Open Mic Thread 5


The open mic thread is where you have the floor and can raise or discuss issues of your choice. There is no such thing as off-topic here. The comments of this thread are free for you to:

  • Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
  • Share interesting links
  • Ask questions
  • Put forward a position for more general discussion
  • Tell us about yourself and your interests
  • Publicize your blog, book, conference, etc.
  • Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events
  • Post reviews
  • Suggest topics for future posts
  • Use as a bulletin board
  • Etc.

Over to you!

Earlier open mic threads: 123, 4

Things are extremely busy here at the moment, so I probably won’t have time to participate in any discussions in the comments right now.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Open Mic, Public Service Announcement. Bookmark the permalink.

94 Responses to Open Mic Thread 5

  1. whitefrozen says:

    NY Wright gets Criticized for not engaging with the classical dogmatic tradition of reformed theology, even though he criticizes a lot of the content of said tradition. Is this a valid criticism?

  2. Alex says:

    Does God’s providence mean that He draws man and woman together romantically? Meaning, does He choose who you will marry?

  3. Alex says:

    Is the angel who spares Shadrach, et. al, and who shuts the mouth of the lions Jesus Himself?

  4. Thrasymachus says:

    Is unconditional forgiveness crucial to Christianity?

  5. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    A great article on “rape culture” by Jack Donovan here.

  6. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Check out this comment over at Rachel Held Evans’. I have always maintained that progressive religion is typically just less religious religion. If you are having trouble seeing, say, teleology in the world, chances are you’re having a hard time seeing God. That’s the link between secular ethics and the slide towards unbelief in progressive religion.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Check out the replies to that comment, including the billion dollar question for progressives: can you include non-theist Christians? If progressives go that way, how seriously can we take their affirmations of the creed? So, much for “I believe in God . . . “

      • whitefrozen says:

        Non-theist Christians doesn’t seem to be that far of a stretch, as far the progressive side of the house goes. The extent to which subjective feelings, personal beliefs and the validity of both of those are the criteria for faith is somewhat disturbing.

    • whitefrozen says:

      I read Mclaren’s ‘Generous Orthodoxy’, some time ago and was pretty disappointed. He’s since become little more than a creampuff in theology. Evans, I have a hard time taking seriously, honestly. There’s a real lack of solid theological engagement coming from her.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Evans is now just another liberal Christian, which is why I can read her with a lot more equanimity these days. You’re right there isn’t a lot of depth in her or her commenters, but she still attracts a fair chunk of the alienated Evangelical demographic, so you can still feel the pulse of whatever is left of progressive Evangelicalism at her blog.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Brian McLaren gives his really long non-answer here.

      • McLaren does have a way of seeming to say a lot more than he actually has.

      • whitefrozen says:

        I never have any idea of what he’s actually saying. Apparently it’s quite profound, though. I do wonder, though – nearly every comment on that piece (and a lot of other pieces written by those who lean left) stress dialogue and conversation – to the point where it seems that’s all the progressive side of Christianity really wants any more. I once read a comment on RHE’s blog criticizing someone for not wanting to ‘create a safe place for dialogue.’ I guess I’m just wondering what the point of having an entire religious movement focused on dialogue is, when any point of view is just as valid as any other, and to critique or question said viewpoint is seen as personal attack,

      • Sadly, I have found the interest in genuinely two-way dialogue in progressive circles to be considerably less than advertised.

      • whitefrozen says:

        For all the talk about the church being a haven for openminded dialogue…

        “(The Gospel)…needs a family of sinners-saved-by-grace committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and saying, “Welcome. There’s bread and wine. Come and eat. Let’s talk.” -Rachel Held Evans

        …you are entirely correct. Disagree, critique, raise an objection, and suddenly the bread and wine disappear.

  7. Thanks for all of the comments so far. Just a reminder that, as I mentioned at the end of the post, I won’t have time to comment here over the next few weeks, much as I would like to.

  8. I’ve written two lengthy comments that some might be interested beneath each of the following posts: Theologizers and the Anti-Seminary (1, 2) and Mere Fidelity: Is There A ‘Moral Orthodoxy’? (1, 2). The first comment on the Mere Orthodoxy post was reposted here, and I left a follow-up comment there too.

