On Thomas Achord

Thomas Achord is the headmaster of a private classical Christian school, the co-author of the 2021 book Who is My Neighbor? An Anthology in Natural Relations, and is co-host of the Ars Politica podcast with Stephen Wolfe, the author of the recent book, The Case for Christian Nationalism. Ars Politica is devoted to Christian political thought and has been running for seventy episodes, and Achord’s public political project is focused on applying his understanding of the Christian political tradition to the present day. Here is his profile:

Of what relevance is Achord? Achord came to my attention initially because of his association with Stephen Wolfe. I cannot know and do not claim to know to what degree if any Wolfe shares what I believe Achord’s views to be. I will here lay out what I believe to be the case about Achord’s views, based on publicly-available information. I do not make any claims about Wolfe’s own. Achord’s work is, in my view, representative of a small but troubling corner of the world that has been broadly called Christian nationalism, and one which I think it would be disastrous to see come to define the movement.

Just a few days ago, Wolfe recommended Who is My Neighbor? as a work by two of his friends. The Kinist IronInk blog describes Who is My Neighbor? as follows: ‘This book is nearly 700 pages long and it provides one quote after another culled from authors (both Christian and Pagan) from Ancient History to modern times, which demonstrate that the doctrines of Kinism have been what all men in all times and in all places have believed.’

More of its contents are laid out in this thread.

Based on my understanding of it, I am firmly opposed to Achord’s political project and to anything like it. This opposition is not coming from someone who is a ‘leftist’. I have been vocal in criticism of mass immigration policies (see this Theopolis conversation, for instance), advocating some views that would be highly objectionable to many. Indeed, Achord favourably quotes statements from me in his book. Nor am I an opponent in principle of Christian nationalism, a position advanced by some of the voices I most admire in political theology and of which, in some form, I myself might reasonably be classed as an advocate.

Rather, my concern is that there is either a stowaway hidden in a specific Christian nationalist project, or perhaps certain projects are functioning as Trojan horses. I fear that Achord is one example of that. I am aiming to bring that to light in hopes of staunching such influences, because I believe it to be a corruption of ideas which I think are very good and important indeed.

There is nothing that would do more to discredit and weaken any Christian nationalist, postliberal, or other similar project than for one of its advocates to be in fact using it as cover for segregationist or white nationalist views. There is nothing that would be more destructive to the movement than to allow it to be so coopted without opposition.

 

Tulius Aadland

A couple of days ago I posted the following thread, in which I highlighted a tweet thread and a couple of since-deleted articles (one on Faith and Heritage and the other on Identity Dixie) which I attributed to Thomas Achord. I stated that I believed that Thomas Achord was writing under the name ‘Tulius Aadland’. This post provides additional evidence to show that this attribution is well-founded, and that the alternative theory suggested by Thomas Achord that the account was by an ‘imposter’ has, in my view, no basis in reality.

‘Tulius’ argues in the tweet thread I shared that ‘a robust race realist white nationalism can be antifragile regarding cultural Marxism, critical race theory, wokism, BLM, etc.’, drawing strength from those opposing movements.

In the second tweet in my thread, I linked to a September 18, 2021 article (the Identity Dixie article which I mentioned above, since deleted by the website) in which ‘Tulius Aadland’ argued for the need for ‘white antifragility’ in response to critical race theory (CRT):

White AntiFragility, using the Counter Dilemma, neither concedes the point nor argues against it. Rather, it deduces another, positive conclusion from the same premises: If your White skin and genes confer the guilt of your ancestors, then they also confer the pride of your ancestors, as well as, their accomplishments, victories, virtues, rights, liberties, freedoms, heritages, lands, and more. Further, if skin and genes confer guilt then this implies that race and blood, kinship and ethnicity bind people together in real, social, national ways that cannot be broken by time or circumstance. CRT, by accusing Whites of racial guilt, reinforces and strengthens ethnic bonds between our ancestors, ourselves, and our posterity.

Achord has, to my knowledge, not denied that he is the author of that article. In his acknowledged Twitter account, he has long been edgy in his posting on Twitter. Although the name is not his own, he doesn’t hide the fact that it is him, nor does he deny it.

Here are a few representative images from Achord’s main Twitter account from just over the last week (he has changed the handle of his account several times over the last few weeks, but all of them are readily tied to the same account if you search).

Antelope Hill Publishing is a white nationalist publishing house.

The idea that Achord might have a more obscure account, on which he would be more explicit in expressing sentiments, beliefs, and associations that he insinuates in his more public account was quite plausible. As Achord changed his Twitter name on several occasions over the last few weeks, one of the changes that he made was to ‘Tulius Aadland’.

As his handle was @Tu_Aad, ‘Tulius Aadland’ naturally appeared to be the longer form (the link pictured above appears when searching ‘Tulius Aadland’ on DuckDuckGo). A friend on a theological email discussion list who noticed the name change alerted us to the fact that, when they searched for ‘Tulius Aadland’, the two afore-mentioned articles from white identitarian websites—Faith and Heritage and Identity Dixie—came up.

