Open Mic Thread 19


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, 16, 17, 18.

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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114 Responses to Open Mic Thread 19

  1. whitefrozen says:

    “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” just arrived, looking forward to getting into that.

    I’m amazed by people who think Christopher Hitchens had anything when listening to about religion.

    The Hobbit was beyond bad.

    Anyone read “The Varieties of Religious Experience”? I may start going thru it again soon.

    Any fans of John Grisham? I’m hooked.

    Merry Christmas to everyone here!

  2. Anyone read Just Mercy? I’ve started it. Very powerful!

  3. Finally, I’ve been wondering lately, in the context of 2 Thes 2:13 and Titus 3:5, how important sanctification is being saved. It’s something I never hear discussed in the evangelical, Reformed community that I’m part of.

    • In the context of those verses, I think that the sanctification in view may be more of a definitive or positional one. However, they are not unrelated to the more familiar theological sense in which we use the term.

      Sanctification, in that more regular sense, is very closely bound up with being saved. Sanctification is the shape of the new humanity and of new life in fellowship with God. It is the way that the Spirit conforms us to Christ and to our destiny. Without sanctification we are not living out the new life that God has given to us.

  4. itslittlejohn says:

    I’ve been reading your blog off and on for a few months now, Alastair, and it has been a resource for encouragement and provocation. I am one of many that appreciate your writing and I’ll add my echo of thanks!

    But the real cause for this comment should be directed at any who read it:

    As I have continued my personal study of scripture, I have come to realize how much is determined by one’s philosophy of hermeneutics. Thus, I am pausing my study on various fronts and looking for some good resources on this subject. Unfortunately, I read Deep Exegesis too early and almost none of it has stuck, so I’ll probably be revisiting it, but I’d love to know if anyone has found any other books or exercises helpful to round things out.

    For some context, I’ve been doing a fairly detailed study of baptism and have realized that most of the actual disagreement regards hermeneutics and not the grammar of individual texts. But I’ve also recently had a close friend recommend to me a Pre-mil Revelation commentary by John F. Walvoord for which I have little sympathy. The reason again is heremeneutics, but I have also not done even a preliminary study of Revelation so I am hesitant to dive in to that study without a broader foundation.

    Any recommendations? Thanks in advance!

  5. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Been reading James K.A. Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy.

    Some thoughts:

    I still find find the idea that all forms of thought, all practices etc. are religious problematic.

    Not all societies seem particularly concerned with questions of grand meaning, at least not in relation to ritual, the spirit world, all the other things we traditionally associate with religion.

    What we most desire, our ultimate good, seems problematic as a definition of religion, as it would seem that animals and such desire things too.

    There is a difference in how people think, between attributing things largely to personal causation and mechanistic causation. The former is always associated with religion. If we’re not going to call the former religious and the latter non-religious.

    If everything is really religious, then I have to wonder at the need for the term in the first place. Yet, we in the modern world do seem to need the term. The distinction between things that are religious and non-religious does seem to be real.

    I wouldn’t deny that more non-religious people retain some fragments of religious intuition and practice (how could they not), but they seem to have a greater reliance on mechanistic intuition and practice than more religious people. That’s a real difference and it matters in the real world.


    I find it problematic to say that just because liberalism follows after a more or less Christian society, that liberalism is derived from Christianity. Just because something follows Chronologically after something else does not mean that it is derived from the former.

    Jonathan Haidt’s work suggests that liberalism is really just a denial of any bases for morality that transcend the individual person. I don’t see how that actually comes out of Christianity.

    I do find it more plausible that something like Marxism, with its teleological view of history, has a heavier Christian influence. Teleology like that is undoubtedly religious. But even there, while we have to acknowledge the strong religious aspect of Marxist thought, we have to be wary of simply of attributing it to a Christian influence.

    All of the problematic philosophical positions that are supposedly a part of modernity were already there in the Pre-Socratics, the Sophists, and the Epicureans. Not as well developed, perhaps, but the basic ideas were there.

    There were similar developments away from the West entirely in Chinese and Indian philosophy. The Mohists, for example, have a lot of similarities to what you find in modern philosophy, including what you find in liberal and leftist political philosophy.

    Modern forms of thought seem to take hold in and adapt to places that continue to have little Christian influence, like Japan.

