Nietzscheans in Negative World

A Response to Carl Trueman

Carl Trueman doesn’t accept that we now live in “negative world,” per Aaron Renn’s classification. In his latest piece at First Things, Trueman opines that the negative world has actually always been with us. He reminds us that Protestant orthodoxy was hardly celebrated in twentieth-century Europe, and that the Americans (as seemingly in everything) are simply a few generations behind what her big sisters across the pond have long known and experienced. Besides, Trueman assures us, this is par for the course for Christianity: “the Christian gospel has always stood in antithesis to the thinking of the surrounding world, even when the churches and that world had a broadly shared moral imagination.” For those of us raised on Sunday School sword drills, the verses begin to click through our minds. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18); “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22); “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Just how Jesus said that the poor would always be among us, so also the negative world (apparently).

American evangelicals in general, and especially a younger generation of Christians, are unhappy with this development. According to Trueman, instead of humbly accepting their place alongside the persecuted saints, some on the dissident Christian right are embracing “pop Nietzscheanism” that cloaks itself in Christian garb even while striving for “worldly forms of power.” Such political power takes the form of “crudity, verbal thuggery, and … the destruction of any given opponent’s character.” This is a subtle danger that poses a mortal threat to the character and witness of young Christians, and to make matters worse, the artificial world of the internet and social media fuels both recklessness and idealism that results in unworkable solution and imperiled souls.

Instead, Trueman counsels faithful Christian ministry of baptizing, preaching, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper; of proclaiming the gospel in season and out, not beating the drums of culture warring; of being the prophetic voice of the Church, calling all to faith and repentance regardless of their political persuasion.

Trueman isn’t the only worry wart chattering about the upsurge in “Nietzscheanism.” With the recent doxing of the internet anon L0m3z by The Guardian and its grasshopper hitman, muckraking journos have lined up to take potshots. Unsurprisingly, first out the gate is Sohrab Ahmari—that fearless Iranian immigrant, turned Catholic zealot, turned FDR New Deal sycophant—who whines about “dime-store Nietzscheans” and the “educated, urban professional classes” who feel alienated in modern America (is Ahmari writing about himself?). Never mind the fact that Ahmari gets L0m3z wrong on the facts; Ahmari uses Nietzsche as his whipping boy, viewing all discontent with our degenerate mass democracy as inspired by a yearning for aristocracy, distinction, and race-and-IQ eugenics.

Trueman and Ahmari share the same flaw: neither is imaginative nor attentive enough to discern the distinct associations, aspirations and free-spirited movements on the New Right, whether they be traditional Christians, Heritage Americans and good ‘ol Buchanan paleoconservatives, BAPists, online personality cults (Tate and Fuentes), or simply small pockets of those who dissent from the reigning and dysfunctional political disorder. Somehow, all of this is just a grasping and sordid “Nietzscheanism” in service of a new racial caste.

Few read Nietzsche today (L0m3z claims he’s only read a hundred pages); fewer still understand him. There is much truth in Nietzsche’s thought—not because he was a Nazi or anti-Semite (he was neither)—but because he was a prescient observer and interpreter of the crisis of the West; he was “noticing” things long before Steve Sailer. Not everyone who agrees with Nietzsche’s assessment of the death of the West also prescribes to his solutions; nor must they agree with his rejection of Christianity and Platonism and embrace of a self-mastered aristocracy and new aristocratic morality. Neither is it the case that everyone who rejects forced egalitarianism, feminism, and cubicle obesity are ipso facto little Nietzscheans. There have been many critics of the ills and pitfalls of democracy and the corrupting and enervating tendencies of commercialism and material abundance—most of them long before Nietzsche.

Trueman is allergic to political power. Any desire or attempt by American Christians to serve in political office in order to bring about moral and social order is met with scorn: this is just “worldly power” and “worldly ways of achieving” it; it’s nothing but the will to power to assert oneself and dominate others. Trueman’s characterization of the New Christian Right’s political interest and goals is juvenile. Was John Winthrop’s founding and four-time governorship of the Massachusetts Bay Colony a play at worldly power? Was Oliver Ellsworth’s participation in the Philadelphia Convention (1787), Senate term (1789-1796), and appointment to the Supreme Court (1796-1800) a proto-Nietzschean grasp at personal ambition and domination? Was Henry Cabot Lodge’s political appointments (Massachusetts Senator, 1893-1924) and service to his country displeasing to God? Why does Trueman reactively label any concern over the political by Christians today as fleshly and debased instead of part of the noble American tradition of genuine Christian moral and political governance? Trueman seems to reduce all of politics to baser human impulses—the uncontrollable libido dominandi that consumes fallen and unregenerate men.

