Open Mic Thread 16


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, 14, 15.

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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160 Responses to Open Mic Thread 16

  1. quinnjones2 says:

    I read RHE ‘s post on F/B entitled ‘Theology is for everyone, not just the powerful elite.’ (link on Twitter)

    She begins her opening paragraph with:
    ‘Observation: it seems like a lot of young theologians assume that…’

    My response:
    ‘Observation: It seems that RHE has made a lot of assumptions about some young theologians…’

    Her final sentence is this:
    ‘My theology is only as rich as the diversity of people who have contributed to it, and it is a poor theology indeed that considers only the perspectives of those who look, think and live just like me.’

    My response:
    ‘…who look…just like me.’ I think I can safely say that those ‘young theologians’ (if they are who I think they are) don’t look just like RHE. Nor do they think just like RHE… and I’ll be amazed if they live just like RHE.

    She claims that it’s a poor theology that considers only people who look, think and live just like her. Does it follow that a ‘rich’ RHE theology would entail considering the perspectives of people who don’t look, think and live just like her…such as those ‘young theologians’ ?

    Her post got 4,116 likes on F/B
    What a farce!
    I’ve just given myself a gold star for getting this far without mentioning the word ‘kitsch’ 🙂

    • Matt Petersen says:

      The problem is, this is not how Jesus did theology.

      Jesus didn’t do theology. Paul started it all.

      But in general, she doesn’t seem to recognize that she’s speaking from and in defense of the new dominant paradigm. The new paradigm may be true, but right now it’s new enough that it can pretend not to be dominant, and so can get all the sexiness points for being counter-cultural.

      (Also, what was the last time she tried to make sense of the Talmud? Rosenzweig? Or to really grapple deeply with, say Qutb, or al-Attas? Or for that matter, Aquinas? Palamas? Severus of Antioch? Augustine? Gregory of Nyssa? Luther? Calvin? Francis Schaeffer? John Piper? These are the people who are Other for her. And, probably only six or seven of them are White.)

    • I am increasingly minded to write a brief post in response to this. In case anyone doesn’t know, RHE’s post was written in response to this Twitter discussion with me (scroll down: it’s a long one!). She later inaccurately characterized my position as one which claimed that only powerful men should be doing theology, in a tweet that she later deleted (without any apology or proper retraction). Much of the discussion following that can be seen here. Finally, she wrote a Facebook post, ostensibly in response to my position. Throughout, as I hope that people should realize, she jumped to uncharitable, unwarranted, and mistaken conclusions about my position.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        <blockquoteThat people be 'nice' is one of the most effective ways in which oppressed have been silenced.I think Friere or someone like that even said as much. “Nice” can easily mean “plays by the rules of the in party”.

      • Exactly. This is one of the points that I have made in my yet unpublished response to Martin Saunders’ recent piece.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        Here’s the quote I was thinking of:

        Guernica: I’m interested in your view of Howard Gardner’s concept of “emotional intelligence.” What flaws do you see in the belief that each of us is endowed with a certain amount of quantifiable emotional response capacity?

        Eva Illouz: Well, I think that what it ends up doing is flattening and standardizing emotional styles. This is something one can sense in the United States—I hope I won’t offend you. But this is the common experience of foreigners in the United States. The emotional style of Americans in the workplace is fairly predictable and follows standard rules. So if you know that to be emotionally intelligent is to pay attention to the person, to mildly agree with them, to speak in an assertive but non-threatening way, then you will have hordes of people adopting the same emotional style. So one of the effects is to standardize emotional interactions of people in the workplace.

        Another consequence is that you end up building scales to create hierarchies of people in a way that will actually end up excluding whole groups of people. Think of somebody who grows up in a difficult environment. His parents yelled at him a lot. His emotional style will be one that is maybe reactive or hot tempered and this type of emotional style is utterly disqualified today from the workplace as reflecting incompetence, basic professional and human incompetence. Now, that is a problem.

        Guernica: You mention the case of African-Americans as a group that may be excluded.

        Eva Illouz: I think it was a movie by Ken Loach named Ladybird Ladybird. It was a really striking movie about a real case. A woman who has three or four children, young children, and she was very poor and had to work. To make sure nothing happened to her children while she was at work, she had to lock them up and then go. Then one day there’s a fire in the house. One of the children gets hurt or dies, I don’t remember. The authorities take away the children from her because she’s deemed incompetent. Can you imagine this woman—whose only life revolves around her children, who went to work to make a miserable salary just to be able to feed them—is accused by the authorities of incompetence? She goes to the tribunal and the judge starts rebuking her and she’s utterly revolted. She starts screaming. As she should. Anyone who has a normally constituted emotionality when he or she is the victim of an injustice screams. However, her screaming actually disqualifies her further. The screaming is viewed as the proof that she really is incompetent because a good mother should keep her calm and display the middle-class English virtues of self-control, and if she cannot then she is not a competent mother. So that’s an example of how your emotional style can have institutional consequences, like a tribunal. Some people know how to handle themselves emotionally more than others, and manage to project an aura of credibility.

        I’m against the typification of certain emotional styles being more credible or authoritative.


      • Interesting.

        A lot to agree with there. On the other hand, certain emotional styles, especially reactive ones, make people constitutionally poor at certain forms of engagement. For instance, RHE’s reactivity makes her someone who constantly misrepresents opponents’ arguments.

        I believe that it is important to take people seriously and not to dismiss their concerns on account of their emotional style. However, emotional styles are not a matter of ambivalence in many contexts. In certain contexts, different emotional styles can cause a lot of damage. Tone arguments and the like, when they dismiss people’s concerns purely on the basis of their emotional states, should be out. However, ‘middle-class English virtues’ such as self-control can be very important when it comes to academic debate, for example. We have a responsibility to represent the concerns of those who lack such emotional virtues in political and theological discourse, but they may not be suited for direct participation themselves.

        I don’t believe that the Bible treats ’emotional styles’ as purely ambivalent. Some people struggle to control their wrath on account of their upbringing, for instance. This doesn’t mean that we should give wrath a free pass. Rather, we should recognize that the wrath is probably in large measure a symptom of genuine injustice, injustice which we have a responsibility to address.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair,
        I hope you will post a response.
        I just checked your Twitter thread – RHE posted her F/B link on there as her ‘final comment’, so she was referring to you in that post. Because of her evasiveness in failing to name you, many of her readers may be unable to to check out the facts for themselves and are therefore unable to call her to account for her misrepresentation of your position., should they wish to do so.

      • Unfortunately, this is the sort of situation where it is very difficult to be direct about facts and truths that are well known to many of us, largely because of the perverse politics of the situation. As I have considered what I feel needs to be known and weighed it against what I believe that it would be possible to say without causing rather a lot of collateral damage, I have more or less reached the conclusion that I won’t say anything more directly on this topic right now. My next post (which was largely written before any of this blew up) will touch on some of the dynamics.

        The politics here are extremely fraught. RHE is a tar baby (in the sense of the Brer Rabbit story). The more that you attempt honestly to engage, the more that you will be made to look bad. Unfortunately, it is also a Catch-22 situation because, great as it would be to ignore RHE altogether and focus on worthier interlocutors, the fact of the situation is that she speaks for a lot of people and, one way or another, she can’t just be ignored without ignoring a large number of people (who really deserve a better representative).

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair,
        I like your ‘tar baby’ analogy.
        I appreciate your reasons for deciding not to post a response now.
        Whilst I am concerned about RHE ‘s F/B followers who may be unaware of the facts, I think there may be many who are predisposed to endorsing her opinions. I suppose the good news is that many on Twitter have seen the whole conversation and are not beguiled.
        I won’t post on F/B. i used to post, but only lasted 6 weeks!