    If Christianity is true, any system of thought or practice that has any contact with reality is going to bear some resemblance to Christianity. Thus, just because something resembles Christianity, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is some direct influence. Even if it follows on chronologically.

    So, a better way of looking at this, instead of just assuming historical influence, is to look at parallels between Christianity and these other forms of thought.

    It would be foolish to entirely deny that there is at least some specific historical influence of Christianity on modern forms of thought in the West. But we shouldn’t just assume such influences. When you’ve got a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.


    While I understand the wish to distance oneself from modern “conservative” political parties, what with their warmongering, support for torture, capitulation to crony capitalism and amoral global finance etc., I find it very hard for anyone who is a Christian to avoid owning to be some kind of conservative. Since what seems to define conservatism is a moral stance that acknowledges the legitimacy of purity, loyalty, and respect for authority, by that standard, Christianity is indubitably conservative. That certainly leaves a lot of room for disagreement on economic and other prudential questions, and it certainly doesn’t deny that there are some pernicious and toxic versions of conservatism that are anathema to Christianity. But the general allignment of Christians with the political right would not seem to be just some odd historical accident.

    I am dubious about attempts by Christians to appropriate the word radical. Yes, in one sense you can say that Christianity is the most radical of radical things. But when people use the word, what they are referring to is a sort of total freedom from any sort of external restraint, including that of any sort of external reality. By that standard Christianity isn’t really radical at all. You really aren’t going to get any more radical than modernists and postmodernists who simply deny the existence of significant portions of the cosmos.


    Smith’s book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism would benefit from a post-script that says something to this effect: even if we grant the epistemological premises of modernism, what you end up with a situation where Christianity is equal to any other position. That is a valuable realization from a Christian perspective. But it’s not quite good enough. The problem is that this while this puts Christianity in the position of being just as good as any other point of view, it also puts it the position of being just as worthless as any other view. I cling to my arbitrary position and you cling to yours.

    Smith needs to articulate a robust realism that, while not depending on modernist epistemology, argues for the superior truth claims of the gospel. He could get that from the RO folks.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Any sort of coherent thought, any sort of knowledge, even a fragment, seems to imply a rationality to the whole cosmos, which implies God.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      There seems to be this funny idea out there that unless you know something through special revelation, you know it independently from God. On the contrary, any real knowledge comes from revelation.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      RE: the Reformed critique of natural theology

      It seems to me just plain weird to posit that our ability to “read” the world is radically impaired by sin, but our ability to read scripture is not, as if the meaning of scripture were simply plain for all to see. The shear weirdness of many interpretations of the Bible, it seems to me, puts the lie to that.

      I maintain that both natural and special revelation are necessary, and there is a not fully articulable way in which they work together.

      • Most Reformed theologians have traditionally and appropriately engaged in some form of natural theology. The critique of natural theology that one finds in Barthian or Van Tillian circles is hardly a Reformed consensus position (for a basic critique of a Van Tillian presuppositionalist position, read this from my friend Joseph Minich).

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I believe Smith was talking about Dooyeweerd.

      • Dooyeweerd and Van Til are very much alike in many respects.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        The presuppositional approach and other apologetic stances often tend not to be all that different in practice.

    • I still think that it can be helpful to highlight that even supposedly ‘non-religious’ thought is framed by deeper quasi-religious commitments—the sort of commitments that it would typically disavow—and are homologous in key respects to what are more generally regarded as ‘religions’. Yes, there are differences. However, I don’t think that Smith or the others making these claims are denying this.

      I am not convinced that Christians must identify as some sort of conservative. Given its welcome of the logic of capitalism, which cuts against so many of the things that conservatives claim to stand for, ‘conservatism’ often really isn’t the conservative force that it proclaims itself to be. ‘Conservatism’ is often little more than one of the contradictory faces of liberalism.

      Yes, Christianity must uphold a form of purity, loyalty, and respect for authority. However, we will need to move beyond radical, progressive, and conservative options to do so appropriately.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I don’t think that Smith or the others making these claims are denying this.

        They are typically quite sloppy or disingenuous. It’s never anything of this sort: here are the similarities, and here are the (rather, ahem, major) differences.

        I’m all for pointing out that you can never totally escape religious modes of thought, but something more is going on here.

