Open Mic Thread 28


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, 18,19,20,2122,23, 24, 25, 26, 27.

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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64 Responses to Open Mic Thread 28

  1. whitefrozen says:

    I got Crossans and Borg’s books on Jesus – ‘Historical Jesus’ and ‘Jesus’, respectively. Once I swing out of my philosophy of mind phase I’ll get into them.

    Anyone have any specific thoughts on universalism?

    I’ve read two papers by Wilfrid Sellars – probably one of the most important philosophers this century – entitled ‘Aristotelian Philosophies of Mind’ and ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’. I highly recommend the latter. I’ve also been slowing getting into the work of the Pittsburgh school of philosophers – McDowell, Brandom, etc. Very challenging.

    Along those same lines I’ve been reading a collection of essays on the metaethical position of moral realism, which has also proven challenging but rewarding. I’ve also been dipping into a very large (800+) collection of talks on the structure of scientific theories. That has actually almost been draining. The formal logic that goes into theory acceptance and development is intense.

  2. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    What exactly was the main theological contribution of Karl Barth? What ideas did he contribute to the theological discussion?

    By this, I don’t mean his historical significance as someone who stood up to theological liberalism. Or was he was mainly known for his especially convincing arguments against liberalism?

    • I think that the contribution of Karl Barth is primarily found in his paving the way for a theological movement beyond liberalism. His contribution was pivotal in moving the theological conversation past certain impasses and opening up new possibilities. He contributed ideas along the way, of course, but I think that his importance primarily derives from his theological intervention at a critical moment in history.

    • whitefrozen says:

      His doctrine of election is probably his most important single theological contribution.

  3. bethyada says:

    In contemplating your recent power posts and reactions to them I note the similarity to economics. Many (rightly) claim that wealth can be created. Some think that it is a zero sum gain thus all wealth gained is lost by others: the only way to become rich is to rob the poor. Now while riches can be gained by defrauding others, if wealth can be created this is not necessarily the case. But zero sum advocates can only think that wealth comes at the expense of others.

    Analogously, believers in zero sum power must insist that gains in power come from the oppression of others. If there is a set amount of power this must be the case. However convincingly you make your case for the benefits of power, zero sum power advocates will not believe you. Intrinsically they will think that the power is gained by removing it from others; if men have more power then they do so at the expense of women who have lost it.

    Of course, if power can be created through dominion then power can be obtained both righteously and unrighteous much as wealth can. Interestingly, some entrepreneurs create wealth in order for other projects to succeed which need cashflow. Even though the wealth of others is theirs, we advocate that they use it rightly. Even though men have power (money), we advocate they use it rightly: not lording it (using it selfishly), being a servant (using it for others), and empowering others (giving it away).

    • Yes, there are definitely analogies. However, when people encounter power differentials their minds often instinctively leap to explanations resting on injustice. Very few actually seem to reflect upon the logic of power and money, or consider just how an alternative position could be at all workable.

      In many respects, the primary alternative in such instances requires the establishment of a meddling maternalistic supervising power, which can be appealed to in order to shut down or keep other lesser powers limited, redistributing power among those within its purview.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Wealth may be created, and thus is not zero sum, but status is mostly relative, so it is actually zero sum. So, an increase in your wealth may increase your status and take away from mine.

      • That is true, to the extent that status is contingent upon wealth within a society. However, status tends to be somewhat more complicated than that.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        1. I agree. Status is only partly based on wealth.
        2. A lot of these debates over wealth and power are really about status, which is zero sum.

      • I agree with your point about status. As I have argued on various occasions, if people realized that a) we are really talking about status; b) status needn’t depend entirely upon wealth or enjoyment of direct power; c) status needn’t be a single hierarchy established in terms of a single set of criteria, but there can be incommensurable statuses in terms of differing criteria, we might actually get somewhere.

  4. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Leithart notices some cultural amnesia around Shakespeare and religion.

