Open Mic Thread 21


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, 19, 20.

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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71 Responses to Open Mic Thread 21

  1. Lindsay says:

    Ok, well you said there’s no such thing as off-topic so I’d like to share a link to a graphic novel that my wife and I made together! We’d love it if anyone checks it out and enjoys it because we poured our hearts into the thing.

  2. whitefrozen says:

    That new book on Luther and impassibility should be arriving soon, looking forward to that.

    At what point does the idea of collective guilt become just stupid? Ie, should Christians be made to feel guilty/responsible for things like the crusades, or white americans for slavery et al.

    • In most of the forms in which I encounter it, collective guilt isn’t a very coherent concept. The ‘collectives’ which are dealt with are often inappropriate. For instance, ‘white’ and ‘black’ are not monolithic groups. Not all black persons in the US are descendants of former slaves (something that is especially noticeable in places of academic privilege, for example). Likewise, many white persons are more recent immigrants or descend from groups who had little part to play in the slave trade, or who had limited agency themselves. On the other hand, many Africans descend from slave traders. Rather than focusing on poorly defined groups, I think that we should attend much more closely to specific acts and victims of injustice, the perpetrators of such acts, and their beneficiaries.

      In certain cases, the expectation that a particular group should feel guilt seems to have a lot more to do with the fact that they came out on top and that historical contingencies played in their favour than it does with the actual severity of their supposed sins. Perhaps the public representatives of Western Christendom should apologize to Muslims and Eastern Orthodox Christians for the crusades (as various popes have done over the years). However, if such apologies are expected, it would be nice to receive some apologies for such things as the Muslim wars of conquest and the Arab slave trade in return.

  3. Clay says:


    I have read your piece on death before the fall and I appreciated it. Do you have any further thoughts on the young earth/old earth creation and evolution debate. Particularly any good books to help unpack the extraordinary amount of evidence for a long geological time scale juxtaposed with the need for the special creation of an historical Adam and Eve?

    Thank you for your blog, it has been a blessing to me.

    • Clay says:

      That should say book recommendations. I don’t expect you to have published on the topic :).

    • Thanks for the comment, Clay!

      I have many thoughts on the young earth/old earth debate and the debates surrounding evolution, but haven’t really tackled the issues in public writing and don’t intend to do so any time soon. First, my own position. I believe that Genesis 1-11 is true and divinely inspired, but that it should not be understood as historical recounting in the conventional ways in which we generally understand such history. I believe in an old earth and also in evolution (I also believe in a historical Adam, but perhaps not in the way that many might). On these questions my primary concern is that we should listen to the text very closely on its own terms. I think that, as we do this, we will discover that: (a) it doesn’t settle the historical questions in the neat way that many suppose; (b) many of the claims made by those arguing for a YEC position aren’t actually supported by the text or even by many important commentators who happened to believe in YEC (my death before the Fall is one example of this); (c) it presents some important challenges to evolutionary accounts.

      As for book treatments, I have yet to come across a book that articulates the sort of position that I hold to my satisfaction. Something like Conor Cunningham’s Darwin’s Pious Idea is a stimulating read from a theologian who holds to evolution, for instance, but I have some fairly significant differences with it.

      • Clay says:

        Thanks for the response. I have found a real lack of scientifically coherent thought on the issue. I understand that theologians aren’t scientists, but we need some theologians that that understand the basic premises and speak the language. Do you believe that there were homids using tools and making art and with cultural practices like burial that may indicate religion prior to the fall/the historical Adam?

        Is your lack of public writing on the subject due to your unsettled opinions, or due to a lack of time. If the latter I would encourage that you bump it up your list.

      • Conor Cunningham is one who gets more into the science. I am open to the possibility of those things pre-existing the Fall/Adam.

        My lack of public writing has various reasons. First, I am not an expert on the science. Second, I think that we risk straying into unhelpful speculation very quickly. Third, I think that the debate has more than enough attention right now and would generally prefer to talk about other things. Getting involved in this debate would take lots of time that I could better spend elsewhere. The questions that we bring to the biblical text are often not the most illuminating ones.

