Pop Goes the Evangelical
Tolle Lege: Take Up and Read
What do commercialism, the problem of evil, Chick tracts, American Idol, and Francis Beckwith’s recent conversion to Roman Catholicism have in common? Anyone? If you couldn’t come up with an answer, not to worry. One would be hard-pressed to find an overarching conceptual category that would encompass all of these topics, not to mention creeds and confessions, anti-aging products, and the Psalms, but they all have one thing in common. At one point or another, they have all been the subject of Carl Trueman’s wide ranging interests, and they are all discussed in his most recent book, Minority Report.
There is some difficulty involved in explaining the contents of a book like Minority Report. It has no overarching theme or thesis. Instead, it is a collection of essays on a wide-range of subjects, or as the subtitle expresses it: Unpopular Thoughts on Everything from Ancient Christian-ity to Zen-Calvinism. The author, Dr. Carl R. Trueman, is the Dean of Faculty and professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has authored or coauthored several books, including John Owen, Protestant Scholasticism, and Luther’s Legacy. He has also written another collection of short essays entitled The Wages of Spin.
The first four chapters in part one of Minority Report are somewhat longer than the remaining chapters in part two. Chapter one is a revised version of Trueman’s inaugural lecture as professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Seminary. In it Trueman lays out his agenda for the study of church history. Chapter two is a previously published editorial in which Trueman draws together insights from the evangelical scholar Carl F. H. Henry and the Palestinian scholar Edward Said. Chapter three is a paper delivered at the Veritas Forum on the subject of evil. Finally, chapter four is Trueman’s critical review of Mark Noll’s book Is the Reformation Over?
The chapters in part two are substantially shorter. Many were first published on the website Reformation 21. In this section, Trueman deals with a variety of issues. He begins with a discussion of apathy — the characteristic vice of the modern Western world. He continues with an essay on the importance of teaching (and thus learning) history. A particularly thought-provoking chapter is titled “A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished.” In this essay, Trueman walks the fine line between those who espouse the creed “No Creed But Christ” and those who elevate creeds and confessions to practical equality with Scripture. A recurring theme appears in the fourth chapter of this section, as Trueman discusses some reasons behind evangelical conversions to Rome.
The effects of our culture’s gradual acceptance of homosexuality is the focus of the fifth short piece in part two. Trueman argues that we should not despair because as homosexuality becomes more accepted, true Christianity becomes what it was in the first decades of the church — a scandal. In reflecting on the conversion of Francis Beckwith to Rome, Trueman outlines several things evangelicals can learn from Rome (not least, how to write well) as well as the disagreements we cannot overlook.
Another recurring theme in the book is what evangelicals need to learn from the Psalms, and this is the particular focus of chapter seven. The Psalms offer a look at authentic spiritual experience and must not be neglected. The cult of fame associated with the television program American Idol and the new problems created by the blog world come under scrutiny in following chapters. The blog world, according to Trueman, has confused the right to speak (which belongs to all) with the right to be heard (which must be earned). The remaining chapters deal with topics as diverse as death, the dangers of leadership, and something Trueman refers to (with tongue in cheek) as “Zen-Calvinism,” a way of living that is so focused on Christ and His kingdom, and so mindful of the fallen state of creation and the depravity of man, that the problems of life do not shock us.
Carl Trueman’s goal in Minority Report is to force readers to think about what they believe, how they behave, and why. With wit and wisdom he topples the idols of contemporary pop-evangelicalism and dares us to reflect on matters many of us would rather not. Few will agree with everything Trueman says, but this is not his goal. His goal is to prod the minds of an apathetic generation of believers, and in this he succeeds.
Dr. Keith A. Mathison is an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine. He is also editor of When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper Preterism.
The vast number of books published each year makes it difficult for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Dr. Keith A. Mathison helps us sort out the good books from the bad each month in his book review column Tolle Lege.