Justice Discourse in the Internet Age, Part 3: Abstract Justice

The delayed third instalment of my series on justice in the Internet Age has been posted over on the Davenant Institute’s blog (see the first two parts here and here).

Abstraction affords us a way of relating our particular contexts, experiences, and identities to something that transcends them. As the virtual realm becomes increasingly determinative of our identities, it also offers a way of relating to our concrete contexts, regarding them ideologically, in terms of more abstract ideas and categories.

The ability to abstract from the particularity of experience is by no means a bad thing per se. Through abstraction, at the temporary expense of some resolution, we can often more easily discern patterns and connections between things. However, where the resolution that enables us to perceive particularity is not just temporarily sacrificed, but is more permanently lost, abstraction can become a much more vicious process. Rich realities are reduced to threadbare and colourless ideas, or mere instantiations of generic entities. People are reduced to homogeneous groups and types.

And, beyond the de-particularization encouraged by media where we must represent ourselves in terms of generic categories and templates, there is an intensified social pull towards abstraction. Abstraction offers the potential for connection, to render your reality and experience in terms that highlight commonality. Whereas in our local contexts commonality and connection are often found precisely in particularity, in the non-local context of the Internet, these things more frequently present themselves to be sought through abstraction.

Read the whole thing here.

 

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Discussion on Classical Theism with Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart

Over the last few days in Monroe, Louisiana, I’ve enjoyed a discussion on the subject of classical theism with Peter Leithart and Jeff Meyers, hosted by Church of the Redeemer. We’ve had some great and challenging debate. You can see the whole series over on YouTube. Here are my talks and the group discussions:

Posted in Christology, Controversies, Doctrine of God, Hermeneutics, The Triune God, Theological, Video | 31 Comments

Knowing God: Debating Classical Theism with Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart

I’ve been enjoying a stimulating engagement with the classical theist understanding of God in conversation and dispute with Peter Leithart and Jeff Meyers at Church of the Redeemer in Monroe, Louisiana. You can listen in here. You can get a flavour of some of our disagreements, shared commitments, and differing concerns in the first question and answer session from this morning.

Posted in Christology, Church History, Controversies, Doctrine of God, Revelation, Scripture, The Triune God, Theological, Theopolis, Video | 5 Comments

Twelve Days of Christmas Videos

Over the Christmas period, I made a series of videos/podcasts on the subject of echoes and symmetries in the narratives of the nativity and infancy of Christ. You can watch them all here.

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2018 Retrospective

The Roaches in the Peak District

In keeping with the tradition of this blog, the following is a retrospective and round-up of my work from the past year. 2018 was a full but also a tough year for me in various respects. I have not had anywhere near the same time to devote to my blog, or to the sort of exploratory work I like to do. Putting video and podcast output to one side, it has been a quieter year on the blog than I had hoped. However, I have still been able to write some things, and have also produced about a couple of hundred videos and podcasts.

Issues of sex and sexuality were often on my radar over the course of last year and I was invited to speak or write on subjects related to the area on many occasions. I tackled questions such as the biological basis of gender differences in What Socialization and Social Construction Can’t Explain, responded to objections to my understanding of women’s representation in entertainment media, discussed the important sociological research of Mark Regnerus in Sex in Zero Gravity, reviewed Darel Paul’s work on elites’ support for same-sex marriage, and addressed the issue of friendship between the sexes. I considered questions of exegesis surrounding debates on how to read women’s stories in Scripture in writing on the woman of Endor, reviewing Vindicating the Vixens, and also reflected upon the importance of our epistemic posture in debates and issues relating to the theology of the sexes. I delivered an intensive course at the Theopolis Institute on a theology of the sexes, available for purchase here and spoke at the 2018 THINK conference on the subject. I also wrote two booklets on the subject for the Davenant Institute—Does Creedal Orthodoxy Require Traditional Sexual Ethics? and How Did We Get Here?—and spoke for them on the subject.

Walking along the Canal near Stoke-on-Trent

In March, my first book came out, Echoes of Exodus, co-written with my friend Andrew Wilson. In conjunction with and following its release, I published many articles and videos expounding on the themes of the book, such as this article with ten things people should know about the Exodus. Because of the constraints of the book’s word count, I often used such articles to explore dimensions of the biblical material that I had not been able to develop in the book itself.