    • whitefrozen says:

      Has anyone read David Bentley Hart’s latest book, ‘The Experience of God’? Any thoughts? There seems to be little engagement with it by serious philosophers, which is odd.

      • whitefrozen says:

        Woops, that was supposed to be a comment, not a reply. My bad.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I was about half way through the Hart and got distracted. There are moments where he gets a bit testy, but if you get past those it’s pretty good. He’s still not as arrogant or abusive as Ed Feser in The Last Superstition.

  9. whitefrozen says:

    In all fairness, that book by Feser is a polemical work – he’s made no secret about that. Hart has his moments, but his wrath is usually reserved for theologians who disagree with him.

  10. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I find it interesting that Al Mohler and Denny Burk were able to put out a response to Matthew Vines’ book in what seemed like a day or two. It’s like Vines had nothing new to say. And yet this is the book that is supposed to overturn everything.

  11. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    To mark the beginning of the World Cup, here is an article on Nike and diversity from Jack Donovan.

  12. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    A few thoughts on the Thomas Kinkade article:

    1. Many if not most artists, even kitschy artists, are going to be a little out there, in both their personal life and their religious views.
    2. So, given that, how is the Church to deal with Christian artists, who, on the whole, may be more prone to drink a little too much, have an affair with a groupie, and hold to some heretical views on theology? Do we hold William Blake, Dostoevsky or Caravaggio to a different standard than a theologian or a minister?

    Bruce Charlton has some useful reflections.

    The issue tends to come up most obviously in the context of hiring at Christian colleges and universities. Scott Cairns, a very fine poet and one who strongly identifies as a Christian, was denied a teaching position at Seattle Pacific University over an erotic poem he wrote. Google scott cairns seattle pacific university for more.

  13. Some of you might be interested in the following thoughts that I wrote on Richard Beck’s recent piece on biology, gender, and sexuality in a private context:

    1. I suspect that both feminist/queer theorists and conservative Christians would take issue with his representation of the way that ‘choice’ functions within their thinking. For instance, whatever one may think of it, why must a claim that there is an element of choice in gender and sexuality entail that biology has ‘nothing to do with it’? Conversely, need recognition of a biological component entail that there is no volitional, cultural, or psychosexual developmental dimension involved?

    This is especially the case for those conservative Christians whose understanding of homophile identity focuses upon acts over attraction. I suspect that there is a degree of miscommunication arising from the fact that, while gay identity is focused upon attraction for most people, for many Christians it is focused upon practice, within which a volitional dimension is definitely a significant and decisive component.

    2. The claim that the position that sexual orientation/attraction has a decisive volitional component involves a Gnostic vision and dualism between the biological/bodily and the soul/mind is interesting, not least because it would seem to suggest a stance regarding transsexualism with which I suspect Beck would be uncomfortable.

    3. He focuses almost exclusively upon the connection between biology and individual psychology, as if the person’s relationship with biology were exhausted in that single point. However, such an approach seems to depend upon a fairly attenuated account of the human being and a rather reductionistic account of biology. Any sense that biology might have processes, teloi, or dimensions that transcend us, or implicate us in something greater than ourselves seems to be absent. For instance, a woman’s possession of a womb doesn’t just relate to some possible psychological desire for children, but strengthens a certain form of feminine identity and the place of the body within it (one of the things that is striking about transgender women is the absence of any such relation, making them appear like caricatures of women, for whom no sort of relationship exists between their identity and the bearing of children, as they are preoccupied with sex in the abstract instead). It also implicates her in the biological process of procreation, fits her for a certain mode of personal relation, and relates her to the symbolic and social force of that relation. Similar claims could be made about men. For Beck, however, biology’s only claim upon us seems to be that which coincides with and produces our own desires or orientation.

    4. As a result of this account of biology cisgendered heterosexuals can only be a ‘biological majority’ and heteronormativity nothing more than a relatively arbitrary privileging of the majority over the minority.

