Friday, April 24, 2009

Et tu Trueman

Over at Reformation21, Carl Trueman has a post on evangelicals in the mainline Church of Scotland. This is fairly derogatory and acidic words towards fellow evangelicals. He states:

What puzzles me is the concern among C of S evangelicals about the appointment of an openly gay man as a minister. In my time at Aberdeen, the minister of this church, as I remember, did not make any secret of his dislike of traditional Christianity. Indeed, I think he was a self-identified liberal. So the question is: why is a general denial of the authority of the word of God and of basic Christian orthodoxy acceptable in the Church of Scotland, but living in a homosexual partnership not so? If evangelicals are prepared to live with the former, then for them to oppose the latter is then both inconsistent and, arguably, homophobic. Evangelicals who have not fought denials of the resurrection among office bearers -- and some of whom stood by in silence as fellow evangelicals were beaten up by the church courts over refusals to ordain women -- should not fight homosexuality. Indeed, they have absolutely no grounds upon which so to do; and it just looks like bigotry to the onlooking world. Too little, too late.

Hmmm. Much about this, to say, I have:

1. Who are these evangelicals who have not fought denials of the word of God and basic orthodoxy? As far as I'm aware, evangelicals lobby intensely in a variety of theatres for orthodox theology such as at Presbyteries, denominational committees, and at the General Assumbly. Trueman seems to be utterly ignorant of the group Forward Together which is "a group for evangelical members of the Church of Scotland who share a desire to serve our Lord Jesus Christ within the Church of Scotland" and actively strategize for evangelical renewal in the COS. If evangelicals sat on their hands as Trueman alleges, then why were they successful in getting an evangelical college accredited to train COS ministers, why did they get the legal questions committee's suggestion that ministers who bless same sex unions not be disciplined thrown out back in 2006, and why has the recent Aberdeen case been referred to the Assembly where it is unlikely to survive a vote or the barrier act? The answer: evangelicals, or at least theological moderates, in the COS took a stand. So Trueman is speaking utter porky pies. But then again, he seems ignorant of the facts, so perhaps he should be forgiven.

2. In the words of the great American theologian, Kenny Rogers, when it comes to one's theology of schism: "you've got to know when to hold-em, know when to fold-em, know when to walk away, and know when to run". There are times when you have got to realize that a certain denomination has reached the point of no return, and you say to yourself, "I'm leaving Brigadoon, tis miracle is over". For instance, I would have a hard time worshipping in certain diocese in The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA where evangelicals are very unwelcomed. I'd probably cast my lot in with the Anglican Mission in the Americas or the new North American Anglican Province. But there are those who have chosen to stay, some of the Common Cause Partners, because they feel that they still have a job to do, a flock to shepherd, and a mission field before them. I think I'm right and they're wrong, but may they go in peace and may the sun rise to meet them. Likewise, in the Presbyterian Church USA, I probably would have followed the exodus of orthodox Presbyterian churches to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but I know of people who believe that there is something left to fight for and a ministry to fulfill. I remember reading, some months ago, about a conversation John Stott had with an American Anglican bishop about whether or not he should leave the TEC. Stott told him "no", because "you've got the gospel on your side, why should you have to leave" (or words to that effect).

3. Why is it only theological deviants to the liberal left that Trueman censures evangelicals for tolerating? What about theological deviants to the conservative right that also distort the faith that evangelicals tolerate? I mean those who hold to a KJV-onlyism, mandate that unaccompanied metrical psalms (sometimes it is exclusively the Scottish Psalter and not the modern Sing Psalms) is the only form of acceptable worship, those who won't let women pray in church, professors who teach that "God has a covenant with America", or those who treat the Westminster Confession with a greater authority than Scripture. Now I don't like the phrase "generous orthodoxy," but let us remember that there is liberty to the left and to the right, just as there are boundaries to the left and to the right of what should be acceptable in our churches. Enforcing boundaries and allowing liberty is the problem the church has had for 2000 years and it is not getting any less complicated. These things call for wisdom, nerve, and charity.

4. Some of us are fighting the good fight of the faith and standing up for the gospel against pansexuality and religious pluralism that is infiltrating certain ecclesial communities. We parry and thrust to the glory of God before the "real" liberals who are trying to finish what, in effect, Marcion started, i.e. turning Christianity into a more culturally palatable commodity. There is no harm in saying things like, "I think you guys are fighting in vain; you backed the wrong horse; it'll never work; I told ya so, come and join us, or whatever". But Trueman's language of biogotry and allegations of being theologically complacent are inaccurate and uncharitable. At the moment when you're adversary swings at you with a big Scottish claymore, it is a bit disconcerting when you suddenly feel the sting of rushing pain in your back as someone puts the knife in. You then look to your rear only to see Dr. Trueman standing behind you with a self-congratulating smile on his face. What do you say to that? I think I know: "Et tu Trueman?". I dedicate this post to all my evangelical friends and students in the COS: solum evangelium.


Nick Mackison said...

Given me food for thought you have.

Eilidh said...

Good post, Mike. It's good to know that those in the Free Church appreciate what we in the COS do... :)

Steve T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PeterHumphris said...

Thanks Mike for this. I was about to write to Prof.Trueman about the tone of his latest Ref21 swipe at evangelicals in the C of S (I've been one such minister for 33 years now!) and you have answered him on your blog. However I will still write because I find this stone-throwing at fellow believers from across the pond tedious and, frankly, uncharitable and, by now, predictable.

The problem seems to be that if we do/say nothing we get criticised; and if we do/say something we also get criticised as: "too little, too late."

I would have more time for these over-the-Atlantic strikes if they came from someone who had worked for 20-30 years in C of S parish ministry in Scotland: the words "ivory" and "tower" spring to mind.

So, again, thanks Mike for your encouraging Baptist support! It is truly appreciated.

ros said...

You get so many points for referencing both Kenny Rogers and Brigadoon in this post, Mike.

And, yes. To all of what you say.

Ross H. McKenzie said...

I appreciate your balanced and honest perspective. Well done.

Young Mr. Brown said...

A bit brutal, but, in my opinion, fair comment.

Carl Trueman has a shrewd mind, and makes some reasonable points, but one gets the impression that he does not really know that much about the Church of Scotland and the evangelicals therein.