Trueman On Tone: Niceness Cannot Be Squared With The Reformation

…If you are looking for politeness in the Reformers, then you are going to have to buy a microscope. Courtesy in polemic was a rare commodity, as even the woodcuts frequently demonstrate. True, there is some evidence that the French editions of Calvin’s Institutes were a little more polite than the Latin but that was less to do with Calvin having second thoughts about his style of attack and more to do with his elitism. After all, we would not want the Great Unwashed thinking that they can talk about our educated opponents in quite the ways we do…. The Reformation was remarkable for two things in this connection: It engaged in powerfully worded polemic; And it generally played that polemic out in public, eschewing elitism, as Luther did in 1525 when he rudely rebutted Erasmus’s view that the bondage of the will was too tricky and confusing a doctrine to preach from the pulpit.

Those of us who claim to be heirs of the Reformation should take heed. Style and substance are not so easily separated as we might like to think. And the people in the pew have the right—and the need—to hear about the whole counsel of God, from his being in eternity to the consummation of all things at the end of time. For the Reformers, nothing in God’s Word was to be the monopoly of a priesthood or a scholarly guild.

Carl Trueman, “Tone Def Ref

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Let Christ be the offense, and not us in our contrived offenses. If Christ says our righteousness is as filthy menstrual garments, so be it. Our works as skubala, then skubala.

  2. Modern Christianity – even in the Reformed Churches – is awash in niceness. Niceness is just a form of manpleasing and cowardice and could be the death of Western Christianity since God is not pleased with cowardice. What’s worse is when two parties are arguing and the uninvolved appear to enforce niceness on those defending the truth (ie, the Tone Police).

  3. As a Ruling Elder, I once received a strong rebuke from a much younger man (who was not then even a church officer) for writing articles against atheism in a somewhat polemical manner, and especially for describing Stephen Hawking as a fool – not, of course in the sense that he was unintelligent (which would have been a defamatory lie – the article stated that Hawking is ‘very intelligent’ and ‘the most intelligent of scientists’), but in the biblical sense in that he says in his heart, and tells others that there is no God, and tries to rationalize God out of the picture. I was told that what I had done in describing him as a fool in that sense was a great sin, and that I should repent of ever writing such a thing. I thought then, as I do now, that it was an appalling example of false piety.

    Context is all important, and I can’t reproduce the whole article I wrote but the salient extracts that mention this folly are below:

    “Stephen Hawking is doubtless a very intelligent man, but in his most recent book The Grand Design (surely a title that is supposed to be ironic) he has shown that even the most intelligent of scientists can write like a fool…Early in his book he announces

    ‘Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.’

    As William Lane Craig has remarked, such a verdict is

    ‘not merely condescending, but also…outrageously naïve. The man who claims to have no need of philosophy is the one most apt to be fooled by it’

    …[O]n the Larry King Live show King attempts some clarification between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’:

    ‘One of your colleagues out of Cambridge says that science provides us with a narrative as to how existence may happen [the ‘how’], but theology addresses the meaning of the narrative [the ‘why’]. How do you respond to that?’

    Hawking responded:

    ‘ The scientific account is complete. Theology is unnecessary.’

    …Hawking is now firmly in the camp of those for whom it is said that they

    ‘became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools’

    You can read the whole thing here

    I should be interested to hear whether your readers think it was indeed a dreadful sin much to be repented of to write in defence of the biblical account of creation and describe Hawking, whom I acknowledged as ‘very intelligent’ and ‘the most intelligent of scientists’, as a ‘fool’ in the biblical sense.

    • I hope you told him to go back and read and understand WLC’s explanation of the ninth commandment, particularly Q 145, and repent of his unbiblical and unconfessional false piety. It is a heinous sin to call good evil and evil good.

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