      • I think that you are placing unnatural and inappropriate expectations on our language here. You seem to be implicitly demanding that everyone operate in terms of a single and particular definition of ‘religious’, when the term just doesn’t work that way. Precise definitions of ‘religion’ are notorious for catching much more or much less than they intend to. Indeed, formal definitions can often be more of a hindrance than a help here.

        Even without a single formal definition, the terms ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ can be powerfully communicative. The fact that they don’t have a single formal definition that would preclude any polysemy (which is not the same thing as equivocation) does not disqualify them from meaningful or disciplined conversation (where would poetry be, were that the case?). The Bible is full of such polysemic language that would be accused of sloppiness if held to the same standard. It is quite capable of making statements that appear directly contradictory, which work because words can appropriately be used in many senses (e.g. are there many gods, or is there just one?).

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Well, Christians can have their preferred political labels, but I’m more concerned with:

        1. People outright denying the obvious affinity Christian ethics and politics has with conservatism, because upholding purity, loyalty and respect for authority just are what distinguish conservatives from libertarians and left liberals. None of this entails support for Republicans or big-C Conservatives.
        1a. There is also the problem that, since denial of purity, loyalty and respect for authority just are what distinguish libertarians and left liberals, their larger political stance is totally inappropriate for Christians, however much one may agree with them and (appropriately) work with them on individual issues. Eliding over this massive difference between the moral bases of Christianity and those of libertarianism and left-liberalism, is a major problem.
        2. The attempted appropriation of labels like “radical” that are clearly misleading when applied to Christianity.

      • First, I don’t think that liberals and libertarians reject purity, loyalty, and respect for authority as much as some think. They more generally observe these things in ways that people are less likely to recognize. On the purity issue, just look at the way that the body and food function in many liberal circles. Sex may not be the purity issue that it once was, but food is rapidly taking its place. On authority, look at the way in which authority is claimed by the voice of victims, for instance. On loyalty and in-group/out-group, this makes some relevant points.

        Also, saying that we need to support purity, loyalty, and respect for authority as such is rather problematic. Such moral bases are powerfully present in some of the most perverted political and moral systems. Just because I have taste receptors for sweetness doesn’t mean that I should be in favour of candy floss.

        Conservative may more explicitly draw upon these bases, but it tends to draw upon them in support of a particular social order or status quo. However, that social order is seriously under-determined by the term ‘conservatism’ itself. In many contexts, radical or progressive is exactly what Christians must be. Conservatives are often dulled to the way in which Christian faith calls us sharply away from the status quo, rules out any return to some past golden age, and propels us into the future, where we must faithfully pursue an integrative form of society and personhood. While Christianity places great value upon virtues such as prudence, which lie at the heart of a true conservative politics, it does not underwrite conservative politics in the manner that some suppose.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        If something, like liberalism, can with perfect legitimacy be described both as religious and non-religious, you have some careful explaining to do, which you never, ever actually find.

        Is that a legitimate complaint, or no?

      • Not really. This is just the polysemy of words. The Bible can use words in much the same way. Words seldom have the sort of finely cut definitions that logic parsers might demand of them.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        I am not convinced that Christians must identify as some sort of conservative.

        Or, if you define “conservative” in terms of “purity, loyalty and respect for authority”–or more precisely, the correct sort of purity, the loyalty to the correct people, and respect for the correct authorities (I don’t think you would argue that Christians should be in favor of Jewish Ritual purity, loyalty to the koran, etc.)–you then need to argue that the Right is in fact conservative. Indeed, with that definition, perhaps the left is, on some issues, more conservative than the right (that’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s position here:

        Also, as Alastair noted, the Christian is not only loyal to the past age, but is always looking forward to the age to come. We should, of course, receive our patrimony, our part, and therefore, our hearts should be turned to the hearts of our fathers. But nevertheless, as fathers, our hearts should be turned toward our sons–toward the future, and the age to come. This evil age is mortal, and shall be dissolved in ashes. And we are called always to go outside the gate, outside the current city, seeking one to come.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        “You” is a little confusing: I was responding to TMWW, but jumped off a quote from Alastair. “You” is TMWW.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Alastair, can you ever point me to where Smith or the Radical Orthodox people or any theologian at all ever carefully explains that in this sense of the word you can describe something as religious, but in another sense it’s not. You won’t be able to point to any, because they don’t exist.

        And it’s totally irresponsible.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        In many contexts, radical or progressive is exactly what Christians must be.

