Trueman in Themelios

September 26, 2010

Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of Church History and Historical Theology, recently published an article in Themelios.


From the Themelios Journal Homepage: Themelios is an international evangelical theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith. Its primary audience is theological students and pastors, though scholars read it as well. It was formerly a print journal operated by RTSF/UCCF in the UK, and it became a digital journal operated by The Gospel Coalition in 2008.

An Excerpt from Dr. Trueman's Article, "Minority Report: Not in the Public Interest":

Suffering, marginalization, and the abuse of power are now the stock in trade not only of literary theorists but also of many theologians, of whom the Liberationists of the sixties and seventies are but the most obvious examples. Indeed, the influence of such academic emphases now finds its place frequently in the classrooms of Protestant theologians of more orthodox and traditional bent. One example that came my way recently was from one of my students who recently commented to me that he had heard a lecture by a certain African American scholar who claimed that the Puritans had little grasp of suffering or what it meant to be marginalized. The comment had intrigued the student, and he asked me what I thought.

My instinctive reaction was to be utterly dismissive of the claim; and while my instinctive reactions are not always correct, they are generally pretty good when it comes to boneheaded comments that others make about my chosen field of expertise. Indeed, as my boneheaded forays into the scholarly territory of others usually merit instant derision, so I am happy to return the favour when opportunity presents itself.

In this instance, I not only thought the comment by the lecturer was wrong; as I reflected upon it, I also realized it gave important insights into the different priorities or sensibilities of the world in which we now live and that of the seventeenth-century Puritans.

Contrary to what this lecturer claimed, the world of the Puritans was one peculiarly marked by suffering. Of course, their lives would have been subject to all of the typical physical difficulties of the time: medical conditions untreatable by anything approaching modern medicine; illnesses from poor hygiene; dentistry of a kind which would have made even the British Dental Association of my childhood an object of envy; no antibiotics, analgesics, anesthetics, or flushable toilets, with all of the resulting physical horrors. Thus, the typical life of a seventeenth-century figure would probably have been marked by far more natural physical suffering than would be the typical experience of even the poorest members of society in the developed world.

To this medical nightmare we can then add the matter of persecution. Certainly in the decades following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Puritans had two basic options: get on board with the program of a vigorously enforced Anglican conformity, or face the consequences of losing status and property, and quite possibly jail. Many chose the latter option, with men like John Bunyan and Richard Baxter being only the most high-profile men to suffer imprisonment for their stands against the Establishment. Then there were the decades of social marginalization—decades that turned into centuries—where English non-conformists were prevented from attending university, sitting in Parliament, or holding civil service positions. Indeed, if Catholics were legislated to the margins of society until the early nineteenth century, the same went for Baptists, Independents, Quakers, Presbyterians, and anyone who refused to conform.

On these grounds alone, I think we can generally assume that the typical post-1662 Puritan knew more about suffering and marginalization than the typical 2010 professor, with tenure and a full benefits package, in a bog-standard Lit. Crit. or Minority Studies Department at a common or garden University. What makes the difference, it seems to me, is not that these men did not know about suffering and about being on the wrong end of terrible abuse of power; it is rather that they did not see the need constantly to refer to their sufferings in their public ministries, whether from the pulpit or on the printed page.

To read the whole article, Click Here.