Open Mic Thread 14


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
  • Share stimulating discussions in comment threads
  • 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: 123456, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

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.
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75 Responses to Open Mic Thread 14

  1. whitefrozen says:

    Favourite history book(s)? Numero uno on my list would be Timothy Ferris’ ‘Coming of Age in the Milky Way’, which is the best introduction to the history of science I’ve been able to find. No one else can make Newton as fun as Ferris does.

    Are human rights fundamentally negative (the right to not be disturbed, to not have one’s property) or positive? If they are negative, as the Founding Fathers generally envision, do positive duties necessarily follow from that (if you have the right to not be disturbed, do I have the duty to leave you alone)? If they are positive (i.e. a right to a certain good, instead of a right to not have a good taken away from you), how can they be grounded in a coherent way, so as not to end up being legislated interests or desires?

    • I loved Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Admittedly, I have loved almost every Bill Bryson book I have read.

      I think that human rights language should be used with care. We don’t have ‘rights’ by nature, but inherent worth and dignity. Our ‘rights’ refer to the recognition and expression of this natural worth and dignity within a particular society and, as such, are socially and legally constructed. They will also be, to some extent, culturally contingent: what it means to affirm the inherent dignity and worth of humanity will take somewhat different shapes between cultures. However, as it is an inherent worth and dignity that human rights are relating to, we ought to be able to agree on some baseline rights that a just society will uphold. This, it seems to me, is what ‘human rights’ generally seeks to achieve. We shouldn’t confuse this lowest common denominator consensus with the broader task that is incumbent upon society, though.

      I don’t believe that human rights are principally negative. I believe, for instance, that human rights should recognize people’s right to food and shelter..

  2. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    These are some questions on specific theologians that I asked in a previous thread, when you were (understandably!) too busy to answer. If I may pick your brain:

    Scot McKnight – Tom Schreiner has pointed out some pretty elementary mistakes in The Blue Parakeet. And the book is of course the source of the infamous description of hermeunetics as “pick and choose.” Furthermore, in a whole book on the “Jesus creed” he never, so far as I can tell, offers a remotely coherent definition of love. So, obviously there are some serious problems. So, my questions are: What about The Jesus Creed book, if you’ve read it? Are there some of McKnight’s other works worthy of study? Is it just that his lows (listed above) are really, really low?

    Roger E. Olson – I’m interested in your opinions on Arminian Theology: Myths And Realities, The Journey of Modern Theology (or the older edition with Grenz, 20th Century Theology), and any other books of his you might have read. Assuming you have read any of his books, of course.

    Stanley Grenz – What do you think of his work, particularly Beyond Foundationalism (with Franke)? I read his Primer on Postmodernism and found it helpful, if a bit wishy washy at times.

    Francis Schaeffer – He has been denounced, with apparently some justification, as an intellectual fraud by a wide range of people, yet has seemed to stimulate a genuine interest in the arts among Evangelicals. Are there any of his books still worth reading, or is mostly of historical interest? I may pick up Art and the Bible at some point.

    Peter Leithart – In the past you’ve given me a bunch of recommendations for him. This did not include his books on Athanasius, on the four gospels, or on Solomon and postmoderism. Have you just not read them, or did you read them and think them wanting? Have you read any of this books on literature? I believe he has a bunch, on Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Dante, classical literature etc. What do you think of them? How do they compare to Rowan Williams’ similar books?

    J.I. Packer – What do you think of Knowing God? The book has defeated my attempts to read it several times, and yet seems to attract absolutely enormous praise in the Evangelical community. Are there any other works of his you would recommend, or think worthy of note?

    Robert Jenson – You have strongly recommended Robert Jenson’s work, yet said that you have serious differences with him in some areas. What particularly do you object to?

    John Milbank – What do you think of Theology and Social Theory? Any other work by him that you recommend?

    And what are your thoughts on Jurgen Moltmann? Any recommended books? I guess the big ones are The Crucified God and Theology of Hope.

    (I am only looking for short answers, but, of course, I won’t discourage longer ones.)

    • Matt Petersen says:

      It’s been years, but, to quote Rosenstock-Huessy’s criticism of Barth, Knowing God struck me as a “purely intellectual ‘book of experience’.”

    • I started and never finished both The Jesus Creed and Arminian Theology some time ago now. Both underwhelmed me. I found Grenz helpful back in the day, but haven’t revisited him since undergraduate days. Schaeffer I read and enjoyed in my late teens. When I revisited him a few years later, I found his approach far too broad brush and much less convincing. Like many other authors, when—usually after reading a book or so—I didn’t find them to be especially promising as conversation partners, I moved on. I know that others’ experience has been different, and I am wary of making general judgments on any of these authors based upon the extent of my exposure to their material.

      Packer’s Knowing God never did it for me either. However, I enjoyed his essay on penal substitution among some other things.

      I’ve read Leithart on the Four Gospels, Solomon and postmodernity, Dostoevsky, and Austen (but not the others that you mention). I enjoyed each of them, but they weren’t stand out books for me. Rowan Williams on Dostoevsky was superb.

