“Christianity and Its Discontents”: Carl Trueman’s Day-Higginbotham Lecture Series
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, hosts the Day-Higginbotham Lectures each year. “…[E]stablished by an endowment fund in 1965 donated by Mrs. Edwin M. Reardon, III as a memorial to the late Paul Clanton Higginbotham and to Mr. and Mrs. Riley Day, Mrs. Reardon’s parents.” In 2014, when Southwestern Seminary President Dr. Paige Patterson introduced Carl Trueman (Paul Wooley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) who preached on Elijah in a chapel service (see my post on that), Patterson said while he generally “has no use for Calvinists,” he does appreciate Carl Trueman’s work as “a critic of the culture.” The lectures Dr. Trueman delivered at the 2016 Day-Higginbothm Lectures certainly demonstrate what Patterson appreciates most about him.
In his introduction to the second lecture, Dr. Trueman explains that his denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is known more for the “spirituality of the church”, rather than for “engaging the culture,” and that social commentary has not always been his focus, but that the rapid change in modern American culture toward the LGBTQ movement is a case of “the culture engaging the church,” making it a moral issue which stands to trigger important changes in the way the Christian church relates to the issues of sexual identity politics in the years to come.
The title for Trueman’s series of lectures is “Christiantiy and Its Discontents,” a title which alludes to Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. He also cited much from another early twentieth century philosopher, Wilhelm Reich, and Trueman shows how much of what both writers thought about issues related to sexual identity so many decades ago is bearing fruit in today’s rapid change of attitudes about the definition of marriage and more recently with the issue of transgenderism. He also recommends Phillip Rieff’s book Triumph of the Therapeutic, now available in it’s 50th anniversary 2016 edition (couldn’t find a link to it, but here’s its 40th anniversary edition).
Dr. Trueman opened his first lecture on Thursday morning with a reading of Genesis 2:15-25, focusing on verse 24:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:15-25 ESV)
In his second lecture Thursday night, Trueman explained that verse 24 was not a sentimental or emotional description of human sexuality, but that it focuses on the way sexuality serves as a social rite of passage to adulthood in the ancient world, and continued to do so even in the peasant societies of the late medieval and early modern eras of Western civilization, evidenced by the fact that marriage was consummated in the view of witnesses, if not put on public display as a means of making this formal relationship a matter of public record, so far from being some form of voyeurism.
Trueman helps us understand that when Christians argue that what it is they are against is homosexual activity, the broader culture still insists on seeing it as an attack on the very psychological identity of a segment of society, and therefore the Christian’s words fall on deaf ears at best, and are taken as a form of political oppression at worst. We aren’t conceding the presuppositions of the world, therefore the world rejects our attempts to explain our rejection of homosexual behavior.
Trueman discusses pornography, explaining that it is a perennial problem which has existed for as long as humans have had the capacity to convey images of sexuality, but that it’s recent sharp increase in accessibility by everyone who has internet access is unprecedented in history and is now the #1 pastoral problem in the Christian church, even seeing a sharp increase in usage among females.
I was unable to take down a precise outline of Dr. Trueman’s remarks, but the above is an introduction to the issues he describes as currently changing the modern world and challenging the Christian church.
American National Election Studies Quantify Anti-Christian Hostility
Affluent, influential white progressives have been found to be the largest group with measurable hostility against politically conservative Christians, and they find repressing their right to free exercise of their religion acceptable if it means granting new rights to tiny minority groups who behave in ways contrary to biblical Christian beliefs and practices.
“Well, anti-Christian hostility is certainly real, captured by the American National Election Studies, which include questions about animosity toward various social groups. About third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups.
The only group to fare worse was atheists, who received low rankings from nearly half the respondents. But while atheists drew more global hostility than any other group, the negative rankings for conservative Christians came from a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive, and wealthy respondents.”
It’s amazing how shapers of American public opinion are so willing to hold such an unconstitutional view.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.TGO0MTsV.dpuf
Read “What Christianophobia Looks Like in America,” by George Yancey in Christianity Today magazine.
A “Friend” Tells Our Story
In case I’ve never mentioned it, I love the way Penguin publishes their books! It’s probably just the nostalgia associated with the first Penguin Classic I ever bought as a teenager, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Recently, I was browsing at Barnes and Noble and discovered a recent church history book published by Viking (Published by the Penguin Group). Naturally, I was drawn in. The book is called Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Oxford Professor of Church History, Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Perusing the introduction, it became clear that, while this writer may be a super scholar (he’s got a long list of awards and other honors to his name), he is not a believer, although he used to profess faith. In fact, he was an Anglican deacon, but refused to enter the priesthood due, fortunately, to controversy swirling around homosexual clergy. See his Wikipedia entry linked above for more on this story.
Although intrigued, I was not quite sure if I should spend my money on the book, so I visited that old place where people can check out books temporarily without having to pay for them, unless they are returned late. Remember libraries? Pretty cool places.
Reading the introduction is a roller coaster ride for an orthodox Christian like myself. MacCulloch, as close as he has always lived to Christianity, makes some rather odd observations about the development of Christianity, but he assures the reader he is a “candid friend of Christianity” (p11). Fair enough. The writing is very engaging, and I have a healthy respect for common grace as it relates to the vocation of unbelievers, and I am sure there is much good information I can gain from this book.
