About

Welcome to Alastair’s Adversaria. I previously blogged at alastair.adversaria and 40 Bicycles. This blog will provide a home for my occasional and various thoughts, links, and notes on my reading. While you may struggle to find a unifying theme here, my thoughts will frequently return to the subjects of biblical theology, the sacraments, and Christian ethics.

My name is Alastair Roberts. I currently reside in the north of England. In addition to the subjects mentioned above, I am passionate about word games, English cricket, cathedral cities, long walks, and second hand bookstores.

I would love to hear more about you! Why not introduce yourself in the comments?

127 Responses to About

  1. Richard Bache says:

    Dear Alastair,
    I have just read your excellent blog on the Scottish Gay Marriage Consultation on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog site and was hoping you might be able to pen a few more articles on homosexuality and gay marriage in general; I would be very interested in reading about your view on homosexuality and human rights as well as well as your response to the latest speech from Hilary Clinton re. the U.S’s intention to be a strong advocate for global LGBT rights.

  2. Are you at Durham uni? That picture looks suspiciously like Durham cathedral!
    If so, could be good to meet up. I go to church there, and am a theologian by academic training

  3. Mike Kelsey says:

    Would love to chat with you more. Enjoyed the twitter back and forth and it’s really helping me grasp the scope of the gospel

  4. David McKay says:

    G’day Alastair. I’m appreciating your writings. You have gone to considerable trouble to express your thoughts. It has been worth the effort. Please keep doing it. It’s really worthwhile. 1 Corinthians 15:58 ὁ κόπος ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔστιν κενὸς ἐν κυρίῳ. (1Co 15:58)

  5. David McKay says:

    I have found many posts stimulating, but especially the ones concerning Jared Wilson’s use of Doug Wilson’s Fidelity.

  6. Hello Alistair! We met at Tenth Church a week ago.. I am friends with Paul and Sylvia. I think you met our whole family..or at least Sarah, with me pointing out the rest down the pew…. I have enjoyed reading your latest comments, and hope to spend some time perusing the rest as time allows! We are glad to have met you! Sorry we didn’t have the opportunity to have you stop in to visit our old house! Hope you and your Dad are continuing to enjoy your trip.

    • Thanks, Cheryl! It was great to meet you all on Sunday, though a pity that we didn’t have greater time in which to become acquainted. Lord-willing, I will be returning to Philadelphia at some point in the next few years.

      We are very much enjoying our trip. Today was spent in Monument Valley, yesterday at the Grand Canyon. I hope to blog about the trip here when I have a better connection!

  7. Paul says:

    Hi Alastair , may i ask what you are studying in school?

  8. Ruth says:

    Hi Alastair.
    Found your blog a while ago through a combination of Brad Littlejohn and the Wilson/Held Evans stuff. I’m currently appreciating your ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ review – pretty spot on in my opinion (not that my opinion means much!)
    Thanks for this and for other great posts.

  9. Steve Lichty says:

    Alastair, great blog here…came upon it from Googling orthodox alexithymia…would love to ask some questions in a private email. Cheers…

  10. Dear Alastair,
    Wow! I’ve just come across your blog for the first time as I was researching the background to von Balthasar’s thoughts on Adam’s participation in the creation of Eve as a kenotic act of the first adam. What an amazing resource!
    I also blog as I make my way through postgraduate studies, on quite related themes it would seem, but I am no where near as productive as you!
    Congratulations.
    Chelle

    • Thanks for commenting, Chelle! Great to have you here.

      I would love to hear more about your work: you seem to be dealing with some fascinating themes! I have added your blog to my Google Reader.

      The creation narrative of Genesis 2 is actually something that I was reflecting upon rather closely recently. There are lots of fascinating things going on there and many themes that are taken up later in the text. I will have to revisit von Balthasar on the subject. It would be great to hear any thoughts that you might have on the subject.

  11. I do love to read widely, which might be a challenge 6 months from now when I have to start writing something succinct for the PhD!
    Basically, I am developing an argument for a mystical hermeneutic for public conversations about God, religion and ethics, that is Love as Revelation. So, I read about love because I hope to show how it works as an analogy for a certain epistemology; and I read mystics and mystical philosophy/theology because I’m trying to show that is fits firmly within orthodox Christian theology; and I read public theology because that is my application context.
    Ambitious? So said the examining panel who approved the topic – but a fantastic amount of fun!
    Chelle

    • Believe me, I quite understand the struggle of trying to produce a tight and disciplined PhD out of rather feral reading habits (if you have any tips, please share them…)!

