Not everyone can publish a collection of old blog posts…
But then, not everyone is prolific and timeless as Carl Truman. I find that those who study history the most tend to be the most prescient of modern issues and can speak to them with much more authority. Truman is no exception.
This is a delightful collection of entries from Carl Trueman’s insights at the website ref21.com. The wisdom of these articles is evident from the age of the entry to the age we now live, in only a few short years. The warnings of a “celebrity pastor” status and the rise of the “look at me” social media culture invading the church are as relevant and foreboding as though written today.
The Social Commentary
Much of the book centers on how the church tends to adopt the world climate of promotion. Whether attempting to promote one’s self or to abrogate the gospel by using worldly wisdom, it doesn’t matter, Trueman is adept at taking down positions built on anything other than a humble approach to the Word of God as the central focus of making disciples.
The book opens with an observation of an Emergent pastor’s blog attempting to criticize Reformed Evangelicals as smug and arrogant, yet his own blog described himself as “witty” and “a widely recognized authority.” The irony serves as a softball to which Carl’s observations hit out of the park. In seeing the absurdity expounded in the article, one can’t help but notice how much self-promotion is done in the name of Christ, and yet dismissed as a necessary evil in the internet age. The self-evaluative result of the article is successful.
Self-promotion in the name of Christ
Yet this is the central theme of the book. It specifically addresses the attempts of individuals, movements and churches to remake themselves into something cool in order to appeal to other Christians or to the world.
“There are several problems with this. First, Christianity just isn’t cool, savvy, or hip. . . .And the same applies to evangelical Christianity-evangelicalism just isn’t cool or hip or avant-garde, and attempts to make it appear so, whether theologically or culturally, always end up as self-defeating, rather sad and pitiful.”
Considering that this was written in January 2007 shows the timeless warnings of Paul to Timothy (also cited in Monkeys) in 1 Timothy 1:5-7:
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience of faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding what they are saying the things about which they make assertions.
And thus, the central assertion throughout the book. And yes, it may touch a nerve with you.
The Church Commentary
The church seeks relevance in a culture that changes like the ocean waves. Carl Truman also shows how this type of chasing culture results in a watering down of the Gospel message, and ultimate irrelevance of the church. Multiple articles deal with this tendency; from celebrity pastors to local churches striving to be relevant and offering better stock portfolios, sex lives, marriages, obedient children and community service. Yet our churches are filled less with the knowledge of basic biblical and theological concepts than well-wishing platitudes.
Having taught Sunday Schools in different churches (in different denominations) over the past 20 years, I am a witness that Biblical literacy is an assumed subject, not a taught one. Most church-going Christians have not developed their theology from the Word. They have heard a word, but it is not in the Bible. Platitudes, aphorisms and assumed theology coupled with group-think, or worse, “I’m OK, you’re OK” doctrines have dominated church culture. This prevents the Church from detecting the intrusion of worldly and man-centered philosophies as they invade the church from inside.
“Kids’ stuff-teenflicks and sex and the Internet-holds center stage in so much Christian cultural conversation, perhaps a sign of the West’s obsession with all things adolescent, perhaps a sign of the permanent adolescence of many of the interlocutors. And let’s face it, no one ever loses in today’s evangelical market by backing the peripheral rather than the central, or by overestimating the triviality of the tastes of the Western Christian consumer. Is the Christian bookstore going to make money selling a book on the Incarnation or on prayer, or one on Christian approaches to body image, or The Simpsons, or how to improve your sex life?”
Taking Aim at Everybody
…And he’s not kidding about that. In an age where self-promotion is the marketing ploy for every social media, online purchase and the #humblebrag hashtag, this book will hit you square between the eyes. Be ready, but take it with a smile on your face. Because he is right.
I found these essays to be timeless, near prescient for today’s digitally self-obsessed culture and personality. Carl shows his prophetic skills by observing human behavior, historic movements and theological study of the world’s most culturally relevant book, the Bible.
My favorite bits of the book were Carl’s examination of our changing language and meanings of words. Being a logophile from my day job, I always jump up in my seat with interest whenever an author starts to develop a case for changing cultural meanings of well-known words. Trueman’s article from February 2009, brings relevant insight to anyone troubled with Facebook “friends.” Not only has Facebook devalued the intrinsic meaning of “friend,” but it has made it trivial. When you can be friends with everybody, then who is a friend?
Friendship, death, grief, humility and hurt are just a few of the lexicon of words that have changed in meanings from our culture, and Truman resists the temptation to rescue them, rather he develops them in context in order to show the mirror to the world.