Review: Minority Report by Carl Trueman

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Minority Report:  Unpopular Thoughts on Everything From Ancient
Christianity to Zen Calvinism
Review by Rev. Anthony T. Selvaggio
Publisher:  Christian Focus (2008)
Author:  Carl R. Trueman
Pages: 221

    The Reformed and conservative evangelical world often seems so hackneyed, two dimensional and pedestrian.  Those who are most gifted to defend the precious orthodoxies of our faith often seem to be wanting in wit, humor and plain old niceness.  We simply tend to take ourselves too seriously.  That's why I find Dr. Carl R. Trueman so refreshing and helpful to the cause of conservative confessional theology.  Dr. Trueman has the ability to wed deep theological reflection with a rapier wit.  We witness these unique gifts once again in his most recent popular offering, Minority Report.

    Minority Report is a sequel to Trueman's popular book Wages of Spin (Christian Focus).  Like its predecessor volume, Minority Report seems at first glance like a collection of unrelated musings and even Trueman admits the book is "without a theme" and that it has "no obvious market" (7).  But upon deeper reflection the book does have a theme and purpose which Trueman himself hints at in his introduction.  The theme is discernible in the two parts of the book, which in many ways accurately reflect the two parts of the author.  Part one of Minority Report is composed of four lengthy and heady essays by Trueman which reveal the depth of his mental acuity and academic ability.  Part two of the book includes fifteen shorter essays which are popularly written and offer a critique of various parts of cult and culture.  These popular essays reveal the other side of Trueman, the cultural critic and satirist who follows in the tradition of men like G.K. Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge.
    Since I cannot possibly give you a satisfactory review of each of the nineteen essays which make up this work, I will endeavor instead to offer you a small representative taste of each of the two parts of the book by commenting briefly on one sample essay from each part.
    The first sample essay entitled, "Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light," is the most academic piece in the book.  This essay kicks off the volume and gives the reader the sense that he is on a roller coaster.  The ride begins with a steep intellectual incline and the rest of the book seems like a downhill ride after it.  This essay is essentially a revision of Trueman's inaugural lecture as Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.  The essay is quintessential Trueman.  In it you will find references to Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, The Who and Led Zepplin as well as to Wittgenstein, Kant, Turretin and Charles Hodge.  The essay presents the reader with a thoughtful and biting polemic against the anti-historical biases and ignorance which predominate in both the wider culture and the evangelical world.

    The sample essay from part two is near and dear to my heart as a member of a Psalm singing denomination.  The essay I am referring to is entitled, "Where is Authenticity to Be Found?"  This essay builds on an earlier essay on psalm singing by Trueman entitled, "What do Miserable Christians Sing?" which appeared in Wages of Spin.  In this essay you will find what I love most about Trueman, his ability to engage in thoughtful, courteous and subtly subversive argumentation which gains the ear of those who are likely predisposed to disagree with him.  This essay is essentially a soft polemic aimed at nudging the reader to consider inclusive psalmody in Christian worship.  There is nothing novel or revolutionary about the arguments that Trueman offers in this essay, but his manner of presenting them is extremely effective.  His basic thesis is that the psalms provide us with deep insights into the complex array of human experience.  In essence, Trueman argues that it is in the psalms that we find the "authentic" experience which the hip "bumper sticker" theologians of the emergent church world are struggling to create ex nihilo.  But like Trueman always does, after criticizing the theological left he turns to the theological right and reminds them that the psalms should also lead us to add poetry and prose to our theological reading lists.  He suggests that the characters of Graham Greene, Shakespeare and Melville can give us theological insights which can supplement the insights we glean from Bavinck, Berkhof and other Reformed systematic theologians.
    In summary, Minority Report represents another gift from Trueman to the Reformed church.  It provides all of us stiff blue blazer donning Reformed pastors, with libraries bulging with Turretin, Brakel and Bavinck, the ability to demonstrate that the Reformed church and Reformed theology does not have to be dull and mean spirited or as Trueman puts it, "the old orthodoxies of the Christian faith do not need to be stuffy, pompous, out-of-date, or allied to a dusty, unattractive, and cadaverous piety." (7).

Rev. Anthony T. Selvaggio, visiting professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and author of The Prophets Speak of Him (Evangelical Press) and What the Bible Teachers About Marriage (Evangelical Press).