I was curious, and so I searched Twitter for ‘Tulius Aadland’. Only one person came up: @TuliusAadland. Looking at the account, it was immediately evident that it was operating in the same social, cultural, and conversational spaces as Achord. Looking closer, the account, which only had around thirty followers when I first saw it, included among its followers many of Achord’s chief interlocutors, most notable among them Stephen Wolfe (who has subsequently unfollowed the account).

I was also informed of the Tulius Aadland Facebook account. Curious, I looked at the friend list. Of the 27 names I checked, all save two were in Achord’s own friend list. And they weren’t random names either. Once again, Stephen Wolfe was there. Achord’s co-author was there, as was the person who set up the GiveSendGo page for the Achord family, a person who gave an account of meeting up with Achord in person yesterday, and other key individuals. These are all people who should know Achord well and most of whom probably know him personally. Again, when I searched, only one account came up on Facebook under ‘Tulius Aadland’—this isn’t a common name.

The @TuliusAadland account was active between January 1st 2020 and August 27th 2021, with a few hiatuses. We’ll get to those shortly. Over that period, it posted 1,834 tweets. The account’s avi was the same as one of the photos in the Tulius Aadland Facebook account.

Image

I started to read and search through the @TuliusAadland Twitter account more closely. The shocking character of some of the content was the first thing to strike me. Here is a random selection. Many more examples could be brought forward.

There were also some curious theories about women.

These images, I should stress, are merely a few examples of many that could be brought forward. The account is still online at the time of writing this: you can search for yourself.

In several of the threads, a distinctive voice could be heard, which was very similar to Achord’s own. The antifragile thread, for instance, had a similar argument to the Identity Dixie article, an article which Achord has not denied writing.

Achord has also used the concept of antifragility on his known account.

‘Anarcho-tyranny’ has been a crucial concept drawn from Sam Francis for Wolfe and Achord, which can be seen on their podcast and in Wolfe’s writings. It is a concept that they have sought to popularize. Here’s an episode of their podcast on it. Here’s Wolfe on the subject:

There is more to the story of black criminality, but what is important here is that black Americans, considered as a group, are more willing to conduct certain types of public disorder (violence, petty theft, vandalism, looting, rioting, etc.) when constraints are reduced. For this reason, they serve as the anarchic element of anarcho-tyranny in the United States.

Tulius Aadland used the concept on several occasions.

Besides such points of ideological contact, he also engaged with Wolfe on several occasions in likes and tweets.

Tulius tweeted the following concerning concerning classical Christian education, which was Achord’s profession.

Achord has always had a distinctive kitschy aesthetic, which the Tulius Aadland account seemed to share (if you look at the accounts it followed) and in some of its tweets. Here is an image from the Tulius Aadland account in September 2020.

Here is one from Achord’s known account over two years later.

There are other strange coincidences. The Tulius Twitter account retweeted the following tweet.

On August 23rd, the following was posted on Achord’s Instagram. You’ll notice that Achord posted the image either the day that @TuliusAadland retweeted it, or the day after.

Based on these things, I came to the conclusion (the same conclusion that his good friends had come to and been operating under for years) that this was an alt of Achord, and shared the tweets. I thought that it was appropriate (indeed, probably morally obligatory) to bring these things to attention given his sharing in the public project of Christian resourcement, to which I am devoted and to which many institutions I deeply care about are committed. I would not have done so had he been a purely private person or in a role of any less gravity. Again, I was not saying anything new: I was merely drawing attention to what was already publicly on open social media accounts, and naming what all those around him already believed.

Achord’s explanation for all of this is that an impostor was impersonating him. Achord has laid out his side of the story here. He claims that someone was impersonating him on both Twitter and Facebook:

I asked some friends about this, who reminded me that fake accounts, tracking, impersonations, and defamation are ubiquitous on social media, especially Twitter. So, I filed an impersonation complaint with Twitter Support, which responded this time by linking to an associated made-up Facebook page under this same pseudonym, as well as to a few phony email accounts all, again, using this name. I began to wonder what else will emerge! I had no knowledge or access to any of this material, but here it existed, a web of accounts under the name of a pseudonym I once used and which were posting things seemingly on my behalf going back a few years. Furthermore, I have learned now that one of the email accounts, as of yesterday, still had an ongoing conversation with one of my mutual friends who thought he was conversing with me this entire time! Shockingly, it became clear that these fake accounts were created and used over but a short span to parody and slander myself. I immediately petitioned a claim of imposter and defamation claims with these two social media companies, which are currently under investigation.

Notably, he does not deny writing the Faith and Heritage and Identity Dixie articles in this response.

 

The Problems with Achord’s Theory

Let us remind ourselves of the facts.

