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…
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.
I have written a piece to open the latest conversation, on the subject of sexual identity, over on the Theopolis website.
There is a difference between a house and a home. A house is an architectural edifice, often one of several constructed according to the same plan. A home is a house that has been rendered a personal habitation, a unique realm of life, communion, and indwelling. In discussing matters of contemporary sexuality and gender, Christians have all too often been narrowly concerned to defend the edifice of Christian doctrine (indeed, many have contented themselves merely with the protection of the façade of the edifice, allowing much of the actual building to fall into decay). However, they have provided people with scant imaginative and practical resources by which to make it their own home, which is an acute challenge when that edifice must be built on the soil of contemporary West society. Yet this is the task that we must undertake.
In recent years, speaking in terms of a wider cultural preoccupation with identity, many evangelicals have spoken of the need for us to ‘find our identity in Christ.’ What form such a self-discovery in Christ might take, or how Christ might make practically possible the formation of an integrated self, is far from clear. While sounding—and being—good in principle, how such an idea is to be made flesh is seldom well elaborated. The resources for identity formation offered can often be principally ideological. Exemplars, templates for action, narratives, and communal practices can often be weak, leaving people largely forming identities with what is offered to them by their surrounding culture, somewhat chastened by their Christian beliefs.
Each of the supposed negative freedoms we now enjoy have their threatening flipside. Freedom from isolation has brought a stiflingly dense sociality in which the rapid and reactive movements of mass opinion squeeze out the space, time, silence, and solitude in which reflection and deliberation might once have occurred. The pace of discourse online and the ease of publication has weakened us against our passions. The attenuation of both the power of institutional gatekeepers and of the walls of individual solitude that allowed for the formation of independent opinion, have empowered the far more capricious power of the mob. Release from obscurity has left us increasingly exposed to surveillance, scrutiny, and social judgment. Felling the forests that once sheltered diverse and complex conversational ecosystems has produced a monoculture of discourse, in which local discourses are drowned out by the wild winds of vast ideological conflict that sweep across the now denuded plains of the universalized public square. The humbling of old exclusionary institutional authorities has left us with a rabble of self-proclaimed authorities and a lurch towards conspiracy theorizing.
The imperial ambitions of the papacy have long been criticized as hostile to the integrity and the peace of peoples—Marsilius of Padua was making this argument two hundred years before the Reformation. Reformation support for nationalism arose in part from the recognition that a people’s ordering to the ultimate good required the creative, imaginative, and pragmatic task of orienting the specific forms of their actual peoplehood and place to the reign of Christ, to which distinct national identities were contextually more conducive. This differed significantly from subjecting them to the quasi-imperial authority of a distant yet meddlesome Rome. Nationalism was in large measure a reassertion of the dignity of the lay estate and the laity against the tyrannical clericalism of the papacy. One of the most immediate achievements of this vision was the translation and dissemination of the Bible in the vernacular.
What the manosphere and others of the teachers that Renn identifies recognize is the importance of manliness, of the traits that make a man apt for the exercise of dominion in various spheres of his life. A man who can act with mastery, competence, assertion, confidence, honor, courage, strength, nerve, and the like—especially if he acts as a skilled possessor of a behavioral repertoire, which he can deploy with discrimination, discernment, and self-mastery—compels respect as a man. Such traits, well-exercised, are manifestly attractive to women. Yet churches provide little training in, contexts for the formation or exercise of such traits, or purpose for their employment. This neglect results from and perpetuates a neglect of the broader, outward-oriented task of dominion. It also means that many Christian young men will turn to pagans to learn manly virtues, often picking up perverse notions of masculinity that glorify lording over others, or despising the weak, in the process.
Our relationship with the Scripture can also be flattened out. We don’t (or shouldn’t) merely read the Bible. We sing the psalms. We pray the Lord’s Prayer. We practice the Lord’s Supper. We meditate on the Law and hide its words within our hearts. We hearken to God’s instructions and observe his commands. We discern the meanings of proverbs. We proclaim the gospel. Using the words of Scripture, we recount, we lament, we exhort, we teach, we comfort, we rebuke, we absolve, we encourage. While what we conceive of as “reading” is generally a sedentary, solitary, and uniform activity, the relationship that Scripture calls us to have with it is anything but!
In the latest round of our Theopolitan Conversations, Peter Leithart kicked off a discussion of exegesis and exegetical method. I wrote the first response, which was published yesterday.
In the absence of articulated rules and principles, the authority of Scripture can easily become displaced, increasingly being eclipsed by the supposedly illuminated reader who acts as its appointed intermediary, having arrived at their spiritual readings by some mysterious alchemy of mind. Here I want to give a cautious two cheers for grammatical historical exegesis, whose demand for rigorously articulated exegetical principles was designed in part to curb fanciful exegesis which, while affirming the authority of the text, could treat it as if a blank cheque written out to certain imaginative readers (producing or reinforcing unhealthy authority dynamics that the Reformers and their successors often needed to address). The interpretative minimalism of much grammatical historical exegesis is a serious fault, but not an integral one.
Modernity, however, lacks the capacity successfully to reckon either with life or with death. When life can never overcome death, merely stave it off for a time, death’s shadow lengthens over life. Such ‘life’ is thin and tragic, a life condemned to the ultimacy of futility. Such a life will be unable truly to face death and, even as it does whatever it can to turn away from it, can only imagine itself in terms manifesting its thrall to it. And, as is the case with such things, life starts to assume some of the characteristics of its moribund master.
This blog has been fairly quiet over the last couple of years, and will probably continue to be so for the next couple of years. However, I have certainly not been inactive. Here are some of the things that I have produced in the last few months on my other channels.
Daily Biblical Reflections
I am currently producing daily readings and reflections upon the morning prayer readings from the new ACNA Book of Common Prayer—one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New—and plan to work through the entirety of the Bible over the course of a few years. Today I will be completing my reflections upon the Pentateuch (save for a few chapters in Leviticus and Numbers that weren’t in the lectionary, to which I will be returning in the future). I have also nearly finished doing the entirety of the four gospels, having reached chapter 18 of Luke (the final gospel in the lectionary).
Readings for Eastertide
As an expression of my appreciation for my supporters, over the Easter period I posted a series in which I read through some classic books.
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald
Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit
Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Conversations with Interesting People
Over the last few months, I have recorded some conversations with some brilliant people to share with everyone. Here are four from the last three weeks.
Chris Wiley, Aaron Renn, and I discuss responses to coronavirus and to crisis more generally
Esther O’Reilly and I discuss Jordan Peterson and Christian Humanism
Patrick Schreiner and I discuss the Ascension
Amber Bowen and I discuss the subject of time
Theopolis Videos and Podcasts
Over on the Theopolis Podcast, we have been producing series on all sorts of fascinating aspects and parts of Scripture. We are currently near the beginning of a series on the book of Acts, for which we have been joined by the brilliant James Bejon.