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I would suggest, Alastair, that most engagement with Evans is a mistake and should be avoided in future. Evans is nasty enough that the main form of engagement, if any, should be occasional mockery and dismissiveness. Since she has embraced homosexual practice and distanced herself from Evangelicalism I see little point in treating her with any form of seriousness.

        BTW, in terms of mockery, there is more than enough material to work with.

        Sometimes, serious engagement with people is a disastrous mistake.

      • The problem is that, wherever RHE herself stands, there are many people who greatly appreciate her and her work who remain evangelicals: I don’t want to alienate them needlessly. The fact that they tend to be a vulnerable and sensitive group of people, a number of whom have suffered abuse at the hands of evangelical churches, makes the situation even more complicated.

        Mockery also has a place. However, on the Internet, where context is weak, it can lead to a lot of collateral damage. Much as I appreciated Andrew Wilson’s recent parody, for instance, the perlocutionary effect of this was probably rather different from that which Andrew intended. In certain ways, it played into the hands of people like RHE, who Andrew of insensitivity and called for him to apologize and take it down.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I think you overestimate her influence.

      • Perhaps I do. I see rather a lot of it.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        Yes. I think that there are skills that are useful in various situations. The problem is when we deny people an advocate because they don’t act “correct”, or when we use a set of rules to shut down someone, and maintain our own position without opening up to them. The angry poor man is just as much Jesus as the wandering Beduins Abraham (regularly) entertained, bowing before them as Lords. (Abraham would not have been faithful in much–receiving the Three Guests–had he not regularly been faithful in little things.)

        What we seem to easily forget is, as Girard says, we can be violent and inhospitable, quick to speak and slow to listen, by being hurt. That is, we can, and often do turn away our neighbor, through our sensibilities–especially if we at all resemble Chaucer’s Prioress.

        (Though, in this case, I think some of the miscommunication with Sarah & Lindsey was due to the twitter medium. I really like their writing, and was saddened to see that miscommunication.)

      • I quite agree. Everyone should be attended to and advocated for, even if they may not be personally suited to be an advocate.

        I was convinced that the situation with Sarah & Lindsey was miscommunication and crossed wires too. Like you, I have enjoyed their blog for quite some time. You may be pleased to know that this particular set of crossed wires has subsequently been successfully and pleasantly untangled in a different medium.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair,
        I’ve just been thinking about formal debates, with a chairperson and rules of engagement, and of how much I enjoy them. I always enjoy listening to your Mere-Fi Podcasts. Twitter debates via tweets can become a free-for-all and can quickly become unwieldy, no matter how good the intentions of the contributors. Of course, there are other reasons why they go pear-shaped…
        I’ve also been thinking about the need for serious debate not to be stifled because of the sensitivities of some people. I realise that, in many contexts, we modify our speech and behaviour out of consideration for the needs of others – for instance by tip-toeing round the house and talking in hushed whispers when a baby, or a poorly person of any age, finally gets a much-needed sleep. However, within the context of a serious debate, I do think your idea of having an advocate to represent emotionally vulnerable people is a sound one.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I think though, you have to ask the question whether your serious engagement with Evans is really getting anywhere. Or does treating her as a worthy interlocutor just grant her a seriousness she does not deserve?

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Andrew Wilson should just let Matthew Vines and Evans pound sand. They were obviously really rattled by his piece, and came off as school marms in their response.

      • As only an observer, I wanted to say thank you for choosing to get involved in the public square. Increasingly, the arguments and views presented by people like RHE are mirrored in my non-theologian-filled life at secular work and with secular colleagues, though often times poorly echoed or parroted without a real understanding of the deep implications.

        For me, I can identify the problems in the worldviews and theological points but need to learn wise and fruitful ways to respond and engage. When people like you and others in your circle do so, it encourages and guides me in my interactions with those around me. Many have bought into these ideas without the thoughtfulness or intentionality of an RHE and perhaps can be swayed by a wise word at the right time. It is so helpful and encouraging to me to observe clear-headed, Biblically-grounded replies, engagements, and occasional rebuttals from people trained to do so.

        (Which, incidentally, was your entire point yesterday, that this is a main function of your training and profession – to strength and defend the faith. You have time and energy and resources and training to move beyond “hobby” to “expert.” And for that work I am so thankful!)

        All that to say, thank you!
        (Also, that article on outgroup tolerance was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing.)

      • Joe says:

        Do it. She’ll have a fit of the vapours – so the key thing is how you (and others) calm her down again. A lot of LGBT sensitivity is real – even if it is self-generated by gay people/activists/allies mirroring each other. Perhaps you’re not close enough to that group to pick out the subtleties between real offence, offence generated by insider conversations and narratives, and plain political posturing…. in which case it’s not such a great idea.

        Nah – do it.

      • Joe says:

        Scrub my last comment – I read this in the context of the Wilson parody rather than the ‘Theology is for everyone’ comment.

    • I gave up trying to follow the conversation 😉

    • quinnjones2 says:

      And now I take my hat off to RHE because of a second F/B post in which she wrote:
      ‘I’m not saying white, educated men are uniquely biased. I’m saying we’re ALL biased (myself included!)’
      So, having given myself a gold star earlier, I now give a gold star to Rachel for this…well, I favourited her tweet.
      My mention of gold stars shows up the former teacher in me , of course. Teacher , not ‘schoolmarm’, by the way, ‘The Man Who Was’ 🙂 [I was told that my main fault as a teacher was being ‘too soft.’]

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I still don’t share RHE’s views on many matters – I’m just relieved that she has acknowledged that she’s biased!

      • Admittedly, it would also be appreciated if she retracted her claims that I in particular and other white male theologians like me are oblivious to our context, privilege, and to the fact that we will have biases and blindspots. None of that has been taken back. The impression given is that she is aware of these things while I am simply ignorant of them. Does she really think that I am unaware of and have never read queer, feminist, and black theory and theology, for instance? Or that after a decade of theological training and training in hermeneutics that I have never given extended thought to the way that my identity and context plays into my reading of Scripture?

        We do need to have a broader conversation about contextual theologies, though. Although contextual theologians can be worthwhile interlocutors to some extent, there are many dangers with such a huge emphasis upon the context of the theologian. For instance:

        1. We lose faith in the possibility of texts speaking and interpreters faithfully interpreting across contexts and identities or in the discipline of history. The authority of Scripture also is weakened as more and more of it is surrendered to the sea of the ‘context’ of an ancient near eastern patriarchal society.
        2. The meaning of texts starts to be treated as if it were a private matter bound up with my personal identity and narrative, rather than accessed through a public process of interpretation, where readings can challenge and test their mettle against each other. There is no way to say that one interpretation is better or worse than any other (well, except if you are a cishet white male…!). The result is a cultural and identity relativism in the area of interpretation.
        3. People can be disqualified from interpretation simply on account of their context or identity.
        4. When the process of interpretation starts to be treated as if it were overwhelmingly dependent upon our personal context, we can start to lose sight of or even belief in any truth or reality that might call us to attend to horizons beyond those belonging to our context. To what extent should the doctrine of the resurrection, for instance, be treated as if it were primarily a function of my personal context and projection of my personal identity? Is there no way in which, through dialogue with voices across the centuries and different cultures, I can arrive at a richer perspective than the vantage point of my culture and identity alone would provide?
        5. Far from humility, the result can be a sort of idolatry of our contexts and identity. We can start to view all Christian truth as if it were only about what it is to us. Rather than a theology that might call us to grow beyond our existing contexts and identities, our existing contexts and identities start to become the criteria by which we assess the significance and relevance of Christian truth. So, for instance, feminist theology risks only considering the ways in which the text intersects with and relates to women’s identities and the project of feminism and ignoring the vast majority of what it has to say. My understanding of Christian truth will be coloured by the fact that I am a straight white male. However, my understanding of Christian truth isn’t thereby the same thing as a straight white masculinist theology: my theology is not limited to the horizons of my identity and context. Also, I do not claim any particular merit for my theology on the basis of my identity and context. My theology must be publicly tested on the same basis as everyone else’s.
        6. This approach to interpretation focused upon context and identity tends to imply that all contexts and identities are equally relevant and provide an equally revealing perspective upon Christian truth. However, this is far from clear to me. While certain perspectives will definitely provide illuminating angles upon biblical truth (e.g. the perspectives of the poor) that should claim our attention and inform our readings, it seems to me that the helpfulness of perspectives should not just be assumed, but need to make a case for themselves. Why should we believe that a queer perspective has promise to teach us much about Christian truth, for instance?
        7. On the same front, those who speak the most about contextual theology tend only to focus upon particular identities and contexts, that is, those that are conformable to or consistent with Western liberalism. Reading contextual theology, one is often struck, not by deep diversity, but by the bland sameness of a group of people the majority of whom studied in the same times, places, and institutions, read the same books, have imbibed the same left wing or liberal politics, and attend the same sort of churches. True otherness is seldom really engaged (the outgroup piece is relevant here again).
        8. Liberal contextual theologian types can often speak as if all Western theology were written from a single cultural perspective. However, as I remarked to someone yesterday, within the last hour and a half, I had read a third century African theologian (Tertullian), a sixteenth century French refugee (Calvin), and a twentieth century Dutch churchman (Bavinck). Theologically speaking, my reading is considerably broader than this, but the identities and experiences represented among those three persons are sharply distinct from my own in various ways. It is considerably easier imaginatively to place myself into the position of any of the identities currently in vogue than it is to place myself into the position of a third century son of a centurion in Roman Africa. Cultural otherness has always been an essential part of the theological project, as theologians engage with other theologians across the centuries. Engaged in well, this has the effect of relativizing our particular contexts, while making clearer the power of Christian truth and its authority to exceed and traverse contexts, a truth that is dulled in many contextual theologies.

      • One of the troubling things to me about RHE’s statement is the way that she lumps in education with white male identity, as if it were the same sort of thing. The formative task of education, however, is profoundly important when it comes to the task of equipping people to have an informed theological opinion. Having a decade of formal theological training in top academic institutions behind me and more years of informal study in addition to that I am equipped as a theologian in ways that only a privileged few can be. People with such theological training are conversant with the theological tradition, widely read in contemporary theological literature from many different backgrounds and traditions, have been exposed to numerous voices of different contexts and identities, have interacted with some of the sharpest minds and most honed viewpoints from across the centuries, have learned biblical languages, developed a deep hermeneutical awareness and read extensively on hermeneutical theory, acquainted themselves with philosophical concepts, ideas, thinkers, and debates and learned much about how to reason philosophically, been trained in rigorous logic, thought, and in the practice of disputation, studied historiography and history, spent countless hours poring over the biblical text and dense theological tomes, studied the history of biblical interpretation, developed networks with many gifted theologians and engaged in dialogue and debate with many interlocutors, from many different traditions on many different issues, devoted years to specialist research, tested the mettle of our theology against some of the sharpest theological minds in our field, etc., etc. This background equips us to understand Scripture and theology at a level that, quite frankly, a blogger with only an undergraduate degree in English literature from an independent Christian liberal arts college is highly unlikely to, even if she has more X chromosomes than many of us do. This does not mean that such a person’s voice and experience isn’t important or valuable. However, such a voice probably isn’t the one to go to if you want to have an informed opinion on Christian theology.

        Education and training really matter and shouldn’t be lazily relativized as just another dimension of a person’s background that shouldn’t privilege their perspective over anyone else’s (even though they can sometimes shape people’s identities and perspectives in unhelpful ways). We wouldn’t take this ‘everyone’s opinion is equal’ approach to physics or entrust brain surgery to dilettantes. RHE seems to confuse the profound Christian truth that we are all addressed equally by the gospel, stand on the same level in the love and grace of God, and are forbidden to set ourselves over each other, with the notion that all of our opinions on theological questions have equal merit and value and are equally deserving of attention.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair,
        This is a response to the post you published Nov.16th at 4.16 p.m.
        Yes, I would also appreciate it if she would retract her unwarranted claims about you and other male theologians.
        I am particularly struck by your 3rd point about ‘the many dangers with such a huge emphasis upon the identity and context of the theologian’ [ 3. People can be disqualified from the conversation simply on account of their context or identity]
        Shifting the focus from what is said to the context and identity of the speaker is one big ‘red herring’ and an excuse for not giving due consideration to the words of the speaker. It’s a cop-out!
        Your question at the end of your 6th point is something I have pondered over for a while .[Why should we believe that a queer perspective has much to teach us about Christian truth, for instance?]
        VB said at her coming out ‘God loves me as I am.’ I accept that God is lovingly present for all who call on him.( ‘If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there’) It doesn’t follow that God wants us to stay as we are. If we are all OK as we are, why bother to say the Lord’s Prayer? I don’t know what it’s like to be gay but I do know this: I knew that God loved me when I first became a Christian, but I didn’t conclude from this that it was OK for me to continue to consult a clairvoyant. I realised that consulting a clairvoyant was a form of idolatry. [It was also no help whatsoever and a complete waste of time and money!]
        What I discovered about Christian truth was new to me, but not new to other Christians:
        ‘You shall have no other gods before me’
        ‘Your faith has healed you’
        ‘My grace is sufficient for you , for my power is made perfect in weakness’…and much more besides.
        Thank you again for giving us the benefit of your expertise and training via your blogs, comments, podcasts and Twitter conversations.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Alastair, all this is true. And it is great that you have articulated this here for us.

        But this kind of thing is utterly ineffective when dealing with the likes of Evans. When directly confronted with people like her: mock, dismiss, or ignore. Keep a laser focus on those strategies.

        Anyway, what you are doing is just not working, so the first thing is to stop digging.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        I have not read it, but I believe in St. Paul, Badiou is critical of “diversity” meaning “sameness”, and the loss of “truth” from our discourse. (Though, he means something very different by “truth” than we usually do.)

        I also wonder if part of what our culture needs is a Buddhist or Taoist emphasis on “no self”.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        In other words, Evans is a master troll. You don’t beat trolls with reasoned arguments.

      • William Fehringer says:

        She certainly deserves to be mocked for her behavior, and there are plenty of people who can do that, but I think Alastair is uniquely gifted with the patience necessary to perform the task he’s attempting. I have a reputation for patience and good humor, and I know I couldn’t put up with this for nearly as long as he has. I hope he keeps on for the sake of her followers so that they might become aware that she’s not worth their adherence. The average member of her cultus has to notice and wince at her blunders. Over time the repeated disappointment over her failure to engage may add up and they’ll be looking for someone else to latch onto. If he keeps up his consistent, irenic dialogue and continues to show kindness in the face of scorn, and a reasoned, measured response to everything she throws at him, perhaps it will provide a trail for some of her sobering readers to something better. I think he’s stated or alluded to as much here and before.

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  3. whitefrozen says:

    I learned that I don’t need formal education to spot a jerk in that twitter thread 🙂

  4. thrasymachus33308 says:

    Engaging with progressives is pointless, I’m guilty of attempting it myself though.

  5. To Alastair,

    And I say this as someone who is critical of Rachel Held Evans,

    I am just curious to how you are trying to “Rescue Masculinity,” bringing back “risk and responsibility” by not calling Rachel a tarbaby publically. Is that really manly of you?

    ” The politics here are extremely fraught. RHE is a tar baby (in the sense of the Brer Rabbit story). The more that you attempt honestly to engage, the more that you will be made to look bad. ”

    Anyways, I’ll leave this story about tarbabies here:

    Good day, responsible manly men!