  4. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    A very general observation on the early church fathers. Though Augustine and Chrysostom have the best literary reputations, I’ve found many of the others to be extremely good writers. They are also very profound thinkers about all sorts of things. I don’t know why they are not better esteemed among literary types.

  5. PB says:

    I would be interested to hear what you guys think of this article:

    Or of Relevant Magazine in general?

    • I don’t follow Relevant Magazine. I read articles there from time to time, but none has ever given me a reason to follow it more closely and a number have given me reason not to.

      In general, the ‘I’m a twenty-something Christian and here are X reasons why the Church is doing it wrong’ genre is one for which I have ever decreasing patience, even though I have ventured into that territory in my own writing in the past. That sort of writing is good for hits, but probably not the healthiest thing to read. I would like to see more effort put into articulating a positive vision, rather than constantly positioning ourselves over against the Wrong Kind of Christians over there.

      As for the article itself, a few thoughts.

      1. Conversation can be a wonderful and important thing. However, the lauding of conversation as such is often akin to the lauding of books as such. Conversation as such is not ‘sacred’, no more than books and reading as such are worthy of reverence. Many conversations are poisonous and destructive. Other conversations badly need to reach a conclusion. Endless deliberation is often a very unhealthy thing, a sign of our unwillingness to commit and act with informed conviction. There is a time for minds to be open, but there is also a time for them to be made up. Our generation’s praise of questioning and unending conversation is often a way of avoiding the claims that truth makes upon us.

      2. Certain things just should not be up for debate. The Church needs to maintain an appropriate Overton Window. There are certain views that shouldn’t be entertained.

      3. The word ‘heresy’ (preferable to ‘heretic’ in the overwhelming majority of cases) is an important one, though it is so frequently and typically misused. ‘Heresy’ means more than just ‘I think that you are very wrong’. It means that a particular position has been excluded by the Church (or one of its traditions) from its internal conversation. It means that, if someone wants to hold a particular position, they cannot do so as one claiming to be within the Church’s conversation. This isn’t denying the importance of conversation. Quite the opposite: it is a way of saying that the Church has already had a conversation about this that yielded a decisive conclusion. As such, it is a statement about the power of conversation to arrive at a result. Heresy is a way of identifying the Church’s Overton Window and the sorts of beliefs that shouldn’t be up for debate.

      4. People like the author of the article often point to the fact of differences between the Overton Windows of different church traditions in order to dismiss or question the possibility of an Overton Window altogether. However, this presumes that we float free of particular traditions and their particular conversations, rather than committing ourselves to particular traditions and their particular conversations.

      5. It seems to me that, in his attack upon categorization he doesn’t attack categorization as such so much as lazy stereotyping. Categorization like stereotyping, handled carefully, is an essential means by which we arrive at knowledge of our world. It needn’t be a rigid caricature, but can be a looser statement about family resemblances. Family resemblances are very real, even though the ‘family appearance’ seldom if ever fully expresses itself in any one particular member. The characteristically postmodern resistance to the dehumanization determination of speaking of people in terms of categories is a problematic statement about the source and character of identities that I won’t take up here, but can discuss in conversation at some other point, if you want.

      6. There is indeed a lot of passive aggression manipulation in the ‘I’ll pray for you’ approaches. However, it seems to me that the author wants us to approach theological conversation as if it were a game with no stakes.

      7. Pervasive interpretative pluralism as an argument against biblical clarity is a familiar and deeply unhelpful claim. It serves as a way of dismissing the idea that our opinions can be tested and judged against Scripture in the context of challenging dispute. Rather, as Scripture itself is unclear, no person’s interpretation should be privileged over any other’s. I’ve commented on some of this here and here.

      8. His final point also seems implicitly to assume that theological conversation isn’t a conversation with high stakes. Also, there are such things as slippery slopes, even if they are often defined poorly. A slippery slope occurs, for instance, when, in rejecting one position the rational or practical basis for holding a number of other things is undermined or eroded. I’ve commented on slippery slopes here.

    • PB says:

      Good thoughts, Alastair.

      I really thought the article was terribly framed, but I wasn’t sure if I would be alone in this. It’s very surprised that this is coming from a seminary student. I agree with his general complaint of the hostility of many spiritual conversations, but these ‘solutions’ only make things worse.