Trueman might counter that it’s not Christian governance or political Protestantism itself that concerns him, but the particular manner and character of the current crop of politically-motivated and culturally insurgent Christian personalities. Yet the kind of political decorum Trueman prefers and believes is universally fitting for Christians is precisely that which is created by “positive world” conditions—a predominantly Christian population in a nation with social and political institutions that are both formally and materially Christian. In this world, a kind of gentleman’s politics arises among friends: general agreement about the existence of God and our duties before him, the nature of man, the importance of the traditional family, a shared moral universe, and the resulting commitment to the rule of law and basic juridical presuppositions that allow for procedural justice and political compromise. The irony is that while Trueman insists that the negative world is always and everywhere, his very conception of acceptable Christian involvement in politics is entirely predicated upon the positive world. In other words, Trueman has never experienced the negative world—that is, until now.

Trueman is wrong in his assessment, and badly so. He is wrong, not just in the case of America, but in the larger Protestant tradition and even Western civilization itself. While our current political state of things might convince someone that politics is always nasty, requiring immoral behavior and vile compromises and thus a life given over to the flesh’s libido dominandi, such is not necessary. Augustine’s description of this “lust for domination” in the City of God was that it predominantly characterizes fallen man in the City of Man, such as pagan Rome. In contrast, the City of God was characterized by the love of God and one’s neighbor. Thus, for Augustine, the distinction between the City of God and the City of Man was not external and geographical but the inner ordering (or disordering) of loves. This meant, among other things, that the City of God and the City of Man could, and often did, exist together simultaneously, intermingled among a people under a common king or constitution.

Augustine’s two cities, however, are not the same thing as the “two kingdoms” doctrine developed by the Protestant Reformers, or Martin Luther’s “Three Estates.” The Reformer’s notion of the two kingdoms—an earthly kingdom administered by visible, temporal political power, and an invisible heavenly kingdom ruled by Christ with the church as Christ’s visible, temporal ambassadors—was the Protestant variant of the ancient “Gelasian dyarchy.” The Gelasian dyarchy was the result of Pope Gelasius I’s letter to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I in 494, in which the Pope declared that “there are two” (duo sunt) powers: the “sacred authority of priests” (auctoritas sacrata pontificum) and the “royal power” (regalis potestas) of the emperor. Yet between these two authorities, that of the Church was “more weighty” since the Church is the ambassador of the Divine Lawgiver under whom the emperor must submit and so one day face divine judgment like all men. Thus, the earthly political powers were made “subordinate rather than superior to the religious order,” leading to the dominance of the medieval Catholic Church over all of life in matters both temporal and heavenly.

The Protestant version of these two powers restored balance, mutual dependence, and cooperation. The two kingdoms were both divine institutions, but entrusted to distinct persons, equipped for different tasks and ends. To the Church was entrusted the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments toward Christ’s heavenly kingdom—the transformation of sinners to adopted sons of God and the future reign of Christ. To the Civil Magistrate was entrusted political rule over a temporal realm for the security and prosperity of its subjects. Luther went further in describing the institutions of the earthly kingdom as the “three estates”: the family (ordo economicus), civil government (ordo politicus), and the Church (ordo ecclesiasticus). Luther represented the relationship between the family and civil government as “embrac[ing] everything—children, property, money, animals,” and that “the home must produce, whereas the city must guard, protect, and defend.” The Church, Luther proclaimed, was “God’s own home and city,” yet it was still dependent upon the other two, for it must “obtain people from the home and protection and defense from the state.” Per John Witte, all three together were part of the earthly kingdom and formed a harmonious yet ordered whole: “These are the three hierarchies ordained by God, the three high divine governments, the three divine, natural, and temporal laws of God.”

In this case, for the Reformers, the Church spanned both kingdoms: her task was oriented toward heaven, yet her material life was situated in this world, making her dependent upon the family and the civitas. More importantly for our discussion is that both kingdoms and all three estates were part of the City of God: its familial, political, and spiritual citizens were those Christians who, by the grace of God and blood of Christ, had been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. In the history of England and America, the establishment of Protestant Christendom was accomplished as the City of God permeating the two kingdoms and three estates (often with the conversion of high-ranking political officials and the elevation of the clergy to positions of leadership acting as beacons for the conversion of the masses). This, in turn, created the “positive world” conditions that held sway in America from the first colonial settlements in the early seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth century.

