“Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” -Martin Luther
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right….” ―Martin Luther
“We need a critical theory that seeks to change the world by challenging the world – including the world of evangelicals – in its market-driven, all, consuming consumerist idolatries.” -Carl R. Trueman
“I always tell students that the first question to ask about any historical action is this: who makes money out of the deal?” -Carl R. Trueman
Carl Trueman is a man I greatly admire. He is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Trueman wrote his dissertation on Luther’s Legacy. I find his numerous books and articles never fail to inform and educate me. The man is a talented wordsmith; perhaps that has something to do with his British education or royal blood, whatever the reason, I derive pleasure in reading his material. Much of his work takes on the form of an outsider looking in on the mess known as American Evangelicalism, pointing out that it is a mess, and then suggesting steps we can take to improve things.
Trueman holds strong, well-reasoned opinions on most all things and I find little that I disagree with him on.
One notable exception was Trueman’s work on the “Preliminary Panel” in the Sovereign Grace Ministries/C.J. Mahaney case. Working together with Kevin DeYoung and Ray Ortlund they concluded, on July 27, 2011,that Mahaney was still fit to be a minister of the gospel and had done nothing to disqualify himself from said role. That DeYoung and Ortlund would find in favor of Mahaney was no surprise – they were, and remain, loyal, card-carrying members of the good old boys celebrity pastors club. I, along with many others who either supported the victims of sexual abuse or were actually numbered among those abused while attending Sovereign Grace Ministries churches, had held out hope that Trueman would be a lone voice of dissent, saying Mahaney needed to resign. We were crushed when we found out Trueman sided with DeYoung and Ortlund. One can only guess how a thorough reading of the available documentation would allow one to reach a conclusion favorable to Mahaney. Now, some three years later, it is evident to all that DeYoung, Ortlund and Trueman erred in their judgment. After all, we now have one of the abusers convicted on five counts and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Grant Layman, brother in-law of C.J. Mahaney and fellow pastor at Covenant Life Church, has admitted under oath that the pastors knew of the abuse, knew they should report the abusers to authorities and yet, chose not to. We have the voluminous court documents testifying of abuse and a conspiracy to cover up abuse submitted on behalf of numerous plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries, C.J. Mahaney, and several other SGM pastors. We have CLC, the flagship church of SGM, withdrawing from the denomination. We have about 40 other churches withdrawing from the SGM denomination, and we have a national outcry from many Christian leaders against the travesty of the SGM leaders refusing to step down, combined with the ongoing support of Mahaney by many of the top leaders of the Gospel Coalition, Together 4 the Gospel, and IX Marks.
It is my hope that Trueman would come out with a retraction of his statement of 2011. In light of all the developments in the case it is warranted and would be welcomed by all except Mahaney and the top leaders of the above mentioned groups. Not that such an action would be without personal cost to Trueman; these top leaders, all members of the celebrity pastors club, have an evil side that is rarely seen by the public. I will get to that in a minute, but first I have included the relevant portions of the document signed by DeYoung, Ortlund and Trueman:
“Having said all that, here is our conclusion: We do not believe C.J. Mahaney’s confessed sins have disqualified him from Christian ministry. Or to put it positively, from all that we have seen, heard, and read, we believe C.J. Mahaney is, at this moment in time and based on those sins which he has acknowledged, still fit to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a pastor to others….
While we affirm that C.J. Mahaney has not disqualified himself from ministry, we also encourage Sovereign Grace Ministries to address the broader issues to which we alluded at the start as a means of avoiding the current kind of situation in the future.”
As I said, I was crushed when Trueman signed this document; I knew him to be a man of integrity and in the past he had not been shy about calling out the celebrities and their parachurch organizations.
Witness these quotes from “Messiahs Pointing to the Door,” written in 2009:
“The American church reflects the culture: ministries built around individuals, around big shots, churches that focus on god-like guru figures, all of them pointing to one door. I have lost count of the conversations I have had with church people anxious to tell of who they heard at this conference, of which person they corresponded with, of how this opinion or that opinion would not sit well with this demi-god and is therefore of little value; and, of course, how anyone who disagrees with, or criticizes, this chosen hero must, of necessity be morally depraved and wicked. People want the gods to do their thinking for them. All of the Pelagian, Manichean celebrity malarkey of the American political process is alive and well in the church as well.
