Thursday, June 24, 2010

Piercing Evangelicalism

Carl R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic & Contemporary Evangelicalism. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2004.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw

It is hard to describe in one page what is appealing about this book.  It has no single theme, and yet it is one of the best and most enjoyable modern books that I have read.

Trueman’s book is a collection of articles that focus on the importance of history in the theology of the Church and provide piercing analyses of several issues in contemporary evangelicalism. The first six are longer essays, and the last six are between four and seven pages each. Trueman states that if his essays have any common theme, “it is perhaps that [which is] provided either by my concern to avoid selling out our evangelical birthright to every wind of cultural criticism or trendy new idea that comes our way – I am convinced that Christianity, as an historical religion, needs to listen very carefully to its history in order to build on past strengths and avoid repetition of past mistakes – or by my desire always to provoke readers not only into thinking for themselves but, above all, into having an opinion about things that matter” (pg. 9).

Trueman is an outstanding historian, theologian, and cultural analyst. His devotion to Christ and the gospel of the Triune God is apparent throughout this volume. Trueman also has a keen sense of humor and addresses everything from the absurdity of long lines at video stores in a snowstorm to Episcopal clergy “dressed in ridiculously outdated outfits that make your elderly grandparents look like cutting edge fashionistas” (181). His humor makes this book enjoyable reading without detracting from the substance of his articles. He has also achieved the rare task of including good humor in his writing without irreverence or disrespect to his opponents, which are all too commonly characterize other others who have made such attempts.

Every article in this short volume is thought-provoking, interesting, and useful for the Church. He addresses topics such as the manner in which Reformed theology is particularly suited to address the problems of a post-modern age, the importance of balancing biblical theology with systematic theology, cultural hindrances to thinking about death and dying, ostracizing people in the name of outreach by failing to sing Psalms in corporate worship, an unhealthy emphasis on the homosexuality issue over and above the gospel, and many more. To top it off, his postscript includes an all too accurate caricature of modern evangelicalism by way of a conversation between Alice and the “evangelical” Humpty Dumpty sitting on the fence.

This book provides eye-opening material and will make you think seriously about contemporary issues. At the same time, Trueman has made what would otherwise be weighty material accessible to the average reader through his sanctified use of humor and good common sense. Trueman has proved to be good reading when I am tired and need to refresh both mind and soul. This is a good volume to keep on a coffee table or to enjoy on a Sunday afternoon.