My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

23 March 2006

Book Review - Spinning

The Wages of Spin
by Carl Trueman
190 pgs., paperback

Carl Trueman is a professor of historical theology at Westminster seminary in Philadelphia, PA, as well as one of the regular contributors at Reformation21. This book is a collection of theological essays and thoughts. The first half consists of six larger essays and the second half of six "short, sharp shocks."

In the first three essays, Trueman
prods and deals with the current tendency toward abandonment of good, systematic theology. He argues that the reformed tradition has historically taken seriously God as a God of words (as well as the Word), and has taken seriously history and tradition:

...the Reformation represented, in terms of theological culture, a move from the visual, aesthetic, and sacrament-centered theology to a word-based theology, where the written scriptures and the oral, preached word stood at the centre of belief and practice

In the third essay, Trueman has some great theses for the academy and for the church, both of whom need to regain their traditional, theological inheritance.

Chapter four and five are reflections on classic Princeton theology, generally, and B. B. Warfield, specifically. While these are essays somewhat difficult to wade through, Trueman does a fine job not only re-introducing me to Warfield, but pleading with other academics to do their homework before they write essays. It's good to hear a theologian call other theologians to task and to be reminded that just because something's in a book or pretentious-sounding journal doesn't make it so. The second Warfield essay has some interesting notes on the kenosis theory of the incarnation (how much of himself did Christ "empty"?). Warfield did a good job, it seems, at maintaining Christ's humanity, deity and inherent glory by using good theology and thought-out language.

The final essay in the first half is on a new Finnish take on Luther and Melanchthon. That's right, Finland, Lutheran theology, and somewhat obscure Lutherans. Yep, I should've skipped this one.

But...the next section of shorter writings is outstanding. Especially good were the essays, "What Can Miserable Christians Sing?" and "The Marcions Have Landed!" In the first, Trueman argues that:

the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship - and thus from our horizons of expectation - ...has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies. By excluding the cries of loneliness, disposession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voice of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed and desolate, both inside and outside the church.

As far as I know, Trueman is not an convinced advocate of exclusive psalmody, which may make his point even more poignant: the psalms are the most realistic songs we can sing. By focusing almost exclusively on happy-happy praise songs, many modern churches leave the depressed and the hurting without a song to sing from their heart and, however inadvertently, portray a picture of Christianity that is not consistent with Scripture.

Then, in "The Marcions Have Landed!" Trueman accuses much of the Western church of succumbing to the ancient heresy of Marcion, who pitted the Old Testament God of hate against the New Testament God of love, all the while seeking to cut out huge sections of Scripture which didn't "fit" with his system. The church does this, according to Trueman, by emphasizing God's love to the exclusion of his other characteristics and by neglecting the Old Testament in theological reflection and devotional lives. Again he promotes more psalm-singing:

It astounds me, given the over-whelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all its statements - it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today. Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship...I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be! Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, "These are mine!"

The book ends with a defense of systematic theology, a plea for less busy-ness and more boredom, and a wake-up call for anyone who thinks homosexuality is the "big issue" facing the church today (it's good to be reminded that homosexuality is a symptom, sign of judgment, not just a reason to be judged).

The Wages of Spin was a good, if occasionally dense, theological read. I don't expect many people to pick it up, but pastors and elders would especially do well to check themselves according to Trueman's view of the Western church's current state. It's written with a little bit of sauciness, which makes the dense theology go down somewhat more easily. Overall, a good book with some sections that I've already copied to put in my files.

1 comment:

Robbie said...

i know that trueman has been critical of World magazine and how Christians seem to be 'in bed' with the neo conservatism movement. And i find that criticism refreshing.

In semper reformanda, Anthony S. interviewed Trueman and touched upon the issue of psalmody. He is one who is persuaded by Rowland Ward on his interpretation of Col 3:16, thinking that the Scripture songs in Scripture are the ones commanded. (meaning psalms and a few other passages apparently).

15 families in a church plant.. wow, want to send some to Rose Point :-D