Republocrat – Carl Trueman

This is probably not a ‘must read’. But it is a fun read. It’s a lament on the current American political landscape and the failure of a vast proportion of American evangelicals to think clearly. I bought the book because, after watching the whole series of the West Wing through more times than I’d like to mention, my interest in American Politics is a couple of notches further on than mild curiosity.

It’s written by Carl Trueman who’s an exiled Scottish Theologian on the staff at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He’s the Professor of Historical Theology and Church History. He’s got a dry sense of humour, a gift for the rhetorical flourish and an axe to grind. I also think he’s got a point. And so it all makes for agreat little book.

It’s American politics that’s got under Trueman’s skin. And in particular, it’s the slavish, unthinking  loyalty of theological conservatives to political conservatism that chafes. And so, to mix metaphors for a moment, he wants to get something off his chest. And he manages to do that with consummate ease. It’s a great read. I ploughed through it in no time at all and enjoyed his witty, perceptive insights. It’s also an easy read, which is always an added bonus. It was thoroughly un-demanding except in the sense that it made me revisit my political assumptions.

Trueman’s beef is that contemporary American evangelicalism runs a massive risk of shooting itself in the foot by ‘requiring’ theological conservatives [such as himself] to also be political conservatives [which he isn’t]. He argues that if you hitch the evangelical cause to the Republican wagon then not only do you grossly oversimplify complex issues but you also run the risk of losing the younger generation for whom gay marriage and abortion are not the only political issues on which Christians feel they should engage. But it would be wrong to portray his concern as pragmatic. It’s not. His concern is that Christians think about each issue from a biblical perspective and stop thinking that the Republicans are the automatic party of choice for evangelicals.

In chapter one, entitled ‘Left Behind’, Trueman begins by going after the political liberals. Before he attacks the right he has a go at the left. And it’s sharp. He argues that American Democrats have drifted away from the compassionate care that ought to underpin their political ideology. Instead of protecting the weak and vulnerable from economic oppression they now deal in psychological oppression. In other words, they’ve become obsessed with defending the so-called ‘rights’ of anyone who feels marginalised by the majority. This new left is not the old left who thought of oppression in mainly economic categories.

In chapter two, The Slipperiness of Secularization’, he argues that American culture is much more secularised than they think. He’s not convinced that the religious fervour and rhetoric has much substance to it. The language may be religious but the content isn’t.

In chapter three, ‘Not-so-Fantastic Mr. Fox’, he reckons that American evangelicals pay way too much attention to Fox News. He understands that all reporting has an agenda. He gets that. History is his profession. He knows that News Editors make decisions about what to cover and how to cover it which are informed by the presuppositions of those that control the news agenda. But his issue is that evangelicals seem to think that Fox News is somehow the sole guardian of news reporting truth.

In chapter four, ‘Living Life to the Max’, he argues that American evangelicals have baptised capitalism.This uncritical allegiance to an economic system has led to a litany of ungodly appetites such as consumerism, materialism and acquisitiveness.

In chapter five, ‘Rulers of the Queen’s Navee’, he bemoans the fact that American politics is obsessed with style over substance. In a radio interview he said that the Britain he left nine years ago suffered from the same issue. I have to tell him that things have changed.

It’s engagingly written. It’s provocative but I’m not in the immediate firing line so it didn’t hurt. It’s witty and it’s hugely entertaining. And he’s got a point. I found myself needing to query my political affiliations on more than one occasion. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you buy it. It’s going for a little under £7 on Amazon.

There’s an illuminating 45 minute video discussion and interview with Carl Trueman here, which is well worth watching.

Not everyone agrees with Trueman’s analysis. Kevin de Young has made some observations here.

4 thoughts on “Republocrat – Carl Trueman

  1. Lauri November 24, 2010 / 5:50 pm

    Sweet. Thanks for this review. Will have to go have a look. Anytime you have an appetite for a bit more firing line stuff I recommend Luke Brethertons latest book.

  2. Chuck at Mission Lawrence November 24, 2010 / 6:33 pm

    I’ve wondered whether to buy the book. I was startled to see a “Reformed” theologian in Philadelphia (not Trueman) advocate for Barack Obama and hope in public that he’d win “by any means necessary” – knowing full well that Obama would promote abortion and the gay agenda and whatever other Socialist nightmare he could get away with building. (Or if he didn’t know full well, he was incredibly stupid to say the least.)

    I share Trueman’s disdain for the Republicans but am absolutely sickened by the Democrats. The only thing worse than Fox news is the “Mainstream” swill for which it is a counterbalance. Just as the only thing worse than Capitalism is Socialism…One could go on like this forever.

    Apparently he has no solutions to offer for those who despise the Democratic alternative and are forced to hold their nose and vote Republican because at least on some issues they mouth the right position (i.e. pro life).

    Personally I think Christian Distirbutism offers a way forward but despair of either party adopting its principles:

    http://worldviewchurch.org/suggested-books/243-toward-a-truly-free-market

    I see the UK have their “Red Tories” but I’m not sure how well that translates here though it is a form arguably of Christian Distributism.

    I think in the US the approach would have to be more nuanced, especially after the Obama debacle where any Federal initiative will be seen as more TSA “groping” – not that Barack wants a distribution of capital along “Red Tory” lines. I truly believe he wants it all for himself.

  3. Brian March 5, 2011 / 1:08 pm

    I didn’t read the book, but I heard Dr Trueman in an interview discussing his views on Fox News. In the interview, he commits a logical fallacy that he easily gets away with from a couple of gushing seminary students, so I would like to point out. He says (paraphrasing) that Fox News is not in the business of giving fair and balanced news, they are in the business of making profit. In other words, they can’t be trusted because they want to be profitable. The error in his thinking is that the two things are not mutually exclusive. Fox News can (and does, IMO) provide accurate news and they get paid to do it.

    I sell widgets. I want to provide my customers with the best widgets possible and I want to make a living at it as well. In fact, if I do provide the world with a great widget, I will make a lot of money, as well I should. The same thing happens in business every day.

    Furthermore, his comment would seem to suggest that we can get unbiased news from a not-for-profit source. Has Dr Trueman be out of England long enough to forget the BBC? If so, he can check out PBS to see if his theory holds true.

    If I can’t trust Fox News because they are a for-profit business, then I can’t trust what’s on the pages of Dr Trueman’s book until he starts giving them away for free.

    • Phil C March 9, 2011 / 10:13 am

      Brian, maybe you should comment somewhere else. From what you’ve said it doesn’t look like you have actually read the post above:

      “He understands that all reporting has an agenda. He gets that. History is his profession. He knows that News Editors make decisions about what to cover and how to cover it which are informed by the presuppositions of those that control the news agenda. But his issue is that evangelicals seem to think that Fox News is somehow the sole guardian of news reporting truth.”

      …which seems fair enough to me.

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