Monday, December 14, 2015

Carl Trueman's own poison and doctrinal dissent

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Recently, Carl Trueman, the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS), has written about the (impending) crisis among conservative Protestant Christians. 

His bleak observation is fueled by what he saw as the prevalent power-play, or "Mob" rule, in the confessional circle. He highlighted the censoring of his writing on the Reformation21 website as an example of such "bully-boy tactics":
First, far too much power is exerted by wealthy and influential parachurch organizations. A good example of this was provided this year by events surrounding the attempted exchange about Evangelicals and Catholics Together which was commissioned by Reformation21, the e-zine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Three of us were involved: Timothy George, Thomas Guarino, and myself. The exchange was respectful, honest, friendly, but frank. My own article was scarcely a paean of praise to the ECT process. 

Within hours of the first article (that of Tim) being published, a tweet and a hostile blog post by a senior representative of another Reformed parachurch group based in Florida, followed by rumored behind-the-scenes shenanigans, were enough to get the series pulled (and then thankfully picked up by First Things—kudos to Rusty Reno). Sad to say, one parachurch group had effectively closed down perfectly legitimate discussion in an unconnected forum by sheer bully-boy tactics. 

An aberration? Unfortunately not. This is symptomatic of the way things are in much of the conservative Protestant world. As long as the most influential parachurches are run like businesses, money and marketing will be the overriding concerns, even as concern for ‘the gospel’ is always the gloss. Reinforced by a carrot-and-stick system of feudal patronage connected to lucrative conference gigs, publishing deals, and access to publicity, such tactics as those described will continue to be deployed. Roman Catholics might look on Protestantism from the outside and see it as theology ruled by a mob. Speaking as an insider, it often seems to me to be ruled more by the Mob.
In sum, the power-play within the conservative Protestant circle has effectively censored Trueman's article from the website even though he serves, as of this post, in the Editorial Advisory Committee.

Trueman is clearly upset over this, and saw the incident an evident of a real problem in the Reformed community.

This incident is both sad and comical. 

Sad, because this is another example of the widespread incapability among Christians to deal with pluralism in general, theological plurality in particular. Comical, because Trueman get to taste a little of his own poison.

Trueman, whether realizes or not, has significantly contributed to the "bully-boy tactics" culture. He has, in his capacity as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean from 2006-2012, took part in ousting his colleague Peter Enns from WTS in 2008.

He implied in a public statement that the dismissal of Enns was necessary for the seminary (1) to uphold "the great catholic legacy of the Reformation and of subsequent confessional evangelicalism," and (2) to hold its faculty accountable:
As Academic Dean and as Vice President for Academic Affairs, I believe this lies above all in two specific areas.  First, it is now clear that Westminster is to be committed to a doctrine of scripture that reflects what is taught in the great confessions of the Reformation, and which has nurtured the confessional evangelical church for centuries.   As evangelicalism in general broadens out, as it loses its connection with its confessional Reformation past, as it becomes increasingly vacuous at a doctrinal level, the leaders at Westminster have decided that that is not the path this institution will go down.  We will not accept that the Reformation creedal heritage is no longer relevant; we will not accede to the indefinite broadening of evangelicalism’s doctrinal horizons; nor will we subscribe to the modifications of the doctrine of scripture which are such a necessary part of that broadening.  Rather, we will stand where we have always stood, on the great solas of the Reformation: Christ, scripture, grace, faith, and, above all, God’s glory.  We are not, and will not be, a seminary which repudiates the great catholic legacy of the Reformation and of subsequent confessional evangelicalism.

Second, it has been made clear that Westminster professors are to be held accountable to more than just the canons of their chosen academic guild or the current trends of thinking in their various subdisciplines or even their friends and colleagues on Faculty.  Accountability in times of crisis, of course, is always a painful experience. There is a human cost on all sides which press releases, theological statements, and minutes of meetings rarely, if ever, convey. While theology is indeed a great hobby, it is too often a nightmare of a profession.  Yet those who teach must be held accountable for their teaching, however hard that may be; and, for too long at Westminster, too little attention has been paid to what we as Faculty teach while too much, perhaps, has been paid to what others outside of our church constituencies think of us.
Trueman also revealed the kind of power-play that he and his colleagues orchestrated at WTS as: "organized and prepared for every eventuality, putting into place safety nets and multiple 'Plan Bs', they identified the places where influence could be wielded, mastered procedure, fought like the blazes when they had to, stood strong and immovable in the face of violent opposition and outmanoeuvred their opponents by continual attention to meeting agendas, points of order, procedural matters and long-term coordinated strategy." (H/T: Brandon Withrow)  

So on one hand, Trueman lamented his own victim-hood of "bully-boys" power-play, while on the other hand, he did it on others. 

If this tell us anything, it shows the mindless demand from certain conservative quarter of the evangelical universe to have its doctrinal liberty cake and eat it at the same time.

It is therefore a necessity for religious believers, whether Christian or others, to learn to acknowledge intra-faith plurality that embraces doctrinal liberty even from within our own tradition. 

Hope the aftertaste of his own poison has brought Trueman to see the ill-effect he has injected into the Christian community himself, which contributed to the crisis he now so passionately warning the rest of us about.

On our part, we must learn. Not so much from Trueman's observation, but his inconsistency. So that we can avoid it.

2 comments:

anthony loke said...

trueman deserved his own poison...

reasonable said...

kamma/retribution (not that I believe in the law of kamma)