Archive for the ‘Carl Trueman’ Category

Carl Trueman on the Dangers of the Free Press

April 30, 2013

Professor Carl Trueman has some less than positive comments on the expanded freedom of the press that has occurred in the Internet age. Per Trueman:

Yet even as this increasing freedom is to be welcomed, it is not without inherent problems. In the past, if I wanted to tell you my views on subatomic physics, the best an idiot like myself could have done was to self-publish a book on the subject; and as soon as bookstore managers and journal editors noticed that the book was published by the `Carl R Trueman Center for Really Very Complicated Scientific Inquiry’, no mainstream bookshop would stock it and no reputable organ would review it. These days, however, I could simply start my own webpage or blog, and somebody out there – probably a bunch of my own besotted but unqualified and incompetent disciples – would take it seriously, flag up my works, surround my blogs and articles with praise, and make me look like a credible player in the internet world of subatomic research . Credible, that is, to anyone who took the web at face value and did not know anything about the subject or my own lack of any qualifications in the relevant field.

Of course, a similar problem occurred with the introduction of paper (reducing the cost of hand-copying manuscripts) and especially the introduction of the printing press (reducing the cost of reproducing text).

Trueman’s nostalgia of the golden days before the Internet are mistaken, however. First, there was plenty of tripe that was carried by bookstores and published by publishers (obviously, in the opposite order). Why was it published and carried? Because the owners thought they would profit from it.

Second, the firehose of the Internet has its own mechanism for sorting out the tripe. There are reasons that certain sites get more traffic than others. Sometimes the mechanism is as simple as the economic mechanisms that drove bookstores in the pre-Internet era. It costs time and/or money to run a good website, and it costs time and/or money to drive visitors to one’s website.

Sometimes the mechanism is the vox populi. The reason that certain blogs are popular is because people know writing that they like when they see it. Doug Wilson is a prime beneficiary of this effect. Likewise, a few blogs appeal on the basis of their substance, such as specialty blogs on niche topics.

There can be other effects as well, but the bottom line is that not all the millions of blogs get the same amount of shelf space in the Internet supermarket of ideas. Big, well-funded and well-filled sites get lots of space, and poorly funded and poorly managed sites get hardly any space.

So, having read my fair share of worthless e-pologetics (and perhaps my critics will say I’ve contributed more than my fair share), I still think that Trueman’s concerns overlook the credibility signaling that does exist within the Internet. The same problems that existed before the Internet still exist – the additional problems are just a result of having more quantity of material now than ever before.

It’s as though your favorite bookstore moved into a large warehouse, and now can stock even the most obscure self-published books. Actually, it’s rather like what places like and have become.


Don’t Sweat that History Stuff …

April 11, 2012

Carl Trueman expresses his frustration with attempts to force Roman apologists to confront history:

Thus, as all sides need to face empirical facts and the challenges they raise, here are a few we might want to consider, along with what seem to me (as a Protestant outsider) to be the usual Roman Catholic responses:

Empirical fact: The Papacy as an authoritative institution was not there in the early centuries.
Never mind. Put together a doctrine of development whereby Christians – or at least some of them, those of whom we choose to approve in retrospect on the grounds we agree with what they say – eventually come to see the Pope as uniquely authoritative.

Empirical fact: The Papacy was corrupt in the later Middle Ages, building its power and status on political antics, forged documents and other similar scams.
Ignore it, excuse it as a momentary aberration and perhaps, if pressed, even offer a quick apology. Then move swiftly on to assure everyone it is all sorted out now and start talking about John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Whatever you do, there is no need to allow this fact to have any significance for how one understands the theory of papal power in the abstract or in the present.

Empirical fact: The Papacy was in such a mess at the beginning of the fifteenth century that it needed a council to decide who of the multiple claimants to Peter’s seat was the legitimate pope.
Again, this was merely a momentary aberration but it has no significance for the understanding of papal authority. After all, it was so long ago and so far away.

Empirical fact: The church failed (once again) to put its administrative, pastoral, moral and doctrinal house in order at the Fifth Lateran Council at the start of the sixteenth century.
Forget it. Emphasise instead the vibrant piety of the late medieval church and then blame the ungodly Protestants for their inexplicable protests and thus for the collapse of the medieval social, political and theological structure of Europe.

(complete post here)

Sadly, I’ve seen these or similar responses myself. Moreover, we can continue a lot of these empirical facts (mutatis mutandis) down to the present time.

One other point. Trueman says:

I am confident that my previous writings on Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholics indicate that I am no reincarnation of a nineteenth century ‘No popery!’ rabble-rouser. I have always tried to write with respect and forbearance on such matters, to the extent that I have even been berated at times by other, hotter sorts of Protestants for being too pacific.

“Berated” may be a strong term, but I have been among those who have criticized him for being too soft on Rome. Thus, I was particularly happy to see this post from him.