  1. The Tulius Aadland account was running for over a year and a half, posting 1,834 tweets. Neither his Twitter nor Facebook accounts had more than fifty followers. The Twitter account ended over a year ago and, even though so many of his close acquaintances were following it, Achord supposedly only just discovered that it existed.
  2. The impostor account didn’t use Achord’s real name, but a much less well-known pseudonym. This is a peculiar form of identity theft.
  3. Achord claims that the alleged impostor accounts were so effective that they fooled many of his closest friends and collaborators.
  4. The impostor account was exploring the concept of white antifragility in June 2020, something that ‘Tulius Aadland’ wrote about for Identity Dixie in September 2021. Again, note that Achord has not denied writing this article (which, like the other article, was removed by the website).
  5. By Achord’s account, the Tulius Aadland account was so effective that he claims that he was initially fooled himself. Indeed, he was apparently so convinced that it was his account that he gave an authoritative interpretation of the tweets that I linked. Only later would his story change.

  1. If Achord’s claims are correct, the account was effective enough to fool Stephen Wolfe, who was following and engaging with it, into believing it to be Achord. If Achord’s claims are true—and even if they are not—how all this reflects upon principles of association in his Christian nationalist circles is a matter that needs to be considered.

  1. The Tulius account isn’t a troll account, but seriously tries to explore ideas at many points. It voiced opinions on key concepts that interested Achord, from classical Christian education, to political theology, to the military. It engaged with similar people and attacked similar people as Achord’s own account. It had similar kitschy aesthetics.
  2. If the impostor were intending to defame Achord by voicing hateful views, it is surprising that their accounts so successfully fooled the people who knew Achord best into thinking that they contained Achord’s actual opinions. Nothing jarred with them when their close and trusted friend was spewing the most hateful racial vitriol?

The claims of Rubatirabbit’s thread in defence of the impostor theory are readily answered or dismissed (not least because many differ from Achord’s own later claims). Rubatirabbit wrote: ‘if there was a far rightist who frequents conservative/right wing circles which Achord frequents, he may have encountered one variation of Tulius Aadland, and since Tulius is the name of a Roman king, and Aadland sounds cool and Nordic, such a person may have adopted it.’

There are many cool names and handles out there, but stealing an appealing pseudonym and writing articles almost three years apart under that stolen pseudonym is odd practice indeed. And ‘Tulius Aadland’ hardly has anything peculiar to commend it.

Rubatirabbit draws attention to the birthdate of the Tulius Aadland Facebook account (the one almost entirely followed by Achord’s close friends), claiming that it clearly isn’t Achord’s birthdate. As the Tulius Aadland Twitter account mentions the author’s past experience in grad school, it probably isn’t his birthdate either. We’ve already established that ‘Tulius Aadland’ isn’t his real name, so should we be surprised that he didn’t give Facebook his actual birthdate either?

Rubatirabbit identifies his ‘strongest argument’ as the following:

Achord uses the Tulius Aadland Pseudonym on HIS MAIN ACCOUNT. There is no logic, or reason, for him to create another account using *the exact same pseudonym*. What would be the sense or logic of such a move?

I think a lack of sense and logic might be explanatory factors in various actions in this case. Besides, here is the Tulius account.

It is worth bearing in mind that Achord had yet another account, @AchordThomas, which was just reactivated a few days ago and has yet to tweet anything. However, if you search for @AchordThomas you can see lots of tweets interacting with it, from known friends, associates, and acquaintances of Achord. However, the interactions end on March 29th 2021.

If you scroll through down through the timeline of the @TuliusAadland account you should notice something interesting: a long gap in activity between the end of December 2020 and the end of March 2021.

Rubatirabbit wonders why, if the account is truly Achord’s, it has not yet been scrubbed. One might speculate that scrubbing the account might be incriminating. However, there is also the genuine possibility that a person with a dozen or so social media accounts under his real name and various pseudonyms and several burner email addresses might just have lost the login details.

Is this all the information supporting the identification of Thomas Achord as the author of the Tulius Aadland account?

No. Rod Dreher, whose wife taught at the school, highlighted the following tweet:

Note the symbol on the door. It is the same as the symbol of the church in whose building Sequitur Classical Academy, Achord’s school, operated.

Rod Dreher has laid out this line of evidence here. The timeline is important here: at the time the photo was taken (mid-February 2020), Achord was not yet the headmaster of the school, weakening any case that it was produced by anyone in the community seeking to attack or discredit him.

We have a choice here. Either we are to believe Achord’s claims that an impostor was actively running accounts under one of his pseudonyms for nearly two years, which attracted many of his close friends and associates, with whom the impostor interacted both publicly and privately. That these close friends and associates might all independently(?) connect with active impostor accounts, yet the fact that there were two active impostor accounts would never be brought to Achord’s own attention. That these accounts were a determined effect to ‘parody and slander’ him (using his obscure pseudonym rather than his actual name), yet have only just come to light, nearly three years after they were first created, and that he himself wasn’t aware of them until a few days ago. That while he utterly deplores the sentiments of the racist tweets, the account successfully fooled several of his closest friends and collaborators that it was expressing his true sentiments. That Achord is free of such racist views, yet many of his closest friends and associates would not take issue with a collaborator expressing such positions, feel that such opinions jeopardized their common cause, or be surprised enough by such viewpoints being expressed in his name that they would bring such a matter up with him, alerting him to the fact that an impostor was acting under his identity. That the impostor was so close to him that they were sharing pictures from within the building where his school operated.