      Jenson’s theology of the Trinity and the relationship between economic and immanent Trinity is far from orthodox, though well worth engaging with. Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory is incredibly and unnecessarily dense, but brilliant in many ways. I highly recommend it. His book The Word Made Strange also has some great essays in it.

      Beyond reading The Crucified God and some of Theology of Hope as an undergraduate, I haven’t interacted much with Moltmann. He never made that much of an impression on me.

    • whitefrozen says:

      I’ve been thinking of getting Jenson’s volume ‘Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics’. I’ve read some of him and some about him, and I’m very impressed with his metaphysical prowess. Not enough theologians take metaphysics as seriously as they should. I know David Bentley Hart thinks highly of him and wrote a great essay about his work.

      It’s not a book of his you mentioned in your comment, but I’m reading Leithart’s ‘A House for My Name’, right now (very slowly) and it’s very enjoyable. I sometimes wonder if he stretches the symbolism and typology a bit too far though. It almost seems that if Jesus tied his shoes, and some guy in the OT tied his shoes as well, Leithart takes it as deep typology.

      • You should definitely read Jenson.

        Leithart’s A House For My Name is one of my favourites. Both Jordan and Leithart can seem to go over the top with their typology on occasions. However, one of the things that I have noticed is that, the more closely I read the text, the more often I find that readings of theirs that I had dismissed as far-fetched start to make sense and further evidence emerges to support them.

  3. William Fehringer says:

    What would be a good intro to Christian ethics?

    • whitefrozen says:

      Bonhoeffers ‘Ethics’.

    • Perhaps something like Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Bringing the conversation back to close engagement with the biblical text is a good thing. Also, something like Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order. The Hauerwas/Wells edited Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics has some good stuff in it too.

  4. whitefrozen says:

    Here’s something I’d enjoy seeing various responses too: the thesis that a large strain of Reformed thought (represented by, say, Turretin) is Pelagian in its anthropology. More on that here:

  5. whitefrozen says:

    A few people whose (whom’s??) work I’ve been enjoying:

    John Haldane – brilliant, brilliant philosopher in the analytic Thomist tradition. Masterful grasp of the history of philosophy and especially the high Scholastics – his lectures on youtube are definitely worth watching. I recently watched a lecture of his on Aquinas and one on personhood, and both were great. He’s probably one of the most well-spoken individuals ever, too. Plus, he’s Scottish.

    Roger Scruton – I have his ‘Modern Philosophy: Introduction and Survey’ and it’s simply outstanding. A simplify incredible handle on every aspect of modern philosophy – from ethics to science to mind to freedom to physics to causality to the self to God to politics to logic to mathematics and everything else – that’s a book worth getting. His lectures on youtube are great as well – his knowledge and articulation of beauty and aesthetics in general is just superb. Definitely one of my top like 10 most knowledgeable philosophers.

    Martha Nussbaum – I got her book on Hellenistic ethics and she’s now pretty much my new crush. Simply staggering knowledge of Greek philosophy and metaphysics – her lectures are a joy to listen to and her writing is probably some of the best scholarly writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

  6. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    What has your engagement with Robert Alter been, both in his translation/commentaries and his two books on biblical prose and poetry?

    For what it is worth, I am a big fan, though his secular Jewish outlook has some blindspots.

    He is apparently coming out with another translation/commentary volume, this time focussing on some of the later “writings” in the Old Testament.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I would note that his translations of prose tend to be better than his translations of poetry, though his translations of the Wisdom Books are something of an exception.

    • whitefrozen says:

      I cannot wait. I’m not aware of any translator or scholar working at his level.

    • I’ve read both books and really appreciated them. His work on the literary character of the biblical text dovetails with my interest in typology quite nicely. I’ve read his translation of the Pentateuch and am looking forward to this new translation.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        His translation/commentary of the Joshua to Kings sequence is also excellent, as is his version of the Wisdom Books.

        I don’t much like his translation of the Psalms, but the commentary is still worthwhile.

  7. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    So, because you’re rich, you can’t be persecuted? See here.

    I’m all for restraint in complaining about mistreatment, but really it does happen. Someone google the phrase middle man minority.

    If rich people from the Jewish community held a conference on anti-Semitism, no one would say boo.

  8. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Bonald knocks it out of the park here.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I wonder if self-delusion fits in anywhere on the sin-inventory ? I really tried to take it seriously 🙂

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      BTW, I don’t mean to hammer down on women particularly, but it should be of immense concern that when Christian women are asked to name their sins, they can’t really think of any!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        They thought of low-self esteem, which Bonald later re-defined as pride. I’m more inclined to think we have low self-esteem when we don’t love ourselves… and Jesus said; ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ I think men who get hooked on internet porn also suffer from low self-esteem (in addition to lust!) because they do not love themselves as God wants them to love themselves.
        I like Gerard Hughes’ definition of sin: ‘Sin is the refusal to let God be God’ – I think we could all put our hands up to that at times.
        I don’t know what Bonald is trying to prove altogether, but he seems to have convinced himself more than he’s convinced me!