 

At the beginning of 2018, the Jordan Peterson phenomenon exploded into mainstream awareness and, quite suddenly, everywhere I went his name was on people’s lips and my inbox was full of requests to comment on him. People wanted to understand why he was so powerfully resonating with demographics that were abandoning the Church, why so many people claimed that their lives had been transformed by his counsel, what his deeper philosophy was, and how it related to Christianity. I truly have never seen anything quite like it. My year ended in a similar place to where it began: yesterday, I put the finishing touches on an essay on Jordan Peterson and free speech for a forthcoming book and was reminded of why Peterson’s thought and the broader phenomenon surrounding him are so rewarding of close attention and how badly he is misunderstood and misrepresented by many of his critics.

With my brother Mark and my father

While responses to Peterson have often been depressingly polarized—and the cult dynamic around him is no less unfortunate than the shrill hysterics of many of those denouncing him—people who are prepared to suspend their judgment for a time, to engage with his work and the phenomenon surrounding him in a sustained and attentive manner, and finally to arrive at carefully differentiated informed opinions will likely find their understanding of the world, human nature, and the current environment greatly sharpened in the process. I discussed some of my reasons for finding his work significant here. Over the course of the year, I wrote several pieces related to Peterson and especially upon his appeal to men: Jordan Peterson and Powerful Men, What Pastors Could Learn From Jordan Peterson, On Men, Shame, and Brotherhood (and a follow-up post), Jordan Peterson and the Evangelical Man. In March, I wrote an especially lengthy piece providing a broader introduction to the contours of Peterson’s thought. I also recorded a video with Brad Littlejohn on the subject. In Discourse in the Culture Wars, I reflected on the reasons why the reactions to Peterson’s work have been so polarized. I was also invited onto the Desiring God podcast to speak about the Jordan Peterson phenomenon.

Hodges Chapel in a Theopolis Intensive

Technology, media, and their effects upon discourse, thought, and society continue to be prominent themes in my thinking and writing. I wrote on the subject of the need to attend to the material form of the scriptural texts and the practices that surround them and also delivered a lecture on the subject. I addressed the question of virtue ethics online in a guest piece for Ian Paul’s blog, Can We Be Virtuous in an Age of Social Media? I discussed social media with Brad Littlejohn and also with Tony Reinke. I have been especially interested in the impact of new media upon our notions of matters such as social justice. I started a series on this subject for the Davenant Institute’s blog. The first two pieces have already been published: expect further instalments in the next few weeks.

Also on more general changes in society, developing themes from last year’s post The Strangeness of the Modern Mind, I asked whether modernity has been a success. Following May’s Royal Wedding, and building on the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, I reflected upon the changing place of the institution of the monarchy in contemporary Britain.

Discussing Richard Hooker at the Davenant Summer Programme

Reading the Bible closely remains my chief love, and perhaps the bulk of my work this year—both in my offline writing, speaking, and reading, and my online videos and podcasts—has been devoted to that subject. Back in October, my friends over at Three Things invited me to write on the subject of reading our Bible well there. In November, I was part of a conversation with Iain Provan on the subject of hermeneutics. Over the course of the year, I wrote four scriptural reflections for the Political Theology Network. In January, I discussed the notion of authority as it is illustrated in Mark 1:21-28. The difficult story of Judas’ suicide was the subject of my May reflection, gift-giving in 2 Corinthians 8 in June, and the significance of the land as a witness in Joshua for August. Yoram Hazony’s work has been of considerable interest to me recently, and I discussed his reading of Jacob’s deception of Isaac and his broader approach to the interpretation of Scripture in this piece for Theopolis. Also for Theopolis, I wrote on the significance of boat stories in the Bible. In July, I spoke at L’Abri UK on reading the Bible in the light of the Transfiguration.

