Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, and author of Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011), kindly took a few moments to answer some questions I had in relation to his book…
KF: It is no question that various historical and theological misunderstandings of the Reformation abound. Volumes such as Ken Stewart’s recently published Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition seek to address and provide a corrective to such misunderstandings. In regard to the Reformation, what is the most common misunderstanding (theological and/or historical), and what corrective(s) would you provide in response?
CT: The most common error, at least among evangelical Protestants, is that it marked a clean theological break with the past. It did not. The Reformers built very positively on early church theology, especially the Creeds, Augustine and the fourth and fifth century Trinitarian and Christological discussions. In the last fifty years, numerous scholars have also brought to light the significant debts which the Reformers owed to medieval theologians on matters such as the doctrine of God and predestination.
KF: In your opinion, what is the greatest doctrinal/theological threat to Christianity today? How would a more thorough knowledge of the Reformation be profitable in light of this issue?
CT: This is a difficult question to answer. Christianity is under huge pressure on a number of fronts at the moment. Theologically, challenges to the historicity of Adam are coming thick and fast even from within the church. Ethically, the cultural normalization of homosexuality continues apace. Both of these issues ultimately challenge the church’s view of scripture: is it authoritative? If so, how is this to be understood? How is it to be interpreted? These three questions are inextricably connected.
In one sense the Reformation is of limited use on this matter because the Reformers did not face either the same critical challenges to scripture as we do or the overwhelming cultural tide flowing against any form of theistic belief. Nevertheless, studying how the Reformers used and applied scripture is very useful because it allows us to see how an authoritative Bible and theological proclamation can and should be connected. We simply have much more prolegomenal work to do and more battles on this issue to fight than they had.
KF: In chapter 2, “Meeting the Man of Sorrows”, you refer to some misunderstandings of the gospel (i.e., ‘gospel as therapy’ and ‘gospel as entertainment’), and how they are often preached in the name of relevance. Would you briefly explain what you mean by each, and note how the theological center of the Reformation provides a corrective in this regard?
CT: The idea of the gospel as therapy is reference to the kind of teaching which uses biblical language and idiom to promote notions of self-esteem. It is essentially a gospel designed to meet needs that are defined not by scripture but by the secular society around us. The prosperity gospel would be the most obvious example but there are subtler forms: `Come to Jesus and your marriage will be happier’ would be a `gospel as therapy’ sales pitch.
The idea of the gospel as entertainment is simply that of a gospel watered down to attract. It impacts both aesthetics and content.
The Reformation, by stressing human sinfulness and rebellion against God as the problem and the suffering and cross of Christ as the answer, precludes any such form of teaching.
My sincere thanks goes to Dr. Trueman for his kindness in answering my questions, along with Christian Focus Publishers in coordinating the interview. For more information on Dr. Trueman’s book and the subject matter at hand, check out the following links:
“Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, returns to Christ the Center to speak about the republication of his book The Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Dr. Trueman speaks about the abiding significance of the Reformation even today as he adroitly describes its salient features and applies them to the contemporary church. Trueman’s insights are truly a joy to hear.” (cited from source)
“Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history, discusses his book Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. The show aired Friday, July 22, 2011, on the Janet Mefferd show.” (cited from source)