To be clear, the positive world in America was no utopia. The libido dominandi of human flesh still lived on, even in Christians who were simul iustus et peccator and so who continually had to put to death the “old man” of the sin nature (Romans 6:6; Romans 7). Even a Christian gentleman’s politics can become quite spirited and rough. Asking the man who enters the political arena to be meek, mild, and effeminate, allowing his opponents to trample over him, is akin to objecting to rugby because of its physical contact. Some do not have the disposition or will to withstand the daily grind and demands of political life. They should pursue other vocations but not disparage those Christians who seek to govern according to the divine, natural, and temporal laws of God.

Trueman reveals that he’s still operating according to positive world criteria when he insists that life will go on, even in our tumultuous times: “The sun also rises and life continues for ordinary people at the local level, with all of its joys and its sorrows. People are born, marry, grow old, and die.” But of course, even the briefest acquaintance with history teaches that for many people in various times and places, life went on like normal until suddenly it didn’t. That is, until conquest, enslavement, economic collapse, forced famine, mass murder, legal inquisition, political instability, and midnight raids by secret police turned normal people’s lives upside down—or ended them forever. While no one knows what is in store for America’s future, such a fate is not unimaginable today. For some people, it has already become reality.

The reason it is a reality for folks like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Bakery in Colorado (who’s tied up in yet another round of legal persecution) or the hundreds of January 6 protestors being politically witch hunted and punished on spurious charges, is that the three estates have been severely weakened and perverted. No one needs reminding of how the American family lies in tatters: fatherless households, rampant no-fault divorce, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and now new hideous sexual perversions and relationship arrangements. While the path to recovering the family is daunting, it is possible. How did this happen? Did stable and healthy families from the mid-twentieth century suddenly fall apart on their own? Of course not. Everyone knows that the destruction of the American family is the direct consequence of foolish, experimental, and intentionally disruptive social policies at the state and national levels implemented for the purpose of satisfying the demands of various ideological revolutions two generations ago (third wave feminism, civil rights movement, sexual and countercultural revolution, Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty, etc.).

Likewise, the weakening of American Church and its accelerating compromise with a degenerate culture is also directly downstream of systemic and intentional political changes. While some of the problems facing the church are perennial (temptations to wealth, abuse of spiritual authority, fragmentation due to the disruptions of urban, mobile, and digital transformations), many of the specific issues today are directly tied to the ideologies and movements just mentioned. The church’s complicity in “same-sex marriage,” the rise of gay and lesbian ministers, women elders and pastors and the feminization of church leadership, and, as Megan Basham shows in her new book Shepherds for Sale, the funneling of dark money from explicitly anti-Christian big business and wealthy tycoons to sway and corrupt evangelical leaders and so dilute the cultural and political clout of the evangelical base, are all contemporary developments that would be unimaginable without prior political and social changes.

The point in all this is that corruption of the civil magistrate—when the libido dominandi of our political leaders runs unchecked or when the magistrate fails to restrain the lusts and passions of the people—necessarily leads to the corruption of all society. Even someone as heterodox as James Madison understood this point: “The sum of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first, to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” That American political transformations during the Progressive Era and the twentieth century that have led to a “total state” dominating the halls of Washington has resulted in the corruption of the family and the Church would not be surprising to the Protestant Reformers. Why American Christian intellectuals and church leaders continue to wallow in political confusion and obscurantism is a mystery. The priority of the political means that despite the emphasis by certain prominent church leaders upon a “bottom-up” revival that will re-evangelize the American citizen and so work a leavening effect throughout the whole of society, the origin and continual strength of our current malaise is political, and so there must and will be a political solution to our morass.

We thus see that the emergence of the negative world in America is a recent development, despite Trueman’s objections. The only question that remains is whether Christians will take these political changes seriously and seek to overcome evil with good in and through political engagement, and the manner in which that engagement must occur. Trueman bristles at the friend-enemy distinction or the use of crude language to win political battles. What Trueman fails to grasp is that in a negative world setting, the tangible human goods for which political Christians are striving take priority over the procedural means necessary to achieve those goods (unlike in the positive world of a gentleman’s politics in which shared political ends but disagreement over means elevates procedure and decorum as the lynchpin for resolving differences). Rahab understood what Trueman doesn’t, and she was commended for her faith (Hebrews 11:31)—not for some kind of wily pragmatism or will to survive. Politically-active American Christians who defy the enemies of God and wage war against evil, and who necessarily employ crude memes, subterfuge, and even deception toward these ends, will likewise be commended for their faith. Trueman’s faith is too small and anemic for the political, but that does not make us Nietzscheans.

