2018 Retrospective

The Roaches in the Peak District

In keeping with the tradition of this blog, the following is a retrospective and round-up of my work from the past year. 2018 was a full but also a tough year for me in various respects. I have not had anywhere near the same time to devote to my blog, or to the sort of exploratory work I like to do. Putting video and podcast output to one side, it has been a quieter year on the blog than I had hoped. However, I have still been able to write some things, and have also produced about a couple of hundred videos and podcasts.

Issues of sex and sexuality were often on my radar over the course of last year and I was invited to speak or write on subjects related to the area on many occasions. I tackled questions such as the biological basis of gender differences in What Socialization and Social Construction Can’t Explain, responded to objections to my understanding of women’s representation in entertainment media, discussed the important sociological research of Mark Regnerus in Sex in Zero Gravity, reviewed Darel Paul’s work on elites’ support for same-sex marriage, and addressed the issue of friendship between the sexes. I considered questions of exegesis surrounding debates on how to read women’s stories in Scripture in writing on the woman of Endor, reviewing Vindicating the Vixens, and also reflected upon the importance of our epistemic posture in debates and issues relating to the theology of the sexes. I delivered an intensive course at the Theopolis Institute on a theology of the sexes, available for purchase here and spoke at the 2018 THINK conference on the subject. I also wrote two booklets on the subject for the Davenant Institute—Does Creedal Orthodoxy Require Traditional Sexual Ethics? and How Did We Get Here?—and spoke for them on the subject.

Walking along the Canal near Stoke-on-Trent

In March, my first book came out, Echoes of Exodus, co-written with my friend Andrew Wilson. In conjunction with and following its release, I published many articles and videos expounding on the themes of the book, such as this article with ten things people should know about the Exodus. Because of the constraints of the book’s word count, I often used such articles to explore dimensions of the biblical material that I had not been able to develop in the book itself.

 

At the beginning of 2018, the Jordan Peterson phenomenon exploded into mainstream awareness and, quite suddenly, everywhere I went his name was on people’s lips and my inbox was full of requests to comment on him. People wanted to understand why he was so powerfully resonating with demographics that were abandoning the Church, why so many people claimed that their lives had been transformed by his counsel, what his deeper philosophy was, and how it related to Christianity. I truly have never seen anything quite like it. My year ended in a similar place to where it began: yesterday, I put the finishing touches on an essay on Jordan Peterson and free speech for a forthcoming book and was reminded of why Peterson’s thought and the broader phenomenon surrounding him are so rewarding of close attention and how badly he is misunderstood and misrepresented by many of his critics.

With my brother Mark and my father

While responses to Peterson have often been depressingly polarized—and the cult dynamic around him is no less unfortunate than the shrill hysterics of many of those denouncing him—people who are prepared to suspend their judgment for a time, to engage with his work and the phenomenon surrounding him in a sustained and attentive manner, and finally to arrive at carefully differentiated informed opinions will likely find their understanding of the world, human nature, and the current environment greatly sharpened in the process. I discussed some of my reasons for finding his work significant here. Over the course of the year, I wrote several pieces related to Peterson and especially upon his appeal to men: Jordan Peterson and Powerful Men, What Pastors Could Learn From Jordan Peterson, On Men, Shame, and Brotherhood (and a follow-up post), Jordan Peterson and the Evangelical Man. In March, I wrote an especially lengthy piece providing a broader introduction to the contours of Peterson’s thought. I also recorded a video with Brad Littlejohn on the subject. In Discourse in the Culture Wars, I reflected on the reasons why the reactions to Peterson’s work have been so polarized. I was also invited onto the Desiring God podcast to speak about the Jordan Peterson phenomenon.

Hodges Chapel in a Theopolis Intensive

Technology, media, and their effects upon discourse, thought, and society continue to be prominent themes in my thinking and writing. I wrote on the subject of the need to attend to the material form of the scriptural texts and the practices that surround them and also delivered a lecture on the subject. I addressed the question of virtue ethics online in a guest piece for Ian Paul’s blog, Can We Be Virtuous in an Age of Social Media? I discussed social media with Brad Littlejohn and also with Tony Reinke. I have been especially interested in the impact of new media upon our notions of matters such as social justice. I started a series on this subject for the Davenant Institute’s blog. The first two pieces have already been published: expect further instalments in the next few weeks.