      I’ve had my share of bad experiences with people using ‘heresy’ ‘Bible clearly says’ or pigeon-holing me into one category, especially in discussions with young Calvinists. One called me a ‘false teacher’ and wouldn’t let me speak a word edgewise in our conversation. However, just because these terms are misused doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used at all. Banning ‘heresy’ or ‘the Bible clearly says’ from our vocabulary doesn’t solve anything. Obviously the Bible says something fairly clearly to the article’s author as far as how a spiritual conversation should be run. His summing up of the article at the end — if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all — helps clarify the problem he’s speaking of is basically hostile conversations, the ‘more heat than light’ fare. But how to meaningfully talk about truth without categorization or seeking definitive guidance from the Bible is beyond me.

      Relevant magazine as an idea is a good one, but I agree that they are lacking in the ability to articulate positive positions. My common experience is to see a very intriguing and relevant title, the first paragraph or two presents a problem, but the answer offered in the rest of the article is not really an answer at all. They hit on the pressing issues of our time better than many other Christian publications, but don’t have much substance in general.

  6. quinnjones2 says:

    I’d be interested to hear what you think of the article, PB 😉
    If I can think of anything positive to say, I’ll say it…

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I have read and inwardly digested your posts about this article, Alastair and PB – thank you!
      Here is my own response to the article: I think the author’s intentions were good in that he identified some symptoms of conversational malady. However, whilst I think it’s important to attempt to diagnose the malady and its causes, but I found the title and the list of negatives unappealing and unhelpful – I prefer to look at ways of healing the malady which have more focus on ‘The Sun of Righteousness’, our healing Lord.
      I realize that when some people say ‘I’ll pray for you’ it can sometimes be perceived as a put-down, maybe with good cause! However what matters more than the pray-er is the One who hears and answers prayers.

  7. What do you believe about the historical Adam?

    Like yourself, I’ve yet to come across an adequate book length treatment. I don’t have any firm position but historicity of some kind does seem necessary.

    • The following is what I am inclined to believe, although this is quite speculative. That he existed and that all of humanity was determined by his actions. That he was probably one of a larger population of human beings and not the genetic forebear of every human being.

      • Are you familiar with Tolkien’s fall story in Morgoth’s Ring? Obviously, it isn’t historic truth, but would something like what he describes seem plausible?

        (One of the key features is that there is a historic fall, but is the result of collective action, not one person’s action.)

      • No, I’m not familiar with it. I think that there is merit to such a theory of collective action. My position is not unrelated: I am inclined to see Adam as the priest-king who acted on the behalf of an existing collective humanity in relation to God.

      • Would it be fair to say that your position is similar to that of John Collins?

        As I understand it, the importance of historicity is the effecting of something(s) in relation to every other human. Within the tradition these are, broadly, guilt and the corruption of human nature. I think an account of guilt, given polygenesis, is easier than corruption.

        Although the challenges are similar the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants seem to allow different possibilities. The superadded gift and the imperfection of nature are one thing, and Protestant protology another.

        Have you read Brendan Purcell’s book From Big Bang to Big Mystery? I haven’t read the book but he lectures on it here.

  8. Lindsay says:

    Hi Alastair, in the Mere Fidelity podcast episode on warning passages, you described a redemptive-historical view of Hebrews 6 that I had not encountered before. Is there a commentary, book, article, etc that explains and defends this view more?

  9. quinnjones2 says:

    I’ve now read Justin Welby’s latest blog: ‘On tweeting and touching – my latest blog on why reconciliation is best done in person.’
    My initial response to the ABC’s heartfelt blog was also heartfelt, and especially to his concluding paragraph:
    ‘Love often says don’t tweet. Love often says don’t write. Love often says if you must rebuke, then do so in person and with touch – with an arm around the shoulder and tears in your eyes that can be seen by the person being rebuked.’
    This is a wonderful ideal, just as 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful ideal, and it can sometimes become a reality, but we live in a world where many rough places are not yet smooth and where the crooked is, in many ways, not yet straight.
    That was my first response! My second response was to re-read 2 Corinthians 5:11 – end : ‘Be reconciled to God. Repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation have been central in my prayers, conversations and reading for many years. So far I have found that although forgiveness is possible [and costly], I’ve yet to find a way of being reconciled with someone who is not reconciled to God.
    Maybe the approach suggested by JW could make reconciliation more likely? I need to reflect on that.
    I would be interested in any comments any of you might make about JW’s blog. I may reply just briefly to any comments, but I will read with interest and ponder and pray 🙂

  10. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair, yes that is so true….and I think he wrote it in sorrow, not in anger, probably with tears in his eyes.
    Thank you for replying 🙂

  11. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Shakespeare is often said to be an irreligious writer. I disagree. Whether or not he was a devout Christian, the plays exhibit what can only be called a raging animism.