    5. The tension that he identifies is important, along with the threat that it poses to feminist and queer theory. One of the things that has long interested me is the manner in which many feminists and queer theorists present gender and sexuality as radically malleable to cultural messages, implying that, if we were only to change the messages, any gender binary would collapse and sexuality would become radically fluid. However, the very existence of homophile, queer, and transgender persons suggests that messages work because, to some degree or other, they run with the grain for most of us. The question of why particular cultural messages and forms have such traction for particular persons really is insufficiently addressed and poses a serious challenge to much gender theory.

    6. Beyond the more immediate biological determination upon the individual, he also seems to fail to reckon with the mechanisms by which gender norms will fairly inexorably emerge within a society, with the ways that these are both constrained and directed by biological realities and tendencies, and with the ways that they will fairly predictably constrain those outliers who run against the typical grain. Stereotypes are hard to avoid, not least because they are incredibly useful means of affiliation and can be accurate sources of probabilistic knowledge. A person’s gender gives us a great deal of probabilistic information about them. Unless we were to deny this knowledge, we will tend to treat the sexes somewhat differently.

    Also, while there is definitely considerable overlap between the sexes in different respects, it isn’t as significant as presumed because: a) our affiliation with persons of our own sex will typically tend to occur around gender norms and stereotypes that move towards specialization, encouraging people to conform to standards that are more distinct from the other gender, and this process creates its own feedback loop; b) the outliers who represent the most exaggerated form of their gender’s tendencies and aptitudes have a disproportionate impact upon society (e.g. while there may be considerable overlap between men and women in terms of strength, the most physically powerful 10% of persons in a society will always be almost exclusively male); c) the probabilistic knowledge that will guide much of our action will focus on the more typical or average persons of each gender, rather than upon the cases that constitute the overlap and degree of variation; d) overlap is most visible when we study particular traits, but when the whole constellation of characteristics, features, and behaviour are taken together, ‘family resemblances’ become much clearer, as does distinction. Of course, missing all of this is just another consequence of a methodological atomism and systemic myopia.

    In conclusion, I get the impression that Beck’s real commitment is to the liberal emancipatory narrative and that the givenness of nature will only be appealed to to the degree that it underwrites this. As soon as the givenness of nature could start to push back against this—in arguing for the unnaturalness of same-sex relations, the suggestion that nature is weighted against egalitarianism, or opposition to transsexualism, etc.—I suspect that Beck will resist this and privilege choice. ‘Nature’, as Beck speaks about it, is the detached ‘nature’ of the individual, disclosed in the individual will, not something that could ever really transcend, stand over against us, or present us with teloi to which we ought to conform. As such, it is quite a flawed account.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Talk of nature, bodies and material reality doesn’t tell you much; you have to specify what you mean by those things.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Talk of Gnosticism isn’t always helpful either. It seems to me there are several tacks you could take toward material reality:

        1. It’s just a bunch of meaningless stuff.
        2. It contains meaning and purpose, and is basically good.
        3. It contains meaning and purpose, and is more or less basically good, but is radically inferior to mind and spirit.
        4. It contains meaning and purpose, but is basically evil.
        5. It is an illusion.

      • Yes, ’embodied’ and ‘incarnational’ approaches, opposition to ‘Gnosticism’, affirmation of the goodness of the ‘body’, and the like are all the rage nowadays, but one is often hard-pressed to locate much substance beneath the rhetoric. One sees the same thing in such things as talk about a ‘Christocentric’ hermeneutic. It soon becomes apparent that everyone and their grandmother has a Christocentric hermeneutic and that, despite this fact, massive differences exist because they proceed in terms of radically different accounts of Christ.

    • whitefrozen says:

      (1) I don’t see your comment on Becks blog.

      (2) The ‘social construct’ of gender would be a very interesting angle to pursue, if it wasn’t always followed with ‘and these have been oppressive to women. I have an African friend, and he’s told me that in some primitive African cultures, concepts like male/female don’t really exist in the same way they do for us. That may be of some significance.

      (3) Is Beck’s basic point that psychology is what determines gender?

      • 1. I didn’t leave my comment on Beck’s blog. I didn’t have time to get into a discussion of it over there. My differences with Beck on the subject are fairly extensive and it would take a while to hash them all out.