Alternatively, we could believe that a person who has publicly expressed sentiments most would deem racist and is known to operate multiple Twitter accounts and identities also had a private account in which he expressed hateful views more freely with his close friends, who tolerate and perhaps share them. And that, when caught out, he tried to cover it up.

 

Responses

The case that @TuliusAadland is Thomas Achord is straightforward and based on compelling cumulative evidence. The counterarguments are embarrassing. However, the questions that the whole affair raises are extremely damaging, not just for Thomas Achord, but also for close associates and collaborators with far greater influence. If the expression of the views of ‘Tulius Aadland’ were tolerated by persons at the heart of a rising Christian nationalist movement, and not regarded as utterly inconsistent with the enjoyment of a public voice in their cause, it raises grave concerns about the health of such a movement more generally. If such a person could see their racist interests so advanced by the movement that they would put themselves forward as leading champions of it, that also raises questions about the movement and its ideology. Whether he was a stowaway—his true beliefs hidden from his companions—or whether the form of Christian nationalist ideology he publicly advocated and some of his leading fellow advocates provided cover for his true views, we face disquieting questions.

The evidence I am relying on in this post is all publicly available. It could be further supported by extensive evidence from private contexts and supporting testimony, which I am for obvious reasons not at liberty to share.

At this point, I should also make it clear that I did not contact Achord’s school and Achord’s school did not contact me. I made no association between Achord and his role in the school in my thread nor in any subsequent online conversations prior to receiving news of his firing/resignation (he describes it as the latter). I only addressed Achord as a public voice of a certain form of Christian nationalism.

I have no driving desire to deplatform people and strip fellow Christians of their livelihoods. I do not want to see Achord and his family immiserated, and in fact, if you feel led to do so, you can support them here. Please also pray for their well-being, as I have done and continue to do. However, I do not want to see Achord accepted as a wise voice in Christian political discourse. I do not want to see him forming the minds of the young or old. More broadly, I want us to be far more careful in protecting our churches, movements, and institutions from both dangerous ‘stowaways’ that could easily destroy movements and institutions, and versions of Christian nationalism which contain insufficient guardrails to prevent such co-opting and subversion—which would render any movement so co-opted as not just destructive but utterly politically ineffective.

 

Conclusion

My conclusion that @TuliusAadland is Thomas Achord seems to me irrefutable. If somehow I am given good reasons to believe that I’m wrong, I will be very willing, on pain of ninth commandment violation, to say so. But if I am right, Achord, a published author and podcaster, with a public voice in a developing Christian nationalist movement, is providing cover for and even spreading racist and other profoundly objectionable views. If I am right, Achord has brazenly lied and he and others have made extremely damaging claims and insinuations about my actions in order to cover up his own.

I reached these conclusions carefully and made the decision to publish them in consultation with people I trust. I delayed this statement and presentation of evidence to provide the considered, sober, and thorough handling that matters of this severity and consequence demand. Our speech on matters of such weight must neither be impelled by the heat of our passion nor driven by the impatient demands of the Internet. In such situations, there are much more important things at stake than petty personal beefs, points scoring, or even a selfish preoccupation with our own reputations and social standing. Publicly made allegations should be backed up with public presentation of evidence, but the more compelling character of the case presented later in Proverbs 18:17 may not be accidental to the proverb’s import: haste is not a virtue in such matters.

The views expressed in the tweets are not, in my view, inconsistent with Achord’s public views, though they are expressed more crudely, and he has given us little reason to think that he disagrees with those views; again, to my knowledge he did not even deny writing the articles. And in fact, again, his initial move was not to deny that @TuliusAadland was him, but to claim that the thread I posted was a reductio and that I should have gotten in direct contact if I wanted to know about them. How was I meant to get in contact with the author if it was not him?

Tellingly, many of the responses from the Christian nationalist rank and file have been more concerned about the revelation of the identity of the author of racist tweets, rather than the sentiments themselves.

On the other hand, in this masks-off moment, it has also been extremely clear that most leading voices in the Christian right will make no compromise with racism. Neil Shenvi in particular has my extreme admiration and appreciation for the way that he put his own reputation on the line in sharing and standing by my thread. Brad Littlejohn has also been an immense encouragement and support. For me, Brad has long exemplified what a thoughtful and healthy American Christian nationalism should aspire to be. The organizations with which I am affiliated, the Davenant and Theopolis Institutes, have been a boon and a blessing at a time when it is difficult to know who your friends are.

Many of mine are Christian nationalists who uncompromisingly resist the racism that can be seen in the Tulius account. Much of my determination in challenging the influence of people like Achord has arisen from my concern that they are corrupting and undermining the reputation and character of institutions and movements about whose ministries, visions, and members I care deeply. I think this movement is too important to allow that to happen—to allow it to be tarnished by such things.

Many who oppose us believe Christian nationalism—indeed, any kind of retrieval or renewal of the great Christian and Classical traditions that shaped the West—to be nothing more than a fig-leaf for white supremacism. To the best of my ability, I will not allow that to be the case on my watch. Accusations are nothing. What we are responsible for is making sure that they are not true. What we are responsible is standing for, and fighting for, an intellectual and social world that is real and sane and whole and good.