Image Credit: Unsplash.

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Ben R. Crenshaw

Ben R. Crenshaw is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Declaration of Independence Center at the University of Mississippi. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Politics at the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. You can follow him on Twitter at @benrcrenshaw.

26 thoughts on “Nietzscheans in Negative World

  1. I find Nietzschean explanations of slave morality to apply quite readily to Trueman’s type of modern Christianity, but they do not apply to Christianity as it has been understood and followed for thousands of years (before and after the Incarnation). For that, at least, Nietzsche’s work holds a bit of value.

    Thanks for this rebuttal to Trueman. Real Christianity is arising, thank God we don’t have to follow Trueman’s type any more.

  2. Nietzsche, Trueman, Renn, Christian Nationalists and others aside, what is often lost in the above article, and others like it and in conversations are the Scriptures. Here we should note that the Scriptures are our canon, not those who were just mentioned.

    Also, times change. And so there are times when the Church is not persecuted and Christianity is not looked down on by society and there are times when Christianity is looked down on and the Church is persecuted. How we should respond and measure the responses of others must first be determined by the Scriptures, then our traditions and others afterwards. And what bothers me with the above article and this website, is that the bulk of justifications for the stands taken here are not based on the Scriptures. And even when the Scriptures are referred to, the contexts in which they were written are rarely, if ever, compared and considered.

    Is Renn’s assessment of how Christianity is perceived here in America correct? I think there is a lot of truth in what he says. But how was Christianity and the Church regarded during the time Apostles? Is today’s American society encroaching on the Church more than the societies that interacted with the Church during the times of the Apostles? I don’t think so. But even if I am wrong in saying that, today’s American society is certainly not significantly worse in how it threatens the Church than during the times of the Apostles. How did the Apostles respond? What did they tell the Church to do during those times?

    When asking those questions, we need to note the differences in the contexts of the two time periods. Christianity was just starting out as a religion back then, it is established now. Christianity had little to no track record to speak of back then, it does now and much of that track record shows that the Church has merited a lot of criticism. There were limited opportunities for Christians to politically interact with the powers that be back then unlike now. And yet, with all of those differences, we need to note how we have been instructed to interact with and relate to unbelievers by the New Testament Scriptures. And though we are not even discouraged to participate in politics, not once are we told to use political force to establish a privileged place for us and our faith in society. In fact, we are warned against imitating the godless who prefer to dominate others. We are told that we are exiles in this world and that we have Old Testament examples of how to live as exiles in a fallen world. We are told by the New Testament that a key measurement of our faith is found in how we treat others: our enemies and those who are not in position to pay us back for our help. And so how does Christian Nationalism measure up to what we are told in the New Testament about how we are to relate to others, to those who do not believe in Christ?

    For if Christian Nationalism doesn’t measure up to how the New Testament tells us to treat others, then where is Christian Nationalism getting is cues from?

    One more point. Those who favor Christian Nationalism seem reluctant to distinguish what makes something evil in society from what makes something evil for believers in Christ. They seem reluctant to fully recognize that we can’t judge society by the same standards by which we judge the Church. The failure to make those distinctions sometimes causes some Christians to overreach in how they interact with society.

    1. The authors of the NT believed the world was ending in the 1st century. We cannot return to their political theory but must forge our own or revive a medeival one. Theirs is non existent because they were silly doomsday Jews and their doomsdaying never came to pass, and probably never will, which is whh premils are retards. The church will last as long as the world stands and the world may stand forever; and the church should rule the world since its going to stick around and NOT be raptured like the ailly doomsday Jews of the 1st century and their retarded spiritual heirs the premil idiots believe. But what do I know, I’m just a dumb hick. Still not as dumb as premils though. Even the Jews have moved well beyond beleiving martyrdom makes sense; remember the Jews invented that with the Macabees, books that got removed from the canon in 1885 which is why we Prots forgot that martyrdom began in Judaism and is not a “virtue” invented by Christ or Christians but inherited from silly Jews; but the Jees have abondoned it for Machiavelli to much great effect and to bringing in LGBTQP+ everywhere, and its time we once again copy the Jews; as we copied them in the 1st century with the love of martyrdom we must copy them now with their love of Machiavellianism, but as a means to an end, and that end being to restore morality rather than tear it down as they have done.