      Your project does indeed sound ambitious: to my mind, the best projects always are. I await with interest what you come up with and hearing about your thoughts on the subject as they develop!

  12. Hello, Alastair. My name is Dzmitry Kastsiuchenka, I live in the city of Minsk in Belarus.
    I am interested in Christianity, in particular by Anabaptists, the Amish and Mennonites.
    Your blog I found in google-plus Ribbon when searching for topics that interest me.
    English is not my native language, if there are errors, I apologize.

  13. mickey says:

    can i sign up for an email alert when you’ve posted a new post? if so then where? thanks – ha ha just saw the tick box as i was about to post comment🙂

  14. Janine Talley says:

    Hello Alastair,

    Are you on Facebook? I would like to link to you there if you post on subjects discussed here.

    Kind regards,

    Janine

  15. Pingback: A Lament for Google Reader | The Kuyperian Commentary

  16. Michael Cook says:

    Hi Alistair,
    I edit MercatorNet http://www.mercatornet.com/, an on-line magazine which runs out of Sydney.
    I saw your piece on Google Reader and found it quite interesting.
    Would it be possible to post a slightly abridged version of it on MercatorNet, with due credit? We liked your more philosophical ruminations on the internet and I think that our writers will, too. We can send you the edited version for your approval. You might benefit a bit as well, as it would be useful publicity for your blog.
    Cheers,
    Michael Cook, editor, MercatorNet

  17. Joshua says:

    Dear Alastair,

    Do you know of any reliable sources documenting the objections that Christians apparently used to promote segregated marriage? It strikes me that those who are wielding this as a club in the SSM debate generally have little to no idea of what the objections actually were, and are guilty of a slippery slope themselves in implying that if we reject SSM we must reject interracial marriage.

    Thank you
    Joshua

    • Thanks for the comment, Joshua.

      Unfortunately, I can’t help you here. I would be interested to see if anyone else can provide sources. I think that the analogy between the two is quite specious, as I argue here.

  18. Matt J. says:

    Alastair,

    if you don’t mind me asking, what is the long-term goal of your studies? Are you aspiring to do scholarly work (presumably in a university setting) full-time for the rest of your life? Part-time? The priesthood hold any interest to you? (I’m on the fence about that one myself.) You’ve threatened to write a book several times over the years – is one secretly in the works? I’m assuming at some point you will be writing a dissertation or two. Is the topic set? Just curious.🙂 Peace.

    • Yes, there is (at least one) book in the works (that’s all I’m saying about that for now!). As for longer term plans, much depends on what positions are available, of course. Academia is my preferred context at the moment, although I am less excited about that direction than I once was.

  19. Hi Alastair,

    I read through one of your Christian tech articles on Google Reader and I wanted to reach out the opportunity to get an early sneak peek at Thoughtree: a new and fun mobile journal that I envision many Christians using, as it’s an ideal place to record prayers, sermon notes, and scripture – along with the other types of valuable ideas you’d like to remember, but don’t really have a good place to write down.

    Along with being free, Thoughtree is designed to be drop-dead simple, to the point where even the most atypical writer can enjoy recording ideas. It combines the familiar organizational skeleton of a social network with the personal security of a journal, to create an honest and productive digital environment.

    The unique focus on one individual idea at a time makes it the easiest and most effective way to start writing in 2013. It gives users unique freedom to write whatever randomly and naturally comes to mind, while maintaining colorful and beautiful organization.

    It is the 1st place winner of the 2013 South Florida Christian business competition held by United Franchise Group and Palm Beach Atlantic University.

    Check out http://www.Thoughtr.ee to see it in action.

    We’re planning to launch the iPhone and iPad app into the Store soon in the coming weeks, but if you’re interested in playing with it early I’d be happy to send over a beta by way of TestFlight. It is a whopping 1.9MB!

    Thanks in advance for considering the app for review, and have a great day!