Carl Trueman’s "Reasons … For Moving Romeward"

April 6, 2011

No, Carl Trueman isn’t moving Romeward, but he has post listing reasons that he thinks people give for leaving (link to post). But the reasons given for leaving was not exactly the question posed to him. The question posed to him was the reasons that people leave for Rome. Trueman listed a lot of salient items, but I think he overlooked a few, and so I offer this as a supplement to his post.

1. Love of Idolatry
Men love idols. We can see this throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. It’s especially clear in the Old Testament, in which not only are idols to be found in Lot’s possession (and stolen by Rachel)[FN1], but an idol is made by the Israelites as soon as Moses seems to have disappeared [FN2]. The Israelites are repeatedly warned against the dangers of idolatry [FN3], and yet they return to it time and time again [FN4]. This is the case even despite a number of purges of idols, such as under Asa [FN5].

The New Testament likewise describes the pagan fondness for idolatry [FN6]. John’s last words in his first catholic epistle are to warn his readers to avoid idolatry [FN7]. Likewise, arguing from the evil example of Israel, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to avoid idolatry [FN8].

It’s a huge temptation, and the religion of Rome is rife with it. For example, the bread and wine are worshiped as though they are God [FN9]. The practice of praying before images and presenting gifts during such worship is also viewed as normal [FN10]. Moreover, Rome has endorsed the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council, which mandated the use of images of Jesus Christ, Mary, angels, and the saints in churches [FN11].

It seems reasonable to conclude that people who join Rome, join it because they love its idolatry. They are not filled with a righteous indignation at this abominable practice, but instead find it alluring.

2. Love of Certainty
I cannot document or prove this item as thoroughly as the first. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that a number of Roman converts point to the issue of certainty. They seem to think that the only way one can have certainty about doctrine is if one has an infallible church. Their typical rationale is that there are thousands of different opinions about Scripture, and consequently they conclude that one cannot be certain about one’s conclusions from Scripture, since there are so many who disagree. Two obvious flaws in their thinking are that there is no good reason to suppose that any infallible church exists and that although there may be thousands of opinions about what Scripture teaches, remarkably none of the groups that hold to Scripture alone as their authority arrive at something approximating Roman doctrines.

3. Escondido Movement
Under the topic of flawed ecclesiologies, Trueman rightly points a finger at “Emergent Christianity” and the “Federal Vision” but Trueman omits to address the Escondido movement. This movement reacts strongly to the Emergent phenomenon and to the Federal Vision, but often on quite weak terms (such as an over-reliance on the amended Westminster Confession). It tries to set itself forth as the official voice of “Reformed” even while departing from the Reformers on a number of significant points. There needs to be a response to Rome’s flawed ecclesiology, but that response cannot take the form of trying to provide a Reformed “Rome lite” where excommunication is viewed as being an exercise of power rather than a recognition of apostasy, where our amended (!) confessions become a rule of faith, and where Scriptural exegesis in debates over issues that the confession addresses are rare or secondary to the issue.

We need to recover the grammatical-historical hermeneutic more than we need to recover the Reformed confessions. We need to understand the importance of church discipline, and make sure it is properly applied. We need to make sure that the fundamentals of the faith are defended, Scripture is explained from the pulpit, and charity is extended in as many of the non-essentials as we can.

Of course, none of the failures of the Escondido movement would justify a departure to Rome. Rome’s ecclesiological problems dwarf anything one can find in any other church. An earthly head of the church who claims to be Christ’s vicar? Come on! A church that claims to have the gift of infallibility, and yet can’t tell itself which (if either!) of Molinism or Thomism is correct. A move from an Escondido-style church to Rome is not a jump from the frying pan into the fire, it’s a move from a cat with slight halitosis to a rabid lion.

Do I echo many of Trueman’s concerns? Absolutely. I haven’t spent this post repeating his points or patting him on the back. I hope he gets plenty of that already. I’m simply writing to emphasize a few points that he may have overlooked.



1) Genesis 31:19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.

2) Exodus 32:23-24 For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

3) Leviticus 19:4 Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God. | Leviticus 26:1 Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God.

4) Isaiah 57:5 Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?

5) 1 Kings 15:11-13 And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father. And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.

6) Acts 17:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

7) 1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

8) 1 Corinthians 10:1-14
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play [Exodus 32:6]. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear i Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

9) CCC 1378 “Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. ‘The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.'”