At the THINK Conference in London

In April, I posted my first YouTube video in a new account. Since then, I have published over 120 videos, and have set up a new blog and a new Soundcloud account, thanks in large measure to some very generous supporters. I am mostly producing videos for a fairly niche audience, but a few of my videos have been more popular, including my discussion of the recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, my sketch of a case against women’s ordination, my engagement with Paul Maxwell’s thoughts on masculinity, and my reflections on the biblical vision of the household. Perhaps the videos I have most enjoyed, although they take more preparation, are the summaries and discussions of various books: Matthieu Pageau’s The Language of Creation, John Hughes’ The End of Work, Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, and Meredith Kline’s Images of the Spirit. I have also been enjoying thinking about the typology of the Christmas and Epiphany narratives of the gospels in my continuing series over the twelve days of Christmas.

At ETS with Derek and Andrew

This last year has been a relatively quiet year for Mere Fidelity, with only twenty-three podcasts released. There were not any especial highlights on the show for me, although I greatly appreciated the chance to work through Augustine’s Confessions with the guys and relished the chance to speak with some very stimulating guests. Finally getting to meet Derek in person (and to catch up with Andrew and Matt) in November at ETS was wonderful: it is strange to meet someone in the flesh after you have already been a close friend with them for several years.

Becoming involved with the work of the Theopolis and Davenant Institutes has been perhaps one of the greatest things about 2018 for me. I feel immensely fortunate to be working more closely with people like Peter Leithart, Brian Moats, John Crawford, Brad Littlejohn, Steven Wedgeworth, Peter Escalante, and others whose scholarship and work I admire, whose company I find profoundly stimulating, and whose friendship I highly value. Doing Theopolis lectionary podcasts with Leithart has been a delight, even though I may occasionally wonder how much I have to offer in comparison! Perhaps the absolute highlight of podcasting in 2018 was speaking with Leithart and Hazony about The Virtue of Nationalism. There truly is nothing like getting into the meat of a hugely important issue with a brilliant guest.

Teaching at the Theopolis Institute

Over the course of 2018, I participated in two Theopolis intensive courses, the first which I delivered on the Theology of the Sexes and the second in August with Esther Meek, a memorable experience that I have written about here. I stayed at L’Abri for two weekends. I stayed with friends and got to know churches in places like Memphis, Greenville, Philadelphia, Leesburg, Moscow, and Birmingham. I had a deeply encouraging time at the THINK conference in London. I caught up with several old friends over the course of the year and made several new friends. I loved my time at ETS in Denver. As usual, the Reformed Irenics convivium and leading a Summer Programme for the Davenant Institute in South Carolina were standout events of the year. Looking back over the year, the things that I most remember are the many incredible people that I had the privilege to meet and spend time with. Crossing paths with so many gifted, gracious, and passionate people—especially young people—in the course of my work is an immense encouragement and cause for thankfulness.

On this front, 2019 promises more of the same. I can’t wait!

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Homeless at Christmas

The following is a guest post, sharing the work of the Church Urban Fund.

For most of us in the UK the cold days and colder nights of winter are a chance to don our woollen hats and scarves and hurry from place to place without much risk of getting seriously cold.  For some of us though, indeed for an increasing amount of people, the cold of winter brings with it a very real risk – a fatal one. Recent statistics state that on any one night there are over 4,750 people sleeping rough in England. For these people who live on the streets,  winter is remorseless. Last year over 450 people died on the streets, from various causes, including acute hypothermia.

The numbers of people who sleep on our streets are rapidly increasing. Since 2010 the UK has seen a rise of nearly 170% of rough sleepers. The two main causes of homelessness in this country are the end of a private tenancy (the number of households evicted from a privately rented home has accounted for 78% of the rise in homelessness since 2011) or a life event (such as a relationship breakdown, a redundancy, or leaving prison or the armed forces).

It’s not just the cold that reminds us about homelessness at this time of year, but the familiar Christmas story also helps us to reflect on the issue. After the annunciation Mary, a pregnant teenager, leaves her home to stay with her cousin Elizabeth – is this a biblical version of sofa-surfing for this soon-to-be young mum? When the census forces her and Joseph on a dangerous journey to Bethlehem where they find inadequate lodging in a stable for Mary to give birth. Jesus is born into homelessness and then, with his parents, is forced to flee as a refugee to escape Herod’s violent regime. Homelessness is an experience the holy family were very familiar with.

