White Horse Inn Interview, Dr. Trueman

September 19, 2009

"Has American Christianity become more concerned with success than fidelity? Has it chosen style over substance?"  On this edition of the White Horse Inn, Dr. Michael Horton talks about these issues with our own Dr. Carl R. Trueman, vice president of academic affairs and professor of historical theology and church history and author of The Wages of Spin.

The author's own thoughts on The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism...

All of the essays and shorter pieces in this volume are drawn from the work I have done over the last five or six years for various evangelical groups in Great Britain and Europe, and they therefore represent something of an eclectic mix, dealing with issues from television to worship. If they have a unity it is perhaps that provided either by my concern to avoid selling out our evangelical birthright to every wind of cultural criticism or trendy new idea that comes our way – I am convinced that Christianity, as an historical religion, needs to listen very carefully to its history in order to build on past strengths and avoid repetition of past mistakes – or by my desire always to provoke readers not only into thinking for themselves but, above all, into having an opinion about things that matter.

Too many today sit on the moral and theological fence; too few have any strong opinions about anything. That is why so often theological and ecclesiastical discussion in evangelical circles goes by default, with nobody having clear enough convictions about anything to engage in real discussion.

This is not helped, of course, by the increasing tendency in evangelical circles to ape American linguini-spine culture and to regard disagreement with anyone on anything in our allegedly postmodern world as always inherently oppressive. Some evangelicals, indeed, seem to think that the whole point of having a debate is – well, just to have a debate, a conversation, and then to agree to differ as we all sit around having a mutually affirming, self-congratulatory love-fest. I say that such a view is total rubbish.

As the late Frankie Howerd would have said, ‘Nay, nay, thrice nay!’ The point of a debate, as Paul so clearly demonstrates time and again in the Book of Acts, is to establish which position is best; and yes, I for one am still so hopelessly in thrall to modernism, as my relativist critics will no doubt allege, as to believe that some positions (e.g., sacrificing my children to Molech) are not as good as others (e.g., bringing them up to love and fear the Lord), no matter where you may be in the world, and no matter to which culture you happen to belong. That is why I write the way I do – love what I say, hate what I say, either are acceptable responses; but please try not to be indifferent to what I say. Indifference, the plague of modern Western culture in general and evangelicalism in particular, is at best the result of intellectual laziness, at worst a sign of moral abdication.

Of course, my own thinking has changed over the years – only a fool never alters his mind on anything. I now, I think, have a much better grasp of the cross-cultural and class issues involved in the theological enterprise – emigration to the USA, and conversations with colleagues at Westminster Theological Seminary such as Manny Ortiz, Jeff Jue, Bill Edgar, Dick Gaffin, Stafford Carson, Susan Post and Scott Oliphint have all served to give me a better appreciation of both the Reformed tradition and its place in the modern world than I had when I wrote most of these pieces.

Yet, for all of the lacunae I now see as I reread them, I still basically stand by what these pieces essentially say; and I still think a combination of plain speaking, occasional over-statement, and black humour is the best way to provoke people to think for themselves. It has always served me well in the classroom; I hope it does so here.

Many of these essays started life as talks for student groups or pieces for Themelios, the theological student journal I have edited for UCCF since 1998. I hope they are intellectually stimulating but I do not present any of them as polished pieces of scholarship; they are rather introductory salvoes and journalistic jabs at some of the issues which are most pressing for the British evangelical scene at the moment. The depth of bibliography and footnoting varies; and those looking for more in-depth discussion of many of the issues raised, particularly in Part One, should chase up the references which I give for further discussion of the matters in hand but not assume that my notes give them an exhaustive scholarly apparatus. These are addresses for students wanting some stimulation and some guidance at the very start of their lives as Christians and theologians, and that has shaped the way they are written.

Carl R. Trueman from the Introduction of The Wages of Spin.

Listen to his White Horse Inn interview.


"Carl Trueman affirms the historic evangelical faith with great force and clarity and with excellent judgement. The inspiration and authority of Scripture, the atonement, justification, the importance of systematic theology, and of the historic creeds and confessions, are here given a ringing affirmation. Dr. Trueman is fearful that at the very time when our crazy world needs the four-square gospel more than ever it is being seriously weakened by the influence of postmodernism, consumerism, and the loss of a sense of history, both in the church and the Christian academy. The author would be happy enough if these essays make you think, but happier still if they persuade you to think – and to act – as an unashamed evangelical."

Paul Helm,
Emeritus Professor,
University of London

"Carl Trueman throws open the darkened windows of superficiality which have closed in on the 21st century Western Evangelical Church in order to allow the fresh, bracing breeze of robust evangelical thought to do its revitalising work. Dr. Trueman is not afraid to allow any contemporary idea or practice pass unchallenged, no matter how hallowed by ‘evangelical’ consensus. But this is not the cheap point scoring of tabloid theology. Rather it comprises careful, well thought out analysis and comment, deeply grounded in biblical and reformed theology which is applied with refreshing clarity and precision.

"Dr. Trueman has the wit of a modern day evangelical Chesterton, the prophetic insight of a Francis Schaeffer and the accessibility of a John Stott. This is a book to read and re-read. It is a very much needed 'tract for our times'."

Melvin Tinker,
St John’s Parish Church, Newlands,
Hull, England

"I cannot think of a young evangelical writer and theologian whose works I more eagerly read than Carl Trueman."

Mark Dever,
Capitol Hill Baptist Church,
Washington, D.C.

"Carl Trueman has become well known in recent years as an academic historian, taking hold of the torch from scholars like Richard Muller and carrying it further. His painstaking and rigorous scholarship have been of great benefit to evangelicals working in the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. The first part of the book is of this order. In the second part of the book, however, Trueman breaks free, abandons the courtesies of modern academic debate, and lets rip! Here we have short, sharp and exciting
thoughts on everything from Psalm singing to the homosexual debate within the Anglican Church. His brilliant caricatures and hilarious asides do not detract from his careful thought but rather help to demonstrate a wisdom and clarity much needed today. You will be entertained and educated by this book."

A.T.B. McGowan,
Highland Theological College,
Dingwall, Scotland

"One of Carl Trueman’s central assertions in this book is the importance of words. God is a personal, speaking God, and is revealed to us both in the incarnate Word and in the written Word of Scripture. Words are at the heart of Reformation theology and at the heart of all true piety. This collection of essays and observations shows that the author not only recognises these facts, but emulates them: as a master wordsmith himself, his approach to a variety of issues demonstrates his desire and creative ability to apply the whole of the Bible to the whole of life. It will challenge, stimulate, inform and teach. It contains a wealth of wisdom in small compass, and confirms Dr. Trueman’s place as one of contemporary evangelicalism’s most dynamic young theologians."

Iain D. Campbell,
Back Free Church of Scotland,
Isle of Lewis, Scotland