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No utopias here

Carl Trueman on marriage, ministry, emotionalism, and Christians in politics

Carl Trueman Peter Tobia/Genesis

No utopias here
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Marvin Olasky’s interview with Westminster Theological Seminary professor Carl Trueman, the author of Luther on the Christian Life, appears in the Sept. 30 issue of WORLD. Below are edited excerpts of additional questions and answers we didn’t have room for in print. Enjoy.

You quote Reformer Martin Luther saying, “You cannot be without a wife and remain without sin.” Do you tell seminary students that today?

I say to students who are married that if they’re thinking of the ministry and their wives aren’t 100 percent committed to that vision, they shouldn’t go into the ministry, because it will put incalculable strain on their marriage and it’s not worth sacrificing a marriage for. Church history is littered with the lives of men who treated their wives badly and destroyed their marriages, sometimes if not legally then at least emotionally.

You also quote Luther talking about the power of God’s Word: “I will teach it, preach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion.” There’s physical compulsion, but can emotional compulsion also be a problem?

When you read Paul’s letters, he gets emotional at points, and he will use emotional arguments. We should draw a distinction between using emotion in appeals and resorting to emotionalism, the cheap play on people’s emotions.

When teaching back at the University of Texas, I assigned a secular book, Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed, in which he contrasts the vision of the anointed—namely, that particular political positions will create heaven on earth—to the tragic vision. Should Christians have a tragic vision when it comes to politics?

I think so. Utopias have generally ended up as hells on earth, so even secular history suggests that utopianism is not a good political philosophy. Christians going into politics need to know it’s a question of achieving the best you can, not achieving perfection. Christians supporting Christian politicians need to be patient, bear with them, and pray they have great wisdom when it comes to casting a yes or no vote on bills that well may be composites of things that we can approve of and things we strongly disapprove of.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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