        2. Gender is socially constructed, as is sexuality and even sex. I don’t think that we ever get behind social construction either, even when studying biology. However, as Beck recognizes, the feminists and gender theorists greatly overplay this point, failing to recognize that social construction doesn’t mean that reality is entirely plastic, or that social constructs are purely arbitrary and insubstantial (for instance, human personhood is also very much a social construction and, while many of us will take issue with the ways it has been constructed in our society, I doubt that many would regard it as an empty concept). Nor is every social construction good or effective. If we push against our natures too much, they have a tendency to snap back in our faces.

        Feminist claims about social construction and the oppression of women, while not without merit in many cases, typically seem to have a number of problems, among them:

        a. The assumption that a just society must be egalitarian and geared towards individual self-realization (it isn’t at all obvious that these two are consistent, especially if egalitarianism is supposed to involve equal presence in various activities in society, for instance).

        b. A failure to recognize feminism’s dependence upon modern technology, social forms, and innovations to obtain equality. Many of feminism’s greatest gains have been achieved through the intervention of an expanding state and legal system, the outsourcing of traditional domestic tasks, education, and child-rearing to other social agencies, the development of technologies to ease the domestic burden, better ways to manage the menstrual cycle, and the mass use of birth control.

        c. A failure to recognize that maximizing individual potential is probably a luxury that most societies couldn’t afford historically. The general division and specialization of society’s labour along class, family, and gender lines makes a lot more sense in most cultures.

        d. Women are naturally bound to their children in a way that men are not. The activities that occur further from the domestic environment will tend primarily to be populated by men. Conversely, in a world where much depends upon physical strength and there are many threats to people’s safety, men will disproportionately be the ones bearing the risks of society on the frontiers, taking the big losses, yet also getting the greatest gains.

        e. Power and institutions arise from certain forms of interactions and aren’t just pre-existing realities waiting to be parcelled out. In particular, competitive, combative, hierarchical, shallow and extensive (as opposed to deep, close, and intimate), task-oriented and risk-taking groups, where individuals are fairly dispensable, will be considerably much more effective at forming and maintaining strong institutions than egalitarian, non-combative, non-competitive, and relationship-oriented groups. It is the former groups that will overwhelmingly form the trade routes, fight the wars, forge the political systems, pioneer the science, govern the societies, create the great public works and lead the construction projects, blaze the trails, etc. Society may regard its men as far more dispensable than its women, but the benefit of this is that the risks that men are taught to make for themselves and society are the risks that, when they pay off, accrue power.

        I believe that there is a fairly strong case to be made that some form of patriarchy arises fairly naturally in any society that develops beyond the most basic of levels, as men are both more apt for and more oriented towards the sorts of activities and relations that produce power. There was no great conspiracy to oppress women, or rob them of power, just the fact that male groups were the ones that created power in the first place. Even today, feminism tends to make most of its gains by appealing to other agencies to act on women’s behalf, rather than by producing its own power structures. They seek to be ’empowered’, but are much less effective at creating their own power. Also, as I have suggested elsewhere, as women have started to populate new positions in society and increasingly reshaped those positions to more typical forms of female interaction, the result has been a sapping of power from those institutions, less because of some grand conspiracy than because, with the exception of those occasions where there is the protection of some more powerful agency, the forms of interaction that start to be normalized are less effective at producing and retaining power.

        f. A failure to consider that men and women may in various ways be naturally weighted differently towards various forms of interaction—from the universal forms of male and female bodies, to our respective roles in reproduction, to our hormones, to our differing typical bodily characteristics and traits, to our natural attachments, to the differing forms of homosociality between men and between women, etc. Added to this, we should consider the way that society, nature, and culture will tend to reinforce existing differentiations in various ways.

        g. The kneejerk reaction against the stereotyping or norming of the genders, focusing upon the exceptions. Once again, this presumes that the self-realization of the individual is of paramount importance and that it will take precedence over the common good of society. However, norming and stereotyping is a rather effective way of organizing groups, obtaining serviceable knowledge about unknown persons, and implementing norms that facilitate interactions. This is not to say that establishing ways for individuals to self-realize more fully isn’t a good thing in many instances. However, it isn’t necessarily the overriding good some present it to be and is seldom realized without losses to society in other areas.

        h. Its common inattention to the specifics of particular cultures, presuming that any gender differentiated society must almost by virtue of that fact alone be oppressing women. Also its failure to recognize the ways that society has placed extremely heavy burdens upon its men too, sometimes much harder.

        i. Its failure to recognize that, when given significant freedom, women often gravitate to a fairly differentiated social order. Women typically self-realize and are motivated in different ways than men, especially when it comes to children.