    Jude Abeler
    Jude@Abeler.me
    Mobile: 763.355.2509

  20. Jacob Therakathu says:

    Hi Alastair,
    I am a christian from India. Your blog is really one of a kind for the detailed exposition of the fundamental basis of lots of things we take for granted. I recently came across your blog and read through many posts(posts related to same sex marriage, Rachel Evan’s book review etc).
    I am seriously impressed by the logic, detail and historical perspective you bring to the task. I have also thought about many of these matters and hope to interact with you in the future regarding many of my persisting questions. I am deeply encouraged by your willingness to be challenged regarding your convictions.
    Thanks🙂

  21. DavidA says:

    Are there other ways to follow you Alastair? I so much enjoy your blog, but rarely have time to respond with the kind of depth it requires. It truly is one of the highlights of my week… mostly because we think so differently… but you in fact THINK.🙂

  22. Rick Wise says:

    Hey Alastair!
    I’m writing to you from across the pond, a little outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you that I really enjoy you blog, and to be honest I am practically and anti-blog guy. I think I discovered you, maybe from Derek Rishmawy’s blog (??), but I just wanted to say that I have really appreciated your thoughts on many things. I was raised in a Christian home but have in recent years slid into the “Reformed camp.” I have loved growing in understanding the reformed thought, and you have been a great person on the interwebs that has helped in processing some of it. Just today I have been reading your responses on Denny Burk’s blog, and they are incredibly incitful and well defended. I wanted to write you and tell you how much I appreciated you doing that. You were getting a bit beat up and you were definitely outnumbered over there in the comments section. However, you handled yourself really well and with love. I think what you said is a good way forward in the manhood/womanhood topic. Particularly in America things get really out of control, and what you were saying struck me as deeply rooted and progressive in a non-egalitarian way. I was really blessed by it!! Thanks and keep up the good work brother!!

    • Thanks, Rick! I enjoyed visiting Philly about a year and a half ago. My girlfriend comes from that city.

      I am pleased that you have enjoyed the discussion over on Denny Burk’s blog. It has been rather intense! I’ve added several more comments over the last couple of hours, but have dropped out of the discussion altogether now. I have made most of my points and there comes a stage where the responses come through at such a pace that I don’t see the purpose of trying to keep up!🙂

      • ws harbor says:

        Sorry to interrupt your hiatus! (c: Like Rick, I have enjoyed your comments over on Denny Burk’s blog (egalitarianism…). What resources (books) would you recommend on the subject?

      • Thanks! To be honest, there isn’t any book that I have found especially helpful on the subject. I am thinking about writing one at some point soon, actually (I’ve already written about 50,000 words that could be put into a book).

        Most of my reading is of egalitarians, actually. I often prefer reading the best of the people who disagree with me. I find it a more helpful way to hone my thinking.

        As I think that these debates should focus upon close reading of the biblical text, my one recommendation would be an unpublished manuscript written by James Jordan, a detailed commentary on Genesis 2-4 entitled Trees and Thorns, which can be bought from here. Jordan has elaborated on his thoughts as they relate to the vocations of men and women in other places (for instance, see the piece here, the series here—1, 2—or here—1, 2, 3). While I don’t see eye to eye with Jordan on some issues, I think that he is one of the few who is doing the sort of attentive reading of the text that we need.

        Other helpful movements in moving beyond some of the current stale positions are discussed in places such as this blog post.

        I would want to extend the debate much, much further, but these aren’t bad places to start thinking things through.

  23. Scott Williamson says:

    Alastair, your patient commentary on Denny Burke’s blog has been immeasurably helpful to me. I am stunned at your command of the subject matter, from so many different angles. I added a few comments of my own, but later decided just to watch and learn. Blessings on you.

    • Thanks, Scott! Such discussions can be very difficult because a proper understanding of gender in Scripture is so bound up with a very big picture. Once we start to grasp this picture, so many different things start to click into place. At some point I hope that I will have the opportunity to present this picture in extensive detail, to show how everything slots so neatly within it. It would be good to move the debate beyond the zoom lens of competing isolated texts to challenge all of us to think in terms of more global and explanatory visions.

      • Hello Alastair,

        I agree with Scott, you brought some real refreshment to a well-worn conversation. At some level, however, these exchanges are beneficial mainly to the outside reader, as most of the participants have no honest interest in being swayed from their stances.

        I’m wondering if you’ve been able to put your finger on why that is. Why, in the face of nature, tradition, and reason itself do modern women and men contend for these new models of reality?

        One thing I’ve learned about the innate motivational differences between men and women is that women have a strong felt need for security, whereas men have an equivalent need to feel significant. (This of course fits well with some of your models of understanding.)