What are we to make of this? Should we run from anyone who claims to want to “renew Western civilization?” Certainly not. Is it the case that any project that Achord was involved in is entirely tainted? It is not. Things must be evaluated on their own merits.

My initial attention to Achord was drawn by his association with Stephen Wolfe. As I said before, I do not and cannot know what Wolfe’s views on these things are. I do, however, think that his book is a radical misuse of the tradition which he is working in, although it can be a gateway to some of these thinkers and serve as a sort of bibliography of Classical and Christian political sources. To begin to learn how to navigate the world he presents in his book in what I believe to be a far richer and more responsible manner, I would recommend that you start with my wife Susannah’s superb recent Theopolis article in response to Wolfe.

I have put an awful lot of my reputational capital on the line in all of this. There are few self-interested motives for me to be involved in any of this.

But I am as I write this deeply hopeful because of the the host of people who have written in support, have helped, who share my desire to promote Classical and Christian retrieval in and for our time, and do not think that this entails ethnic or racial separatism or hostility: who have a broader vision and love the tradition for what it is, not for the use that can be made of it. Ultimately, those of the Christian retrieval/postliberal/what-have-you movement who are driven by racial animus are a small minority. There is a lot to do, and there are many comrades with whom to do it. We need each other in this work.

There is very good news here. We do not need to choose between a love of the tradition and a robust affirmation of the very concrete and practical brotherhood in Christ that is between Christians of different ethnicities. Both the Classical and Christian traditions themselves overturn the need for ethnically or racially separate friendships, churches, and, yes, countries.

It seems that Achord was once driven by the desire to do Classical and Christian retrieval himself, before he was so horrifically derailed. That is a good desire. If we are to renew Christendom it cannot be on the back of a narrow racialism. That racialism is not faithful to the fullness of our own traditions and it is, moreover, utterly destructive of any possible form of political action. To cling to racialist hostility is to make oneself politically neutered, irrelevant; it is to halt any constructive action.

But ultimately, our concern must be the name of Christ. It is for his glory and the well-being of his Church, his beloved Bride, made up of men and women of all nations and races and ethnicities, in which the dividing line of hostility has been broken down, that we must act. It is her we must protect. Let us uncompromisingly root out anything that would undermine this.

O God who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies that we, surely trusting in thy defence may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Posted in Controversies, In the News, Theological | Tagged , , | 57 Comments

God’s Wrath

In an article for the latest issue of First Things, I review Paul Copan’s recent book, Is God a Vindictive Bully? Reconciling Portrayals of God in the Old and New Testaments, and discuss responsible handling of narratives of divine violence in the Scriptures more broadly.

Posted in Bible, Controversies, Guest Post, Hermeneutics, NT Theology, OT, OT Theology, Theological | Leave a comment

The Death of the Queen and a Christian Understanding of Sovereignty

I wrote a piece for Theopolis on the subject of a Christian understanding of sovereignty, occasioned by the death of HM the Queen.

For a woman in nominal possession of such vast powers, perhaps few things left strangers to the British monarchy more confused than the fact that the Queen never really exercised them to get her way. Indeed, the Queen was expected to remain strictly politically neutral, not even casting a vote. Although we might speculate as to her political convictions, preferences, and desires, they were not openly declared. The Queen’s importance was not as the leader of a political or social party, but as a unifying representative and figurehead of the family to which all her subjects belong, no matter how fraught our relations, constantly recalling us to the duty and the love by which a people must be sustained.

Such political neutrality might strike many as synonymous with political inconsequentiality, yet in the absence of more overt exercise of power, monarchy can more clearly manifest the symbolic gravity of sovereignty itself and the attractive strength of its spectacles. Besides this, through her quiet dignity and self-possession, the Queen exhibited the power of calm presence as itself a mode of leadership, even apart from self-assertive action. Coupled with the exemplary character of her virtues, the potent nature of such leadership has commonly been referred to in people’s tributes. In whatever station of life we might find ourselves, we all have much to learn from reflection upon such modes of power and leadership. Often the greatest power we can exercise will be in quiet mastery of ourselves; in virtuous, self-effacing, and dutiful service; in respect for and dignity in our offices and vocations, and honouring others in theirs. Sovereigns in whatever realms God has placed us, we must also humbly recall people to the source and the dignifying mystery of all sovereignty in our behaviour.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted in Bible, Culture, Politics, Society, Theological, Theopolis | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Our Patient and Peaceable Work

The latest Theopolis Conversation was opened with Jeff Meyers’ essay, ‘Ancient Wisdom for Christian Dissidents’. Jeff’s commentary on the epistle of James, Wisdom for Dissidents: The Epistle of James Through New Eyes, was recently released by Athanasius Press and he explores some of the themes of the book that have bearing upon contemporary Christian political action. Jerry Bowyer and Andrew Isker will also be participating in the Conversation, but mine was the first response. Within my piece in the Conversation, I explore the agricultural themes of James and what they might have to teach us.