  12. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    RE: Circular Dating

    The texts that are definitively early do not contain the at-issue forms. The definitively later text do contain those forms. It’s not an unreasonable inference from that that when the allegedly later forms appear, they are, in fact, from a later text.

    Ecclesiastes is the hinge text here. If it is not by Solomon, then there is no reason not to have other pseudonymous texts in the OT, which is the real issue here. Given its language, I find it really hard to believe that it is anything but a very late text.

    Leithart would, I believer, commit us to a complete and total muddle where it comes to the development of Hebrew.

  13. Can we talk about B.B. Warfield’s “The Plan of Salvation,” mediate/immediate, and nature/grace for a minute? Warfield’s essay is referenced pretty frequently in the small theological world in which I reside so I decided to read it last night at the prompting of, well, a watchblogger. Watchbooger. Anyway.

    Warfield is a case study in unexamined modernist presuppositions. I freely admit that everyone speaks from somewhere, reads from somewhere, is entirely contingent on a whole host of cultural influences. Thanks JKAS. But it seems like Warfield is drinking deeply from a sharp nature/grace dualism that it seems like maybe some of us have thought past now.

    First, I have to wonder if the “sacerdotalists” ever read his essay and said “yep, that sounds exactly like my position.” I mean, I think that’s happened twice in the history of theological discourse, right? But that’s not really about nature/grace or mediation.

    Second, I wonder if Warfield would consider the spoken word as a “mediate” channel. When God speaks through his Word or a minister speaks God’s Word, is that a “channel of grace” too? Surely he’d agree that God’s Word that “doesn’t return void” is in that sense working “ex opere operato,” right? I’ve benefitted personally from various scholar’s who’ve spent time reflecting on the way language works to the end of “sacramental grace.” That baptism and eucharist are symbols (gifts, really) sent between Lover and Beloved. There’s nothing grace-y inside the words or bread/wine or water. The act of symbol-use *is* the grace because it constitutes the relationship. You can’t love a woman without *talking to her*!

    Third, he spends a good deal of (extremely pedantic) time working through the “will of God” and “general laws of providence.” This seems to be where the nature/grace issue is the most prominent. He can’t seem to conceive of every thing that exists being directly contingent upon the active sustaining presence and hand of God. Even in secondary causation. Nature is always already graced. It is always being sustained in love by the Creator. I think I’ve picked this up from RO, maybe? He goes on to say something to the effect of, if redemption is just something that God does like all the other things God does (being governed by the “natural” order of things), then it’s redemption “by law.” If you “must” participate in salvation by mediation, then it’s just like anything else. It’s not special. I don’t buy it though.

    Finally, and this is a post-Warfield reflection, why do some feel the need to pull historically- and culturally-situated fights into our present time? I’m thinking of eucharistic fetishism here as a good example. What’s happening to the *stuff* in the bread and wine? Can’t we step back out of this zoomed in posture and see it as the ritual meal that we participate in *together*? The use of Warfield to fend off certain “sacerdotalists” (aka ecclesiocentrists) in Presbyterian circles seems like the same kind of thing. It’s possible to flank the entire discussion and have a fresh take on it. But some insist on dragging you back in.