    I’d like to suggest an analogy. Whenever I read Eastern poetry (Chinese, Japanese, Indian) I feel a bit at sea. I don’t know the Daoist, Buddhist, Hindu background, so I am sure I am missing many of the nuances.

  5. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Happy UK election!

    The best part was Ed Miliband proclaiming his toughness.

  6. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I am listening to Elizabeth Vandiver’s audio lectures on the Odyssey and what struck me was her description of how hospitality towards strangers worked in that culture. It wasn’t just a one way street: the guest had strong obligations towards the host, including the obligation to move on within a reasonable time and not be a burden on the house’s resources. I wonder if something similar is implicit in Biblical injunctions to take care of the stranger. There are obligations you have to make sure a guest is given shelter for the night in a hostile world, but he doesn’t get to camp out in your house forever.

    • Interesting. I’ve wondered about the apparently incidental narrative detail of Luke 24:28-29 along similar lines. It would suggest a sort of ‘guess culture’ rather than ‘ask culture’ approach to hospitality.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I’m stuck! I’m not sure what you mean by ‘guess culture’ and ‘ask culture’, so I decided to ask!

      • Lol! The distinction is discussed here.

        Imagine that you are visiting a town where a friend lives and would like to stay there for the night. In an ask culture you would directly ask your friend whether you could stay for the night and they would either say yes or no. However, in a guess culture, making such a request would be perceived to be rude, putting undue pressure upon the friend to say yes, even though it might be inconvenient. Guess culture would proceed by putting out feelers. You would ring up your friend, tell them you will be in their town and ask them if they want to meet up at some point during your visit. They would then likely ask if you have anywhere to stay (if they didn’t, it would be a subtle indication it wouldn’t be convenient for them and you might not pursue the matter). You would tell them that you hadn’t yet found somewhere. They would offer for you to stay with them, you would say that you really wouldn’t want to impose in such a manner, they would insist, and you would gratefully accept. 🙂

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your explanation and for the link! I haven’t come across these expressions before, and I find them really interesting. As I read your comment and the link, I thought of a few people I know who seem to live in a ‘tell culture’! For instance, prior to a family wedding a few decades ago, a relative told the parents of one of the bridesmaids that we would look after their daughter in our home on the morning before the wedding… and then told us later about the arrangement! As it happened, we were willing and able to oblige ( our daughter was also a bridesmaid), but I would really have preferred a ‘guess culture’ approach 🙂

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        You were supposed to guess. 😛

      • quinnjones2 says:

        🙂 And I feel oh so tempted, but I’m so imaginative when it comes to guessing that I thought I’d better restrain myself, but I’m finding it difficult. For instance, we were talking just yesterday about how, since the advent of the telephone, and especially the mobile phone, we rarely just turn up on each others’ doorsteps these days, but see each other more by appointment/invitation. I’ll stop now, because this may be nothing to do with what you meant, Alastair!

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I think, since he’s quoting Scripture to support it, Alastair is advocating that we return to a guess culture. That is, I think asking violated a taboo.

        (To be clear, I’m joking.)

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        As Vandiver describes it, this doesn’t have much to do with already existing friendship. If you are a traveller in at least some parts of the ancient world, there are no such things as inns or other places which are there to serve people away from home. You can’t just camp out, because that might be rather dangerous, unless you are a large and heavily armed group. Instead, you go to a home that looks to be about equivalent in social status to your own. You tell them you need a place to stay for the night, and by social custom they are obligated to do so, with no questions asked.

        Now, obviously there are caveats: you can’t just show up at the home of someone who is your enemy for whatever reason. And you need to be able to show some indication that you are of equivalent social status. But this isn’t a question of guessing or putting out feelers. It’s an almost ironclad social obligation: one you are expected to provide, and one you can count on, if you are ever away from home.

  7. Paul Baxter says:

    I’m involved at the moment in taking one of these free online courses as a supplement to nursing school. This particular course is called Collaboration and Communication in Healthcare: Interprofessional Practice. The last video lecture I watched just a moment ago talked about some of the study that has been done within the US healthcare system on medical errors and what are called “sentinal events”, which is a term for when something goes badly wrong within a hospital. These events get reported to the Joint Commission, the national body which accredits hospitals here, for further study. One of the findings has been that many medical errors stem from miscommunication.