The wise farmer, while recognizing the same dangers as the zealot, can address them chiefly by taking measures to keep them at bay. He can construct a wall or fence around his property, can erect a watchtower, can set up firebreaks and other measures to prepare for the outbreak of fires. Such actions protect his fields from the encroachment of hostile elements, destructive creatures, or enemies. Having bounded his fields, he can then dig deep wells to ensure that he has pure water with which to irrigate them. He can clear the land of stones and weeds. While such measures will not be sufficient to prevent anything hostile, destructive, or deleterious from entering his land, they will ensure that tackling such things will not overwhelm him or completely dominate his attention.

While directly fighting and counteracting invasive and encroaching elements of the wider world may provide some protection for the grain, this is not how it will grow healthy and strong. For that it requires a ‘culture’ of its own, which will principally develop as it flourishes within boundaries that keep hostile external elements at bay. This allows us to devote our energies chiefly to patient farming labour in our own hearts and churches, diligently sowing the seeds of God’s word, clearing the stones and removing the weeds that constrict or stifle their growth, scaring away birds that would take the seed, digging deep wells and irrigation channels, praying for the rains of God’s blessing, and awaiting a harvest. The ‘battles’ that should most preoccupy us should be with the hardness of the soil of our hearts and Christian communities.

Read the whole piece here.

Posted in Bible, Controversies, Culture, Guest Post, James, NT, NT Theology, Politics, The Church, Theological | 4 Comments

The Church’s Book—A Theopolis Conversation with Brad East

In the latest Theopolis Conversation, I discuss Brad East’s recently published work, The Church’s Book: Theologies of Scripture in Ecclesial Context, which explores the relationship between bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture) and ecclesiology in the work of Karl Barth and three of his theological successors: John Webster, Robert Jenson, and John Howard Yoder. The book is complemented by East’s other recent release, The Doctrine of Scripture, within which he discusses the relationship between the Church and the Scriptures.

Within the opening essay, I review The Church’s Book, concluding with a number of reflections upon the tightness of the connection between Scripture and the Church:

In the Church’s life and worship, the Scriptures have a rich and multifaceted presence. We are summoned with the words of Scripture, we confess our sins with the words of Scripture, we are absolved with the words of Scripture, we sing the words of the Scripture in the psalms, we hear the words of Scripture in its public reading, memorializing the great acts of the Lord recorded within it, we confess our faith in a summary of the witness of the Scriptures, we greet each other with words from the Scripture, we are exhorted and encouraged from the words of the Scriptures, we pray the words of the Scripture in the Lord’s Prayer, we celebrate the Supper according to the word of the Scripture, and we are blessed and commissioned by the word of the Scripture. Every part of the Church’s life and practice is pervaded by Scripture. It is the very fabric of our communications by which we are rendered a community. While East attends to contrasting approaches to exegesis, he does not sufficiently attend to the bibliological and ecclesial implications of other forms of scriptural practice, such as meditation or memorization.

East responds in the second essay, within which he raises questions about issues such as scriptural interpretation, perspicuity, and sufficiency.

If it is true that different parts of Scripture are Scripture differently, what are the implications for both the authority and the attributes of Scripture? As I mentioned a moment ago, gentile Christians are used to Scripture’s differentiated authority in practice, given that they (we) are not Torah observant. In one sense, then, some part of the Bible “does not apply,” owing to one’s time, place, or genealogy. The Law of Moses is still the word of the Lord, and it surely has something for me to attend to—for from it and through it I may be instructed, enlivened, convicted, rebuked, judged, enlightened, or otherwise brought to spiritual ecstasy by the Lord of Sinai—but its plain sense, in the form of obligations or prohibitions, does not bind me.

I wonder how far this commonsense hermeneutical observation extends. Does it apply to the New Testament? Does it (ever) apply to tacit doctrines or explicit commands in the apostolic writings? By what theological or other criteria would we make such a judgment?

In the concluding essay, I respond to a number of East’s questions and present some more of my own bibliology and its relationship with my hermeneutics:

Here I believe that typology can greatly help us to follow the developing—and ascending—sense of the text and its referents. Typology should not be treated merely as a bridge between the testaments: it pervades the Old Testament, which routinely connects characters and events by means of subtle yet robust intertextuality (David as a new Jacob, the tabernacle as a new creation, the book of Daniel as an elaboration of the story of Babel, etc., etc.). Closer attention to such connections internal to the Old Testament scriptures can vindicate the Church’s historic spiritual reading of such texts, while also assuaging legitimate anxieties about neglect of the literal sense.

Such an approach, to touch upon some of East’s questions, also gives us some means to speak more adequately of the Scriptures’ unity in their diversity and to appreciate varied forms of a unified authority. The Law of Sinai does not apply to Christians as it did to Israel in the wilderness. Nevertheless, it is less an annulled or effaced word than it is word that requires ‘transfigural’ reading. The Law is now written upon hearts by the Spirit, fulfilled in the law of love. Yet a careful reading of the Law itself already anticipates and gestures towards this coming fulfilment, not merely in prophecy but in its own internal logic. There is continuity between the reality of the Law under the old covenant and the realities of the new covenant. Read from the perspective of the new covenant, the ‘veil’ upon the writings of Moses is removed, as the Apostle argues in 2 Corinthians 3, and we can behold the glory of the Lord. For its part, in the narration of the events of Pentecost, the New Testament presents the gift of the Spirit as the climactic fulfilment of Sinai, not its negation.