      1. JimBob,
        When we insult fellow believers, we insult those for whom Christ died. And the question is what gives us the right to insult those for whom Christ died?

        When we disagree, we give others negative criticism. But negative criticism does not have to be insulting. But using pejorative labels is. Valid negative criticism points to wrong attitudes, thinking, and behaviors. Negative criticism can cause pain, but it doesn’t have to be insulting to do so.

        The eschatological beliefs of the Apostles are immune to their mistaken expectations about when Christ was returning. Why? It is because they, and Jesus too, taught us how to communicate the faith and how we should relate to unbelievers. And though their expectations of the return of Christ were off, their eschatological model of thought remains firm.

      2. Jim Bob
        Do you realize that almost the entire Bible was written by “Jews ” whom you seem to have disdain for. And of course our Saviour came from the seed of David and the line of Judah.
        If you are a professing believer your Pastors and Elders need to discipline and instruct you much better. Repent of your hatred. You give c.ners a very bad name.

    2. Oh, come off it, Day. You don’t give a tinker’s damn about Scripture. If you did, you’d do more than make vague, hand-wavey gestures at Scripture every time you accuse an AmRe author of neglecting it. Likewise, you’d clearly state what you think is being neglected instead of hiding behind the implications of rhetorical questions. All you do is conflate your own political preferences with the teaching of Scripture while getting all high and mighty about accusing others of doing precisely that.
      Your opinions are not worth considering.

      1. Ryan,
        My opinions aren’t worth considering and yet here you are responding.

        BTW,, the Scriptures are important to me. That is why when contributors here don’t appeal to the Scriptures when making their case Christian Nationalism, I say something about it. At the most, someone will refer to either the Old Testament without considering the contextual differences or Romans 13 with an assumed definition of the term ‘evil.’ Other than that, what is appealed to are the idealisms of some and the traditional writings of past Reformed theologians.

        But this is my last response to you because I don’t think you see the personal problems you have as shown in how you are responding

  3. Ben, this is an uncharitable reading of Trueman that repeatedly misrepresents him and conflates his writing with an ideology you clearly disdain. For one, the First Things article referenced is a mere collection of recent thoughts, not a systematic unpacking of his political theology. You are critiquing things he never says or even implies.

    You write, “Trueman doesn’t accept that we now live in a ‘negative World’.” But does he say that? No, he writes, “This is where the language of life in what Aaron Renn calls the ‘negative world’ needs modification…” Elsewhere, “it is important to remember that the message of the Christian gospel has always stood in antithesis to the thinking of the surrounding world… the antithesis is merely more obvious and more socially significant now. But it has always been there.” Trueman is simply offering nuance to Renn’s taxonomy, one Renn has self-admitted is in need of nuance and self-invited others to nuance.

    Trueman’s excellent “Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” begins with the observation that things have objectively changed in our world and consequently for the Christian. This is not a man aloof to the changing times and content with the status-quo. One does not write a 400 page cultural analysis on the lies of the world with the intent that Christians would ignore such things and live as if nothing has changed. And yet you write that “Trueman is allergic to political power”? Does he state that? Is that what his observations are suggesting? Not at all. In fact if you listen and read Trueman you will find that he is repeatedly in favor of political power being harassed for good.

    You write, “Why does Trueman reactively label any concern over the political by Christians today as fleshly and debased?” Does he do that in the article? Not in the least! Such a claim is in fact laughable given Trueman on his podcast (The Mortification of Spin) repeatedly delves into all kinds of political issues many Evangelicals avoid.

    What is helpful to remember is that the average First Things reader (myself included) is a conservative, politically-minded, Christian frustrated at the progressive left and in search of cultural commentary that does not demonize their tribe. Generally speaking, these are a people not in need of another polemic against the ills of the negative world. This is why Trueman writes, “While the left may pose an obvious threat, there is also a more subtle danger in succumbing to the rules of the political game as currently played by both sides.” The leftward threat is known, but the more subtle “bi-party” threat he is seeking to describe is likely unknown to the readers. And as one who has repeatedly punched left, this is not a case of a “David-Frenchism” that finds sheep-bashing necessary for employment.