    • Rod,

      Thanks for commenting.

      To call RHE a tar baby publicly would be a different sort of act. My point was to describe her manner of engagement, not to name-call. I think that RHE should be denounced, but I think that this is the task of pastors, not unordained bloggers. Part of manliness is having the capacity to hold your tongue in certain contexts.

      I specified the exact sense in which I used the term ‘tar baby’. I appreciate that its other sense can be offensive. However, as a descriptive term in this context (in a context where racial dimensions were not operative in the background—I am an English man referring to engagement with a white American woman), I believe that it was the most apt. If people want to take offence, they are welcome to, but they have rather weak grounds to say that I gave it.

  6. Peter B says:

    Hey Alastair, this is gonna be a messy comment :). Sorry, dude.
    First of all, that earth cake looked glorious. I’m jealous of the combined skill of you and your friends. And congrats on the dissertation submission(s) that occasioned it!
    Second, story time then a question: I’d been jonesing for one of your really long essays that would stretch my thought when you (finally =P) posted that ‘Rescuing Christian Masculinity’ piece. I read it and fortunately clicked on a related post titled ‘Making Enemies’, and in its comment section you referred to a yet older post, and then I ended up here.
    (Next thing I know, I’ve spent an hour skimming that first essay and being at the same time offended and stimulated by the things JJ wrote). All this to say, when I peeped your unfurling disputation with RHE in real-time, I felt myself somewhat steeped in Alastairian(?) thought (at least circa 2006) as to why complete egalitarianism isn’t an ideal worth pursuing. I didn’t interject anywhere b/c Twitter’s formatting is dreadful; I just favourited and observed for my edification. But as per your debate tactics, there was one obvious point you didn’t make and it puzzled me. Then somewhere in the comments right here, you made the point! (eerily using the very same example I happened upon)
    Somewhere up there you wrote this—“We wouldn’t take this ‘everyone’s opinion is equal’ approach to physics or entrust brain surgery to dilettantes.”—about RHE’s objection to your thesis (theological dispute is not for everyone). My question is why didn’t you press that point there? I’m not trying to Monday morning quarterback you here (hope that idiom translates cuz my soccer/cricket knowledge is PFFT), but I thought it would help you both drive at the issue better than the ‘y u so elitist’ canard you kept having to swat aside. Thoughts?
    (Messy as promised, but I really hope it makes sense. If not, let’s just exchange nods & pretend it didn’t happen).

    • Thanks for the comment, Peter!

      Pleased that you liked the cake. It was a lot of fun and quite a challenge to make. I’m definitely up for another attempt at some point, though!

      There were a few reasons why I didn’t make that point, even though it occurred to me. In a conversation with people who have a proven record of misreading and misrepresenting one’s position, it is probably best to avoid analogies that could be taken in a number of ways. I had already made a few serious missteps in keeping the conversation focused and I didn’t want to make another. Had I used the analogy there, I would have half-expected RHE to highlight all of the ways in which theology really isn’t like brain surgery and to suggest that I was saying that they were alike in those regards. I would then have wasted rather too much time tackling each of these wilful misconceptions. Also, the conversation had already strayed off track when RHE mistook my main point. Bringing in that analogy would have taken things further away from the initial focus, which I was trying to recover.

    • mnpetersen37 says:

      Also, science has a real problem with disaffection among the populace in general. For instance, Christopher Emdin has done a lot of work in how the science culture presented in schools implicitly excludes African Americans, and many Christians are disaffected by Neil Tyson’s philosophical pontificating, by the agenda behind Climate Science (at least in the States) and the science of evolution. Not to mention much if the silly responses to medicine. (For the record, I am sympathetic to organic movements, and believe Climate Science is simply true.) In climate science and evolution and health, lay people are more than willing to declare how and why the scientists are wrong.

      (I take it the problems go both ways. Scientists often talk down to the general public, or try to change society through “making”, thus turning their neighbors into raw material to be directed by a craftsman; while in the other hand, many common people act as if they have the discipline specific expertise, that the obviously don’t. This leads to both sides feeding the other side’s reaction.)

      • Yes, these are important points.

        I think that part of the problem that we are facing here is a collapse of conversations coupled with a democratic populism and egalitarianism in the area of opinion. It is one thing not to take much climate change denial seriously when it presents itself in the scientific realm. However, it is another thing to ridicule the genuine questions of the public and present them as stupid. They aren’t stupid and they shouldn’t be made to look stupid or spoken down to in such a manner. In the same way, when lay people ask about theology, their questions should be treated with respect and answered without any hint of ridicule or condescension. Theologians are called to be servants of lay persons, not those acting as lords over them. However, if profoundly uninformed positions were voiced among people claiming to be theologians or Christian leaders, the matter would be rather different.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair,
        I agree that not all opinions have equal validity. I think we need to recognize where our own expertise ends and where the expertise of others begins. Unfortunately, I get the impression that RHE thinks that, in some contexts,’differentiation’ and ‘injustice’ are synonyms!

  7. whitefrozen says:

    Digging around the various responses to what you said, both on Twitter and in this thread, has been a very trippy experience.

  8. quinnjones2 says:

    Oh, the games people play – Eric Berne, all is forgiven 🙂

  9. In the August discussion w/ Wilson and Gibson about paedo-/credobaptism, you have a great section in one of your remarks about how our faith is “participitory.” Do you have anything else that fleshes that out a little?

    In reflecting on the ecclesio-soteriological discussions I’ve been having for the past 2 years or so since becoming a Presbyterian (CREC), I see the NT writers relying heavily on union w/ Christ as a prominent motif. Duh.

    But even thinking about Ephesians, ascension, and the sacrificial system I see participation and union. It seems like every part of our salvific experience is participatory. Is there any part of our experience as a Christian that isn’t mediated?

  10. Matt Petersen says:

    I’m sure lots of people will weigh in, but I’d be interested for your thoughts here:

    • I would want to place more of an accent upon the ‘simul’ than Leithart, although I appreciate some of the theological moves that he is trying to make. I think that the character of Christian identity and righteousness is paradoxical and that trying to resolve this paradox one way or another will tend to obscure important biblical truths.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        My sense has been that the one unified action of the Church (or of the Reformed community in the Church) is, as Rosenstock-Huessy would say, on the cross, pulled between future and past. For that one activity, some persons will be more focused on listening to the future, and others more focused on listening to the past. However, both are important for “us” as they are for “I”. That is, it’s not only that I may need to listen to Leithart, or to, say, Escalante (who I take it is with Wilson on this, and generally a more trustworthy witness than Wilson), or that they each need to listen to each other, but that each one is important for us and for our activity as a body.

        Wright is also critical of the tendency not to fail at unity, but to offer theological justifications for disunity; and while Protestantism has many strengths, on this point, it seems that Protestantism is weak–it’s too easy to claim an invisible unity that persists in spite of the visible disunity, or even, to claim that attempts to make visible unity primary are inherently Catholic. I don’t think that’s directly relevant to this issue here, but it is a huge part of Dr. Leithart’s project, and he’s probably working on that indirectly here.

    • whitefrozen says:

      I really don’t see the various distinctions (between justification and sanctification, for example) being made as sharp in Scripture as they are made here.

  11. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I’ve been thinking about this article, and I have to say I am not entirely convinced.

    Some symbols are fairly arbitrary in their relationship with what they signify. For example, words tend to have a rather large arbitrary component (though they are not entirely arbitrary, as some sounds are, rightly, thought to be more appropriate for some things than others): bread, lechem and pain all refer to the same thing. However, most symbols have a more organic relationship with the thing they signify, and, arguably, head coverings and hair length are examples of that.

    • I think that Andrew has a point that I agree with more generally. However, I agree with your point: symbols are a lot less arbitrary and fluid than our culture typically thinks.