        You’re playing with words. Conservative is an admittedly imperfect term, but the political tendency it refers to is a moral stance, not an attitude towards change. We’re kind of stuck with it because of a historical accident: what conservatives have been trying to conserve for the past few hundred years or so was a morality based on purity, loyalty and respect for authority. That morality was what radicals and progressives were trying to overthrow. Now that liberalism has triumphed, conservatives are the ones pushing for change.

        Being opposed to purity, loyalty and respect for authority is the raison d’etre of libertarianism and left-liberalism. That there are lapses and inconsistencies doesn’t change the overwhelming tendency of those ideologies.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Such moral bases are powerfully present in some of the most perverted political and moral systems.

        And who first pointed that out? Oh, that would be me. Read above.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        That there are perverse and toxic forms of conservatism, defined as a politics that upholds purity, loyalty and respect for authority, does not in any way contradict the assertion that a Christian politics must be conservative, that is it must uphold purity, loyalty and respect for authority.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        When do you ever see any of these theologians talk about the polysemy of words? Ever. Yet it’s an important topic, one would think.

      • I’ve certainly encountered discussion of this very subject in various contexts associated with the theologians that you are complaining about.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Even without a single formal definition, the terms ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ can be powerfully communicative.

        And powerfully misleading.

        Which is why explicit discussion of the term is necessary.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I should also say that this is the second best Smith book I’ve read, after Desiring the Kingdom.

  6. The Man Who Was… – You might find it helpful to read Keller’s Counterfeit Gods to understand the underlying religious nature of all human activity.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      All this stuff seems to rely on equivocation on the word “religious.”

      • It seems to me that use of such language is justified for a number of reasons:

        1. Human beings are created to be worshipping beings, to be beings who perceive greater and integrative meaning and value, to form communities and associated practices of devotion, etc. No matter how much we may want to escape this truth about ourselves, we will betray ourselves by our behaviours and beliefs.

        2. The ‘non-religious’ proclaim a certain purity to their thinking, purged of all religious elements. However, no matter how hard people try, religious elements and instincts will always persist and reveal themselves. The point being made is the impossibility of truly ‘non-religious’ thought or behaviour.

        3. From a Christian perspective that recognizes the worship for which man was created, even in his rejection of the One who must be worshipped, man’s worship must find another object. Worship is in mankind’s nature and everything that man devotes his nature to will tend to become a religion to him.

        None of this is to claim that the ‘religion’ of such persons is a religion in precisely the same sense as the ‘religion’ of a Christian, or even that the latter is more properly so called. Observing a certain homology is appropriate, even though they clearly aren’t the same. Also, I wonder whether your definition of ‘religious’ and insistence that it should be clearly distinguishable from other things attaches it too closely to objects, when it might be more analogous to, say, the colour system.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Most such thinkers simply use the word religion or religious in an extremely sloppy or disengenuous way. When we say that someone or some form of thought is non-religious, that actually does makes sense. There is a real difference there, that is often elided, downplayed, or just plain denied.

      • I’m not persuaded. Recognizing and working with the polysemic character of terms such as ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ does not prevent people from drawing distinctions where they need to be drawn. Also, although there is a real difference, there are also real similarities, which such thinkers are perfectly justified in pointing out.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I repeat the charge of sloppiness and disengenousness. The talk here is not careful and often obscures rather than illuminates.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Failing to point out that there are major differences is an intellectual sin. Leaving out any important point is an intellectual sin. Failure to carefully state in what ways these new ideologies are and are not religious is an intellectual sin.

  7. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Not sure about that ecstatic write up on Justin Welby. Welby isn’t the worst archbishop in the world, but, honestly, he seems to me a bit of a trimmer. Furthermore, I find it unseemly when Christians grasp at every little scrap of positive press about the church. Nice and all, but I don’t think it actually makes a whole lot of difference. Much the same thing with Pope Francis, who is actually a theological train wreck* who seems particularly clueless on how to handle the legacy of sex abuse scandals in his church.

    *He’s not an active heretic so much as a man who seems totally uninterested in theology.

  8. whitefrozen says:

    Our pet rat of three years is about ready to pass on – shes our oldest pet and friend and its actually a fairly difficult experience for my wife and I, because shes been deteriorating for some time and can now barley move – if shes alive in the morning we’ll be taking her to be put to sleep. Thats not an experience I care to repeat, since putting down an animal just sucks. If those reading would say a simple prayer for us – it would be appreciated. Later on I will extol the virtues of rats as pets as it no doubt made someone recoil.

