Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety – Reformation21

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety – Reformation21.

Ash WednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent on the church’s calendar – at least if you are Roman Catholic (preceded by “Fat Tuesday” and Mardi Gras, those paragons of piety!), Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican (especially later).

But of late it has also become fashionable for Protestant groups (“evangelicals”) and even Reformed folk to get excited about Lent and start practicing its customs, from fasting and fish-feasting to having ashes put on one’s forehead.

That’s why I appreciated Carl Trueman’s forthrightness in addressing this evangelical trendiness in this online article posted at Reformation21. He makes some excellent points about why Reformed Christians do not need Lent – with or without its ashes.

I give a few paragraphs here, encouraging you to read the full article at the “Ref21” link above.

It’s that time of year again: the ancient tradition of Lent, kick-started by Ash Wednesday. It is also the time of year when us confessional types brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of a more recent tradition: that of evangelical pundits, with no affiliation to such branches of the church, writing articles extolling Lent’s virtues to their own eclectic constituency.

… The imposition of ashes is intended as a means of reminding us that we are dust and forms part of a liturgical moment when sins are ‘shriven’ or forgiven. In fact, a well-constructed worship service should do that anyway. Precisely the same thing can be conveyed by the reading of God’s Word, particularly the Law, followed by a corporate prayer of confession and then some words of gospel forgiveness drawn from an appropriate passage and read out loud to the congregation by the minister.

An appropriately rich Reformed sacramentalism also renders Ash Wednesday irrelevant. Infant baptism emphasizes better than anything else outside of the preached Word the priority of God’s grace and the helplessness of sinless humanity in the face of God. The Lord’s Supper, both in its symbolism (humble elements of bread and wine) and its meaning (the feeding on Christ by faith) indicates our continuing weakness, fragility and utter dependence upon Christ.

…Finally, it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.

New & Noteworthy Books in 2015 – Reformation21

New & Noteworthy Books in 2015 – Reformation21.

Even though this was posted by Mark McDowell in December at “Reformation21”, it is certainly worth our notice because it pertains to books to be published in this year 2015.

I always appreciate lists of books to come such as this, as it helps me plan on what to order for the Seminary library  as well as perhaps add to my own personal library.

And though most of these books are geared toward the theologians among us (but then, as R.C.Sproul is fond of saying, “Everyone’s a theologian.”), there is a variety of titles here to benefit us all – including a new children’s title!

Here are two that McDowell has selected and that I highlight in this post:


Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, February)
Crossway’s series, Theologians on the Christian Life, has not disappointed. Matching some of the Church’s most beloved saints with some of today’s best evangelical writers, the series puts forth books that both edify and inform. 2015 promises John Bolt on Bavinck, Bray on Augustine, Haykin and Matthew Barrett on Owen, and Trueman on Luther. It’s difficult to pick just one of them, and while I’m giving Trueman on Luther the nod, all four books have to be added to the library. Here’s what Trueman says about his own volume and it’s hard not to get a little bit excited about what’s in store:
‘This is the book I have always wanted to write: a study of Martin Luther’s theology which is connected directly to his life as a Christian and his calling as a pastor. Personally, I owe as much to Luther as to any historical Christian figure. Further, I have become increasingly irritated in recent years with the way his name is bandied about by people who clearly do not know who or what they are talking about. So much of the pop-evangelical Luther is based on the selective reading of a few texts which actually presents a picture of the Reformed which I do not think Dr Martin himself would recognise. Thus, I wanted to correct some of the caricatures of him in evangelical circles and offer him as a model of pastoral ministry and of Christian discipleship to the current generation. Was he perfect and should we follow him in every detail? Absolutely not. His errors, when he made them, were often egregious. But his focus on Word and sacrament is a real antidote to the mega-conference, Top Men and brand-dominated culture which has unfortunately swept across conservative evangelicalism in the last decade’.


Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings us Back to the Garden (Crossway, August)
Christian children’s books are legion but good children’s books that captivate as well as educate are rare. Getting a pastor-theologian to take up the challenge is encouraging and I’m eager to see what DeYoung and Clark have in store for us. This is a book that promises a biblical-theological approach, connecting the dots throughout Scripture and showing our young ones the wonderful tapestry of the Bible.
DeYoung tells Ref21: ‘I know authors are always excited for their books to come out, but I’m especially eager for this one to release. The Biggest Story tells the big gospel story of salvation from the Garden of Eden to the final garden in revelation. I tried to tell the familiar story in a way that was theologically rich, but still fun and interesting for kids. It’s longer than board book for small children, but much shorter than a kids Bible. I couldn’t be more pleased with the illustrations. Don Clark has done an amazing job with the pictures–colorful, unique, interesting, and thoughtful. I can’t wait for this book to come out so I can show and tell it to my kids’.

– See more at:

Living — and then dying — by the economic sword – Reformation21 Blog

Living — and then dying — by the economic sword – Reformation21 Blog.

CTrueman-1For our Saturday “culture watch” and “Reformed worldview” post today, we turn to this brief post by Dr. Carl Trueman, as he made comments on the recent actions of World Vision and Mozilla (developers of the Firefox browser) on the issue of homosexuality (posted on “Ref21”) on April 3, 2014).

Here are a few of his thoughts; find the rest at the link above.

Given the instructive chronological juxtaposition, how should Christians react? A few thoughts come to mind. First, both Christians and their opponents have the right under the First Amendment to express their disagreement with the actions of World Vision and Mozilla without government interference. That does not seem to be in jeopardy at this point and we should be grateful for that freedom.

Second, we should understand that to live in a free society means that all have, among other things, the right to withdraw economic support from a group with which they disagree. As a result, Christians should accept that those who live by the sword of legitimate economic sanctions in one context might well find themselves dying by the same legitimate economic sword in another. That is the price, or the risk, of freedom.

Third, given the above, the pastoral response is surely to start now to strengthen Christian people for the hardship and marginalization that is likely to come, as it would seem that these kinds of events are set to become more frequent. Yes, we should lament the moral malaise of society; we should use our freedoms to try to reverse that; but we should also acknowledge that the methods we use to gain influence ourselves are also open to our enemies. And thus we should think twice about crying foul on that particular point when the results are not to our liking.

Human Words May Hurt, but God’s Word Counts

trueman-fools.inddBack on March 4 I gave you another Carl Trueman quote, this time about how we all need to get tougher when it comes to being hurt by what people say and write about us. In the past week I read the next chapter in his book Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (P&R, 2012), titled “Am I Bovvered?” (Now, there’s a great “Wednesday word”!), and here Trueman admits that, yes, sometimes people’s words do hurt us. And what should we do about that? Is what they say reality? How do I handle ridicule and scorn?

Interestingly, to find answers he turns to the theology of Martin Luther and the gospel of the Reformation, joining together justification by grace alone through faith alone with the preaching of the Word of God. And I thought that on this “Word Wednesday”, as we think about not only the meaning of words but also the power of words, these would be some good thoughts for  us.And perhaps, thinking on these things, we may also find our true consolation when we are truly hurt by what people say.

Here is Trueman:

This is yet again where I find that giant of Protestant theology, Martin Luther, to be a singularly useful source of personal help and pastoral insight.

…Central to Luther’s Reformation theology was his understanding of how words constitute reality. …In other words, reality – real reality – was exactly what God declared it to be.

And then, after pointing to two examples of this “real reality” of what God says (creation and the cross), Trueman takes us to the Reformation doctrine of justification:

Finally, this power of divine speaking culminates in justification. Luther understands that God does not find men and women righteous and then declare them to be so as some act of description of, or response to, an established state of affairs. Luther knows that God declares that which is drenched in sin, foul, obnoxious, and deserving of nothing but divine wrath – Luther, I say, knows that God declares this person to be righteous; and by the sheer power of the divine word, they then are righteous. This is no cosmic gas or mere legal fiction, as some have claimed; rather the divine word makes it so.

