Carl Trueman: Linguistic Soul-patches

You gotta love Carl Trueman. He hits another homer with this short essay, “Done? You Have Been.” Here’s an excerpt, but you must go on to read the rest.

“A couple of months back, I made some observations on the advent of that most ridiculous facial accoutrement, the soul patch. The size of these absurd tufts of hair is surely inversely proportional to their eloquence: any Christian man the wrong side of forty, or, to avoid sexism, any woman of any age, who sports one clearly suffers from that common Christian ailment of taking themselves far too seriously. The faux-rebellion such things express is really rather sad: along with dog collars and tattoos, these are things that have become oh-so-safe that every armchair ecclesiastical rebel feels the need for doing at least one of them to establish his credentials.

“But self-regarding trendiness does not stop with soul patches and tattoos. Language too has its soul patches; and language too is one of those things that undoubtedly reveals much about the ways in which people think. For example, there is the need to send out those shibbolethic symbols which indicate we are part of the group. At one time I used to hang with a group of Barthians; when gathered in a pub, it was never too long before one of us would utter the immortal phrase, `God’s being is in his becoming’ and the rest of us would nod sagely, mutter `So true, so true’ in hushed, pious tones, and sup our pints of Old Speckled Hen in reverent silence. Of course, none of us really had a clue what it meant; but is sounded cool, and it indicated that we possessed the linguistic amulet which showed we belonged to the group. . .

“More recently, one such linguistic soul patch that I have come to find particularly irritating is the phrase `to do church.’ Now, don’t get me wrong: the phrase is often used to provoke critical thinking on what church should look like, what should happen when the saints gather together, and other such like questions. On this level, the phrase at least points toward something useful. My real problem, however, is twofold. First, let’s face it: it’s a soul patch. Like `missional’ or even `reformissional,’ it has a self-conscious trendiness which irritates at the outset. Most churches of which I am aware have wrestled long and hard with questions of how to reach out into communities, of which Bible translation to use, of how to structure church life both ofn Sunday and during the week. The advent of this new term seems more often than not to carry with it the implication that those who don’t talk about `how to do church’ are not actually engaged in such thinking but are rather dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries who simply want to maintain the status quo. If you don’t have that soul patch, you can’t possibly connect missionally with the post-whatever world.”


  • Bryan L

    Wow that was an interesting quote you provided. I loved the statement about Barthians. LOL. Although I’m not negative towards actual soul patches like he is and just see people sporting them because they like how they look rather than doing it because it’s in (I’m not around college people but just regular 9-5 folk), I still get his point.

    His comments about doing church are gold, especially since I know a lot about “doing church” and what the church should be like everyday in the world, but less about actually putting it into practice and getting out of my comfort zone. It’s fun to talk the talk and sound like you’re deep, profound and really missional and intentional in your living for Christ, it’s a whole other thing to actually put it into practice and live it out.

    Thanks for the link.

    Bryan L

  • Faimon

    Old Speckled Hen? Is he serious? He should have been offended at the cultural ‘soul patch’ of drinking Old Speckled Hen. That immediately identifies one as a poseur.

  • Faimon

    No way, man. That’s a guy who is making an effort to understand today’s young people. You are putting yourself out there, to show that you care.

    Drinking Old Speckled Hen, however, is posing of the highest level.

    Actually, that’s not really true – it’s a decent ale, but there are better ones – Old Hooky comes to mind, as does Old Peculiar. And not all have to be named “Old” either….

  • Brittany

    I’m not totally sure about the point of this article. If it’s to point out a human tendency to make Christians more aware of it and themselves – to help us become aware of “trendiness” versus “godliness” … well, okay. It’s true. Neverthless, EVERY generation, gender, racial demographic, church, denomination, socio-economic class, and high school has their own “linguistic soul-patches” (i.e., buzzwords/buzzconcepts). I see them with the emergent church, it’s true; but I also see that type of thing among older Reformed traditions. It’s not going to go away; it’s just the way we, as humans, work. The meaning of “missional” may not be different from the previous generation’s word for the same concept, but I think (in a sense) that kind of change is necessary, if only to help people truly believe they are doing something “of their own.” I mean that rhetorically, not theologically. Clearly the Gospel it not “new” news in a very real sense. And yet it is also new, isn’t it?

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