    • whitefrozen says:

      Saussere is quite helpful in this area. Semiotics in general, actually, is quite helpful. In an of themselves, the ‘signs’ which represent the ‘thing signified’ don’t have any real meaning or relation to what they signify – ‘cat’ has no intrinsic relation to that four-legged meowing creature at my door. The sign is more or less arbitrary – a matter of convention (Wittgenstein is another helpful voice – lots of meaning is found in a terms use).

      • I am acquainted with much of this literature. I think that we are on slightly less certain territory when we are speaking about natural symbols, though. For instance, is an association between ‘up’ and ‘higher’ powers, that which is ‘over’ us, and the like purely arbitrary? Is a kiss merely conventional, with no particular aptness to the sign? Can we just switch over the kiss of peace to the evangelical side-hug with no loss of import? Even if it does not demand a particular construction, is women’s hair entirely ambivalent to any sort of cultural construction, or should it not surprise us that it often is given particular significances?

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I think that we are on slightly less certain territory when we are speaking about natural symbols, though.

        Even in verbal signs, however, relationship is not entirely arbitrary. Some sounds are more appropriate for certain things than others.

      • Definitely. The idea that verbal signs are entirely arbitrary would seem to undermine a lot of poetry. Of course, this doesn’t mean that particular signs are demanded, just that reality is not purely ambivalent to the mode of its signification and symbolization.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        Regarding linguistic signs:

        I think we need to distinguish between arbitrariness between linguistic systems, and inside linguistic systems. (On one level this is trivial: Cat symbolizes “cat” in English, but not in Hebrew.) But, we need to follow through with it: In English, “Forlorn” *sounds* like a bell (as Keats says in Ode to a Nightingale.) “All felled, felled, are all felled” sounds like chopping down trees, and “That dandled a sandalled / Shadow that swam or sank / On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.” sounds like the aspens dear, and the rural scene with them in it. (These are both from Binsey Poplars.) In English, these rhythms are not arbitrary, and replacing the words with synonyms, or inverting word order, etc. destroys much of the meaning of the poem.

        Of course, Hopkins wouldn’t do in Italian or French. That is, the whole linguistic system, with its sounds and rhythms, gives, as it were, natural meaning to particular words within that system.

      • These are helpful remarks. Thanks, Matt.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        Also, over against Saussere (who I haven’t read so this may be based on mischaracterizations in secondary literature), we need to remember that the listener as active in speaking as the speaker is (it isn’t a “sender” and “receiver”), and that words are probably not for transferring ideas, but for transferring actions, and creating peoples.


    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I guess what I see, and dislike, in Wilson’s article is an attitude that what is really important is the abstract principle (which we think we know) that the symbol points to, so we can simply substitute another symbol without change or loss of meaning. I think this a highly problematic hermeunetic.

  12. whitefrozen says:

    I should have clarified that I was making the point in regards to language and linguistic signs. Hopefully this comment isn’t too rambly. I’ll try and reply to all three of yall at once.

    As a preliminary (and I hate spamming my own links), here’s a couple posts where I’ve gone into meaning, aboutness, etc:

    ‘I think that we are on slightly less certain territory when we are speaking about natural symbols, though. For instance, is an association between ‘up’ and ‘higher’ powers, that which is ‘over’ us, and the like purely arbitrary? Is a kiss merely conventional, with no particular aptness to the sign? Can we just switch over the kiss of peace to the evangelical side-hug with no loss of import? Even if it does not demand a particular construction, is women’s hair entirely ambivalent to any sort of cultural construction, or should it not surprise us that it often is given particular significances?’

    I definitely agree that ‘natural symbols’ are a different kettle of fish. That one book ‘Metaphors We Live By’, which I think you mentioned reading, Alastair, is an excellent study in this even if I think its conclusions are a bit overblown. The spatial metaphors section (up, down, higher powers, over us) really is pretty darn cool.

    However, even granting all of what you say the issue isn’t so clear cut. Consider ‘smoke means fire’. Of itself, smoke ‘means’ nothing. It’s a collection of particles floating about. The ‘meaning’ in ‘smoke means fire’ is what John Searle calls ‘derived intentionality’, where the ‘aboutness’ isn’t to be found in the actual thing but derived from us. Another classic example is the Stoic flush – having a flush means having a fever, ergo flush means fever. The flush is a sign for the fever, the fever is the ‘thing signified’. The point of those two examples is simply to show that even amongst the most natural of symbols, the meaning, the aboutness, is derived.

    Of course, this raises the question of just what ‘meaning’ is, and it can be quite difficult to define it in a way that doesn’t presuppose it in some way.

    ‘Even in verbal signs, however, relationship is not entirely arbitrary. Some sounds are more appropriate for certain things than others.’

    Certainly – but there’s no *necessary* connection between the linguistic sign and the thing signified, and that’s the overall point I was trying to make.

    • I suspect that we are not that far removed in our positions here. However, in the context of Andrew’s post, which involved the meaning of women’s hair and the meaning of a kiss, I think that The Man Who Was appropriately raised the issue. While they may not have a necessary meaning, they are considerably less ambivalent in their meaning than Andrew’s treatment of them might suggest, although I his broader point is one I agree with.

      Perhaps we should get Andrew himself in on this discussion. I suspect that he would fairly happily admit the legitimacy of some qualifications of his points, qualifications that may have been complicating and distracting if included within the post itself.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Lakoff’s discussion of up vs. down in Metaphors We Live By is pretty terrible. Things like “away from a gravitational centre” and “towards a gravitational centre” seem pretty universal, even if we sometimes extend those things away from their original context.

      • whitefrozen says:

        ‘Lakoff’s discussion of up vs. down in Metaphors We Live By is pretty terrible.’

        Pft. Infidel.

      • I have spent more time with Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        That up and down are culturally constructed does not seem to me very plausible.

      • whitefrozen says:

        Its been a minute since I read it, but as I recall the argument isn’t that up and down are socially constructed but that the bodily experience of being spatial and experiencing up and down have basically imprinted itself into our social expressions. I wouldn’t quote me on that but I remember that being the basic gist.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        I believe Merleau-Ponty talks about the phenomenological difference between depth and breath. (From the secondary literature.) The difference between height and the other two seems even more marked. Lewis’ description of the stars being way up in Discarded Image comes to mind.

        That said, Rosenstock-Huessy does talk about the different connotations that can have in different languages, resulting from the difference, for instance between “Not high-minded” (which he says is typical for English) hochschule (university, but literally high school) wherein “hoch” has a positive connotation.

        So there’s something important about how we articulate things differently in different languages, but, nevertheless, in both cases, the metaphor is based on the phenomenological experience either of being high, or of looking up.

        (Also, “gravity” is the wrong reason for “up”, though it’s part. Up is a visual phenomenon: I look up differently than I look left and right; though it may, in part be derived from gravity.)

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Ok, so lets say up and down are references to our visual field. I haven’t thought about that deeply, but it isn’t unreasonable at first glance. The thing is that we are embodied creatures formed with a particular relation to a gravitational field, and this includes our visual field. So, I don’t think we can really get away from gravitational centres being central to the concept up or down.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        BTW there is lots of really good stuff in Metaphors We Live By, but once the authors start to stray too much into philosophy and such, they lose their footing.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I’m pretty sure they refer to up and down as being culturally constructed. Willing to be corrected.

      • I think we agree on “up” and “down”.

        I haven’t read metaphors we live by, so I’m commenting based on my other reading. I think I could agree that the significance of up and down is articulated differently by different peoples, but not that the phenomenological experiences themselves are (since the experiences, are in significant senses pre-linguistic–though, after we are given language, even the phenomenological experience itself is shaped by language). For instance, one people could put the emphasis on the link between “down” and “humility”, and between “up” and “highminded”; whereas another could emphasize the link between “low” and “being humiliated”, and “high” and “ex-altation”.