The question is: when it comes to churches and ministries built around messiahs who are supposed to point not to themselves but to the true door, who is going to have the guts to leave the temple?”
In the Spring of 2011 Trueman authored an article titled “How Parachurch Ministries Go Off the Rails.” The article was published on the IX Marks website and, while not specifically mentioned, it seems obvious Trueman was warning The Gospel Coalition and Together For the Gospel, among others, of impending dangers. Here are a few interesting quotes:
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, goes the old saying. And, in the evangelical world, one might add that it’s paved with parachurch organizations which started well and then, at some point, went disastrously off the rails. Why is this the case?
I do believe that parachurch organizations generally suffer from two particular flaws which render them inherently unstable: they are coalition movements, and they typically lack proper structures of accountability.
It does not do what the church does, and it should not supplant the church in the minds and lives of those involved in its work. In other words, a self-conscious and strict circumscription of the parachurch is important. The parachurch exists purely and solely to serve the church in a subordinate and comparatively insignificant way. This is perhaps not such a danger when it comes to publishing houses and seminaries, but it is an ever-present danger for groups that offer services which come close to churchly functions, such as preaching services and the like.
Thus, I find it very disturbing when church leaders start to be known more as leaders of a particular parachurch group than as leaders in their churches. This serves to create a confusing image in the mind of the Christian public, whereby the boundary between church and parachurch is eroded, or, worse still, the parachurch is regarded as the place where the real action and excitement take place. This in turn consigns the church to an apparently less important role, and serves to relegate to the level of secondary or even tertiary importance the doctrinal elaboration and distinctives for which individual churches and denominations stand. The Christian public comes to regard these ecclesial distinctives as hindrances to the real work of the gospel—real work that, by inference, is done by the parachurch better than the church.
Thus, one reason that parachurch ministries go off the rails is the culture such groups create, whereby a non-church body effectively decides which bits of the historic confessions are really important and which can be set to one side. As I noted above, such setting to one side may not be important depending on the organization’s mission, as with an organization focused on producing pro-life material. But when the organization focuses on preaching and teaching more broadly, there is an obvious and inherent weakness.
But I am profoundly hesitant about being closely associated with parachurch groups that wittingly or unwittingly might supplant the church or become more important than the church in the eyes of many. Once a group starts offering contexts for preaching and worship, we have a potential problem; and such outfits are, in the long run, more than likely headed for disaster.”
Then, in the Fall of 2012 Trueman once again appears to have the celebrity preachers in his sites:
“Thesis One: Martin Luther saw church leadership as primarily marked by servanthood.
For Luther, the servant nature of the ministerial calling was not some abstract principle but was part of his everyday practice, linking his understanding of the God who is revealed primarily in the crucified flesh of Christ to the necessary attitude, outlook and expectation of Christ’s ministers. The minister, like his Saviour, was to serve the poor and despised and the things that are not. This is why, when his barber, Peter, expressed concern over how difficult he found prayer, Luther went home and wrote him a treatise on prayer. Nor did he forget Peter thereafter. When the tragic barber killed his brother-in-law in a drunken dare and was sentenced to death, Luther intervened to have the sentence commuted to banishment for life. As busy as he was, Luther never forget whom it was he was meant to be serving.
Thesis Eight: Luther saw the problem of a leadership accountable only to itself
Part of the problem Luther faced at the Reformation was the sheer lack of accountability of the Top Men. The Pope and Cardinals policed themselves and voluntarily answered to no-one. The only means therefore whereby Luther could sometimes make himself heard was by using every rhetorical tool in the box, from satire to hard-hitting polemic. He was fortunate, of course: in those days, there was no aesthetic of personal “pain” and “hurt” which allowed contemporary Christians to sidestep criticism and indeed turn the moral tables on those who criticize them. The problem of unaccountable and influential leadership in evangelicalism is alive and well. Oh Martin! thou should’st be living at this hour: Evangelicalism hath need of thee.
Thesis Nine: Luther thought very little of his own literary contribution to Christianity.
