Though it’s been a while since he’s made an on appearance on here, Carl Trueman is probably one of my favorite writers. While there is certainly a plethora of Christian theologians writing books, and many of those books well written treatises, few of those books are written with the literary and satirical flourish that Carl Trueman employs. I read a lot and I enjoy most of what I read. But, I don’t often get excited about what I’m reading or enjoy it because of the literary style. When I have in the recent past, it has frequently been because I just read a book by Carl Trueman.
Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican (or neither) Trueman’s Republocrat will make you rethink your politics. Similarly, his Histories and Fallacies should be required reading of anyone serious about learning from history. He also has several collections of essays, this being the third such one published. I had checked the first two collections out of the library while in Dallas, and they made great poolside reading. Seeing as summer is on its way (or in my case, it never really completely left) you might want to pick this up for some light reading of your own.
While I would classify this essay collection as “light” reading, there is kind of a heavy after effect to processing Trueman’s thoughts. Rather than digging into the depths of some doctrine or reframing the way you read some section of Scripture, Trueman instead turns much of our evangelical subculture and Church practices on their collective heads. Because of that, I can think of 3 kinds of people (who aren’t mutually exclusive) who should read this book:
- People who take themselves too seriously
- People who invest much of their time in transient activities (Facebook, Twitter, blogging)
- Anyone in the Reformed or evangelical community (or both) who is prone to follow a specific pastor or movement almost exclusively
Since I am in all three categories, this book was especially jarring, but in a highly enjoyable way (a kind of “hurts so good” phenomena if you will). The title of the book is from the opening essay of the same name, and it is taking aim at the first group people above. To see how the title emerges, here’s two quotes:
One can only assume that the kind of man who describes himself on his own website as “witty” is likely to be the same kind of man who laughs at his own jokes and, quite probably, applauds himself at the end of his own speeches – behavior that was previously the exclusive preserve of politicians, Hollywood stars, and chimpanzees (2).
…negatively, I must avoid doing certain things. I must not proudly announce my humility on the Internet so that all can gasp in wonder at my self-effacement. I must make sure I never refer to myself as a scholar. I must not tell people how wonderful I am. I must resist the temptation to laugh at my own jokes. I must not applaud my own speeches. I must deny myself the pleasure of posting other people’s overblown flattery of me on my own website [or retweeting positive things others say about you], let alone writing such about myself. I must never make myself big by clinging to the coattails of another. In short, I must never take myself too seriously. Not even chimpanzees do that (7).
With that theme in place, Trueman goes on to develop his cogent rants against the more transient elements of our culture and their infiltration of and effect on the church. For me this was a helpful opportunity to rethink how I spend my time and what I’m doing with it online specifically. I’m still implementing some changes in light of what I read, and I think there is much wisdom in Trueman’s reality checks about how important many of our online activities really are.
In addition, Trueman is concerned about how evangelical and Reformed culture can be somewhat personality driven. In the second essay, which sets out this theme, Trueman frames things this way:
Crowds can make otherwise perfectly sane people do otherwise inexplicable things: run down the road with traffic cones on their heads, applaud at the end of Justin Bieber concerts, and we now know, herd others into gas chambers and onto killing fields.
Demagoguery is, of course, the bane of politics; but it is also much to be feared in the church. I have often mentioned my dislike of the American evangelical tendency to exalt the great conference speaker and to allow him to do the thinking; such is surely the kind of secularization that Paul fears has invaded the church in Corinth, where crowd-pleasing aesthetics trump critical thinking. The danger in the church, therefore, is not that perfectly ordinary and decent people will construct gas chambers and usher their neighbors off to them; rather, it is the surrender of their God-given intellects to those who use cliches, the idioms, and the buzzwords of the wider culture to herd them along a path the leader chooses. Fear of the leader, fear of the pack, fear of not belonging, can make people do strange things (11)
Just as an aside, you might be aware that Trueman was at Together For the Gospel last week. He more or less said that his general critique (of which the above is a particular expression) of Christian celebrity conference culture (C4) does not really apply to T4G, at least as he experienced it last week. However, I think he would agree that this worship of personality is still a problem within evangelical subculture.
While there are many more topics that Trueman delves into, these are the predominant themes. Giving you a play by play of essay to essay is somewhat superfluous. What you need to go is just go pick up a copy and read it for yourself (provided you fit the demographic I outlined above, but hey, you’re reading this review on a blog). It is a relatively short read (I read it in a weekend) and the individual essays are all around 7-10 pages and will give you plenty of things to think about and ponder when it comes to Christian subculture. There are even discussion questions at the end, which to me means this would make a good little read through for the staff of an Acts 29 church or some other kind of reading group within a similar demographic.
Reading Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread is a good reality check, and if it has a similar effect on you that it did on me, you’ll start using your time more wisely and start thinking of yourself in a much better perspective.
- Author: Carl Trueman
- Title: Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear To Tread
- Publisher: P&R Publishing (February 27, 2012)
- Paperback: 240pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: A good dose of thought provoking essays on church and culture for prophets, priests, and kings