    Perhaps this is the pastor in him. After all, Trueman is an ordained minister and as such is focused on the health of the sheep. Here he rightly senses a growing threat to the health of the church in embracing “Pop-Nietzscheanism.” We would be wise to listen, and in charity offer our rebuttals.

    Too often Christians eat our own. There is health in disagreement, and I believe your argument is a helpful contribution to the conversation, but consider the motives of your heart. I have to believe that the bitterness and anger you write with here belie a deeper frustration with American Christianity at large and not Carl Trueman.

    1. Hi William,

      I appreciate the constructive feedback. I do say that “Trueman doesn’t accept that we now live in a ‘negative World,'” but you forgot the emphasis (i.e., italics) upon “now.” Trueman disagrees with Renn that we NOW live in negative world as if before we didn’t; he thinks he grew up in negative world, and in fact, negative world is necessary given Christianity’s countercultural nature. That’s what I’m contesting and I’m doing so on the basis of an historical and political analysis of the Protestant West, not a theological perspective extrapolated from the biblical text. Trueman’s denial of Renn’s three-world shift has the effect of reducing any pressing concern about the present, and instead telling us all to calm down because what’s happening now has happened before. Life goes on, etc.

      Regarding Trueman’s body of work, books, podcasts, etc., I wasn’t responding to his life work or thought. I was responding to what he wrote here. And in this article he clearly castigates the politically active Christian Right as being enthralled by worldly power and engaging in politics in inappropriate ways. I probably agree with Trueman on resisting many elements of modern society, or even his reading of their origin and character. That’s not necessarily what’s being debated, but instead, what we are to do about it. You’re right that Trueman’s pastoral impulse shines through, and while this can often be good, it can also serve as an obstacle to the political task (I’ve criticized Doug Wilson for the same thing).

      I’m not interested in “our tribe” eating it’s own; but Trueman is the one taking cheap shots by calling us “pop Nietzscheans.” That required a strong response, one that I don’t think was uncharitable. There is no “bitterness and anger” in my heart; that’s ridiculous speculation on your part, and it’s also characteristic of the effeminate Christian discourse that swats down any spirited and direct response to what others say via manipulations about unbiblical motives or attitudes.

      1. Ben,

        Here’s the question I’d ask… How do you know he’s taking “cheap shots” at you or us? What we have in the First Things piece are some brief musings from Carl on an issue of the day. The threat here is purposefully vague and unnamed. He does not name names or even movements, he simply observes that there exists a “new [threat]… the temptation to combat this by fusing Christianity with worldly forms of power, and worldly ways of achieving the same” Elsewhere he writes, ” ‘Prophetic’ does not mean “triggering the libs.” And, “none of this quite compares to engaging in an apocalyptic culture war or crushing one’s opponents or seizing worldly power by worldly means.”

        Do these things describe you? Do they describe the American Reformer? Do you believe these things? Not to my knowledge! Thus the intensity with which you write is confusing. You write as one attacked when Trueman has not attacked you or anyone for that matter. And this assumption colors your reading of him.

        You write, “Trueman’s denial of Renn’s three-world shift has the effect of reducing any pressing concern about the present.” Ok fair enough, but does Trueman deny that shift? Not at all. He writes, “This is where the language of life in what Aaron Renn calls the “negative world” needs modification” before offering his thoughts. Modification ≠ Denial. How is this a charitable reading?

        As I pointed out before, you ask “Why does Trueman reactively label any concern over the political by Christians today as fleshly and debased?” Does he say that? Nothing of the sort. How is that a charitable reading? How is that productive to the discourse? It’s a laughable straw-man. I could say the same for many other statements you make.

        I’ll be frank: it’s hard to respect such a response that repeatedly misrepresents Trueman and assumes the worst in a brief collection of musings he posted, especially given his history. I question your motives accordingly.

        FWIW, count me as a young person sick of the fecklessness of “Big Eva” and in search of leaders with a backbone. But such leaders come in many shades. When Trueman talks, I listen. He has proven his faithfulness to the Word of God and that, at the very least, demands we hear him out.

        1. Well said. Construing Carl Trueman, of all people, as some sort of feckless moderate squish is bizarre. He’s more than earned the respect of any orthodox Christian with the flack he’s taken for Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

          1. Agreed. It’s one thing to disagree with Trueman — fair enough, he’s human — it’s another to purposefully misrepresent and demonize him so as to bolster your argument.