    That probably is not surprising to anyone, but one of the key ideas to come out of these studies has been to look for what causes these communication issues, and the leading identified causes has been medical hierarchy. I was just thinking about how that might relate to some of the things you’ve written recently about gender, power, and communication. Quite often in medicine there is a gender divide which accompanies the professional divide between doctors and nurses. The (mostly) female nurses sometimes feel intimidated by the (often) male doctors and fail to adequately communicate things such that people end up dead.

    Interested parties may wish to browse through the major study by the Institute of Medicine, To Err Is Human:

    Medical errors in the US, even using the most conservative figures, cause more deaths than automobile accidents.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Hi Paul, this is interesting and very disconcerting, but tragically, not surprising.
      I’m also interested in your comment about the gender divide/professional divide between doctors and nurses. This resonates with my own experience of what seemed to me to be some professional jealousy and rivalry between my GP and midwives. My GP was male and all three midwives were female.There were some disagreements, but the midwives did not seem to be intimidated by my GP and just made their points clearly and firmly. I was actually more in sympathy with the midwives because they were very experienced and my GP was, after all, a general practitioner and not a midwife or obstetrician. I have also, while in hospital as a patient, heard consultants severely reprimand junior doctors (registrars), but the consultants and registrars were all male. On one occasion I was very thankful for the intervention of a consultant on my behalf – I thought that those particular male registrars were immature, inexperienced and arrogant! If the registrars had been female, I’d like to think that such reprimands would not have been regarded as ‘sexist’.
      I realise, of course, that what I have described above represents a few drops in a very big ocean!

      • Paul Baxter says:

        There are lots of dysfunctional dynamics in medical practices. Fortunately many of these things have been changing in a positive direction for quite some time now. In the US the number of female doctors has grown quite steadily. Just a quick search said the percentage went from 9.7 in 1970 to over 32 in 2010, so that side of things is significantly less gender divided.

        Over that same period the percentage of male nurses has gone from 2.7 to 9.6. So nursing is still very much a female profession here. I noticed at my own school that there is a policy stating that graduating students must wear white scrubs and “white panties” to commencement. I may ask them to change that.

        But the real dynamic problem which seems to linger is the power imbalance between doctors and nurses, regardless of the gender of the doctors. Within our system doctors are seen as quite powerful because they are the ones who create revenue. People choose a medical practice to visit because of the reputation of certain doctors. Despite being pretty obviously not true, nurses are seen as fungible. If a doctor writes a prescription for ten times the normal dose of a medication, a nurse administers it, and the patient is harmed and files a lawsuit, the nurse is overwhelmingly the one to lose their job.

        Verbal and physical abuse of nurses by doctors is still fairly common, though I believe trending downwards. I don’t have statistics handy for that, but I know where to find some.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        It’s interesting to hear that female doctors can also be guilty of abuse of power and allow nurses to take the rap for their own negligence. What I have to say next is not really a response to your comment about ‘white scrubs’ and ‘white panties’*, but the result of a bit of word-association on my part re: clothing! According to a lady I met on a train, who works in hospital catering, a number of catering staff and nurses hold doctors partly responsible for some ‘hospital viruses’ because some doctors don’t bother to wear surgical gloves when examining patients and aren’t too keen on washing their hands! Of course, this is hearsay, but I listened to this lady for quite a long time, and I could see no reason to doubt what she was saying.
        * I realise that you quoted this as evidence of nursing as a predominantly female profession. I hope that your school will update this if you go ahead with your suggestion!

  8. JasonPhillips says:

    Alastair, I’ve recently stumbled into reading Girard and have become absolutely overwhelmed by his insight, particularly in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. I ended up reading him by way of returning to re-examine Derrida and death — after feeling that The Gift of Death was again missing something about the reality of the body and violence, burying it in a merely textual violence in the way that Derrida so often does.