  9. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    To sum up, there is a lot of extremely loose talk about things like “religion,” “worship,” and “idolatry” in Christian circles, and it’s an intellectual sin.

    • I strongly disagree. Much of this language finds its root in the Bible, where our rendering of anything to which God has the prerogative to something else instead of him is viewed in theological terms as idolatrous in its impulse (e.g. the serving of ‘Mammon’). When we give our ultimate allegiance, trust, dependence, or devotion to something other than God, we are setting that thing up in competition to him. This is a very important point to make and using the terms ‘religion’, ‘worship’, and ‘idolatry’ in their broader senses is a perfectly legitimate way of doing so. None of this precludes making others of the distinctions that you would like to see drawn (practically everyone draws distinctions within their use of the term ‘religious’).

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      BTW the objection isn’t to using those terms. The objection is to how sloppily they are used.

      • The thing is that most of us seem to get the point and recognize that they are using the term ‘religious’ in particular senses and not in others. I think that it is quite strange that you are making such an issue about words when the substance of the differences that you maintain aren’t really being denied, just not affirmed in the exact way that you think that they should be.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Frankly, I’m surprised at how cavalier you are about the potentially misleading nature of these words.

      • They are potentially misleading. However, I see no evidence that they are being used in a misleading manner here. In my experience, everyone that I have discussed such matters with who uses the work of such theologians seems to get the point. Which rather defeats your objection, I think.

        To this point you seem to be doing little more than assuming that, since these theologians don’t employ your chosen form of distinction, they don’t distinguish at all between the realities that you think ought to be distinguished. I am one such theologian: am I also unable to distinguish between these things?

        Terms like ‘liberalism’ also can lead to vagueness on account of their different senses. There isn’t just one tidy sense that would invalidate all others. However, most of us still manage to make ourselves understood and to make necessary distinctions despite this fact.

        This debate reminds me of debates about the importance of distinguishing between justification and sanctification in some Reformed theological circles. The problem is that biblical language doesn’t abide by the strictures of such theologians and is declared to be improper. However, tidy language with neatly delimited senses for each term isn’t the way that our language and communication actually works.

      • You are welcome to comment more on this, but I think that we have been around this particular issue before, we firmly disagree, and are unlikely to make progress, so I am bowing out. Thanks for the interaction.

  10. chris w says:

    The flexibility of our language is a blessing and not a curse. It allows language to be used in flexible ways, poetically playing on double meanings of words etc. The God we worship is, after all both a Son and a Trinity. So it could be argued that the flexibility of language is required by a confession of Christian Orthodoxy.

    On a not entirely unrelated note, I’m sort of glad that British Christianity largely tries to steer clear of political issues.

  11. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi chris w,
    ‘The flexibility of our language is a blessing and not a curse.’
    As a language-lover, I would like to agree with that totally, but then I think of the tower of Babel, and I am also reminded that, sometimes, language is used to build barriers, rather than to build bridges. The plus-side for me is that hearing words and whole languages we do not understand leaves us in the position of not-knowing, wondering, seeking-to-understand – not a bad place to be!
    I have been in that position as a child growing up in a bilingual community (Wales), as a schoolgirl in Germany when the Berlin Wall went up, and more recently as a grandmother, asking my grandson to tell me all about ‘Minecraft’, a ‘new language’ for me 🙂

  12. Andrew says:

    Has anyone read Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing? If so, thoughts?

  13. Andrew says:

    I know what you mean about burgeoning reading lists!

    I have no short term plans to read it, maybe sometime this year. I was watching an interview with him about it and he says some interesting things about canonical/non-canonical gospels.

    Best wishes for your viva.

  14. Bill Smith says:

    Alistair, in one of your previous posts I believe that you wrote that human beings were subject to death before the fall. The same with animals. I believe that you made a distinction between the environment within the garden from the environment outside the garden as well. If I am remembering correctly, what do you do with the pronouncement of death after Adam sinned?

    • Thanks for the question, Bill. This is the post in question. My suggestion was that, before the Fall, humanity may have undergone a good death-resurrection movement into a more glorious form of existence and deeper fellowship with God. After the Fall, however, death produces a movement away from communion with God and into greater alienation and disintegration—’death’ as we typically know it .