My pastor and his family swung by our house this afternoon, and I showed him that I was reading MacCulloch’s Christianity, and wanted to learn what he knew about the writer. He said they used his previous history, Reformation, as a textbook at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also said that the British WTS Church History prof, Carl Trueman, knows MacCulloch and respects his work. My pastor also wants me to let him know what I think after I read it. If any of my readers are familiar with MacCulloch’s work, please share your thoughts and reactions with us in the comments section.
So, with such a hearty endorsement, I suppose I can afford to set aside the other books I’m bogged down in, and focus on this one for a few weeks until I can’t continue. As much as I love books, I’m a slow and easily distracted reader. My “ADD” will kick in at some point, I’ll return the book to the library (on time, hopefully), and then go purchase the paperback edition of both Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and Reformation: A History.
Here’s a BBC interview of MacCulloch on his history of Christianity, in case you’re interested in what’s in store for me as I read his book:
How to make Joel Osteen nervous
Ask him a politically-charged question about biblical sexual morality.
It’s good that Joel was able to get what he’s bound to believe out of his mouth. He would do well to work toward not only believing these things, but also ministering these truths in the way Paul advised Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, which reads,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For the record, according to Joel Osteen, he believes that the Bible teaches the following:
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” (Leviticus 20:13).
“…and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error”(Romans 1:27).
“…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7; cf. Gen. 19).
But this next passage shows Joel should have also qualified his initially reassuring assertion to Oprah that “I think [homosexuals] will [go to heaven].” He does clarify that “they need forgiveness of their sins,” but this was an attempt to evade putting the two together until Oprah had to pull it out of him in uncertain terms. In this, he sounds nothing like the apostle Paul, whose inspired assertion is much clearer:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Fortunately for homosexuals who repent and for Joel Osteen, Paul goes on in verse 11 to proclaim:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
It is the desire of every loving, right-minded Christian that the homosexuals should, by the grace of the Spirit of God,
- believe the good news of forgiveness through the sinless life, atoning death and enlivening resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so be justified through faith alone…
- repent of his sins, including the sin of homosexuality…
- be washed clean in the waters of baptism…
- learn to obey all that Christ taught, including his and his apostles’ teachings on sexual morality. Or, as Paul put it above “[be] sanctified.”
Short of this, the regrettable fact remains that the homosexual, as well as the sexually immoral, the idolater, the adulterer, the thief, the greedy, the drunkard, the reviler and the swindler, among other kinds of sinner, will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Taking the Bible “Seriously,” Not Literally
Syrian statue of Saul of Tarsus falling from his horse at the appearance of Jesus
Here’s another example of how people are incapable of absolute objectivity. As you know, I’m currently reading Oxford Church Historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 2009 book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (© 2009, Viking). Fortunately, the author makes no pretense to absolute objectivity. In his telling of the history of Christianity (or, more fashionably, “Christianities”), he explains that at times his own opinion will show through. Boy, does it ever! In some cases, these opinions appear in the form of his own imaginative theory for how something fundamental to Christianity may have developed in a way other than how the Bible explicitly states that it did. What scholar worth his salt is going to take the Bible’s historical claims at face value? Especially those involving supernatural experiences.
In his introduction, MacCulloch calls “modern neurosis” the presupposition that the Bible is authoritative. The “scholarly” approach is to take the Bible “seriously” in a way that disregards the literal interpretation of the Bible.
In what way might we take the Bible seriously without taking it literally? I suppose the answer is to simply admire and attempt to follow the Bible’s moral teachings, receiving them as wrenched from their presumably mythological context. In other words, orthodox Christians need to become theological liberals. We should bravely affirm that the Bible can be wrong about history, but right about morality and spirituality. In other endeavors, if one is wrong in one area, it undermines his credibility in other areas. If the Bible is historically untenable, then it is spiritually untenable. Why, then, bother with the Bible’s morality, when we can change our morals with the times—which is precisely what theological liberals do with biblical morality. They lay it aside, along with their neurosis about the authority of the Bible. MacCulloch’s own unrepentant homosexuality is a prime example of this fact.
In chapter one, “Greece and Rome (c. 1000 BCE-100 CE),” MacCulloch gives us an example of how he takes the Bible seriously, though not literally. In his description of imperial Rome’s racial inclusivity, and generous granting of citizenship to foreigners of all kinds, he finds the possible origin of the preaching of the Christian gospel among Gentiles. MacCulloch suggests that “pride” in Paul’s own Roman citizenship could have been the real source of his desire to invite Gentiles into the number of God’s chosen people. If we took the Bible seriously, then we, too, could confidently make up our own reasons to explain away the Bible’s historical narratives! MacCulloch leads by example:
If we only had the scholarly authority to associate things that are historically verifiable–like the extent of Roman citizenship–with fundamental elements of Christianity–like their proclaiming to Gentiles the life, death, resurrection and royal ascension of the Jewish Messiah–then we wouldn’t have to suspend our disbelief enough to take the Bible literally when Paul’s physician-associate, Luke–himself a careful historian (cf. Luke 1:1-3)–records in the sequel to his gospel, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus, and divine calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles:
I mean, seriously!