And now comes the application:

Others might tell me that I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic, etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes, as self-doubt creeps in and the Devil whispers in my ear. But the greatness of Luther’s Protestantism lies in this: God speaks louder, and his Word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. I have peace in my soul because God’s Word is real reality.

Isn’t that precisely what we need to remember when others hurt us by their words? How simple, yet how profound!

And from that comes this further word of application from Trueman:

That’s why I need to read the Bible each day, to hear the Word preached each week, to come to God in prayer, and to hear words of grace from other brothers and sisters as I seek to speak the same to them. Only as God speaks his Word to me, and as I hear that Word in faith, is my reality transformed and do the insults of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself, cease to constitute my reality. The words of my enemies, external and internal, might be powerful for a moment, like a firework exploding against the night sky; but the Word of the Lord is stronger, brighter, and lasts forever (pp.209-213).

C.Trueman on the “Proddy Pens” of Protestant Writers

trueman-fools.inddOur first post this Friday is taken from Carl Trueman’s essay “The True Repentance of an Inconvenient Jester” (penned in 2010), found in the latest collection of his essays Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (P&R, 2012). In this chapter Trueman responds to a critic who judged his use of humor and wit to be “inconvenient” and even unchristian. To which Trueman rose to the defense of humor and wit and laughter, even as he decried the lack of good Protestant humor.

As part of our “Friday fun” this week, I thought we might get a chuckle out his comments. And maybe in following weeks we can post some more of his thoughts on this subject, since he does have some serious things to say about the lack of humor in Protestant writers. Just don’t overdo the chuckles, ok? 🙂

Here he is comparing Protestants to Roman Catholic writers (Chesterton, Percy, etc.) who gave plenty of evidence of how to use humor:

In comparison with Catholic wit, Protestantism has clearly been far more sanctified. While Spurgeon was definitely a master of the one-liner (hey – nobody’s sinlessly perfect this side of glory), and Kierkegaard a master of irony (but no orthodox persons reads him today, on the grounds that Francis Schaeffer told us he was a naughty boy), Protestantism has thankfully produced very few decent humorous prose stylists. In fact, just to be on the safe side, Protestantism has actually produced few decent prose stylists of any sort, for that matter. Indeed, I suspect one would have to go back to Jonathan Swift to find a broadly orthodox Protestant churchman who was able to write sustained, elegant prose that still proves capable of provoking laughter. And he wanted to eat Irish babies, didn’t he? Now, I love Irish babies, but I could never eat a whole one. We can be grateful, therefore, that polished Protestant prose more or less died with the dean, and we are now free to enjoy the more godly, less ambiguous, and certainly less jesting prose of modern-day wielders of the Proddy pen, from Peretti to LaHaye. How convenient is that? (p.185).

J.G.Machen on the Mission of the Church in the World – Old Life Theological Society

Transforming History | Old Life Theological Society.

Back in August of this year a bit of a firestorm erupted on the blogosphere when certain prominent Reformed and Presbyterian men opened up some solid criticism of the neo-Calvinists and their transformationalist philiosophy (that Christians and the church ought to be in the business of transforming culture). Carl Trueman was one of those who swung the machete against this new Kuyperianism (in “honor” of the noted Dutch churchman Abraham Kuyper and his theory of “common” grace which gave and still gives much impetus to this neo-Calvinist philiosophy), and he was in turn taken to task by many, including a certain Bill Evans. Darryl G.Hart came to Trueman’s defense, quoting J.Gresham Machen’s statements on the true mission of the church in this world.

JGMachenInterestingly, the calling of the church toward social/moral issues of the day also came up in our Bible study this past Wednesday. I found Machen’s comments to be helpful in guiding us with regard to these matters. I hope you do too.

Here first is Hart’s comment and then his quote from Machen:

For one, he (i.e., B.Evans -cjt) does not seem to recall that WTS’ chief founder was J. Gresham Machen, a man whom neo-Calvinists will contort into a transformationalist but who better than anyone else in the first half of the twentieth century articulated the spirituality of the church over against the transformationalism that dominated the PCUSA:

But when I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean simply that the church must maintain the high exclusiveness and universality of its message. It presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power. A Christianity tolerant of other religions is just no Christianity at all. . . .