      • Bill Smith says:

        Okay. I think I get what you are saying. Are you saying that sin effected an already existing process? If so, what do we do with the passages that seem to look at death as a consequence of sin (i.e. Rom. 6:23). It seems like death is looked at as unnatural, so 1 Cor. 15 talks about death as an enemy.

      • In part. Death as we know it is a consequence of sin. My main point is that we shouldn’t conceive of the death brought about by the Fall as the cessation of our current mode of existence, because it is possible for our current mode of existence to cease as we are brought into a more glorious mode.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        If there would have been both death and Incarnation, without the fall, would the Incarnate God also have sacrificed Himself? (Otherwise the Cross plays a small role in salvation, merely restoring us, so that the true fruit of the Incarnation could be given as it would have been prior to the fall.) And if so, which sacrifices? (E.g. It would have been a thanks offering, but not a peace, sin, or ‘olah.)

      • I believe that the Incarnate God would have sacrificed himself and that this sacrifice would have been integral to the achievement of humanity’s glorification. The sacrifice would have been an ascension and a peace offering, involving both consecration and communion.

  15. Matt Petersen says:

    Jon Levenson (, drawing off McClymond who argues that the killing of sacrifice is productive, not destructive, argues that sacrifice should not be seen as violent–or even as killing.

    I haven’t read Putting Liberalism in its Place yet, but my concern with many of this sort of attempt to find a sacrificial heart of society is that they treat sacrifice as a form of violence. Perhaps one could answer, though, that our society is founded on sacrifice, but the inability to articulate this as sacrifice causes sacrifice to be offered violently.

    (I’m also concerned that many people–and McClymond is guilty here–don’t distinguish between offering and making sacrifices. I may have to “make a small sacrifice” to, say, save up for something; but I’d never “offer a small sacrifice”.)

  16. Matt Petersen says:

    Way back on Open Mic 8, you said that the Eucharistic (or whatever name we should give it) was an ascension sacrifice and peace offerings and a memorial. What do you think the connection between the Eucharist and Christ’s one sin offering is?

    In Exodus 24, which I think Matthew 26 and the the author of Hebrews quote, there are ascension and peace offerings, not a sin offering.

    On the other hand, Hebrews draws not only on Exodus 24, but on the Yom Kippur sin offerings–offerings which are not complete without the sprinkling of blood on the altar, and toward the Holy of Holies. And the prototype of the temple seems to be able to be read as the Church (though not exclusively so: At the least, it’s also Christ’s natural body); so it would seem that even as a sin offering, Christ’s sacrifice is not complete without the sprinkling (or daubing, or whatever in this case) on the Church in the Eucharist.

    Though, we don’t offer the blood, so that reading may be acceptable even to some traditional Protestants. Luther’s objection to the Mass, if I remember correctly, wasn’t that Catholics spoke of reception too highly, but that they spoke of the rest of the service too highly.

    • Leithart has some helpful thoughts on this here.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        They were “sin-eaters”

        Or, I suppose, one could say they were “death eaters”.

        But jesting aside, that was helpful. Thanks!

      • Matt Petersen says:

        What about the blood? No Jew eats blood, ever. So where does eating blood come from? The two ideas I have are:

        1) The heavenly tabernacle, the prototype shown to Moses on the Temple, is the Church (Or the Altar is, or the horns of the altar are, or somewhere else where blood was applied). (Also Christ, probably other significance too…). Our drinking the blood is a fulfillment of the sprinkling/daubing/etc. on the altar, at the base of the altar, on the horns of the altar, toward the Holy of Holies, etc.

        2) The blood is signified by the ordination cerimonies, but, eating as opposed to external application signifies God engraving the Torah within us, rather than the law engraved on stone, outside us.


      • Your first point is important. Blood is associated with both life and with cleansing of sin. Only Christ’s blood can truly cleanse us from sin within, not just acting as a ritual detergent on a temple outside of us. Also, Christ’s blood communicates life. Everything else we eat is dead—drained of blood—but in eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood we are eating a living meal that truly communicates life.

      • Bill Smith says:

        Where does the Bible talk about the blood of Christ in terms of life? It seems to me that the principle point behind the blood of Christ is death. It is a metaphor that refers to the death of Christ. Am I missing something here?