  4. Quite frankly, it’s easy to look at the fruit of the toothless Christianity that Trueman espouses and see that it is barren. It has not produced fruit, but rather caused what the church had to fall into disrepair. Scripture is very clear: God expects His Church to bear fruit.

    If we look at the times when the church was most fruitful, it was when Christ permeated every aspect of their lives: at home, at work, at church, and of course, in the way they were governed.

    I am sure there are myriad philosophical, theological, and metaphysical reasons for why Trueman is wrong, but the easiest is simply to look at the fruit of Christian nationalism and look at the fruit of toothless evangelicalism. As it turns out, trying to sequester Christ’s authority to only a small quarter of life is a recipe for a barren faith.

    1. “but the easiest is simply to look at the fruit of Christian nationalism”

      Which is what, exactly? So far, a lot of sound and fury on social media and blogs.

    2. Dylan,
      The fruit of Christian Nationalism past is the fruit of Christendom. But we need to distinguish fruit from position and power. And we should note that both Critical Theory and Post Modernism have Christendom as one of their parents. And when we look at the complaints raised by both, we are seeing some of the fruit of Christendom.

  5. I believe it was 2021 when Trueman visited our church and gave a lecture. As a Trueman fan, I was enthused to hear/see him in person. At the start of presentation, he made a throwaway comment about his recent inconvenience of having to show his proof of vaccination in order to gain admittance to a bar in New York City.

    That changed my view of Trueman, and I’m no longer much interested in what he has to say or write.

    1. Not sure I follow you here. I can think of two ways of reading that comment with which you might have taken issue, but I can’t tell which you mean:
      1. He thought it was annoying and inappropriate to be asked for proof of vaccination.
      2. He was vaccinated and had proof of such.
      Or was it something else?

      1. Good question, I built in too many assumptions in my comment.

        I’m one of these weird guys who has a hard time taking seriously people who took the “vaccine“. Especially certified smart guys.

        And an historian who took no umbrage with having to “show his papers“ in order to get a drink at a bar…. I would have assumed that Trueman was familiar with the Nuremberg code, and had the capability/desire to connect the dots to the present moment.

        And more broadly, if you are a Christian conservative thought leader, and you have not taken a stand against the Covidmania tyranny, you do not have much credibility with me. Just my two cents.

  6. You cannot advance the kingdom of God with the tools of the devil. Accepting “crude memes, subterfuge, and even deception” as normal methods of political engagement is something that pleases Satan, not God. Some passages from Matthew come to mind:

    Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

    “‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

    Matthew 4:8-10. Here Satan promised Christ access to immediate and overwhelming political power if he’d just make a one-time compromise. But Christ chose the way of the cross instead. Was that weak and anemic?


    “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

    Matthew 5:13. Here Christ is teaching us that if we become just like the world, we are worthless to change it.

    1. How can Rahab’s deception and treason be the tools of the devil yet also be commended as faith? You missed that point in the essay.

      1. Rahab is not commended for “deception and treason.” She is commended for welcoming the spies.

        Hebrews 11:31
        “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

        Islam encourages deception for supposedly noble ends (the doctrines of taqiyya and kitman). Christian commentators have always had a tough time with the deceptions of Rahab and the Hebrew midwives because the Bible describes them in a narrative without any express moral commentary. There are certainly good arguments to defend what they did, but they are not set out as the norm for Christian engagement with unbelievers.

  7. Thanks for this article. you state:
    “Did stable and healthy families from the mid-twentieth century suddenly fall apart on their own? Of course not.”
    I agree with this. In addition to your citing of Scott Yenor’s fine book, you may be interested in my contribution to this discussion:
    How Elite Ideologies are Destroying Lives and Why the Church was Right All Along.

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks, I think we met at Acton before. Heard you talk, have some of your books. I’ll take a look at The Sexual State.


  8. Trueman responded here:

    He makes some good points.

    I don’t get his apparent passivity on culture and politics. The final paragraph of his original article is:

    “This is, of course, despicable. It is the work of slave morality, as Nietzsche would say. Indeed, one can hear the criticisms now: If the Calvary Option means that all the Church does is faithfully point people to Christ in word and sacrament, the world is going to crucify us. Quite so. That’s why it’s called “the Calvary Option.””

    The Church is called to preach the whole counsel of God and Christians should not seek out martyrdom. His advice seems to require retreat in the face of opposition.

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