        Much more could be said, but that is enough to start with.

        3. I am not sure that he develops that point enough, especially in the area of the transsexual question. However, what he says suggests a strong focus upon biology channelled through the bottleneck of individual psychology, with limited attention to broader factors.

      • whitefrozen says:

        I’m still mulling over a reply to your comment, but off the top of my head, it seems that the psychology angle may be more fruitful if it wasn’t bottlenecked, as you said – transgender issues seem to involve (I’ve not studied the issues in any depth so take this with a grain of salt) more psychological issues, wouldn’t you say? A fairly common theme I hear is that a person,a male or female, identifies with the other gender in such ways as leads them to opt for genital surgery. There’s surely some subtle and complex psychological issues to be explored there.

  14. Hi Alastair,

    Thank you for this blog and for giving us the opportunity to comment here.

    I had been getting so exasperated by some of the opinions expressed about this topic that I decided not to comment on it again ..ever…anywhere .. but despite that, I have now read Richard Beck’s blog and your response to it above.

    I agree with your first point in its entirety. Within a context of ‘no choice’ [e.g. what we are born with] we do have some choices and I am mindful of the fact that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

    I think your third point is highly significant. A woman is biologically different from a man for much of her life, even if she never gives birth [the menstrual cycle and later the menopause and the accompanying hormonal changes and mood swings] and she does have a God-given capacity for having babies and breast-feeding them and this, as you say ‘ fits her for a certain mode of personal relation and relates her to the symbolic and social force of that relation.’ Similar things can be said about a man.

    I do not feel qualified to comment on your other points.

    Finally – and this may or may not be significant – I have noticed that some of the women who speak most fiercely in favour of both feminism and gay marriage are themselves childless. Pregnancy naturally restricts some of our activities [ such as being a pillion-passenger on a motorbike 🙂 ]
    and I think that, if we complain to men and to the world about such restrictions, we are really complaining to God about the way He created us!


    • Your point about the most vocal advocates of feminism is worth reflecting upon. I think that there are a number of things to take into account here.

      1. Feminism and gender theory are typically designed to function as emancipatory narratives. They will disproportionately be driven by people who feel oppressed or marginalized, by outliers and exceptions, especially LGBT persons. While we should listen carefully to what is said, we should not forget that what feminism generally pursues is not a truly open and representative public discourse about gender or a more objective analysis and understanding of the subject, but the support, perpetuation, normalization, and advancement of subjectivities or lifestyles that go against the norms.

      2. Academia is not a world that is designed for women in various ways. Consequently, the women who are most advanced academically will often disproportionately be populated by women who have put other dimensions of their lives on hold, or not pursued marriage and child-bearing to begin with. The same can be said of those women who are most prominent in the business or political world. The women who claim to act as the public representatives of women in general will usually be quite atypical, much more so even than men.

      3. The realization of the particular egalitarian ideal of many forms of feminism also depends heavily upon resisting and delaying child-bearing. When our society is increasingly built around a high percentage of women going into full time third level education and needing to progress in their personal careers at the same pace as men, pregnancy and child-rearing becomes a real problem. Marriage and child-bearing must be delayed, creating this formative period of women’s sexuality during which non-marital sexual relations and the use of birth control and abortion will be normalized.

      4. The dreams of many forms of feminism also depend upon women having much the same motivations as men. For men, pursuit of a career is much easier to reconcile with the desire to start and raise a family. For the periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding, women will be tied to their children and the domestic environment in a way that men won’t and given the particular attachment that they have with their children, this bond is likely to continue. This will tend to mean that women are less motivated to make the sorts of onerous commitments involved in pursuit of a high level career.

