Notable Quotable: “The Very Heart of Childishness” – Carl Trueman


“I suspect that future generations may well look back on the present day as an era of unsurpassed childishness in the history of mankind. The vast amounts of money paid to grown men to play playground games for the entertainment of the rest of us simply beggars belief. The cultural influence ascribed to young pop stars is quite bizarre. I mean, whatever one’s opinion of government health care, surely we can all agree that Justin Bieber’s opinions on the matter can be safely ignored? And the compulsive need of otherwise apparently intelligent people to tweet the most mind-boggling banalities of their lives into the public domain is startling. To these relatively trivial acts of childishness we might also add the more sinister: the development of a political and legal culture which refuses to recognize any shades of grey. As to morality, the spoiled infants really have taken over the universe of moral discourse when a man who deserts his wife for another man is more likely to be hailed as a cultural hero because of his courageous honesty than decried as a sleazy cretin for his cowardly capitulation to his hormones.

“Sadly, this pervades the church as well. Many megachurches have grown prosperous through the strange, unexpected but undoubtedly successful marriage of a broadly orthodox theology with childish idioms. Further, many Christians in churches that are not so ‘mega’ have their childish ways and their childish people. It is not simply those pastors who dress like slovenly thirteen year olds when they preach that exhibit such qualities. All of us can be tempted in this direction when we are not given what we want and proceed immediately thereafter to throw out of our little prams whatever toys we happen to have. And what can one say about the consistent failure of the Christian twitterati, from the least to the greatest, to understand that some things are for public consumption and that some things are to be kept private? Knowing when to speak in public and when to keep discreetly and modestly quiet (especially about one’s own successes) used to be a basic part of what it meant to grow up.

“Perhaps at the very heart of childishness lies the inability to acknowledge any kind of external authority. The toddler screaming for the confiscated teddy bear is expressing outrage that his world has been changed against his will, in much the same way as the teenager whose life has (and I quote) ‘been like totally ruined’ because her cell phone has been taken away from her for the evening by an irate parent. So much of what we think of as childish behavior, such as tantrums, petty rule breaking, and insolence, contains a significant dose of the repudiation of external authority.”

(Carl Trueman, “An Important but Neglected Distinction”, Reformation 21)


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