Friday, February 22, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Carl Trueman

This is the fifth in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello Carl Trueman and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
CT: I'm an Englishman. I teach church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in the States, where I also serve as Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs. I have a wife, Catriona (a Gael from the Isle of Lewis), and two sons, John and Peter. I like to run long distances, and I'm a very part-time part-time follower the greatest rugby club in the known universe: Gloucester.

GD: So, you're a church historian. What's the point of knowing all that old stuff?

CT: Christianity is an historical religion. It is only as we understand the past, how the Bible's teaching has been transmitted to us through history, that we can truly understand the significance of our position in the present. To be clueless about history is to absolutise the present. I think Karl Marx put it nicely: men make history, but they do not make the history that they choose. We are, individually and corporately, determined to an extent by the past; learning about that past liberates us.

GD: Well, I can see that the Early Church Fathers with their creeds and that are important, and the Reformation just rocks. But who cares about the Medeivals, weren't they all just monks and popes or something?

CT: I used to think that; but study of post-Reformation Protestantism (that of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) has convinced me that much of what is basic to our Christian doctrine in the Reformed tradition (e.g., the nature of God, necessity, predestination etc) was self-consciously appropriated by the Reformed from medieval theology. After all, why reinvent the wheel? If good arguments on these points were made in the Middle Ages, it would be foolish not to use them.

GD: Fair enough. Who has most influenced your theological development?

CT: Theologically, I'm deeply indebted to J I Packer. Martin Luther is a constant part of my theological diet. Other theologians I love to read are Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Owen, Blaise Pascal, B B Warfield, Cardinal Newman, and Herman Bavinck. Of more recent writers, D A Carson and C J Mahaney. CJ has had a deeper impact on my life perhaps than any other recent author -- the deceptive simplicity of his practical writings is simply beautiful and, on a practical level, very convicting.

GD: You recently called yourself a "bog standard evangelical". Do you have to be a Presbyterian to be bog standard, or can I (a Baptist) join in?

CT: Sure. The whole point is that we set the doctrinal bar pretty low for bog-standardism so you should be able to scrape in, even without a decent doctrine of the church.

GD: Are you talking to me? I was going to let you to plug your new book. I'm not so sure now. But to just show you how gracious we Baptists (with our eminently biblical doctrine of the church) can be, I'll still allow the plug. You have just brought out a new title, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, (Ashgate, 2007 - here). What draws you to the great Puritan divine and what lessons does he have to teach us today?
CT: He has a profound grasp of the holiness and grace of God; he has a very high view of divine authority, specifically as manifested in the unique, inspired, inerrant scriptures. He also did theology in a learned, Catholic fashion, wrestling with the biblical text, moving from exegesis to doctrinal synthesis in a manner which respected the great theology of the church of times past.

GD: Naturally, Owen was very decent Independent (as are many Reformed Baptists), rather than a Presbyterian. Now, why should pastors be interested in church history, for the sermon illustrations?
CT: Of course. But also to enable us to grasp the depth of the Christian tradition and also to understand our own context better. Moving to a foreign country allows the emigrant to understand their adopted culture and the one they have left behind better. Doing history is like visiting a foreign country. As we learn to see and think as saints of previous generations, we learn also to think critically about our current situation.

GD: What, in your view are the key differences between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism?

CT: It depends on how you define them. In America, fundamentalism carries strong connotations of a dispensational eschatology and various cultural taboos -- no alcohol etc. Then, evangelicalism has come to be defined more by institutions (colleges, publishers etc) than by specific doctrinal commitments. Both terms are, I think, unhelpful, but we probably have to use them. Evangelical now needs to be qualified -- `liberal', `open', `conservative' etc.

GD: If you could travel through time and meet one person from church history, who would it be and what would you say?
CT: Martin Luther. `Can I join you for one of your round-the-beer-table theological discussions?'

GD: You engage in a little blogging over at Reformation 21. What, in your estimation are some of the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

CT: Few strengths. It's all too anarchic. I think fun and information sharing are the best it can do. Weaknesses: feeds narcissism; allows any old nutcase to present themselves as a serious player in theological and ecclesiastical discussion.

GD: And that's a bad thing? Now seriously, I hear that you are a bit of a Mosher, with a special love for Led Zeppelin. The great Welsh theologian, Derek Thomas recently expressed concern that heavy rock head-banging may have a damaging effect on one's finely tuned theological mind? Care to respond?
CT: Passing by the rather incoherent concept of a `great Welsh theologian', I think anyone who has ever watched the VH-1 program, `On this Rock' and listened to Ozzie Osbourne parsing the differences between supra- and infra-lapsarianism, Eddie Van Halen critiquing the Bultmannian program of demythologising, or Ian Gillan explaining the differences between Lutherans and Reformed on the communication of attributes will immediately realise that Dr Thomas is talking out of his hat. Del-Boy -- if you're reading this, you're a disgrace, boyo!

GD: I think we can conclude from your answer that head-banging does affect the mind. Name your top three songs or pieces of music (no LZ allowed), we've had enough of them.

CT: I think `Down in a Tube Station at Midnight' by The Jam is excellent. The Jam are surely one of the most underrated bands of that whole punk-New Wave transition period of the late 70s to early 80s. On the whole, however, I tend to think in terms of albums: I often play The Who, Live at Leeds (the deluxe edition with the version of Tommy); Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town (`Badlands' and 'Promised Land' have both provided me with quotations for sermons); and, just recently, I have greatly enjoyed Pink Floyd's Pulse. There is an amazing live version on this of `Comfortably Numb.'
GD: Cool, you like the Jam! English head-banging Presbyterians can't be all bad. 'Down in the Tube Station' is one of my favourite songs. But how you can like the Jam and Pink Floyd beats me. Now, what do you miss most about good old Blighty?
CT: Family; Bon Accord Free Church of Scotland in Aberdeen, where I was privileged to serve as an elder. Then, in no particular order, decent pubs and beer, proper chocolate, spaghetti hoops, Indian food, Branston pickle, marmite, thoughtful newspapers, Harry Hill, Terry Wogan's Breakfast Show, orthodox Christians who are left of center in politics.

GD: Don't they have Branston pickle in the US? How can you bear it over there? Right, what is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?
CT: Rober Kolb and Charles P Arand, The Genius of Luther's Theology. Just a great book on the central gospel truths as expressed by Luther. The older I get, the more I crave the simple stuff. This isn't simple, in the sense of being lightweight, but it focuses so beautifully and pastorally on the basics.

GD: What is the biggest challenge facing evangelicals today, and how should we respond?
CT: Church discipline. It's virtually meaningless in a world of motor cars and multiple choice for church. Yet, if it is as central to the success of Christian discipleship as history would suggest, we are in real trouble.

GD: Church discipline is certainly a problem area. Which (if any) theology blogs do you enjoy?
CT: I don't read blogs. I occasionally get sent stuff by friends that they have read and which they think is interesting; but I am just too busy to do it myself.
GD: Well, Carl, I'd better not keep you any longer. Thanks very much for stopping by for this conversation. Bye!

Next up will be one of two people, depending who can be bothered to respond to my questions first.


Derek Thomas said...

Carl, the Welsh Calvinistic mafioso know where you live and are on their way.

Derek (Del)

Viola Larson said...

I have to tell you if you go to the Fox and the Goose in Sacramento,CA and have scrambled tofu it comes with branston pickle and you can buy that in the store also. As a matter of fact I love Branston pickle. But now mermite why?

Thanks for all your comments on Church history, that is also one of my favorit subjects.

Dai Corleone said...

Don't worry Derek. Carl will soon be sleeping with the fishes.