    Why do we do that?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Ryan. A few remarks in response:

      1. To be give Warfield his due, I think that it is unfair to accuse him of resisting ‘mediation’ in a more general sense and lightly to dismiss him on that account (despite the many problems with his position). Rather, what Warfield is attacking is an idea of the sacraments as ‘intermediaries’ between us and divine grace. As such, they would channel and stand between us and something that exists elsewhere, controlling our access to it. By contrast, the mediation of the word does not work according to such a logic of intermediation. The word is not an instrumental intermediary of some grace existing elsewhere, but the place where we encounter that grace. Warfield’s concerns are especially acute on account of the way in which sacramental intermediation of divine grace is also a sacerdotal control of this grace. Scripture, at least as the Bible has functioned within Protestant churches and theology, is not subject to the same sacerdotal monopoly. Perhaps Warfield’s problem is that he cannot adequately imagine a different approach that accentuates sacramental mediation without falling into sacerdotalism and sacramental intermediation.

      2. The focus on these traditional debates probably has a lot to do with the way in which Reformed theology has come to depend upon Roman Catholic sacerdotalism as its foil. Undercut that picture and the result is disorienting.

      • Thanks, Alastair.

        1. That’s fair. Admittedly, I’ve never read much Warfield, so I don’t have much of a frame of reference. Maybe I’m encountering appropriations of Warfield by those who would probably resist mediation and are overcorrecting as a response to a perceived trajectory in sacramentalists.

        Your point about sacraments as intermediaries makes sense. I’m curious, and this is also admittedly because of ignorance, would his opposition have the same kind of logic for word as sacrament? He takes “Confessional Lutheranism” to task for the same thing. They group Word and Sacrament together as “means” and he resists that formulation as well. I guess I’m asking if this is a straw man or if there were really contemporary Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics who thought grace was elsewhere and you had to get it from the Church.

        Seems to me that when you say that something happens *through* something else, that’s mediation at a basic level. Heard something recently along the lines of “The Holy Spirit works immediately *through* the apostolic preaching of the cross.” I’m just scratching my head. How can something work im-mediately *through* something else?

        2. Yes exactly. It’s deflationary and exasperating because of it. Though I’ve heard some of your positions on various topics espoused elsewhere (at least similarly), you seem to be able to engage well with critics when you flank. Any advice on how to engage?

      • Friedman’s thoughts in A Failure of Nerve are a great starting point for thinking about how to engage with others. I have summarized his book here. On the mediation issue, my (uncompleted) summary of Louis Marie Chauvet’s Symbol and Sacrament may be of interest to you.

      • Thanks for the rec. And this is the second time you’ve recommended that summary. I guess I should read it or whatever.

  14. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Interesting post here. However, the progressive alternative would seem to be setting oneself on fire with hatred of all created reality. Gnosticism here we come.

  15. Regarding this:

    Another problem I have with PSA is that although it focuses on the Cross, it focuses on the hidden, invisible God’s treatment of Christ, rather than treating Christ’s treatment of sin from the Cross as iconic of the invisible God’s treatment of sin.

    Or similarly, Jesus says that the saints are images of him, just as he is an image of the Father. This means that at the Cross, Mary’s treatment of her beloved son (Heb: Yachiyd, LXX agapetou/monogenos: Zech 12:10, Jer 6:26, Ps 22:20, esp. Gen 22:2,12,26; cf Lk 2:21-23) is iconic of the Father’s treatment of *His* beloved son (Jn 3:16, Rom 8:32).

    That is, Penal Substitution (while perhaps true as a part) in fact directs us *from* the Cross, from Christ’s actions on the Cross, and from the actions of the saints at the Cross, toward a prior unknown God.

    (It also, for that reason–expressly contradicting Peter, who says we should imitate Christ who “bore our sins in His body on the tree”–makes the Cross something we *cannot* imitate, and so, again, directs us *from* Christ.)

    • I hold to a form of penal substitution, as one dimension of the meaning of the cross. However, I share many of your concerns here.

      • I’m not sure what all positions qualify as Penal Substitution, but I think I may be able to agree with some of them. My main concerns are the ones enumerated above, and the concern that whatever penalty there is, it is consequent upon God’s loving condescension to, and entry into a relationship with Abraham (and/or Adam). The love and condescension is prior, and the wrath is consequent on it and indeed, a part of it, not an obstacle to it. His name is Jealous, and his Jealousy is stronger than death: Therefore, he will not give his beloved to another, not even to death. However, because He is loving, and so jealous, He is also wrathful when His beloved forsakes Him.

      • I think that we are in agreement here.

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