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. ( “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” 1933)


“Calvinism: A History” – Hart, Hoeksema, and Trueman

Hart on Calvinism – Reformation21 Blog.

calvinismahistory-hartOne of the books I recently learned about and purchased for the Seminary library is the brand new title by Darryl G.Hart Calvinism: A History (Yale Univ.Press, 2013). I only browsed it casually before it was catalogued, but it is getting good reviews and should be on every Calvinist’s reading list. And the members of the PRC will be interested to know that we and one of our founders (Herman Hoeksema) are mentioned in the book (pp.244-45), in connection with the Ralph Janssen case (1922) and the common grace controversy (1924) in the Christian Reformed Church.

Which leads me to this next item. While browsing my WordPress “Reader” this morning, I noticed a brief review of this title by none other than Dr.Carl Trueman, whom you know to be a personal favorite contemporary theologian and writer (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia). As one would expect, Trueman reveals his wit and takes his customary jabs at a few parties as he comments on the book. And, at the end of his little article, he even includes a poke at Herman Hoeksema and the PR Theological Journal!

Here are his closing paragraphs:

All in all, this is a goldmine and a delightful read.  For those who are Presbyterian and Reformed in the confessional sense, this is a book that explains who we are and why we think the way we do.  Reformed Baptists too will find much here to enjoy, if they can forgive Darryl for apparently forgetting that they exist.   For others, I  hope it might tempt them to move beyond the “urban megachurch meets celebrity meets 3 or more points of Calvinism” culture which currently rules the conservative evangelical wave, to something with deeper historic roots and, more importantly, deeper theology and ecclesiology.

One last point: Herman Hoeksema would turn in his grave to think that Darryl has marked him down as an infralapsarian.  I thus await with some excitement the review in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal.  Should be a white knuckle ride, that one.

I suppose, Dr.Trueman is correct in his assessment. And, we wouldn’t want to disappoint him. So, who is going to review Hart’s Calvinism and respond with the “white-knuckler”? Yes, I AM going to be asking for a review copy 🙂

On Andy Stanley’s “Deep and Wide” – C.Trueman

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Reformation21.

Last night I received in my email box the latest article by Dr.Carl Trueman posted at “Reformation21”. Immediately I started reading, as his articles rarely disappoint. With sharp wit and equally sharp Reformed apologetics, Trueman exposes all that’s bad in modern evangelicalism and modern culture today (As you will have noted from my frequent references to his writings.).  And, not to my surprise, I discovered another great Trueman piece in this new article.

Deep&Wide-AStanleyThis time he goes after popular pastor Andy Stanley and his new book. Needless to say, Trueman’s review is sharp and stinging. But it needs to be. And when you read what both of these writers have to say, you will understand why. Below is the first part of the review. Read all of it at the “Ref21” link above.

For this month’s column, I thought I would offer a few reflections on Andy Stanley’s recent book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Here’s a classic passage which represents in miniature an entire universe of erroneous thinking.
People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no here’s the difference it will make tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.
Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren’t more like you in that regard. But that’s the way it is. It’s pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of difference in this world….
With so much promising material, where should one start the critique? Perhaps with the unintended irony of a man warning his readers about feeling superior while at the same time assuring them that he has better insight into the way their spouses and congregations think than they do? Or with the odd way in which he berates his audience for making the mistake of assuming that other people are just like them rather than realizing that they are actually all just like Andy Stanley? Sorry to – as you would put it – ‘burst your bubble’, Andy, but the people I know are not on a happiness quest. I suspect they are not that ambitious: they simply want to find a decent bottle of cognac so that they might temporarily dull the pain of existence with a little touch of old world class. At least, I have always assumed they are just like me.
One might also look at the travesty of scriptural teaching it contains. The problem of the teachers of the law, for example, was not that they were spot on; it was that they were completely wrong. That is why Jesus spent such a lot of time berating them for their errors of interpretation. And as to Jesus playing to people’s expectations of happiness, one wonders why he made such ‘play’ of the havoc which following him would wreak on families, of the need to take up one’s cross, and of the expectation of persecution to come.
Dr. Carl Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.