  13. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    BTW I should clarify that I was not necessarily disagreeing with Andrew Wilson on his conclusions about hair coverings, hair length, holy kisses, though I am ambivalent. What really made me uneasy was the method he was using.

  14. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Matt,
    RE: up/down and your post published 17th Nov. at 11.10 p.m – I find it interesting that the German language, in its wonderful complexity :-), indicates movement towards and away from the speaker via the prefixes ‘her-‘ and ‘hin-‘ [herauf, herunter/ hinauf, hinunter]

  15. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Matt,
    Re: ‘the bell sounds forlorn’ [ your post on 17th Nov. at 8.33 p.m.]
    I’m not sure whether or not you are suggesting that Keats is personifying the bell?
    I’m inclined to think that the poet’s sense of forlornness is evoking in him a memory of a past sense of forlornness he felt in response to the sound of a bell. I would also suggest that the poet’s memory was of a tolling bell, as in ‘For whom the bell tolls’, rather than a chiming bell or Glockenspiel. I can’t help but wonder how Bavarian and Austrian people might respond to a German translation of this poem.

  16. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I am getting more and more impatient with ultrabiblicists, including Peter Leithart in some of his moods, who seem to discount any other knowledge other than what comes out of the Biblical text. Reading the Bible presupposes an enormous amount of knowledge about the world to be comprehensible on even a minimal level. It refers to things outside itself. Taken too far, ultrabiblicism actually threatens the very meaning of the text.

    And why should this not include moral knowledge as well? The Bible does not teach us morality from the ground up. It presupposes an awful lot of moral knowledge already. Hence the need for natural law.

    Basically, there is a reciprocal relationship between natural revelation and special revelation. You need special revelation to properly interpret natural revelation, but the reverse is also true.

    Ultrabiblicism is odd too, because the Bible explicitly points out that people already know a lot about, say, morality before coming to the Biblical text, making ultrabiblicism contradict the Bible itself!

    Anyway, this rant seems pretty obvious to me, but there are (very intelligent) people like Leithart saying the opposite.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      A lot of this confusion comes up in arguments about homosexual activity. One certainly can make the case against gay marriage or gay sex without any reference to special revelation. However, that does not mean that those arguments are secular, or do not rely on premises that strongly imply a religious view of the world. Nor does it mean that those arguments are likely to convince anyone with strong secularist intuitions.

      Ultrabiblicists, unfortunately, do tend to conflate natural law arguments with a supposedly secular reason (though in fairness to them, many natural law proponents do present their arguments, at least rhetorically, as a bridge to such a neutral, secular reason).

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Thinking of this post.

      • I presume that you are aware of my engagements with Leithart on this subject. See my two articles here.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I was aware of those. I do think you were a bit too optimistic then about the persuasive power of natural law arguments. If someone habitually thinks of the world as a bunch of manipulable, purposeless hunks of matter, with an amorphous consciousness sometimes mysteriously connected to them, then appeals to creational reality are likely to fall very flat. You obviously don’t need to be a Christian, or a believer in Biblical revelation to get those arguments, but you do need to see the world in a certain (religious) way first. Creational reality is an inherently religious concept, and I don’t think that it actually can do without some sense of a personal author behind it. But, again, you don’t need special revelation to get there.

        I’d note that even Leithart talks about how “people have to be convinced that social institutions should participate in and reflect some sort of cosmic order.” Thing is, while that is certainly a religious view, it’s not a specifically Christian one nor need it be based in special revelation.

        This is where James K.A. Smith’s work is so valuable. Practices, they way we live now, can alter how we perceive the world. They can blind us, they can blind whole societies to the personal and purposive nature of reality. People can have their “instinctive apprehension of the natural order of things” radically disrupted. That doesn’t mean the signs aren’t there, but it does mean that pointing them out is going to be a largely thankless task. Explicit argument can certainly persuade a thoughtful and patient person that natural law arguments against SSM are not preposterous, or on occasion even convert someone to that view. But most people are not particularly thoughtful or patient and just go with some quick combination of their gut and social convention. And both of those are largely against us now in the developed world.

        While I completely agree that people still always have some dim sense of creational reality, they are never totally blind, I am totally unconvinced that this vestigial sense of how things are will make that much of a difference in terms of converting large numbers of people to our side.

        BTW I have been thinking about how something like tacit knowledge is often mistaken for fideism. More thoughts to follow. The Rupert Ross book I sent you is very relevant.

      • I’ve enjoyed what I have read of Ross so far.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Frankly, I don’t know how any Christian could deny the following:

        1. All created things have a purpose for which God created them.
        2. We can know, at least partially, what those purposes are, just by looking at them, without the need for special revelation.
        3. We have a moral obligation to honour God’s purposes.

        That’s all natural law is.

      • One of the difficulties that we face here is that the meaning of sexual relations has been so reduced that the natural telos of our sexual organs has become no more powerful an argument against same-sex relations than the natural telos of the tongue is an argument against licking stamps.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        My last post in this thread was an (implied) riposte to (theoretically) anti-natural law Christians like Leithart and James Jordan.

  17. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair and ‘The Man Who Was’,
    Alastair – I just read the first of your articles and I think it’s spot on.
    ‘The Man who Was’ – yes, there is knowledge, or maybe even instinct, that does not come from biblical texts. I know non-Christians who think that SSM is ‘ridiculous’ and that traditional marriage is ‘common sense’. I don’t need to resort to Biblical texts to convince them or myself.
    The ‘ultrabiblicists’ I object to are those SSM campaigners who are using the Scriptures as a battleground in their attempt to impose their views on ‘the church’. So thank goodness for Alastair and other theologians who are able to take them to task for their errors and false teaching. That is something that I, for one, am not equipped to do, much though I ‘know’ via ‘natural law’ and by spiritual discernment that SSM is not God’s will.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Hi Alastair and TMWW – a response to your 9.08 p.m and 9.29 p.m. posts.
      TMWW. Yes, a car was intended to be a car. It may be in poor condition and it may break down completely on occasions – but it is still a car. A potato was designed to be a potato and can never be a car.I am now going to make as bold as to say something I have held back from saying before on the grounds that I think that to speak of it is ‘unladylike’ and it’s not something I want to say in male company! Anyway, because I am now hiding behind my computer and because I think the SSM arguments are so daft – here is one of my points about design: the anus was designed for outgoing, not incoming ‘traffic’!
      I like your football analogy, too , Alastair. The outcome does not invalidate the purpose, nor the faithful honouring of that purpose.
      Of course, I am happier focusing my thoughts on the beauty of marriage and procreation and thinking about ‘ whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable….’ But it’s a messy world, and I’m not Pontius Pilot, and I can’t turn my back on ugly realities.

  18. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    SSM proponents are often myopically focused on what (all) marriages do rather than what it is intended for. I have an analogy that I want to test out.

    You have a car in working order, a rusted out broken down car in the back of somebody’s yard, and a potato. Now looked at one way, the rusted out hulk and the potato are both hunks of matter that are incapable of transporting people. But this of course misses out on the fact that the rusted out old car, like the car in working order, was designed to transport people, while the potato was most definitely not. Even if you had a car that was defective right off the assembly line and was never capable of transporting people, that is still what it was designed to do. Even a car that was never, ever driven anywhere, perhaps just put on display, would still be designed to transport people. In light of all this, frankly, it just seems kind of insane to group the rusted out hulk, or the defective car right off the assembly line, or the display car, with the potato as the same kind of thing.