      • I would start with John 6:53-58, read against the background of Genesis 9:4.

      • Bill Smith says:

        I would not deny that that the OT teaches that life is in the blood but when the blood in spoken of in sacrificial contexts it seems that the focus is on the giving up of a life as a substitute (death is the focus). That being said, I would see the main focus of John 6:25 thru 59 (Bread of Life) as partaking of sacrifice of Christ (his death). This being the case, verse 53 (“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.”) and verse 40 (“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shalle have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”) is speaking of the same thing; believing in Christ as the one who is offered as a sacrifice is partaking of Christ.. As Augustine says, “Believe and you have eaten.”

      • It seems to me that the reference to consuming blood in Genesis 9 would seem to be the more proximate intertextual background in John 6, though, not the theme of sacrifice.

      • Bill Smith says:

        Yes, the conversation with the Jews certainly takes into account the OT context concerning eating blood but I would argue that the context of the book of John and the immediate context of John 6:25 thru 59 focuses on partaking of Jesus by believing in Him (Jn. 6:29, 35, 40, 47); especially his sacrificial work on the cross. So, obviously you are correct that this passage does assume that life is in the blood (Gen. 9, Lev., etc.) but I think it moves past this to tie in with the OT teaching about sacrifice as the offering of one life for another, which Jesus later does in John’s gospel. It seems that the rest of the NT focuses almost entirely on “the blood of Christ” as a metaphor for his death.

      • There are definitely sacrificial themes. However, I think that you might be missing the significance of the fact that it is a living sacrifice of whom we are partaking. Also, the references to believing don’t nullify the sacramental symbols of union with Christ’s body. Rather, they are the manner in which they are received.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        We also should perhaps be careful about reconstructing ancient sacrifice in modern terms. It’s not clear how important a place death played in sacrifice. Yes, the animal died, but that does not imply that the death was central to sacrifice, nor that it was articulated as a death: For instance, animal death is necessary for hamburgers, but it would be very wrong to say that a picnic is centered around animal death, or that the death of an animal is the central part of a picnic. Animals in Israel’s sacrifical system, for instance, the laity slaughtered the animal, but they did not sacrifice it, and the slaughter was not on the place of sacrifice [altar]; both of which suggest that the death of the animal was an important prerequisite for sacrifice, but was not the sacrifice itself. Rather, the death makes the animal available for distribution and consumption: The fat burned on the place of the ascension offering; blood daubed on the horns of the place of sacrifice, sprinkled toward the Holy of Holies, poured at the base of the place of sacrifice; the priest’s portion cooked and eaten by the priest (or sometimes the laity), etc.

        Additionally, not all sacrifice dies, specifically, the minchah, which is burned with incense on the place of ascension offering, is flour or unleavened bread. Whatever may be true of animal sacrifices, the minchah is definitely not about death.

        Also, Leviticus 17 explicitly connects the sacrifice of blood with the blood as life; and the Talmud connects the prohibition of eating blood and fat with the fact that these were always given to God in the Sacrifices. That is to say, the connection between the blood as life, and the sacrificial blood seems apt.

      • Bill Smith says:

        The sacrificing of animals operated on the principle of a life for a life (substitution). Rabbi J.H. Hertz comments on Leviticus 17:11, “The use of blood, representing life, in the rites of atonement symbolized the complete yielding up of the worshippers life to God, and conveyed the thought that the surrender of a man to the will of God carried with it the assurance of Divine pardon (Hertz, Pentetauch and Haftorahs, 487). This view was also expressed earlier by Rashi who wrote, “For every creature is dependent on blood, therefore I have given it to you on the altar to atone for the life of man; let life come and atone for life.” It seems hard to deny that the animals sacrifices involved death and the death was as a substitute.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        I do not deny that the Israelite sacrifices were substitutionary. However, I think that, in the first instance, they were substitutionary sacrifices, not substitutionary deaths. In Genesis 22, the sacrifice of the ram is a substitution for the sacrifice of Isaac, that, as Hebrews says, Isaac would be resurrected. (Though Genesis 22 was a ascension offering, not a sin offering.) I think that what is notable about Christ’s sacrifice is not, that it is substitutionary (though there is substitutionary aspects to it) but that the sacrifice of an animal or of wheat is not substituted for it. It is the human sacrifice always symbolized, and required by the animal sacrifices. And we, then, are included in it, offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, as the BCP says, in and with Christ’s sacrifice of the Totus Christus.