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Their major sin is not liking themselves enough?

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Well, not loving themselves as God wants them to love themselves – I think liking is different from loving But they were asked to comment about women in general, not about their own sins – no wonder they had ‘furrowed brows’!

  9. whitefrozen says:

    Anyone have any thoughts on Israel Finkelstein’s work RE the history of ancient Israel?

  10. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Wow, Leithart is on a tear on his blog.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Still on a tear. Right now he’s blogging Richard Beck’s Unclean.

      My own summary: I’ll come right out and say it, without disgust there is no love.

      • Leithart is always on a tear! The intensity of his blogging is awe-inspiring.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Well, sometimes he is better than others.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Without a definite self, without boundaries, there is no possibility of love, because everything becomes a gigantic indistinct smoosh. There has to be a self to love another self.

        This is much like poetry. You can think of rhyme as a limit, and it is, but it is also an opportunity. A poet gets to rhyme.

  11. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Had anyone heard of Lights before? Apparently a missionary kid. I only heard of her because her manager is a very popular CBC (Canadian equivalent of the BBC) radio host who just got fired for his extracurricular BDSM activities. She wasn’t involved.

    Anyway, this is IMO her best song.

  12. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    On that street harassment link, I have to say the author and commenters are running away from the racial and ethnic issue as fast as their little legs will take them. But I think it is very much an open question whether certain ethnic groups engage in this behaviour more often, and with more intensity, than others.

    Steve Sailer comments here.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Vastly more often.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Why this investment in explaining it away, then?

      Indeed, why the investment in explaining away some rather obvious ethnic disparities in this behaviour?

    • Well, yes. As I am sure that you know, I link pieces that stimulate good conversation, not just because I agree. I think that there are huge dimensions of the picture that are conveniently ignored in Kotsko’s piece. I forwarded the video and article to my girlfriend, who took issue with it, making some of the following points:

      1. She has experienced a lot of catcalling over the years, but it is almost invariably in poor neighbourhoods and overwhelmingly from other races.
      2. The dynamics in many of these cases are provoked by socio-economic power differentials. Socially and economically disempowered and disenfranchised men express their resentment by asserting the power differential of gender. It enables them to present some semblance of power relative to the vulnerable members of a socio-economic class that is considerably more powerful than they are and often enjoys privilege at their expense. My girlfriend experienced this dynamic in a very pronounced form while teaching inner city kids and in most extreme form while travelling in Muslim countries. Incidentally, when I have walked alone in poorer neighbourhoods, I have on many different occasions had men shouting things at me or purposefully acting in a violent or threatening way towards me. While male violence to other men is often much more naturalized, a similar dynamic often seems to underlie it.
      3. The gender power differential isn’t going to disappear any time soon, because it is grounded in some unavoidable natural realities. It is present throughout society and is at least latent in male-female interactions everywhere. Its assertion in such manners is perverse and pathological, but the power differential itself isn’t just a cultural contrast. For instance, although I am a man of smaller than average build, I could assert physical and sexual dominance over most women. Even though I would never act in such a way, such a power differential will always exist in a latent form.
      4. The habitual blaming of heterosexual men for the objectification of women is conveniently blind to the fact that gay men are probably the most egregious offenders here and they probably aren’t operating for the sake of heterosexual men. The fashion industry or the celebrity gossip culture are hardly bastions of heterosexuality. In my girlfriend’s experience, gay men have, if anything, a far greater assumption of their right to pass judgment on and objectify women’s bodies, regarding their homosexuality to give them a ‘pass’. This and this article describe the dynamic in more detail. However, as LGBT persons and people of other races, religions, and classes have a protected status in liberal discourse, the blame for this sort of thing has to be laid firmly at the door of white heterosexual males, all of which dulls our attention to many of the underlying issues.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        There is also the phenomenon of gay men harrassing other men. So, I don’t think it is some conspiracy to keep women down. Men need to be fairly persistent to get mates, and some men do so in stupid and/or immoral ways.

        This has actually happened to me in a professional setting. The assignment wasn’t a long one, so I told my supervisor to look out for this guy in future, and otherwise basically just blew it off. I honestly hadn’t thought about it in years.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Interesting to note that as a larger man (not all of it is fat either) I have pretty much never experienced such threats as you describe. I also tend to be the kind of person who does not call attention to themselves. This means I am neither an easy victim, nor a challenger. The combination means that I haven’t really ever felt threatened, though I’m not stupid enough to walk through dark alleys at night in bad neighbourhoods.

        I’d note that this is certainly a privilege I have, though, I would note, one that I’ve always recognized. As I get older though, I am rather disconcerted to realize that I will lose a lot of this particular privilege. Physical weakness comes to us all.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Someone duplicated the video walking through Aukland, New Zealand and got nothing more than a few long looks.

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