    In any case, reading Girard’s interpretation of the Gospel and the revelation of John’s Logos is incredible. Obviously, he is focused on a single dimension through his fixation on mimetic desire and sacrifice, and is not exactly a “general” interpreter of the texts, so I have to be careful and push back at points — but at the same time his retrieval of the power of Jesus’s work against the backdrop of the sacrificial story of the Old Testament, as the key that unlocks the truth of all that passed prior, helps to throw the Gospel into relief with its true urgency in a way that I’ve rarely encountered outside of NT Wright’s reading of the climax of Israel. The apocalyptic passages, the great sense of danger and surrounding violence, even the beauty of John’s Logos as a restatement of the truth of the beginning, all of it comes into focus so well.

    That being said, I know from searching the blog that you’re also an avid reader of Girard. So I wondered if you could help me figure out how to go forward… my problem is that I find Girard’s reading so compelling and illuminative, yet I find that his work sort of stands to the side of everything else I’ve read, and I don’t see his effects in other theology. I’m looking to find a reformed-ish theologian who incorporates Girard’s insights so that I can better find a bridge between the two, instead of leaving Girard to the side as another dramatic angle that stands wholly apart.

    Is there any author or text that you could point me towards? I suppose I’m looking to find someone who takes Girard’s urgent reading of sacrifice and mimetic desire and puts it into a broader theological perspective beyond that singular focal point. Or, alternatively: why is it that I don’t see Girard’s impact in theology as I expect to? Is there a disregard for him, or is it that I’m looking in the wrong places?

    • JasonPhillips says:

      By the way, I found this old article of yours to be immensely helpful:

    • Girard is incredibly helpful in many ways. I was first introduced to him by James Jordan, who has used his work on many occasions. However, there is a cottage industry of Girardian theology—although sometimes it appears to be closer to a theological-industrial complex! For the most part, this theology is anti-Reformed and unfortunately driven by Girardian logic to a degree that seeks to force everything into its logic, dispensing with much biblical teaching that doesn’t fit Girardian theory along the way (generally the desire is to do away with any notion of divine violence, which isn’t really possible). Contrary to some of his Reformed detractors, Girard is exceptionally helpful in many respects, but doesn’t really provide the universal explanation of sacrifice that many think that he does. Girardian theory is a powerful tool in the theologian’s toolbox, but it isn’t the universal tool that many think it to be. I would recommend something like Moshe Halbertal’s On Sacrifice as one helpful corrective to this. Hans Boersma is another example of a writer who has important criticisms to raise against totalizing—and that is where the problem primarily lies, in the totalizing of one theory in order to squeeze out less welcome ones—Girardian atonement theories.

      I don’t know of sustained appreciative engagement with Girard from a Reformed perspective. I’ve encountered a lot of appreciative engagement in people such as James Jordan, but it is more occasional than sustained. There is certainly plenty of latitude for appreciative use of Girard in Reformed theology and benefit to be gained from such use, but such engagement really does need to begin with recognition that he is not a one-stop-shop for atonement theory that many of his fanboys would like for him to be.

      • JasonPhillips says:

        That’s very helpful, thanks. And I saw that the Moshe Halbertal book is cheap on Kindle, which means I’ll be digging into it within the next few weeks, hopefully with the result of fleshing out a more comprehensive understanding of sacrifice.

      • It is a very quick read but packed with insight.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I’d also strongly recommend Beyond Sacred Violence. It looks like it’s expensive, but if you can get it through a library (or through interlibrary loan), it’s definitely worth the read.

  9. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    These two articles make for an interesting side-by-side read.

