Sarcasm is a sword that when wielded deftly can get to hard to reach places in the storehouse of our pride. Some people grab the sword of sarcasm and swing it carelessly, resulting in others getting hurt and embarrassed. Others grab the sword like a literary knight going to work with surgical precision and we are all the better for it.
Carl Trueman is of the latter category. Trueman is deep thinker, adroit writer, and a pastoral theologian. In his book Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone, Trueman looks critically at the landscape of evangelicalism and appeals for Christians to do the same. Along the way he narrates his observations and conclusions in short, arresting, essays.
If you have not read any of Trueman, either on his blog or in his other books, this would be a terrific introduction into his writing. There is a certain style with which he writes that is simultaneously humorous, painful, prophetic, and pastoral. As a guy who is Reformed, (relatively) young, and pastor who has a blog–I am a prime candidate to be greatly offended by Trueman. But I’m not. I’m very thankful for him. His words were particularly helpful for me over my Christmas vacation.
Below is just a sampling of some quotes from his essays. This is just an appetizer; the whole book is this good.
Concerning the tendency towards narcissism (quotes from different sections):
Let’s face it: no preacher is so good that his every sermon deserves to be printed or his every thought published; but some contemporary leaders are heading fast in that direction, and this can only fuel their cultic significance for those needing someone to follow. Come on, chaps, everyone preaches a disastrous clunker once in a while; many actually preach them with remarkable and impressive regularity. The world therefore does not need to read every word you ever utter from a pulpit; and not every electrical impulse that sparks between the synapses in your gray matter needs to be written down, turned into yet another expository commentary, and sold for 15 percent net royalties at the local Christian bookshop.
One striking and worrying aspect of the movement is how personality oriented it is. It is identified with certain big names rather than creeds, confessions, denominations, or even local congregations. Such has always been the way with Christianity to some extent. Luther was a hero, both in his own time and for subsequent generations, and he is hardly alone. The names of Owen, Edwards, and Spurgeon, to list but three, also have great cachet; and, if we are honest, there are things we all find in their writing that are scarcely unique to them but that we are inclined to take more seriously because it is these men who wrote the words on the page.
The danger in the church, therefore, is not that perfectly ordinary and decent people will construct gas chambers and usher their neighbors off to them; rather, it is the surrender of their God-given intellects to those who use the clichés, the idioms, and the buzzwords of the wider culture to herd them along a path that the leader chooses. Fear of the leader, fear of the pack, fear of not belonging, can make people do strange things.
Concerning foul language among younger evangelicals:
D. A. Carson comments in The Gagging of God that much of the trendy theology that characterized the neo-evangelicalism of the eighties and nineties had more than a whiff of the kind of rebellion exhibited by spoiled children whose immature self-image depends on their vocal repudiation of everything their parents held dear. What is theologically true of the trendy evangelical left seems to be practically true of the trendy Reformed right. Here, legitimate criticism of a legalistic pietism too frequently degenerates into illegitimate rubbishing of appropriate piety. Thus, the F-bomb and other casual obscenities and profanities have become, for some, the trendy hallmarks of mature Christianity. Strange to tell, talking like sexually insecure thirteen-year-olds has become the way we Christians show how grown-up we are. We embrace what the older generation rejected in order to show that we have come of age, and to show the world that, hey, we’re not as weird as we used to be; we can be as rough-and-tumble, as hip, savvy, cool, and gritty as the rest.
Of course, Christian freedom is a crucial biblical doctrine, and one of the key issues that divides Protestants from Catholics. Yet to locate its primary essence in smoking a cigar while knocking back a Scotch and poking fun at some fundie bumpkin from Tennessee, or to twist it in a manner that legitimates using language that would make the teenage son of a drunken Glaswegian navvy blush.
Concerning non-reverent evangelical gatherings:
A church service involving clowns or fancy dress or skits or stand-up comedy does not reflect the seriousness of the gospel; and those who take the gospel seriously should know better. Frankly, it is more appropriate to liberal theology that does not take seriously the gospel, or the God of the gospel. Serious things demand serious idioms. I heard recently of a church service involving dressing up in costume and music taken from a Tom Cruise movie. Now, if I go for my annual prostate examination, and the doctor comes into the consulting room dressed as Coco the Clown, with “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun playing in the background, guess what? I’m going to take the doctor out with a left hook, flee the procedure, and probably file a complaint with the appropriate professional body.
Do I agree with every conclusion Trueman makes? Of course not. But I love the journey of conversation that he brings you through while making his conclusions. A journey that makes you evaluate yourself and your habits is always helpful; and in this case it is also funny. What more could you ask for?
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