Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Wages of Spin

Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman, prof. of church history and historical theology, was recently interviewed by Bill Feltner on the Pilgrim Radio Network about his book The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism.

BF: And it's no surprise that early on in your book, you address what you see as a big tendency in the world, in the culture, and certainly in the church, and that is to be anti-historical. Where does it manifest itself, and why does it matter?

CT: I think the anti-historical tendency is fairly pervasive of the culture as a whole. We live in a world where we're so used to the idea of scientific progress, for example, that we tend to assume that the best is always coming tomorrow or next year, or it could be just down the line; that today is bound to be inferior to the future. And there's good reason on one level for thinking in that way because science has led to great progress. I make facetious reference somewhere in this book to “I don't want to live in a world without antibiotics, pain killers, and flush toilets.” I consider the world today to be a nicer place to live in, from that perspective, for me, than the world that my great-great grandparents grew up in.

Consumerism is another aspect of modern society that in many ways has brought great benefits: I like having a choice of books to buy, I like being able to go into shops and look at the variety of things to choose. The flip-side of consumerism is of course that it's predicated on making me dissatisfied with the present. The trousers (or as you say in America, the pants) of last year, inevitably I get rid of them this year because they look old, passe, they're not trendy, they're not cutting-edge. The computer I had three years ago, probably (considering my limited computer skills) is just as good for me as a cutting-edge Apple Mac is today. But the Mac looks nicer, so I'm going to want it because I'm dissatisfied with the past. So there are these various impulses within the culture that, I think, cultivate a forward-looking attitude, and dissatisfaction with the past.

As I said, that's not an entirely bad thing. Science, consumerism, these things have brought many good things, many benefits, in their wake. The problem is when you cut that across to Christianity. Christianity by definition is a faith delivered in a particular point in history. It's developed through history, there is a deposit of faith. Paul urging Timothy to hold fast to that which he has been taught in the past, to the former sound words that he's been taught in the past. There's an ineradicably historical, one might say traditional, dimension to Christianity. My concern is that consumerism, science, these things, technology, this is the air we breathe today.

The church can unconsciously allow that mentality, that anti-historical mentality that these things cultivate, to bleed over into its own attitude towards the Gospel. So, we see this with, for example, the emphasis upon “management technique” in churches. Now, churches should be well managed, that can't be wrong, but when we decide “well, you know, churches in the past, they just did it all wrong, we need to bring in a new management consultant, and build the whole thing from the ground up;” when we look at doctrine and say “well, you know, people in the past, they were simple folk, they believed in the virgin birth, and quite frankly that won't cut it in the world of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens;” when those kinds of arguments start having perches within the wider church, then I think the anti-historical mindset of the world is starting to bleed over.

And that's worldliness. We often identify worldliness as “it's sex,” or “it's entertainment,” or it's something, “it's this, or it's that.” Worldliness can be the attitude of the world towards the tradition of the Church, to put it in sort of a broad term.

To read the entire interview, click here.

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