Friday, May 13, 2016


People in the US are getting in a right tizzy about lavatories. Now the President is to issue a Decree about what the arrangements must be in public schools, to the effect that the test of which toilet you end up in should depend on what gender you choose, and not on the gender you were born with. That tizzy is likely to boil over soon.

Of course the Decree speaks volumes about the President of the United States and his ‘legacy’. And perhaps it will be indicative of the meekness of the American public. But what is concerning some people is the culture. Carl Trueman tells all and sundry that he is taking his career in a new direction in order to put his finger in this particular dyke, so as to keep the channels of the culture flowing freely. As here -

On a point of personal reflection, I find myself now in a strange position, reading, writing and speaking more on this topic than on that which I was trained to do -- sixteenth and seventeenth century history.  But historical analysis is a transferable skill, to use the jargon, and these are strange times. The question, ‘If not us, then who?’ is also powerful when we face such potent socially and morally lethal developments.

It’s not clear as yet how this transferable skill will be used. More writing? A conference? Lying down on the tracks? A picket line? What then?

Carl writes copiously about the culture and its demise, about the anti-culture and the Unholy Trinity. He writes well. I would not miss his pieces, in First Things, The Mortification of Spin, and elsewhere. Besides, it’s refreshing to have a Westminster professor write about other things than presuppositionalism and biblical theology. 

But in my view he  has a black and white, all or nothing,  view of modern culture. ‘Cultures’, modern societies, if they are anything, are complex. Whatever Philip Rieff may say (he’s the current must-read for those wishing to analyse cultures), they are not primarily identified with what they forbid, except in the sense that the maintenance of any standards involves having do’s and don’t’s. Every assertion implies a denial, in fact a multitude of them. Cultures have rites of entry, what is permitted and what not.  Totems and taboos.  Culture has many expressions, some fairly sealed off from others. So, cultures, rather than culture, perhaps.

Is not the idea that this transgender business will derail ‘the culture’ or promote an ‘anti-culture’ or  dam the flow of the multi-faceted interests and talents of men and women  rather far-fetched and…hysterical?

Cultures are subject to ebb and flow, action and reaction. Besides, as John Owen wrote somewhere, life is as tolerable as it is because sinful lusts compete, modulating each other in the process. 

Carl also writes about the pilgrim church. As Augustine put it…..
Come now,  Christians....strangers on earth who seek  city in heaven...understand that you have come here simply in order to take your departure. You are passing through the world....Don't let lovers of the world disturb you
In pursuing this,  Carl is on a rather better wicket.  Intertwined with inveighing against the ‘anti-culture’ he calls the church back to her biblical  character as a pilgrim people, a remnant, and the personal and communal  ethics that  should go with it. He strikes the right note.   This is how it should be, and not the aping of the strategies and outlook of the consumer world in which we are immersed, the god of ‘growth’, and so on. I would put Carl's rather acid remarks about Christians who dream of ‘transforming the culture' in this category, too. Yet he seems to be letting the 'lovers of the world' disturb him.
This is what I mean, brothers, the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those that mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those that buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world, as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of the world is passing sway.
The Apostle shows a refreshing unconcern about the passing world. The entire chapter is a striking contemporary ring ,does it not?

So as likely as not this business about gender will ebb, like the fusses some years ago over Oh! Calcutta and The Life of Brian, to be replaced by the next unbelievable fad. In the meantime, aiming at being people who have here no continuing city, but are seeking one to come, seems to strike the right note.