Also on more general changes in society, developing themes from last year’s post The Strangeness of the Modern Mind, I asked whether modernity has been a success. Following May’s Royal Wedding, and building on the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, I reflected upon the changing place of the institution of the monarchy in contemporary Britain.

Discussing Richard Hooker at the Davenant Summer Programme

Reading the Bible closely remains my chief love, and perhaps the bulk of my work this year—both in my offline writing, speaking, and reading, and my online videos and podcasts—has been devoted to that subject. Back in October, my friends over at Three Things invited me to write on the subject of reading our Bible well there. In November, I was part of a conversation with Iain Provan on the subject of hermeneutics. Over the course of the year, I wrote four scriptural reflections for the Political Theology Network. In January, I discussed the notion of authority as it is illustrated in Mark 1:21-28. The difficult story of Judas’ suicide was the subject of my May reflection, gift-giving in 2 Corinthians 8 in June, and the significance of the land as a witness in Joshua for August. Yoram Hazony’s work has been of considerable interest to me recently, and I discussed his reading of Jacob’s deception of Isaac and his broader approach to the interpretation of Scripture in this piece for Theopolis. Also for Theopolis, I wrote on the significance of boat stories in the Bible. In July, I spoke at L’Abri UK on reading the Bible in the light of the Transfiguration.

At the THINK Conference in London

In April, I posted my first YouTube video in a new account. Since then, I have published over 120 videos, and have set up a new blog and a new Soundcloud account, thanks in large measure to some very generous supporters. I am mostly producing videos for a fairly niche audience, but a few of my videos have been more popular, including my discussion of the recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, my sketch of a case against women’s ordination, my engagement with Paul Maxwell’s thoughts on masculinity, and my reflections on the biblical vision of the household. Perhaps the videos I have most enjoyed, although they take more preparation, are the summaries and discussions of various books: Matthieu Pageau’s The Language of Creation, John Hughes’ The End of Work, Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, and Meredith Kline’s Images of the Spirit. I have also been enjoying thinking about the typology of the Christmas and Epiphany narratives of the gospels in my continuing series over the twelve days of Christmas.

At ETS with Derek and Andrew

This last year has been a relatively quiet year for Mere Fidelity, with only twenty-three podcasts released. There were not any especial highlights on the show for me, although I greatly appreciated the chance to work through Augustine’s Confessions with the guys and relished the chance to speak with some very stimulating guests. Finally getting to meet Derek in person (and to catch up with Andrew and Matt) in November at ETS was wonderful: it is strange to meet someone in the flesh after you have already been a close friend with them for several years.

Becoming involved with the work of the Theopolis and Davenant Institutes has been perhaps one of the greatest things about 2018 for me. I feel immensely fortunate to be working more closely with people like Peter Leithart, Brian Moats, John Crawford, Brad Littlejohn, Steven Wedgeworth, Peter Escalante, and others whose scholarship and work I admire, whose company I find profoundly stimulating, and whose friendship I highly value. Doing Theopolis lectionary podcasts with Leithart has been a delight, even though I may occasionally wonder how much I have to offer in comparison! Perhaps the absolute highlight of podcasting in 2018 was speaking with Leithart and Hazony about The Virtue of Nationalism. There truly is nothing like getting into the meat of a hugely important issue with a brilliant guest.

Teaching at the Theopolis Institute

Over the course of 2018, I participated in two Theopolis intensive courses, the first which I delivered on the Theology of the Sexes and the second in August with Esther Meek, a memorable experience that I have written about here. I stayed at L’Abri for two weekends. I stayed with friends and got to know churches in places like Memphis, Greenville, Philadelphia, Leesburg, Moscow, and Birmingham. I had a deeply encouraging time at the THINK conference in London. I caught up with several old friends over the course of the year and made several new friends. I loved my time at ETS in Denver. As usual, the Reformed Irenics convivium and leading a Summer Programme for the Davenant Institute in South Carolina were standout events of the year. Looking back over the year, the things that I most remember are the many incredible people that I had the privilege to meet and spend time with. Crossing paths with so many gifted, gracious, and passionate people—especially young people—in the course of my work is an immense encouragement and cause for thankfulness.

On this front, 2019 promises more of the same. I can’t wait!

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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