Read the whole series here.

Posted in Bible, Church History, Controversies, Hermeneutics, My Reading, Reviews, Scripture, Technology, The Church, Theological, Theopolis | Leave a comment

Two Stories of Manhood

I review two books for The Gospel Coalition website: It’s Good To Be A Man by Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant and The Men That We Need by Brant Hansen.

Whether we’re believers reading the Scriptures for our personal devotions, pastors preparing to preach sermons to our congregations, or Christian writers seeking to form our readers, our reading of Scripture is always an attempt to hear its voice speaking to us within the resonance chambers of our lives, communities, and cultural contexts. This is a necessary task, yet one fraught with challenges and dangers. Virtually every reader of Scripture comes to its texts with a set of pronounced cultural stories. We have a sense of the things that are wrong with the world, the errors that need to be addressed, the goods that need to be protected, and the questions that need to be answered. We have a sense of the things that are of pressing importance and the things of secondary concern.

While we need to hear the Scriptures speaking to us within our contexts, we can all too easily make our contexts a straitjacket for them. Even when our interpretation of our cultural contexts and moments may be informed by the Bible in various ways, it’s very easy for our reading of the Scriptures to become subservient to or even conflated with our more immediate cultural concerns and stories. Coming to the Scriptures with the pressing concerns, questions, and frameworks of our immediate contexts, we can force the Scriptures into an alien mold. Rather than putting our own questions, concerns, and expectations to one side and listening attentively and receptively to the Bible’s own voice, we may merely be listening for whatever within it answers the concerns that most animate us. Approached in such a manner, we’ll make it very difficult for ourselves to be surprised by the Scriptures, to hear the complex character of its witness, or to perceive the balance of its teaching.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, My Reading, Reviews, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological | 1 Comment

Response to Douglas Farrow on Vaccine Mandates

In the latest Theopolis Conversion we are discussing how Christians should respond to vaccine mandates and other such policies. Douglas Farrow kicked off the Conversation with his essay. Mine is the first response, which you can read here. Make sure to follow the whole discussion: there are several more responses to come!

It is entirely possible to take COVID seriously without being driven by irrational fear or elevating it to the level of a god (and, on the other hand, quite possible to treat opposition to COVID measures as a shibboleth that divides Christ’s church). Even as we challenge measures that we deem excessive, it shouldn’t be at all difficult to put a charitable construction upon many of our governments’ policies. Nor should it be difficult to have measured responses, even as we oppose excessive or unlawful measures, to honour authorities and to submit to their laws as far as conscience allows. Indeed, on those extraordinary occasions when we are conscience-bound to resist otherwise lawful authorities, it is imperative that we seek to honour and uphold their authority in our manner of resistance. Where we fail to pay close regard to the threat of anarchy or of delegitimating authority in our manner of resistance to its excesses, we are falling dangerously short of a truly Christian political ethic.

Read my whole piece here.

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2021 Retrospective

At the end of 2021, I thought it might be good to reflect briefly upon the past year, which has been an extremely full, productive, and rewarding one for me, on several fronts. I’ll be spending January of 2022 in the US, largely reading, writing, teaching, and enjoying the opportunity to catch my breath before the plunge into the immense and exciting challenges I have lined up for 2022.

Daily Reflections Project

Two years ago, I began a project going through the lectionary of the 2019 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. The initial intention was to offer some brief and assorted reflections upon each biblical reading for Morning and then Evening Prayer. That soon morphed into a more thorough commentary upon each chapter, as the first stage of a larger project to produce a free and easily accessible audio commentary on the whole Bible, informed by the best scholarship and resourcing Christian meditation upon and devotional reading of Scripture. Later still, a published physical version of the commentary became a further goal.

Over the last two years, every single day, I have spent about seven or more hours studying commentaries, writing extensive notes, and recording my brief reflections. In the process I have used quite literally several hundreds of commentaries, I have written over a million words of notes, and have recorded hundreds of hours of material.

At this point, I have completed reflections upon the entire lectionary, save for some of the Psalms and the readings from the Apocrypha. I have produced reflections on every chapter of the New Testament and most of the Old. Over the next few months, I intend to finish producing reflections upon the remaining chapters of the Old Testament. Almost all those chapters are in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Psalms, and Ezekiel. If you ever wanted to learn more about the deep logic of the sacrificial system, about obscure laws, about the importance of genealogical material, about those unsettling stories at the end of the book of Judges, or the meaning of Ezekiel’s visionary temple, there is a lot to look forward to! There is also so much of the richness of the Psalms to get into and enjoy.