      Also, and this just isn’t considered enough, women’s identity is naturally bound up with children in a way that men’s isn’t. Our bodies as men are designed for the performance of a sexual act and we feel driven towards this. Women, by contrast, have bodies that insistently declare—from the menstrual cycle to the development of breasts—that they were designed for the purpose of child-bearing and for children. This is just one reason why a transsexual ‘woman’ is a parody of an actual woman. The transsexual woman’s identity bears no relationship to children whatsoever. They may approximate the outward appearance of a woman, yet their have no womb and no child will ever feed on their breasts. When your sexed body’s identity is bound up with the act of child-bearing and nurturing, you will have a motivation towards this that others don’t.

      • Thank you – I find this really interesting. I will reply briefly for now because I have a full programme this evening.

        I think your first point is spot on. I have also noticed that another manifestation of the dynamic you described in [1.] is an insistence on referring to God as ‘she’. Whilst God has some qualities we may regard as womanly, Jesus taught us to say ‘our Father’ – yet this seems to cut no ice with the ‘God is a woman’ brigade!

        I will reflect more on all the points you have made – much food for thought – and I will post again fairly soon.

  15. I want to edit my post a bit – Para. 4 : ‘physiologically different’ rather than ‘biologically different’.

  16. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Read Begotten or Made today. Very great book. Ready for the podcasts.

    • Pleased that you enjoyed it! I think that it is superb. O’Donovan is generally fantastic.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        BTW a very helpful book on the science of transsexuality and homosexuality is Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen. A PDF copy is available here. Bailey is probably the leading scientific expert on homosexuality.

        Steve Sailer has been noting that an awful lot of transsexual men who claim to have always been women inside don’t exactly have the behavioural patterns to back that up. Prominent transsexual activists like Deirdre (formerly Donald) McCloskey and Lynn (birth name unknown) Conway have hilariously unfeminine backgrounds: stints in the military, careers in engineering and economics, college football, political libertarianism etc.

        Anyway, Bailey’s book suggests there are two forms of transsexuals: a. otherwise typical heterosexual men who are turned on by the idea of being a woman, and b. extremely feminine acting homosexual men who are so feminine they find it difficult to attract other gay men.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I should mention one flaw in the Bailey book. He does seem to wildly overestimate the degree to which gay men today are sexually promiscuous. There certainly was a lot of crazy behaviour among gay men in the `1970s, and there are still pockets of that even today. But gay men in certain urban gay neighbourhoods and the gay men who first identified with and formed gay communities may not have been the most representative of same sex attracted men in general.

  17. I have written some more but my post seems to have gone into orbit somewhere so I’ll keep this short and just say that a sense of entitlement seems to be a factor in some ’emancipatory narratives’.

  18. Right – I’ll try again.
    Re: your comment about a transsexual ‘woman’ – I don’t actually know a transsexual woman but I wonder if some have been influenced by the ‘Madonna’ image (meek and mild – not the pop-star, needless to say!). If so, this doesn’t take into account the dimension of the ‘earth mother’. When my kids were small, I was like a lioness with her cubs and still am to some extent. I know I’m not alone in this – motherhood seems to bring out qualities we didn’t know we had.

    Somewhere – I can’t remember where – I saw all the feelings around sexuality described as ‘high-voltage’ and not to be trifled with.

    It makes sense – .God wants us to be fruitful and multiply and he wants future generations to thrive. I believe this concern for future generations is potentially in all of us. At best, our concern extends far beyond our concern for our own children.

    There are clear relationship boundaries marked in the NT as far as I can see ( but I’m not a theologian) and crossing these boundaries can – and usually does – result in all sorts of social disorder and confusion.

    I have every sympathy with childless couples who want to have children but I must say that some (though by no means all) of the things I read about people acquiring babies via IVF or surrogate mothers chill me to the bone. It makes babies sound like commodities.I get the impression with some that the baby is an extension of ‘parental’ pride. Sometimes, this can also be true of biological parents, of course – more’s the pity.

    One of my favourite Bible stories is the one about Solomon’s decision about the baby.

    • A number of the things that you mention here will be addressed in forthcoming podcast discussions about Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made?

      • Thank you! I hope to listen to it – the sound on my PC is erratic at the mo and I haven’t even listened to the first podcast yet – I’ll put my thinking cap on about my PC!