Shortly before he died, Luther declared that only his 1525 response to Erasmus, On Bound Choice, and his catechisms were worthy of preservation. If he were alive today, it is very doubtful that he would be running a website devoted primarily to promoting his own books and pamphlets. He would thus be unlikely to make the grade in the modern American evangelical world. Nor would he indulge in such shameless self-promotion by calling it explicitly ‘shameless self-promotion’, as if the labored attempt at postmodern irony somehow makes the self-serving nature of such venal vanity acceptable. I suspect he would think that it actually makes it worse, adding the sin of ‘insulting the reader’s intelligence’ to the obvious one of ‘shameless self-promotion.’ (That last point is probably only worth half a thesis though. Hence the 9.5.)
The overall impact of these theses: were Doc Martin with us today, he would find no easy place in the evangelical church. In fact, taxi driving might well have been a much better fit.”
(Editor’s note – Was Trueman, in referring to “shameless self-promotion,” directing his comments to Mahaney’s right hand man, Bob Kauflin, who said this: “So, in an act of shameless self-promotion, here are twelve reasons why I think you (pastor, worship leader, musician, vocalists, songwriter, techie) should come to WorshipGod2013:” See the complete article here.
Or perhaps Trueman was referring to Kevin DeYoung, who, on this blog post, would undoubtedly like to be seen as one who wrestles with the problem of “shameless self-promotion,” states:
“I have a new book coming out April 1. I plan on telling you more about it in the next couple months. I am also speaking at a few conferences this spring and helping to organize a couple small ones too. They are great conferences, and not because I have anything to do with them. I’d like to tell you about the conferences and encourage you think about attending….
I despise self-promotion in myself and in others. And just to show you how twisted the heart can be, I’m sure that part of the reason I hate to be self-promoting is because I have a dread fear of appearing to be self-promoting….
But here’s my dilemma. How do I do any of this without swimming in the fetid pool of self-promotion? With all the tools of social networking and all the trappings of evangelical celebrity culture (whether in a hall with thousands of people or in your own circle of friends), we must all be vigilant against shameless self-promotion. Especially those of us who have a blog….
So while I try to do both those things, I will continue to have my books displayed on the right hand side of the blog. I will tell you about exciting events, even if I’m apart of them. And I’ll mention my upcoming book because I love the Heidelberg Catechism and the gospel treasured there.”
One more note prior to getting back to the subject matter – read this blog post for a very humorous look at “shameless self-promotion!)
Fast forward to August 27, 2014.
Below is a recording of a segment from the podcast “The Mortification of Spin.” The full program may be listened to here. Below the audio are quotes of Trueman’s from the program. These quotes are stunning. Trueman has obviously been getting some heat from the “top men” because he dares criticize them! This is exactly what I have suspected happens in the good old boys celebrity pastors club. You do not, for any reason, criticize a fellow member of the club. To do so risks repercussions. You will quickly be frozen out of the club as the nasty, hidden side of our celebrity pastors is revealed to you. Dare criticize and they will do their level best to make sure you never speak at conferences again. I would also guess that membership in the club entails accepting “suggestions” to speak at other club member’s churches. I have no proof, but I would guess that Anyabwile’s and DeYoung’s recent preaching at Mahaney’s church was not entirely of their own volition.
“What I’m not going to do is the kind of ostentatious tactics that I see the Mark Driscolls of this world pursuing and, quite frankly, I’ve experienced myself from the top men at some of these parachurch organizations, where if you criticize them, they work behind the scenes to shut you down; they are going to try to make sure that you don’t have the avenues of speaking out.
I’m not going to leverage informal means of control and influence in the way that I think the “Young Restless and Reformed” culture has done so, and, which frankly has ultimately led to its invidious corruption.”
The invidious corruption spoken of by Truman most likely comes from the “top men” of the groups I mentioned above. Although most of the fan-boys of these celebrity preachers never see the ugly side of those they idolize, we have been given a glimpse behind the curtain, courtesy of Carl Trueman. This view reminds me of a bunch of power-hungry politicians cutting their corrupt deals in the smoky back rooms of their convention halls. Frankly it sickens me. Trueman could do Christianity a huge favor if he would name names. These “Coalitions” could be revealed for what they truly are and then they would implode. We would all be better off.
If Trueman should decide to name names there undoubtedly would be a huge personal cost to pay. Frankly I don’t know whether I would be willing to pay the cost were I in Trueman’s shoes. But I would guess a man like Luther would!
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right….” ―Martin Luther
Editor’s note: Some individuals have wondered whether I have ever heard Carl Trueman speak in person. I have, at the conference advertised below.