        Regarding Rashi and the Rabbi: I agree it’s “life for life” but I’m not sure that means “death for death”. Specifically, the life substituted for my life is the blood of the bull, not the death of the bull. (I’m also not sure that means “substitution”, Rashi and the Rabbi seem to say that the pouring of blood is iconic of a true inward sacrifice, not a substitution for it.)

        But my comment was addressing your claim that “It seems that the rest of the NT focuses almost entirely on ‘the blood of Christ’ as a metaphor for his death” (emphasis mine). Rashi, and Rabbi Hertz, if I’m reading them correctly, deny this: The blood is a symbol of life, not of death.

      • Bill Smith says:

        Well, you and I certainly see some things differently, don’t we. I am not sure how you can see the texts in Exodus that talk about “slaughter the goat” (sin offering), or “slaughter the passover lamb” (Ex. 12) and not see violent death as part of what is necessary (central) to the whole sacrificail event. After all, it is not just blood that is called for, it is shed blood. The animal had to die. It’s life had to be sacrificed in the place of the life of the person. I believe that this is what Hebrews is getting at in Chapters 9 and 10. For instance, there is no redemption without the “shedding of blood.” Notice not just blood but the shedding of blood. When we come to the NT, Jesus death is described in many places as the removal of sin from the sinner by the “blood of Jesus” (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 9:14; 1 Jn. 5:6; Rev. 1:7). In John, which is where this interaction began with Alistair, the high priest (Ciaphas) sums up how John (the Apostle) sees the atonement “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (Jn. 11:50). John then tells us that the high priest “prophesied that Jesus would die not only for the Jewish nation but also for the scattered children of God” (Jn. 52-52). Regarding Isaac, I see this as a perfect example of God giving us a prefiguring of the offering up of his Son (death). Of course God does not have Abraham go through with it. Again, my point is that cultic sacrifice in the OT is centrally connected with the substitutionary offering of one life for another (“life for life”) and this method of atoning for sins is consistent with the way many Jews understood atonement and it is the way Jesus and the Apostles understood atonement. Peace to you.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        It sounds like you may want to be finished with the conversation, and if you don’t reply, that’s fine. But let me try to clear up what seems like it may be a confusion. First, I don’t deny that death is involved in sacrifice. Killing is an important prerequisite for sacrifice, but the focus of the sacrifice is on the burning, the eating, and the sprinkling/daubing/pouring, etc. Death may even be a part of the sacrifice itself, rather than, as I said, a prerequisite for it. But this is where we differ: I think death is only slightly more important in Leviticus 1 than in Genesis 18 and Luke 15:23. That is, I deny that sacrifice means substitutionary killing.

        (I’m also not sure where you get “violent death”, except inasmuch as death is always violent. Was the death in Luke 15:23 violent? Is the violence central to the story?)

        Second, I agree that the lambs were offered as substitutionary offerings; and that means, in part, that their death substituted. (I believe I even said as much.) But I think that substitution was a feature of Israelite cultic sacrifice, not a feature of sacrifice itself: Specifically, Isaac’s sacrifice would not have been substitutionary, but the ram was. (And Jephtha’s daughter’s sacrifice was not substitutionary.) And Israel, still in the loins of Isaac, would have been sacrificed with Isaac. But, God continually substituted a sacrifice of a lamb. Yet, though the sacrifice of a lamb (including the death of the lamb) was substituted for the sacrifice of Israel, the animal and grain sacrifices also included a command of a sacrifice of Israel and of self-sacrifice (I read Rabbi Hertz to be saying this). And this is what Jesus did: He offered Himself, in the manner commanded by the binding of Isaac for sacrifice, and the sacrifice of lambs. This sacrifice includes his death, but it is not limited to His death.

        (I’m also not sure where the phrase “life for life” from the lex talonis should be used to describe sacrifice. Rashi didn’t.)

        Finally, I believe that the blood of Jesus was poured out, and that this is central. (Though, I give a more Eucharistic reading to several of the passages you quote than I think you do.) But you claim that this blood (or at least the Eucharistic blood) is a symbol of his death, whereas I think the blood is a symbol of life, as Rashi and Rabbi Hertz said; though, as St. Paul says in Corinthians, the whole thing, eating and drinking, “shows forth” his death.

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