Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Popular Evangelical Historian on Truth Serum about the Church

Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, department chair of Church History, author, and Cornerstone Presbyterian Church pastor, is very popular with conservative evangelicals---highly respected.  With that as a first consideration, if you didn't know already because you are not a regular reader of my blog here or when I wrote constantly at Jackhammer, then know that I believe the unity taught in the New Testament is local only unity, the unity of Christ's assembly.  Churches are where unity resides.  Alright, so with those two thoughts, consider this recent quote by Trueman at his blog (sent to me by D4 or David O via email):

I do not think that evangelical unity is particularly important or something to which we should aspire. Christian unity is; but Christian unity, if it is to be achieved this side of glory, will be a churchly unity. Evangelicalism is a non-churchly category. It does not organize churches. It does not ordain people. It does not disciple people. All these things are done by specific churches in specific places under specific leadership (both in terms of structure and personalities). The church is a creation of God; the parachurch is not. And Christian unity, if it is ever to be achieved on earth, requires churches talking to each other as churches. Being a pessimist, I myself doubt that such unity will ever be achieved this side of glory; but formal churchly interaction is the necessary precondition even for making it hypothetically conceivable.

Does that sound like something I would have already written and would have been savaged by conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists?  You will find this in our new book, A Pure Church (order here), in the sections on unity, that aspect, much of which I wrote.  You are generally never hearing today what he wrote in this paragraph.

Unity must be in the church, the local church, which is the only church.  The Bible teaches unity and separation.  If unity was all believers, then we could never separate.  The only way for biblical unity and biblical separation to coexist is if the unity is in the church.  That's also what the Bible teaches.  The place of one accord, one mind, and one spirit is in the church.  True unity comes from purity.  Only a church has the God-given tools to keep purity, and, therefore, unity.

Now, Trueman is not obviously local only in ecclesiology.  He is just stating the obvious.  That's one reason he's popular.  A lot of times he will say exactly what he thinks.  He doesn't seem to care what the repercussions are.  He's a favorite to listen to and read because of this trait.  On this issue of unity, he is saying what could only be true.

The only way to keep from devaluing doctrine is by seeing unity in the church.  A church can unify on all of what God said.  A church comes together based on belief and practice.  This is not the kind of unity of all believers.  You don't see unity between all believers.  You only see it in churches.  Trueman sees this.  He just hasn't come to the reason why or explain it.  Again, our book does.  Get it now while it is in prepublication.  It will be out in 4 weeks or less.  Buy it now!


d4v34x said...

Wow, my first "hat tip." :)

To (or perhaps tangential to) his and your point (with which I basically agree despite accepting the category of a universal church), I think this is one reason it is such a shame most Baptists are no longer confessional. The beliefs vary so wildly that church to church unity is extremely unlikely.

If I recall, you have been sort of made fun of due to your stance on separation severely limiting the number of churches your church will fellowship with. Well, if our fellowship is based on shared assent to truth, most churches would be more limited than they are, perhaps severely so.

Look at the FBFI, for instance. Widely varying in makeup.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Very true, your second paragraph. If truth is the basis of fellowship, which it is, then fellowship is limited.

I would always want to know how that obedience on separation and on unity could occur without the same view on the church as we take.

Joshua said...

Not sure if anyone else is still reading this guy, but I've read a bit further and it's embarrassing to a read what I think is a confessional Presbyterian absolutely tearing apart Baptists (albeit Reformed ones) for their hypocrisy over this issue - the "gospel separation only" view has no legs:


Sample: Some years ago, it was pointed out that paedobaptist Presbyterians could preach at some Baptist churches but could not take the Lord's Supper there. That may seem odd to some but it is entirely consistent with a Baptist view of the church. So here is a question: could a female Baptist minister, baptized by immersion, who is a professing Christian (albeit in error on the point of complementarianism) who happened to be on holiday in the vicinity of such a church - could such a lady, I ask, attend morning worship there and take communion?


Sample: If the track record of egalitarians holding to orthodoxy in the second and third generations is poor, one has to say that that of parachurch groups driven by big personalities without transparent accountability structures and rooted in tending-to-minimal common ground statements of faith, rather than full-blown historic confessions, is equally suspect on this score. If one is going to make complementarianism a gospel issue on the grounds that this is necessary for preserving the faith, then one must also make ecclesiology a gospel issue by the same token. And that brings us back to a point I have made repeatedly over the last year: if the purpose of your parachurch is just to provide resources to help churches preach the gospel, that is fine but then just major on the gospel; if your ambitions are greater, then you need to come clean, be a church and be accountable as a church.

Joshua said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburg,

While on my trip in the bush, I found a bunch of Trueman's books in my parent's bookcase. I'm not sure how much more of this man you've read, but you and he arrive at many similar conclusions, at least as concerning problems in neo-evangelicalism.

The biggest difference is in his solutions, which usually involve heading back to pure Calvinism and the Reformation, but that aside I think the man has his finger on the pulse, and a lot of time reads like he is channeling what you've written here.

I think you might recognize the thinking behind this following quote from "The real scandal of the evangelical mind."

Yet the conservation scholar often faces criticisms, even as the liberal receives commendation. Numerous examples come to mind. Take, for instance, the familiar and tiresome figure of the socialclimbing evangelical academic who never misses a chance to trash anybody who happens to stand just to his right theologically-as in, "Dr Z. is an idiot for believing in an early date for Daniel" (or Pauline authoriship of Ephesians, or inerrancy, or whatever the issue maybe). At the same time, this academic always finds something of value in, and even fawns over, those to his left. Usually his appreciation is preceded by a throat-clearing comment: "Of course, I disagree with Professor X on Subject A" (his rejection of biblical authority, perhaps, or his denial of the resurrection, or his dismissal of the doctrine of the Trinity). Such a disavowal is quickly followed by affirmation of an area of agreement: "But I really do find his work on Subject B (read response theory, or Johannine studies, or Second Temple Judaism) to be extremely helpful." The evangelical scholar's assessments may be quite correct; my point here is simply to highlight the clutural mind-set his pattern of speech reveals.

I certainly do not intend to belittle good arguments and scholarship, wherever they are to be found, nor to prop up poor work produced by theological conservatives. Yet as an evangelical academic myself, I find it interesting to note the way in which, with some writers, the perceived faults of more conservative authors are denounced with bombastic rhetoric, while the blasphemies and heresies of those on the left are dismissed with a casual wave of the academic hand. Isn't what's good for the conservative goose also good for liberal gander? In addition, what does such behaviour say about who such evangelical academics perceive as true enemies of the faith? Is all boundary drawing tasteless-expect when applied against those more conservative than the one drawing the boundary?

No need to reply to this one, but if you haven't read that book already (it's 41 pages, a large tract really) I think it's worth the $3.19 it will set you back on Kindle!