For Christians the Gospel message of loving your neighbour and serving the poor calls us to respond to the issue of homelessness. When reflecting on homelessness, I cannot help but think of Jesus’ words: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’. What are we doing for our brothers and sisters who are experiencing homelessness?

Of course there are multiple ways that we as Christians can help make a difference to the lives of people experiencing homelessness, but one specific way is through the work of the Church Urban Fund – a Christian social action charity working around the country to tackle issues such as homelessness. The Church Urban Fund mobilises communities around the country to offer life-saving services to people experiencing homelessness through Winter Night Shelters and programmes which support people on the journey from rough sleeping to something more stable and sustainable.

One person who the Church Urban Fund helped was Tom, who was offered a bed in a winter night shelter; he wrote: “I’m Tom. I’m 26. I was homeless. Some people are homeless because of drugs and stuff like that. That wasn’t my problem. Some people are homeless because of their mental state. That’s partly why I was homeless because of my mental health… My family just abandoned me. And I was going through a really rough time, sleeping on a mate’s sofa when I could, but otherwise I just had to sleep rough on the streets.

“It was a really difficult time being homeless, I was at the point that I wanted to kill myself. If I hadn’t got the help when I needed it, yeah, I wouldn’t be here. I got referred to this winter night shelter. They provided a warm bed, a listening ear and hot meals. It was very welcoming and homely. I was there for two months and they even supported me when I had to attend court.

“At the shelter, there was a volunteer who found out that I had worked in catering in the past. She suggested I attend an interview at a local guest house. I got the job! And a permanent place to stay. With homelessness there’s always more that could be done, but what they have done for me here is beyond expectation.”

Tom’s life was transformed because of the care offered to him through the work of Church Urban Fund. There are so many other lives that could be saved and changed by people like you and me, by Christians who respond to Jesus call to serve others. This winter plummeting temperatures and the story of the baby with no crib for a bed remind us of the struggle of people experiencing homelessness – a struggle many of us have in our power to alleviate, or even, to end.

To support the work of Church Urban Fund please donate here.

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Boat Stories

I have just had an article published over on the Theopolis site. Within it, I discuss the significance of the boat as a metaphor for the Church and other things.

As a conceptual metaphor and model, the boat and its attendant stories can helpfully frame many different phenomena. As it frames these phenomena, accenting key features, it may enable us to see familiar things in a new way, perhaps even facilitating moments of epiphany. While Rao uses the boat and its stories as a model to explore such things as the medium of blogging, making various insightful observations in the process, the model itself offers an illuminating paradigm for a host of realities beyond this.

As Rao observes, the boat is an unusual place. It is a fragile realm of order and community immediately bounded by a realm of chaos and disorder. The boat and its crew can venture forth on a great heroic quest, punctuated by forays into the unknown and/or dangerous realm beyond the boat itself. However, in doing so they share the evolving quotidian life of a community and its non-heroic relationships. Build your stories around a boat, and you can more easily fuse elements of soap opera with elements of the heroic epic. The imaginative appeal of boat stories—from Moby Dick, to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to Star Trek, to Titanic—is often found in the possibilities that the form affords for bringing together narrative approaches that are often detached from each other.

Conceptual models and root metaphors are powerful things. As they frame reality for us in distinctive ways, they offer us paradigms for being, thought, and action. The root metaphor of the boat is an especially powerful root metaphor, framing reality in a way that foregrounds a particularly powerful conjunction of features. The boat is a fragile micro-environment moving within a potentially dangerous and occasionally hostile larger environment. It is exposed to the threats of chaos, death, and the unknown, but is typically driven by a specific quest. The world of the boat itself can sometimes be akin to a terrarium—a tightly enclosed environment that functions as a self-contained social ecosystem. For the boat to fulfil its quest, it is necessary for those on board to recognize their extreme interdependence, to resolve conflicts swiftly, and to cooperate effectively.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted in Bible, Genesis, Guest Post, John, Jonah, Luke, Mark, Matthew, NT, NT Theology, OT, OT Theology, The Church, Theological, Theopolis | Leave a comment