    • Although I think that this is moving along the right lines, I am uneasy about this analogy, to the extent that it implies that the marriage without children is ‘defective’. I have tried to make the same point by using the analogy of the difference between a soccer game that ends in a goalless draw and a ‘soccer game’ played without goalposts. I am still not completely comfortable with this analogy, but I think that it might be slightly more apt.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Well, I do think that, in a way, a marriage without children is defective (though we’d have to talk about exactly what we mean by defective). I think we show this in how we treat the marriage of two 20 or 30 somethings as a way, way bigger deal that we do a late marriage between a widow and a widower in, say, their 60s. The former is, I would argue, a much fuller expression of what marriage is than the latter, though the latter is still a good thing.

      • I would want to argue something similar. However, we need to word such things very carefully.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:


  19. whitefrozen says:

    I’m firmly Bonhoeffer-ian in my own thinking on natural law/ethics – i.e., knowledge of Good and Evil is the first thing that must be invalidated for Christian ethics.

    ‘1. All created things have a purpose for which God created them.
    2. We can know, at least partially, what those purposes are, just by looking at them, without the need for special revelation.
    3. We have a moral obligation to honour God’s purposes.’

    The problem here is the foundationalism that’s operating in the background, which goes back to Aquinas’ formulation of natural law ethics which the Reformers rejected – and with which said rejection I strongly agree – in favour of general/natural revelation, which could be darkened in a flash by sin. Foundationalism is pretty much in a ruin, in part thanks to Wolterstorff, Plantinga, etc. A good friend of mine said this about natural law etc:

    ‘In the Edenic narrative eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden. Whether we are speaking of knowledge of the good, or knowledge of evil, the creation narrative describes this as part of our fallen nature, not our created nature, something which was explicitly forbidden to us in Eden, and was in fact hubris. We were not, according to Genesis, created with Knowledge of Good. That existed only in the tree in the center of the Garden. Truth derived from the Presence of God, not from the fallible logic of finite, contingent creatures, because He is Truth. Truth is a Person: Jesus Christ. He writes His laws upon the heart not because after the fall Knowledge of Good/Knowledge of Evil was now a delectable, nutiritious, and healthy adjunct to the Tree of Life, but because He is in our very being, drawing us, such that if anything we do is good it was itself wrought in God (Jn 3:19-21), “for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We do not think God’s infallible thoughts after Him so that our logic may be presumed the epistemological equivalent to His logic: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).’

    • I have some fairly strong differences with the implied exegesis of certain biblical passages here. I really don’t believe that the readings in question hold water.

      Also, when talking about natural law, it is important to recognize that natural law is at root about practical reason, rather than speculative reason.

      • whitefrozen says:

        True enough, but the classical formulations of natural law (Aivequinas) lean very heavily on speculateive/discursive reasoning to inform the practical reason.

      • Natural law is more about the art of living for the particular person, as we live out the directivity of our own nature, in a constant feedback loop with our world. The science of ethics relates less to individuals than to legislators and the polis and isn’t primarily what natural law is about. The practical reason of natural law can inform legislators, who can establish good and prudent laws, within which individual persons discover a correspondence between the rhythm of those laws and the rhythm of the natural law that is at work in and through them and their world.

      • It is probably also worth taking into account that, in many current debates, natural law arguments function less as arguments that since the world is like X, you ought to do Y, than they do as arguments that since the world is like X, Y is impossible (e.g. sexual reassignment surgery, same-sex marriage). In such arguments, speculative reason isn’t so much establishing dictates for practice as just telling it like it is.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      A lot of this kind of reasoning seems to imply a too radical separation between God as creator and God as saviour. It also seems to me to flat out contradict scripture, which says we do know at least some things without special revelation.

      • whitefrozen says:

        Well, I’m not saying that we need special revelation to know anything – I’m simply saying that I regard moral knowledge as something derived not from reason without faith but from the presence of God. The question is one of epistemic method.

      • But wouldn’t you say that nature itself, and our bodies in particular, are God’s instruction and guidance (=Torah) to us? That these things speak to us, with a mediated prophetic voice.

        As Hamann said,

        Every phenomenon of nature was a word, — the sign, symbol and pledge of a new, mysterious, inexpressible but all the more intimate union, participation and community of divine energies and ideas. Everything the human being heard from the beginning, saw with its eyes, looked upon and touched with its hands was a living word; for God was the word.

        Or to say that another way, would you object to understanding natural law arguments as a form of exegesis of the word and Torah spoken, not on Sinai, but through the world itself?

      • Provided that we make a clear distinction between natural law as the creative word operating in and through us and its ‘exegesis’ in natural law ‘arguments’ (which are not the same thing as natural law itself. The confusion of the two can cause problems.

    • While it is often claimed that Aquinas is a foundationalist, it is not the consensus with Aquinas scholars. (Though, I believe it isn’t rejected by the consensus either.)

      Here’s Eleonore Stump on Aquinas and foundationalism:

  20. quinnjones2 says:

    Thank you, kind sirs – I’ve learnt a lot from you all.:-)

  21. Matt Petersen says:

    Listening to your podcast, I’m curious:

    When you say that we will be more glorious than Adam was, do you mean that the seed will have grown up, or that, through the Incarnation, more will have been given to us than even was seminaly present in unfallen human nature?

    If the latter, how do you respond to this ( and to his arguments elsewhere that though the New Jerusalem will indeed be more glorious than the garden, this is the result of a seed reaching maturity, not of something else being added to creation that was not seminaly present in the garden?

    But if the former, surely that isn’t theosis, and isn’t something that we have learned from the Orthodox, since it is classic Reformed theology.

    (That’s enough off topic that I don’t think it belongs in that thread.)

    • Thanks for the question, Matt.

      I believe in only a single end of man. In some respects it is appropriate to regard this as a seed growing up. However, we must not lose sight of the biblical dynamic of the seed, not just unfolding, but dying and rising again: there is a break between old and new creation that can easily be understated here.

      My preferred way of viewing things takes its starting point, not in Adam’s humanity, but in Christ’s. Adam was created in the image of God and Christ is the Image of God. Adam’s humanity was always an anticipation of Christ’s humanity. However, I am not sure whether it is helpful to see perfected humanity as potential or latent within Adamic humanity. Adamic humanity was always already teleologically ordered towards the full humanity of Christ, but this was always less a matter of unfolding what was already inherent in it, than drawing it out and beyond itself into the reality that it was always destined to be.

      So, no, there are not two separate ends of man, but, yes, the humanity of Christ does bring something more. This is because the source of the potential of man’s nature is the potential arising from our being drawn in the full stature of Christ, the Image of God, rather than from the inherent potential of Adam as the one created in the image of God. The archetype is eschatological, not protological. Christ has always been the final cause of our humanity.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        Thanks for the response.

        “Christ has always been the final cause of our humanity”

        This sounds very close to Maximus the Confessor to me. The mystery of the embodiment of God as man and the divinization of man in the Logos has always been the end of man, and all things–both natural law and Torah (though differently)–find their end precisely in the Incarnate God, and, in Him, of the union of all creation with God.

        Though, I’m slightly concerned with your terminology–it’s vague at a point–specifically, “The humanity of Christ does bring something more.” In Colossians, it’s not “Christ” but “the Son” that is the image of God, that is, He is the Image in Himself, and not only as Incarnate. That would seem to suggest that it is God the Logos who is the image of God, and, not the humanity of Christ. (I’m not separating the two, I’m pushing against a possible separation of the two.)

        That is, Adam’s humanity is the same as Christ’s, but in Christ, the humanity is fully joined together with Divinity.

      • I would be interested to know how 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 fits in for you. Also, 2 Corinthians 4:4 speaks of Christ as the Image of God.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        I think that I would say that just as Nestorius wasn’t wrong to say Mary is Christotokos, but to deny that she was Theotokos; so likewise, Christ is the image of the invisible God, but if we leave it there, we can have the same sort of terminological ambiguity as is present in Christotokos. Christ is the image of the Father because He is the Divine Person, God the Logos, and because in Him, humanity is united to God, not because of his humanity per se.