10) “I am pleased to have the opportunity to pray before her image, br here specially from Gozo for this occasion. I am also delighted to present a Golden Rose to her, as a sign of our shared filial affection for the Mother of God.” (source)

11) “We define the rule with all accuracy and diligence, in a manner not unlike that befitting the shape of the precious and vivifying Cross, that the venerable and holy icons, painted or mosaic, or made of any other suitable material, be placed in the holy churches of God upon sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, houses and streets, both of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, and of our intemerate Lady the holy Theotoke, and also of the precious Angels, and of all Saints.” (source)

Quasi-Interview with Carl Trueman on Rome as "Default"

January 12, 2011

Someone recently quoted Dr. Carl Trueman to me in this way:

“Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination… in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic.” -Dr. Carl Trueman

The ultimate source for this quotation is a Reformation21 article from Dr. Trueman (link). Rather than trying to parse the quotation myself, since Dr. Trueman is still around, I asked him for his comments, which he kindly provided by email and gave me his permission to publish. The bold questions below are the questions that I posed to Dr. Trueman, but otherwise the material below the line is Dr. Trueman’s response to my inquiry.

The argument I am making is essentially rhetorical at this point, aimed at evangelicals who have given up on justification by faith and the clarity of scripture. As these the reasons why Protestants could ultimately not be accommodated within the Catholic Church so, my argument goes, those who abandon these points have no real reason for continued separation. What then is left? Nothing but institutional continuity and the creeds of the early church. So these people should be honest, do the decent thing, and return to Rome, as Frank Beckwith did. And students in my class should understand that justification and clarity are vital, not just side issues. Yes — we need good reasons not to be Catholic; and I have them.

Of course, it should be obvious that the fact I have not returned to Rome (or, for me, gone there for the first time) means that institutional/historical continuity a la Rome are of much less significance than justification and clarity. To use my arguments, as some have done, to imply the superiority of Rome to Protestantism tout court is nonsense; my argument is simply that Rome is superior to liberal Protestantism and the kind of woolly evangelicalism of those who think that scripture and justification are areas where we can agree to differ within the evangelical camp. Not so.

Now, to your questions:

Question 1: When you say “Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination” do you mean to embrace the idea that institutional unity and historical continuity are the marks of a true church?

Not for a Protestant. The word is central. But, if you don’t think the word is clear, or that justification by faith is crucial, what’s left of Protestantism?

Question 2: If we consider institutional unity as a standard, given that there were multiple apostolic sees on the Eastern side of the East-West Schism of 1054, and only Rome on the Western side of that schism, doesn’t that mean that Eastern Orthodoxy is the “default position”? Likewise, since the Eastern Orthodox have not formally innovated beyond the 7th ecumenical council (contrast with the additional 14 alleged ecumenical councils of the Romans), doesn’t the Eastern Orthodox church have the greater claim to historical continuity on a global scale?

Sure. But 99.99% of my students are either Western, or (as with Koreans) from a church situation determined by the Western categories of Roman or Protestant.

Question 3: Is the subject matter of Question/Answer 2 the reason that you limited yourself to “at least in the West” in the comment? If so, couldn’t it similarly be said that in England the Anglican church similarly has the greatest claim to historical continuity and institutional unity?

No. Because Anglicanism breaks with Rome, theologically at least on the issue of authority, word and sacraments. So I see Anglicanism as Protestant and subject to the same strictures above.

Question 4: Is institutional unity more important than orthodoxy? If yes, then were councils like Nicaea and Chalcedon a mistake, in that they led to disunity?

Not at all. Unity is a function of orthodoxy (see Rom. 16 — the divisive have wandered from the truth). But see my preliminary comments on the nature of my argument.

Question 5: When you speak of historical continuity, what do you mean? Do you simply mean that the differences between Rome’s doctrines and the once-for-all-delivered apostolic doctrines have come to be gradually, and that the Reformation was a sudden move back to the apostolic doctrines?

I am using a virtual hendiadys, where one thing — the Roman succession and the institutional unity it represents — is described using two phrases, institutional and historical. Not primarily a doctrinal point.

Question 6: Do you agree that in discussing any doctrinal distinctive, the advocate for the distinctive bears the burden of establishing the truth of the distinctive? In other words, would you agree that it would be wrong to say that a dogma like the Bodily Assumption of Mary is the default position unless one can give sound reasons to reject it?

Yes. Though here you get into the differences over authority which devolve from rejection or acceptance of scriptural clarity. Reject it, you get the Pope, you get the later developments with no basis for rejecting it. Look at Newman — he writes `Development’ while a Prot, converts before it is published, and then is able to pretty much swallow everything Rome teaches and changes. He is consistent — but thinks in a way far different to a Protestant.

Question 7: Is it fair to say that your comment to your class is intentionally provocative – aiming to be didactic in the sense of spurring the students to develop their thinking, as opposed to an attempt to strictly define a theological “default” position?

Yes. See my preliminary comment. It is designed to get people to sit up and think, to catch attention (while still, I believe, being true — for all the reasons above). The fact that I am answering your questions indicates that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams!

Question 8: Do you have anything else that you’d like to say about this comment or its use by Roman apologists?

If I didn’t have good reasons to be a Protestant, I would be a Catholic. But I am not. That gives some idea of how I rate the two systems. Having said that, I’d rather spend time talking to Catholic friends who think God knows the future than Socinians who call themselves evangelicals but reject the biblical understanding of God.

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