I was watching the back–and–forth between Carl Trueman and Doug Wilson with mild interest, especially after Trueman wielded a transformationist “toilet cleaning” reference for now a second time (I responded to the first one here).
At first I appreciated Trueman’s calling-out of guys like Tim Keller for what can only be called a facile pseudo-transformationalism:
Surely it is time to become realistic. It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies. It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home. The psalms of lament teach us that it is only when we have realistic horizons of expectation will we be able to stand firm against what is coming. If we do not understand that now, we are going to be sorely disappointed in the near future.
I’ll get to that “sojourning” motif in a moment. For now, I agree as Trueman rightfully criticizes: it is “delusional hype” to pretend that “A Broadway play and a couple of nice paintings” makes any real difference, because “the culture is not being transformed at any point where it really counts.”
But a couple things he says move me to respond. First, after making all these criticisms of a particular brand of “transformationism”—i.e. Tim Keller’s—Trueman gets stuck on him. He says, “And to put it bluntly, Keller is the transformationists’ best shot today.”
Really? Best I can tell, Keller’s version of transformation is at best little more than warmed-over social gospel language moderated for quasi-conservative ears. The reason Kellerism does not transform culture at any point where it counts—i.e. law, business, and economics—is because it refuses to address these areas of life from a biblical worldview.
In fact, in regards to transformation theory, Keller attacked the one group of theologians who did dare go there: Keller wrote one of the chapters attacking theonomy in Westminster Seminary’s (Trueman’s institution) coordinated hatchet job, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique.
Gary North ably responded to Keller in pages 270–280 of Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy. I’ll spare the details here, but North exposes Keller for “doubletalk” in which he pays lip service to biblical law but then denies it explicitly in practice.
Year after year, theonomists get this sort of criticism. “No, we don’t want Old Testament laws. Yes, these laws are valuable. No, there are no biblical blueprints. Yes, we must honor biblical principles. No, we must not appeal to the Old Testament law code for our civil laws. Yes, we must respect them. No, we should not be biblicists. Yes, we must pay attention to God’s moral principles.” On and on and on: doubletalk. It is dialecticism for conservative Christians. It is judicial agnosticism. (WC, 273.)
Such denial at the point of modern application leads to two things: First, it means Keller’s own “biblical” programs end up drawing from pagan instead of truly biblical practices. He literally ends up calling the enslavement and total state of Egypt under Joseph a “blessing.” On this “principle,” Keller justifies the tyranny of the modern welfare state as a godly practice and as the model for modern transformationalists.
Second, this means that the truly biblical models—biblical law—are off-limits for the pulpit. If the pulpit addresses social issues at all, it must only do so in a way that specifically avoids applying Old Testament laws.
This attitude is systematic, and leads to my second point in general in regard to the Trueman show. Once the anti-biblical-law leaders are in control, we are subject to a systematic program that controls every seminary, nearly every denomination, nearly every pulpit, and works tirelessly to marginalize those of us who do have answers for transforming society where it counts.
This is why I don’t really believe Trueman when he titles his last blog on the subject, “I hope to be proven wrong (I really do).” No he doesn’t. If he did, he would be teaching how to do so in his classrooms. Instead, he’s every bit as anti-theonomic and amillennial as Keller, or anyone at Escondido for that matter.
He ends his post saying, “The best way to prove me wrong, of course, is… to transform society. I would indeed love to be not only proved wrong but to be proved so wrong that I am shamed into never writing another word of cultural commentary.”
One of the most important ways this must happen is through the pulpits—as it has been historically. How shall Christians gain the proper understanding, direction, and motivation is they are not systematically taught? Instead they are systematically taught the opposite, and intimidated if they step out of the mainstream line.
We have to deal with seminaries like Trueman’s that are turning out life-time pulpit filler who know nothing about the application of biblical law in modern life, and are threatened never to do so, and taught how to stifle and suppress anyone in their congregations who raises the question. Then Trueman has the nerve to quip, prove me wrong by actually transforming society. It’s like castrating the church and then demanding it reproduce.
When I shared this sentiment with Gary DeMar, he reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ quotation: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Right on. But it’s not just society in general: the chestless men and geldings begin in the church, and in the church they begin in the pulpits and schools. And for there they begin largely in the seminaries and Christian universities.
So forgive me if I don’t believe what he says about being proven wrong. And forgive me if I find his taunting of transformationalists in this way to be not only less than genuine but quite, to be blunt, as condescending and misguided as thinking Tim Keller is our best shot. Keller is not our best shot. His social theory is one of those geldings shooting blanks.
And finally, I disagree when Trueman says, “It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home.” I think this alleged motif in the New Testament is misunderstood in general, especially by traditional amillennialism. It has much more to do with the wilderness generation between Christ’s ascension and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 than the entirety of the reign of Christ until his final coming. Indeed, in Hebrews, we are told that Old Testament saints were sojourning, looking for that city built by God (Heb. 11:13). But in the very next chapter, the readers were informed that in Christ, they had already arrived at that city, Zion (12:22–24).
So we are not supposed to be sojourning anymore. The church is already Zion. It should be ruled by God’s law, and spreading the truth of that law throughout society so that nations are judged by it and wars cease (Isa. 2:2-4). So what are we waiting for?
Perhaps Trueman would include this in his criticism of “the lack of proportion between the rhetoric of some of today’s transformationalists compared to what they are actually achieving,” which he says “is really rather embarrassing.” But if so, his problem is with Isaiah and the writer of Hebrews, not with transformationalism.
Perhaps there are not enough conferences or details as to how those wars will actually cease to suit Trueman. But since the Trueman-aided neutering of the pulpit reigns today, this is why ministries like American Vision and books like my Restoring America exist: to answer those questions from the perspective of biblical law. Someone has to answer those questions—but someone has to get those answers into the ears and hearts, authoritatively, of every Christian in the pews. Quit complaining about Keller. Look elsewhere in the marketplace of ideas.
Now, when I see Trueman relegate transformationlism so, I get perturbed. But when I see him within hours of such a post writing another that complains about the degradation of cultural morality, and queries, “whither go the law codes?”—that old phrase about intellectual schizophrenia comes to mind. The answer to that question, “whither go the law codes?” is, “right along with the law in the pulpits and schools: out.” So in large part you can thank yourself.
And schools? Let’s not even consider the issue of government schooling at this point, except to say that the pulpit can’t go there, either. They have been trained not to do so ever since Machen died. Then, Bahnsen was refused at Westminster, and then was abused, tarred-and-feathered, and run out of Jackson, Mississippi. “Whither go the law codes?” Out, right along with the theologians who would have preached on them properly.
So don’t quip to me about being realistic. Reality is what theonomic transformationalism has dealt with since its beginning. If you truly hope to be proven wrong, then act like it. We would be happy to have a little help from you. But to be sure, Dr. Trueman, one should never complain of another’s “cultural elitism” while throwing stones from their own ivory tower. It just really looks bad (really, it does).