RC vs. Evangelical Writers – C.Trueman

trueman-fools.indd…Catholicism has produced the most stimulating literary figures of the Christian tradition, broadly considered. First, there is the incomparable G.K. Chesterton. Humor and irony in the service of theology? Can a Protestant do that? Well, Luther would have approved of the idea; it’s there at the very inception of the Protestant tradition, and it is a great shame we have lost it. If you want to know how much we have lost, then spend a few hours perusing the works of Chesterton, who does for basic creedal Christianity what Terry Eagleton does for Marxist literary criticism.

Then for anyone wanting to wrestle with issues of evil and redemption, is there a better novel than Brighton Rock by Graham Greene? And to this one can add the names of Walker Percy (I recently picked up my first Percy title – cjt), Flannery O’Conner, Evelyn Waugh, and (at least arguably – I know scholars divide on the issue) William Shakespeare. Tolkien too – although, as a loyal English Brummy, I tend to claim him geographically for the Midlands, rather than theologically for the church. All of these writers offer literary expressions of various grand moral and theological themes with which Protestants should be able to resonate. Indeed, as a good Calvinist, I find myself more in agreement with Greene’s take on human nature than I do with the sort of Pelagian tosh one finds in most Christian bookshops (pp.146-47).

Carl R. Trueman in his eighteenth chapter, “Beyond the Limits of Chick Lit”, in Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone (P&R, 2012).

“Old Opium Meets the New” – C.Trueman

trueman-fools.inddI recently read the next chapter in Carl Trueman’s latest published collection of essays, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (P&R, 2012). It bears the title above and was first published in 2008 after Pope Benedict XVI addressed a gathering of Catholic young people here in the U.S. What Trueman calls attention to is the fact that the pope was preceded on stage by pop singer Kelly Clarkson of American Idol fame. He comments that this reveals how the “old opium”, religion according to Karl Marx’ famous line, has been replaced by the “new opium”: “bland commercialized pop culture” (p.122). And when the church tries to accommodate herself to the culture of the world, – whether it be Rome or Protestantism – Trueman says, “the really prophetic possibility of proclaiming Christ is lost in the soporific clouds of opium smoke in the surrounding culture” (p.126).

With that in mind this is how he ends the essay:

It is a fine line between cultural contextualization and cultural syncretism. Rome has consistently blurred that boundary over years and, to be honest, proved remarkably successful at it, from the substitution of the pagan pantheon with patron saints, to the triumph of Jesuit moral probabalism in seventeenth-century France, to hobnobbing with Muslim leaders, to the co-opting of American Idol for the latest world tour. Yet the problem is no less for us Protestants. Indeed, it should be greater, because orthodox Protestantism has traditionally been less willing on paper to allow a blurring of the boundary between the God of the Bible and the world around us; but, in our drive to be successful, there is still a constant temptation to judge our success by the criteria of the wider culture, and to co-opt the movers and shakers of the wider culture. We may not appear on stage with Ms.Clarkson, but that’s probably becuse we haven’t been invited, not because we are acting out of principle. And we have our own celebrity culture, our own conference groupies, our own ambitions to seize the modern media for Christ. In so doing, we surely underestimate the power of the modern media to consume and subvert all that touches it (pp.126-27).

I have learned to appreciate Trueman’s criticisms in this regard. To my mind, he is speaking to the Reformed and Biblical doctrine of the antithesis – a doctrine the Protestant and Reformed church world would do well to recover in our time. But then we would have to give up so much – like “common grace” with its justification for nearly every type of cultural (read “worldly”!) accommodation. I am grateful that the Protestant Reformed Churches (of which I am a member) still maintain this doctrine – in pulpit and practice, though the latter always lags behind. How have the Kelly Clarkson’s of our time worked their way into your life and mine? That’s a question worth pondering.