My hope for the project is that it will become a comprehensive chapter-by-chapter audio commentary on the entire Bible, a free and easily accessible resource for people around the world and throughout the Church. To improve the accessibility of the project, most of my reflections are now available (those from the second half of 2021 still need to be uploaded), ordered by chapter and easily searchable and downloadable here. The Bible is a book of immense treasures, by which many Christians are needlessly daunted. I’ve long felt that my vocation is primarily to help fellow Christians to love, trust, and delight in the Bible more and to read it with greater confidence, skill, and attention.

The project is entirely funded by donations of supporters (Patreon/PayPal) and publicized by word of mouth. Besides keeping it as a free resource, I would like to improve its accessibility in various ways in the future and to make more people aware of it.

Besides the biblical commentary, I’ve done several other things this year. Here are a few.

Almost a hundred episodes on various other podcasts: Mere Fidelity, the Theopolis Podcast (including series on imprecatory psalms, the books of Jonah and Daniel, and a series on types of the nativity), and guest appearances on several others.

A Complete Reading of the Books of Homilies

A Series on the Tabernacle

Conversations on Interesting Topics

This year, I’ve had conversations on the subjects of free speech, gender, scapegoating, intertextual reading of Scripture, Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, music and Exodus, whether empathy is a sin, the book of Esther, Jordan Peterson, doctrine and life, work and worship, eating and faith, Christian reconstructionism, and the history of Christian Ireland.

Articles

I’ve haven’t written many articles over the past year, but here are a few: Protestant politics, media ecology, sexual identity, and Trinity in creation.

I’ve taught courses for the Theopolis Institute on the biblical theology of the Law and on the Sabbath, and courses for the Davenant Institute on Exodus and Biblical Literature and on Natural Law and Scriptural Authority.

On a personal front, 2021 has been a happy one. I’ve been able to do more travelling and, now that the USA is letting visitors back in, am enjoying the New Year in New York. I’ve visited many friends, seen a number of sights, and knit several large items. There have been some wonderful family events (and exciting things to look forward to in 2022). Here are some pictures and videos of various happy memories and milestones.

My brother’s wedding

Knitted baby blanket for a new niece

The first thing I’ve ever knitted for myself

With Susannah in London

Oxford

Walking along the canal with friends

Walking along the canal with friends

Newcastle

Newcastle

Beamish Museum

Beamish Museum

Durham

Durham

Durham

Durham Cathedral

Liverpool

Liverpool

Declan

Furiosa

Cutty Sark

A knitted shawl

Buxton

The Peak District

Lumiere in Durham

Lumiere in Durham

Durham

Christmas

Christmas

Tower Bridge

Greenwich

With Susannah in the Reform Club

Posted in My Doings, Photos, Retrospective, What I'm Doing | 15 Comments

Trinity in Creation

blue light, sunrise, atmosphere, earth, blue planet, globe, space, universe, all, night sky, sky, astronautics, nasa, space travel, aviation, astronomy, science, research, sunbeam, sunlight, blue, no people, light beam, planet earth, planet - space, light - natural phenomenon, copy space, sun, nature, lens flare, urban skyline, environment, natural phenomenon, satellite view, horizon, sunrise - dawn, black background, 1080P

I have written a piece in response to the most recent Theopolis Conversation on the subject of the Trinity in creation.

By leaning into identifying the Logos with God revealed in the singularity of his act (and even declared prior to any act), John immediately chastens any visions of plurality that might give rise to a ‘social Trinity’, for instance, while still maintaining personal differentiation. One consequence of this is the theological load-bearing that prepositional differentiation start to perform from the outset: God’s works are from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit (this is also a notable feature of the Apostle Paul’s theological account of Christ’s deity). God’s works are not the collaborative work of a team of different unified agents, but the multiplicity proper to God is such that it is appropriate to represent him as a single purposeful Agent throughout the creation account, as elsewhere in the Scripture…

Read the whole piece here.

Posted in Bible, Creation, Doctrine of God, Genesis, Guest Post, NT Theology, OT, OT Theology, The Triune God, Theological, Theopolis | 2 Comments

Reality Beyond Ourselves

I conclude the latest Theopolis Conversation on the subject of sexual identity in this piece.

While O’Donovan’s primary critique in his treatment of the task of interpretation of homosexual desire is directed against those rejecting historic Christian sexual ethics, his critique also needs to be heard by many contemporary supporters of such ethics. I suspect that the term ‘gay’ has become so vexed in part on account of the failure of conservative Christians to undertake this interpretative task carefully and attentively enough. As our interiority is elevated as primary and self-interpreting in our society, it is not merely sexual revolutionaries that neglect the task of interpretation. Too many orthodox Christians have taken the desires of homosexual Christians as self-interpreting and simply pathologized both the desires and, by extension, those who possess them (here I must register my discomfort with an approach that traffics heavily in disgust in such an environment). ‘Gay’ is a very slippery term, but it has always named more than mere sexual desire, being connected with shared sensibilities and the like. If we are to condemn the use of this term, I think it is essential that we equip people to tease apart and interpret the tangled threads of desires, sensibilities, aesthetics, and perceptions that ‘gay’ represents for them. A lot of cruelly inflicted distress can result when this is not done.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Technology, Theological | Leave a comment