The Value of Cynicism

I saw the headline, “Why the Church Needs Cranky, Cynical…,” and I thought, “At last! I’m getting the respect I deserve!” But no, it was about some other cynical people. Still, though, it’s good to know that someone values the sentiment.

In Why the Church Needs Cranky, Cynical Historians, Justin Taylor quotes Carl Trueman, whom I assume must be one of my cynical brethren:

Some years ago, Phyllis Tickle [Tickle! Ha! – j] likened Brian McLaren to Luther and the Emergent Church to the kind of paradigm shift that happens only once a millennium. The amazing thing was not that she said this; in a world shaped by the continual escalation of sales rhetoric, this kind of language is to be expected in advertising. No. What was truly amazing was that people actually took her seriously, friend and foe alike. Such people are in urgent need of help to stop them saying or believing things that are very, very silly and absurdly self-important. 

… to hear that the work of some trendy representative of the angst, insecurities and obsessions of middle America somehow represents the kind of paradigm shift that comes along once in a millennium in self-evidently laughable. He may have an enviable gift for writing popular books and speaking (the musical talent is, I fear, more questionable) but he is not bringing about a comprehensive revision of the whole of theology, establishing a comprehensive framework for understanding the world, or reshaping the very foundations of knowledge as either the church or the wider world understands it. Further (and here is the real historical rub) even if he were doing so, it would be a hundred years or so before anybody would really be able to make that judgment with any confidence. . . . 

And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon. Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before. Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.