April 21, 2011
I knew I should have left Carl alone! I knew I was making a mistake. Thirty-two seconds after my original post he responded with a 55-point rebuttal. The man has more counter-points at the ready than Amilda Marcos had shoes... or Lady Gaga has dresses. And on top of that, he brings in Bavinck scholars from around the world to tag team until a man taps out.
My wife read our posts this morning and gave me that same look and tone she gives my four-year-old son when she senses the horseplay between his friends is about to escalate into real ruckus. Standing over the sink, she said, "Y'all (she's southern and beautiful) better quit before somebody gets hurt." I gave her the same surprised, unbelieving look my son gives her. He comes by it honestly. Then I made up my mind I'd quit--right after I got in one more gentle push-back. Same strategy my son uses. He gets that honestly, too.
So, for the record (I guess this is point 1), I don't want anyone out there to think I'm denying that there are important questions to raise and answer regarding what's been called "celebrity pastors." There are. And Carl raises a good many of them. I'm grateful for that. I don't disagree with him on the issue and suspicion he raises.
But having said that (point #2), I would say there are two sides of the horse. We can fall off either. We can be guilty of a kind of hero worship, a kind of teenage adulation of some "American idol" preacher. That's possible, and no doubt real--though I suspect it's far less often the case than Bro. Trueman's posts suggest. But there is also "hero hatred," a kind of depreciation of faithful men because of the status or notoriety the Lord has given them. We ought to be careful that we give respect where it's due. Something I believe Carl does, and wants to see others do in a healthy way as well.
Reading the added amunition Carl brought in his last post, and reflecting on some of Carl's earlier comments, I am left wondering if all this isn't a bit too tribal (point 3). There's a defense of a British perspective that rings more ethnic/national than more purely Christian. I wonder if we don't all have some national blinders on in this discussion. For example, the fact that Stott and Lloyd-Jones are raised at all indicates that they do have hero status in England. True, they're not your trendy, goatee-wearing, sitcom quoting urban church planter Carl can spot two miles away in dense fog. But they are rather, well... British. They are, it seems to me, what many of us Americans stereotypically think of as "British"... stiff upper lip and all, keep private things private, and so on. I don't think locating these figures in a different formative era exonerates them from the label. If anything, the fact that they do belong to a different era yet receive such frequent reference and respect would seem to support the contention that they are precisely what Bavinck and Luther scholars deny. From our American viewing stand, they look to us as much like "British heroes" as say, Piper and Mahaney might be "American heroes," date-of-birth, cultural attire and all notwithstanding. Is it possible that someone from the U.K. doesn't see it as clearly because it's the air you breathe? Of course, the same blind spot would exist on this side of the pond as well.
Also (fourth point), perhaps it would be charitable for us to make distinctions between "celebrity culture" (a tendency in the culture to idolize) and "celebrity pursuit" (an individual's effort to draw attention to himself). Again, in defense of many of our brethren, I would be hard pressed to name anyone--at least in my circles--basing their life and ministry on "aesthetics carefully cultivated and public self-disclosure of personal details with the goal that the public then celebrates this person in public arena." That's a wonderful definition of celebrity-making, but it's not a fitting description for the overwhelming number of conference speakers I know. And that's the problem with the use of the label and assigning it blanketly; it's not a charitable judgment. It risks assigning motives and intents that we don't know and, frankly, may not be observing and interpreting correctly. We certainly live in a celebrity-driven culture in many ways. But that doesn't warrant calling certain men "celebrity pastors" or even using the label if we mean they're cultivating a public persona for the purpose of drawing disciples after themselves. That's the description the Bible uses for false teachers! If we think we've found a "celebrity pastor," we probably should name names and make our case. I think such a heart in a man would warrant exposure.
I do also wonder if some of this can't be chalked up to cultural preferences (point 5). Take, for example, the discomfort expressed regarding men making mention of their wives. Our friends across the pond have bristled at that a little. But might this not be a matter of cultural taste or preference, a measure of a general British aversion to saying anything personal in public or that wonderful British aversion to ever giving and receiving compliments? A man who does this is not in sin. We may think it bad taste. But we might also think it counter-cultural in a "celebrity world" where hookin' up, shackin' up, and breakin' up is the norm, where misogynistic lyrics fill the airwaves, and where significant numbers of young men like myself grow up without the advantage of seeing marriage and love for wife modeled. He comments publicly on her appearance. I say, "Wonderful," because we have tons of men who never seem to notice their wives, much less encourage them in front of others. Maybe we should just loosen up a bit. The world--the church world included--could use a lot more encouragement in my opinion.
Finally (6th point), anyone interested to join me in writing a festschrift in honor of Carl Trueman? I have a few of the chapters worked out already (all offered in fun and with a bunch of admiration for what Carl has to say):
Part I: The Reformation Solas in Our Cultural Setting
1. Sola Scriptura and the Necessity of Singing Things Miserable Christians Would Enjoy
2. Sola Gratia and the Justification of non-Celebrity Conference Speakers
3. Sola Fide: Believing that People Will Attend Conferences Even If They Don't Know the Speakers and Aren't Really Sure What the Topic Is About
4. Solus Christus: Why Wives Shouldn't Believe Their Husbands Are All That Great
5. Soli Deo Gloria: The Glory of God as the Grounds for Pastors Not Commending Their Wives Publicly
Part II: Evangelical Christianity--English and American
6. Thou Shalt Not Be Like Anyone Else: Why English Evangelicalism Is Better
7. Thou Shalt Not Applaud a Speaker: Why American Evangelicalism Is Worse
8. The Role of Church History in Proving Americans Are Messing Up Evangelicalism
9. What the Magisterial Reformers Would Think of American and English Evangelicalism (see chapters 6 and 7)
10. Marriage in Moab: The Idolatrous Marriage of American Politics and American Evangelicals
11. Another American Pathology: The Fear of Wasting Time
Part III: Luther, Christianity and Culture
13. Not So Gaga About Lady Gaga: Aesthetics, Attractiveness, and American Power
14. Luther Got It Right: Preaching That Luther Would Like for a World That Dislikes Luther
Part IV: Roman Catholicism
17. Leaving Geneva for Rome: Reasons Often Given for Moving Romeward
18. You Can Come Home Again: Some Roads Lead Away from Rome
Afterword--Why I Refuse to Accept This Token of Appreciation and Think Others Should, Too! (Carl Trueman)
Of course, no British publisher would pick this up, but an American publisher might. Let's hope.