Carl Trueman, The Church of Scotland, and Evangelicals in the Mainline

Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and a native of England with close ties to the Church of Scotland, offers some incisive commentary on the recent goings-on in the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland has appointed its first openly gay minister, Scott Rennie. Trueman, certainly no supporter of this new development, is nevertheless critical of the way evangelicals have responded to the appointment of Rennie.

Trueman says, in part:

I myself earned the ire of one or two of the C of S evangelicals recently for suggesting that the current crisis was the result of the followers of William Still deciding to operate, in effect, as independents within the church, ceding crucial administrative influence to the liberals. Unwelcome also was my hint that the gay issue is the result, in part, of a hermeneutical shift on the Bible’s teaching on women’s ordination (`not a hill to die on’ according to the Stillites) which shift has now come back to haunt the evangelicals on the issue of homosexuality. This point, if press reports are accurate, has not been lost on opponents of the evangelicals who have been quick to exploit the inconsistency.

Trueman goes on to chide a prominent evangelical church in Scotland for acting like an independent church instead of being true to Presbyterian polity to reform the church through the proper channels or simply leave the denomination if the Church of Scotland is incapable of maintaining orthodox Christian belief.

His conclusion is especially poignant for those of us in the mainline.

I was asked by one C of S person, angry about my criticism of the petition, what I would suggest as the way forward. Well, just for starters, before launching any public campaign, I would have looked at the history of those churches and institutions that have turned themselves around to see what actually works as opposed to what merely seems like a good idea at the time — say, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Seminary, and even my own small place, Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia). The changes in those places had a number of things in common: the reformers organized and prepared for every eventuality, putting into place safety nets and multiple `Plan Bs’, they identified the places where influence could be wielded, mastered procedure, fought like the blazes when they had to, stood strong and immovable in the face of violent opposition, and outmanoeuvred their opponents by continual attention to meeting agendas, points of order, procedural matters, and long-term coordinated strategy. They did not waste time and energy on irrelevant sideshows like rhetorical petitions that merely provided the material for public relations disasters. And guess what? In each case it actually worked. In fact, this way of approach sounds very like the strategy which frankly outflanked and then crushed the ill-prepared evangelical assault at last week’s C of S GA. It would seem that angry but sincere petitioners generally lose, while sincere but canny parliamentarians generally win. The C of S evangelicals need new leadership that understands Presbyterian polity, the importance of procedure and, crucially, how institutions work and can therefore be changed.

You can read the whole thing here.