  10. David Larson says:

    I made a few quick comments about my first reading of Augustine’s Confessions here:

  11. quinnjones2 says:

    What I am about to write here will be free-flowing and unedited but I hope my meaning will be clear and I would be interested in your perspectives on it . In following comments on the Jesus Creed and the objections to what you have written Alastair, I have been struck by the fact that so many views have been centred on the temporal world of 2015 as though it were a fixture that could not be taken away in the blink of an eye, leaving us all to fall back on our God-given resources, deprived of worldly props, and especially the props of technology. Without such props, I wonder how many would be more ready to treat the created order and the book of Genesis with more respect.
    Such a scenario was explored in the BBC series ‘Survivors’ in 1975, a programme which was a ‘must’ for me at that time. It was written by Dalek creator Terry Nation and depicted a world where 95% of the population were wiped out by a killer virus and stripped of all structures of civilisation.[My apologies if I am telling you something you already know!]
    As I still haven’t worked out how to post a link here, I will just include a quote from a review about this programme, which was written by someone called ‘Petunia Winegum’ in April 2015, and linked by Anna Raccoon [@AnnaRaccoon1]
    I quote here a brief comment from the review:
    ‘People of every age naturally see themselves as inhabitants of the most technologically advanced society the world has ever seen, which they are; but what strikes the DVD viewer coming to a series like ‘Survivors’ four decades since it was aired is that the dependence those characters have on technology is nowhere near the dependence we have on technology today.
    Were an actual event such as that portrayed in ‘Survivors’ to strike Britain in 2015, I doubt the genuine survivors would cope half as well as the fictitious survivors in Terry Nation’s grim masterpiece.’

  12. quinnjones2 says:

    After a bit of dabbling and doodling I came up with this riddle 😉

    My first is in study but isn’t in play
    My second’s in noble but isn’t in bray
    My third is in careful and also in fact
    My fourth is in truthful and also in tact
    My fifth is in conscience but isn’t in pride
    My last is in learned and also in bride.

    Who am I?

  13. Some of you might be interested in my discussion of different styles of preaching here.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I’ve never given a sermon, but I’ve listened to many. I keep coming back to this:
      ‘…the sermon doesn’t just give us information, it also habituates us to a posture in relationship to the scripture, one that accords the scripture authority within our life (the fact that this authority is articulated by someone else – the preacher – helps to strengthen this posture) Further to this, the sermon teaches us the skills by which we can interpret the Scripture for ourselves.’
      I like best sermons where the preacher seems to impart something which is greater than the words and themes of the sermon, and which leave me convinced that the sermon was born out of the preacher’s own great love for and knowledge of the Scripture.
      My most unfavourite sermons are those in which a particular agenda is being pushed good and hard!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I have been thinking, rather sheepishly, about what I consider to be the most horrible sermons ever. Then I remembered someone saying that we don’t tend to investigate success ( just failure!) , so I let myself off the hook in this respect! I think it is more difficult to define what is so good about a good sermon than it is to define what is so bad about a bad sermon. I remember commenting to one preacher that I thought that his sermon was ‘like a seamless garment’, and I’m not surprised that he was puzzled by my vagueness. In a nutshell, I think that a good sermon on any Scripture passage and theme contains truth, justice and mercy in equilibrium.
        Back to the ‘horrible’ sermons, I do actually learn a lot from considering why they jarred with me, just as I learn a lot ( the hard way!) from my own mistakes.

  14. quinnjones2 says:

    I’ve been thinking about the power of words this morning, and about three words in particular.

    I love the name ‘Rachel’. Had that not been the case, we would not have chosen it as the given name for our younger daughter. I believe that it means. ‘little lamb, pure one.’

    ‘Held’ is the German for ‘hero’. The feminine word has the suffix ‘-in’, but no matter – both ‘Held’ and ‘Heldin’ evoke positive associations for me.

    ‘Evans’ is a popular surname in Wales, where I grew up. It was the surname of the girl who was my best friend when I was four, and also the surname of my Nan’s neighbours….

    I don’t follow RHE but I follow people who do, so her name appears on my timeline from time to time, along with quotations from her latest book. When I see this name which I like accompanied by statements about what RHE thinks our Lord Jesus Christ wants for us and for ‘the church’, her statements are so often at variance with my own understanding of the Gospel that I usually experience (amongst other things!) some cognitive dissonance as I read them.

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