        (I’m not sure we disagree on this, I’m just trying to be terminologically precise here.)

        I think, when spoken properly “Christ” and “Son” and “Logos” put the accent on the Person slightly differently, and all those accents are important to maintain. So just as I’m not against saying that Mary bore the Messiah (is Christotokos), I’m definitely not against saying that the Jewish Messiah (Christ) is the image of the invisible God. Nor to filling out all the other shades of meaning that we could give to “Christ” and “Messiah”. And his humanity is important because in Him humanity is united to divinity, and divinity to humanity, but it isn’t His humanity itself that is important.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        Does that address your question or were you looking for more interaction with the specific verses?

      • I think that we are more or less on the same page here. Thanks for the elaboration.

  22. quinnjones2 says:

    I’m just ‘thinking aloud’ here and still ‘looking through a glass darkly’.
    I read Alastair’s tweet reference to Isaiah 6:9,10 and thought, yet again, about the whole cluster of problems tangled up in the SSM debate – and I prayed. More often than not, after I’ve prayed, words from the Scriptures float into my mind and I check them out and meditate. On this occasion the word was not from the Scriptures – it was ‘TRIAGE’. All the problems need attention; they can’t all be attended to at once and by everyone; which problem needs to be addressed first and by whom?
    I realise that my ‘first’ has been wondering how to get through to SSM supporters in a way that might convince them that SSM is not God’s will. My attempts to do this have been fruitless and of course I have asked myself why. Because of my lack of expertise as a non-theologian? Because of my conversational style? Now it occurs to me that even if I were the most accomplished theologian ever and the best communicator ever, I would not be able to get through to people who are ‘hearing but not understanding…seeing but not perceiving’. ‘You can take a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink.’
    How can I feel anything other than compassion for people who cannot understand and cannot perceive? Yet God is God and His plans are not our plans. Maybe it’s time for me to stop trying to persuade unwilling horses to drink. How can I spend my time more fruitfully? What is at the top of the TRIAGE list? I will not presume to suggest a ‘top of the TRIAGE’ for anyone else but I will pray for guidance about what it might be for me in this context.
    ‘Rescuing Christian Masculinity’ is a prayer focus for me.

    That’s as far as I’ve got 🙂

  23. quinnjones2 says:

    I’m just thinking about ‘calloused hearts’ and hiding our light ( the Light of Christ in us) under a bushel. Under that ‘bushel’ of a calloused heart is the word of God, which He has written on our hearts.If we hide that script and start writing our own ‘script’, it’s not a big leap for us to then think it might be a good idea to start ‘re-writing’ the Scriptures, too, to make them fit in with our own ‘script’….except that I don’t think it’s a good idea at all.[my euphemism for today :-)]

    • quinnjones2 says:

      ‘ Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard.
      So a book of remembrance was written before Him concerning those who fear the Lord and who meditate His name.
      “They shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day when I make up My jewels.And I will spare them just as a man spares his son who serves him.”
      Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.’
      Malachi 3:16-18

  24. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    RE: the article on the turn from politics

    Our dominant political ideology, at least among elites, is left liberalism. But the aims of that ideology are seriously at odds with reality. I’m not particularly a cheerleader for capitalism, but, on the economic front, there is really only so much the government can do for people before it starts to make things noticeably worse, and attempts to do things like abolish or even significantly minimize gender roles are doomed to fail. So, you get a lot of posturing, emphasis on symbolic issues like gay marriage*, and attacks on individuals who fail to be sufficiently PC. It’s a sort of impotent rage.

    The abandonment of attempts at systemic change are shocking in a lot of ways.

    *I’m fine with an emphasis on the symbolic, but I wonder what liberals are doing with such an emphasis.

  25. whitefrozen says:

    ‘But wouldn’t you say that nature itself, and our bodies in particular, are God’s instruction and guidance (=Torah) to us? That these things speak to us, with a mediated prophetic voice.

    As Hamann said,

    Every phenomenon of nature was a word, — the sign, symbol and pledge of a new, mysterious, inexpressible but all the more intimate union, participation and community of divine energies and ideas. Everything the human being heard from the beginning, saw with its eyes, looked upon and touched with its hands was a living word; for God was the word.

    Or to say that another way, would you object to understanding natural law arguments as a form of exegesis of the word and Torah spoken, not on Sinai, but through the world itself?’

    This moves a pretty far distance from the conception of natural law I was arguing against – i.e. moral truths derived from discursive reason alone without the use of faith.

    But part of this issue will depend on some things floating in the background – sure, Hamann’s statement sounds good and sure, in some sense nature itself can instruct us and whatnot. Yes, everything the human saw with its eyes was a living word – the problem is (as I see it, anyways) those are all things visible to the eyes of faith and not eyes as such. Our default position post-fall (and there may be some failure as well to distinguish between what is ‘natural’ pre and post fall) isn’t to see everything as a word from God or to hear His instructions. Our eyes must be healed by grace for that to happen.

  26. Andrew says:

    I’m looking for some good books on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Does anyone have any recommendations?

  27. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I know you post articles you disagree with, so I’ll take that under advisement.

    The article on abortion from Breunig does make some good points, but the problem is that if you give people positive reinforcement, like money, for bad behaviour, then they tend to engage in more of it.

    My uncle, a non-Catholic, who teaches in the Catholic school system in Canada, has noted how his school has stopped being so positive about young students who keep their children. All the positive feedback these young women were getting for not aborting ended up encouraging other young women to get pregnant.

    It is never that simple.

    So, we as pro-lifers have some difficult decisions to make about the best way to discourage abortion. In many ways, this is just another variation on the justice vs. mercy dilemma that bedevils all social policy.

    I’d also note that a symbolic stand, such as making abortion equivalent to murder, even if only for the abortionist, may be justified in its own right, regardless of consequentialist considerations.

    • I linked the article because, in addition to being a friend of mine, Liz Bruenig is one of the most consistently thoughtful voices out there and worth engaging with, even when one might not fully agree.

      The question that you raise is an important one and one that occurred to me when reading the article too. However, I think that it is important to recognize that we are already giving lots of positive reinforcement for bad behaviour. When women’s educational advancement, economic, and broader social participation is made contingent upon childlessness we have a rather perverse system of incentives. I think that we need to step back and do something about that.

  28. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    Re: ‘The politics of hospitality’ – oh, well done 🙂
    My heart leapt when I read these words:
    ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’
    ‘It is as the sheep receive Jesus’ poor brethren that they receive Jesus himself unawares’
    I think of times when I have been one the ‘poor brethren’ and I have been blessed by a heart of hospitality in complete strangers – such as the people who opened their hearts to me in St. Pancras when my suitcase (and wallet!) burst open and people rushed to the rescue and got me and my luggage on the train – the driver waited for me at the request of a member of staff. In opening their hearts to me, these people also unwittingly opened their hearts to Christ in me. I just said things such as, ‘Oh, bless you’ and ‘You are angels’. They may not know Jesus…yet… but he knows them.
    I can think of many similar instances with my non – Christian neighbours and family members.
    As ever, I am not equipped to comment on this from a theological perspective, other than to say ‘Amen’ to what you wrote. {Nor am I equipped to comment on it from a political perspective!]

  29. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi alastair,
    I just read your thread beginning:’Let him who is without sin’ and ‘judge not’. I’m a bit late to post on your thread now and would probably get myself tied up in knots if I tried!
    I can’t think of the above references without also thinking of the log and the speck. Attempts to remove the speck can be loving and non-judgemental. However, if I’m insisting that the speck isn’t there at all, I might think I’m being victimised!
    Sometimes I silently add ‘through ignorance’ to ‘through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault’.
    A church leader told me once that ‘ignorance’ is covered by ‘weakness’, but I’m still thinking about that.

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