Trueman: Protestants Need To Get Back To Basics

Recent scholarship in both the ancient church and sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Protestantism have exposed an unfortunate problem with large swathes of the conservative, and especially evangelical, Protestant world. Much good work was done over the last century in both articulating a high view of the authority of Scripture and developing more self-conscious and sophisticated theological approaches to biblical interpretation. But at the same time, many Protestants became disconnected from creedal and confessional teaching on the doctrine of God (and thus by inference, from Christology). Many conservative Protestants did not even notice that this was the case, as their understanding of what the creeds and confessions actually claimed was refracted through a biblicist lens that was detached from the history of doctrinal debate behind these documents.

Hence, doctrines such as simplicity, immutability, and eternal generation have been redefined or have vanished altogether in certain Protestant communities, even as many who played a role in this maintained a verbal commitment to the Nicene Creed or the Westminster Confession of Faith. The conservative criticism of liberal Christians—that they use orthodox words but mean something different—somehow did not apply when the people doing so affirmed the historical resurrection but rejected the basic elements of the classical doctrine of God.

A recovery of classical theology is thus long overdue for a variety of reasons. The language of confessional Protestantism and orthodox evangelicalism was historically rooted in these classical doctrines. The Reformers and their hearers took it for granted that theology is always to be done in careful dialogue with the past and, as much as possible, in continuity with it. But this is simply counter-intuitive to an evangelicalism shaped more by revivalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the fundamentalist-modernist strife of the early twentieth.

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Carl Trueman | “Protestants Need To Go Back To Basics” |November 16th, 2023


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6 comments

  1. In the midst of this snippet from Trueman’s excellent speech last year about returning the church to classical theology coupled with RSC’s review of Calvin’s “two spheres” which he associated to both the Church and the political realm, I am rather troubled by this sudden book publication and subsequent film by Eric Metaxas, “Letter to the American Church.” It sounds all too much like Bonhoeffer, someone whose deeds during WWII are definitely suspect. Is the “revivalist” American evangelical church supposed to go the way of the Christian Nationalist’s, lock, stock, and barrel?

    • When would it be appropriate for a minister to get involved in the assassination of a political ruler, regardless of how much of a tyrant he might be?

      • George,

        I think this is a very difficult question. It was an extraordinary circumstance. Perhaps he should have resigned his ministerial office. As convinced as I am of the spirituality of the church I am hard pressed to condemn him for taking every opportunity to kill Hitler. When a bad man breaks into a minister’s house in the middle of the night, the minister acts like any other citizen and defends his family. There are discontinuities with the analogy but the analogy is interesting.

    • RSC – I agree wholeheartedly with defending one’s family. As far as I’m concerned, that is part and parcel with the 2nd Amendment’s intent. But care must be taken between the individual defense of one’s family and the outright movement against what any “religious” group might want to do when the opportunity arises.

      Let’s assume for a moment, that our entire political system collapses at some future date (things like “defund police” is not a far stretch from that observation. We are currently aware of the relatives of some close friends of ours who are the subject of violent reactions over a police actions against a violent offender). I view the people in Moscow, Idaho as the types who think they should “emerge” to take over and “put things rightly” as they see it, when the time comes. I assume this would not be without violent action, if necessary, as they see it.

      • George,

        By the time Bonhoeffer and the others (he was part of a larger group and only one of several such plots) attempted their assassination (1944) it was clear that the fate of the world was in the balance. That the Reich had engaged in the holocaust wouldn’t become clear until the Allies got to the camps Germans knew more than an ordinary war was going on.

        The sane people of Germany faced a truly existential crisis. So the analogy with the USA fails in that respect. Some guys practicing tactical maneuvers outside of Moscow ID, is not quite the same thing as facing the Third Reich.

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