A chat with Carl Trueman
BACKSTORY | On bluegrass banjo, trusting God, and the malign silliness of the ruling class
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Grove City College professor Carl Trueman is, as they say, “having a moment.” I hear his name, and more importantly, his thinking, in multiple contexts—including in church one recent Sunday, when our guest speaker, a brainy missionary named Brooks Buser, quoted Trueman’s 2020 book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. The book, along with Trueman’s latest, Strange New World (Crossway 2022), explores how we arrived at this surreal time in history when feelings define—and increasingly twist—reality (see “The twisted self,” in this issue). Here I ask Trueman a few not-so-usual questions.
America is your adopted country. What do you love most about her? How has she changed in ways you regret? America has been very kind to me and my family. For me it has delivered on that American promise: Work hard and you will find you do well. What I have seen since moving here from England a few weeks before 9/11 is a nation increasingly ill at ease with itself. It shocks me how so many Americans seem to have contempt for their country now. Given the support for this malign silliness among so many of the ruling class, I fear that the country will soon talk itself into mediocrity through this indulgence in masochistic self-loathing.
What is one thing often said or written about you that doesn’t happen to be true? I am told by others that members of the tweeting class have accused me of every sin under the sun (short of actual murder) and of being everything from a cultural Marxist and radical feminist to a white supremacist and misogynist. I hope that none of those accusations ever becomes true! A less highly charged claim regularly made about me is that I am a theologian. I am not. I have no formal theological training. I studied Classics as an undergraduate, Reformation history as a postgraduate, and I have spent my life working as an intellectual historian, albeit largely of religious ideas.
You’re a professor and author, but have also served as a pastor. How does your time as pastor of Cornerstone Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania inform your life and work now? It taught me that ideas are one thing, human beings another. I want to be clear and firm in my critiques of ideas but compassionate and respectful when dealing with individuals. I am very careful, for example, that when addressing matters such as the LGBTQ movement, I do so in a manner that does not compromise the truth but also acknowledges the pain of the people and the families for whom this is not an abstract problem but a very real, personal issue.
When you’re not writing, teaching, or speaking, what avocation(s) do you enjoy? My greatest joy is spending time with my wife and my family. My wife and I regularly open our houses to students for hospitality, which is tremendous fun. I also love riding my road bike around the lanes of rural Pennsylvania. And I’m taking lessons in bluegrass banjo playing.
As the culture has crossed from what now seems by comparison garden-variety moral depravity into a kind of mass psychosis, Christians are asking, “OK … now what?” How do you answer that question? First, remember that we know how the story ends: Christ and His Church will win. That does not mean my congregation or my denomination, still less my nation, will win. But it does mean that Christ will bring all His own home. Second, we need therefore to think long-term. If we think that the success of Christ does depend upon us and should be fulfilled by a week from Wednesday through our efforts, we are setting ourselves up for despair. Third, focus on your family and your church. Be a strong community in the present. That is surely a more effective witness than any argument, let alone a silly tweet. Love the people and the place in which the Lord has set you, do the work He has given you to do, and trust Him for the rest.