        I just read a conversation between you and ‘The Man Who Was’ and hope it’s Ok for me to add a bit here:

        Re RHE, Rob Bell and Oprah – they do seem to be thriving on ‘the spirit of the age’and those who are not part of that ‘spirit’ are being overshadowed …I’m just thinking of the parable about the man who built his house on a rock. I won’t elaborate – you know what i mean.

      • I feel thwarted that I can’t listen to the podcast or read the book yet .. I need to be patient.

        I just want to say a bit about my own position and also about my concerns about the global and eternal implications of these questions.

        One recent concern of mine is about ‘designer babies’ because a former neighbour of mine, who still visits her mother in our street, gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, following IVF treatment. Her reason for choosing IVF was that she identified herself as gay and has a female partner. She was a very thoughtful and courteous mother and neighbour and I got on a treat with her children (I never met her partner) – but it really threw me into a spin and, for me, begged many questions. She also, for a while, lived on state benefits, as a single-parent . I was shocked that the state was financing her chosen lifestyle and I also felt guilty for feeling shocked!

        I – like most of us – don’t have any decision-making power in regard to this, nor do I have a platform for attempting to persuade and convince others.

        This is why I am thankful and relieved that you and your friends are grasping the nettle and having your debates about the global and eternal implications of this and other issues – and you do have a platform on Twitter and maybe also in the world of books (I don’t know all the info on that.)

        There are some things about this that many people just don’t want to hear. ‘Calling a spade a spade’,so to speak, is nitty-gritty work and ‘donkey work’ and some are called to do it and I wish those who, as I see it , prefer to live ‘in cloud cuckoo land’ were less inclined to whinge about it.

        Strength to your elbows!

        PS – re: what I tweeted about ‘broad agreement’ – we none of us can agree with everyone about everything!Even with best intentions in the world, we don’t have eyes in the backs of our heads and we all have our blind spots!

  19. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I am still kind of in shock at how the two incidents seemed to just stop progressive Evangelicals in their tracks: the Phil Robertson affair and the World Vision affair. I didn’t expect it to come so suddenly.

    Basically, it has become clear that there are (or at least were) two groups of Evangelicals

    1. Those who really do think gay sex is a sin and that this is on a similar enough level of importance with, for example, our duty to poor people to take a stand on.
    2. Those who were kind of on the fence on the sinful nature of gay sex or were leaning towards affirmation, but did not necessarily wanting to put themselves on the outs with more theologically conservative believers.

    Now, you could theoretically get a slow build up again of progressive sentiment in.

    1. A good deal of the (now former) leadership of progressive Evangelicalism doesn’t want to identify as evangelical anymore. Without people to publicly identify as progressive Evangelicals, those in the pews who do remain will likely be increasingly isolated and/or alienated.
    2. Some of the people in the pews who have identified with progressive Evangelicalism have left over this This means that those who do remain (and their children) will likely be much less amenable to progressivism.
    3. The secular left is going to keep the pressure up. Controversies like this are not going away, sides will be picked, and the progressives who do stay will be continually reminded of how little they share with their fellow Evangelicals.

    Is it too early to declare progressive Evangelicalism dead? It certainly seems so. As I said, I’m kind of shocked that this all ended so quickly. I thought this was going to be a slow agonizing death, where we saw people agonize over this and play both sides of the fence for years.*

    BTW I was wrong about my own native Canada. The Trinity Western Law School controversy has shown that tolerance will certainly not be extended to social conservatives over this issue.

    *The other thing that I am shocked at is how shocked progressive Evangelicals were that people actually do believe gay sex is a really serious sin. I am flabbergasted that they didn’t know. “Did you not believe your eyes and ears?”

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      At the first sign of real difficulties, the progs . . . just up and left. Unbelievable.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I have a slightly different take. Being the progressive Evangelical is (or was) a very good gig. The market is not crowded, you attract dissidents who need a rallying point, and you get to explain Evangelicals to the mainstream. The phenomenally gifted Bell* is in his own league, but, for lesser talents like Rachel Held Evans or Tony Jones, stepping away from the Evangelical label was and is something of a career loser. Now you’re Just Another Liberal Christian (TM), where, relative to the number of progressive Christians actually in the pews, the market is crowded, where it’s harder for dissidents still within Evangelicalism to identify with you, and where you can’t really sell yourself a bridge between the exotic planet of the Evangelicals and the rest of the world. I don’t see even Evans as someone you are likely to see regularly featured in the mainstream media, certainly not in the long run. Being a progressive Evangelical was all she had. Career may certainly have come into play to the extent that Evans and Jones looked at whether they could make a go of it away from the Evangelical label. But mostly this was about conviction.

