read a couple of different sources to get different perspectives on the historic figure in question.

    Bernard of Clairvaux is a rather exotic monk with a colorful background. This background includes an extensive obsession with the Virgin Mary which lead him to say “No one can enter Heaven unless by Mary, as though through a door.”

    There is so much more that could be said of Bernard but times does not permit.

    The issue of mysticism should have been addressed in the “Eastern Spirituality” edition of TT, which is where it rightly deserves to be. Until the issue of mysticism/spiritism is dealt with and denounced by the church at large it will continue it’s slow insidious, cancerous, creep into the visible church. However, God is still on the throne and He is aware of the devil’s schemes and He will protect those who truly know Him.

  4. well, that’s why I asked you. But to answer what I think–we should use good judgment for those who are mature Christians and can spot evil. For those who are babies or have not grown to maturity in what is good and evil well they should stay away or at least be warned of what is wrong…

Comments are closed.