        Basically, the progressive Evangelical label has taken a massive hit. The brand isn’t really there to tarnish now.

        *Bell is Bell. He may have started by straddling the Evangelical/non-Evangelical divide, but he has the talent to make it as spiritual guru to the masses, completely apart from the Evangelical world. Evans and Jones will no doubt be able to eke out a decent living, but they’re more or less finished as far as any real cultural significance is concerned.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I think I may have misunderstood which brand you were referring too. Yes, mainstream media will not let people who keep to the orthodox teaching on gay sex to tarnish either their own media brand (CNN, HuffPost) or the “progressive” brand.

        However, when it comes to religious writing, it is generally better to be a part of the Evangelical market than the mainline market.

        Progressive Evangelicals have typically played both sides of that fence. They won`t able to do that now.

    • I think that the role of the secular left is very important. Rob Bell is on Oprah. RHE is a bestselling author, welcomed by a wider audience. Many other progressive individuals are featured on the Huffington Post and elsewhere. The implicit condition of all of this is that they are on the right side on the LGBT issues, etc. Progressives that are more orthodox on these issues will rapidly find themselves marginalized in their own movement, shut out lest they poison the brand. On the other hand, they will be alienated from conservative evangelical circles. Perhaps a number of these people are still around, but they are not going to be given the microphone.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        RHE is a bestselling author, welcomed by a wider audience. [My emphasis]

        Is she? I don’t doubt she has an audience, but, as I said, being a progressive Evangelical was her schtick. Does anyone, anyone at all, really pine for Evans ruminations on a wider host of issues?

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      So, perhaps this brings up the question: why is Bell’s post-Evangelical success almost a guarantee, while Evans’ and Jones’ is not? I’d say it’s this: Bell is about style, about evoking a certain spiritual mood. He is great at creating a desire for and expectation of newness and change, but he isn’t too specific about what that should be, leaving the audience to fill in the specifics. This is extremely marketable. Evans on the other hand has made her career out of banging on about an extremely limited range of issues, while Jones’ theological nerdishness (let’s complain about substitutionary atonement theory) is not the kind of thing that really travels.

      Has there every been anything in either Evans’ or Jones’ work that is specifically spiritual? Evans can do compassion and empathy with people’s pain, but there is nothing like Bell’s ability to conjure up an actual spiritual longing, however deformed.

      • Hi, ‘The Man who was’,
        I just read your post above and would like to comment, not on the content, but on the style 🙂
        Your opening statement, ‘So, perhaps this brings up the question:’, is followed immediately by the question. You may legitimately ask me why I see fit to comment on this.
        I have commented because your style is different from the style of Richard Beck in his blog, which I have now re-read.
        In his 3rd paragraph, Beck wrote:’ During the Q&A I asked a question..’
        Beck referred to the question again in the 5th paragraph : ‘The provocative way I framed my question was this:’
        I read through the rest of his blog , which consisted of twenty-five or more paragraphs, and eventually found one question,a rhetorical question, which was repeated a few lines later. The question was, ‘And why is that?’
        I think people who ask questions in order to facilitate debate are usually open to listening to opinions different from their own and, more significantly, they are open to considering contrary evidence.
        I see no such openness in Beck’s blog and I am now less interested in the content of his blog than I am in his purpose in writing it.
        So if I were to post on his blog, which is unlikely, I would ask him to reveal the missing question and to define his specific purpose in writing the blog.To inform?To persuade? To investigate? To describe? To invite negative feedback?
        I would be interested in feedback ( including negative feedback) from you about what I have written above – if you have the time, energy and motivation!

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Come to think about it, complaining about anything has an extremely limited potential audience. Large swathes of the general public may have some vaguely negative impression of Evangelicals, but mostly they just don’t care. Bell at least seems to offer some sort of positive spiritual content, he really does mostly just do his own thing, which is why he’s on Oprah, and Evans and Jones are not.

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