        Thus it’s my contention, if you look closely, that women and men endorse the egalitarian paradigm for two different reasons. Women have been persuaded that equality of opportunity (and a concomitant rejection of any form of male supremacy) is the key to avoiding abuse and securing their wellbeing. In the case of men, however, it isn’t so much their perceived benefit from the contributions of peer females (although they might express it as such), as it is their “chivalrous” sense that women have been treated unfairly and need defending.

        Will your careful reasoning change their conclusions? Probably only rarely. All of us work off our ‘gut’ far more than we acknowledge. Those of us who have experienced the graces and empowerments of God operate in a different milieu than those who have no internal comprehension of these. I am able to feel safe as a woman primarily because of the security that emanates from God’s sovereignty. Men will find satisfactory significance only when they understand that God has positioned them as regents in His kingdom.

        I appreciate your desire to seek the global view. It’s a rare practice these days, and much needed.

      • Thanks for your comment, Diane!

        I agree with your point that such exchanges are often primarily about outside readers. That said, they also help us to hone our own arguments and thinking, which is one of the reasons why I engage in them. I don’t expect that there is much possibility of my mind being changed on an issue that I have thought much about in the course of an online conversation. However, I always try to be open to change, which usually results from road-testing elements of my own thinking, to see what people can respond with and what holes they can pick.

        On occasions, I will also road-test ways of approaching such debates in ways most calculated to change other participants’ minds. If I had wanted to persuade other participants, among other things I would have toned down my arguments considerably and taken a gentler and less oppositional approach, so that coming around to my position wouldn’t entail a costly climb-down on their part (this article explains the logic behind such an approach). However, knowing Don and Suzanne well from several previous interactions, I didn’t think that there was much point in doing this. Sadly, they are so polarized and reactive on this particular set of issues that they aren’t really receptive to any argument and even arguments that have been clearly laid to rest in the past will be exhumed and made to stumble around like the living dead.

        I suspect that you are right about some of the motivations behind people’s holding of an egalitarian position (that said, I think that, although men and women may have different motivational tendencies in some areas on average, these are only general tendencies, with plenty of exceptions: the heart of sexual difference lies at a deeper level). That said, some will just have been raised in an egalitarian social setting and any else will seem alien and threatening to them. Egalitarianism is such a basic assumption for many that the notion that it could be seriously challenged just doesn’t enter into their minds. Consequently, the force of the biblical passages that do challenge it will be lightly bruised off and never truly recognized, because they aren’t paying attention. We are all at risk of doing this sort of thing in certain areas.

        I think that a number of women have come from abusive or restrictive backgrounds in conservative evangelical circles, where unhealthy teaching and practice concerning the callings of men and women exist and that they are reacting against this. You can’t really argue with such a person because their issue lies at a deeper, almost instinctual, level. They react to arguments for non-egalitarian positions, rather than listening, ensuring that they have a clear understanding, carefully reflecting, and then responding. Even for those who haven’t experienced such a background themselves, the stories of others who have are widely shared. Their relationship to the issues is reactive because they think that opponents are a live and personal threat. Debates then become polarized and antagonistic, when there is actually a surprising amount of common ground that could be explored.

        I also think that people react to what they imagine you are arguing for, rather than to your actual arguments. It is interesting to see how consistently people attack a caricature of a position that they think that I hold, rather than engaging with my actual words. They apply a label—‘complementarian’ (a label that I don’t typically apply to myself for various reasons)—and then associate you with a caricature of what some such people hold (I’ve discussed the unhelpfulness of such label-based thinking here). Once the label has been attached, they don’t really pay attention to much that you say. Anything that you say that sounds positive is merely presumed to be a ploy to cover the ugly reality of what you really believe. The way that people form an imaginative picture of what you stand for is so important.

        People like Don and Suzanne are also so focused on a particular form of complementarianism that they fail to appreciate that most non-egalitarian Christians do not identify with ‘complementarianism’ as it is usually understood. The possibility that strong criticism of their position could come from a quarter that doesn’t identify itself as ‘complementarianism’ doesn’t seem to occur to them. It is like people who fail to recognize that most Christians are neither Calvinists nor Arminians. When you are so absorbed in a polarized debate, you lose sight of the wider world.

        I think that many of us as men see that there are profoundly gifted women that we know and care about and we recognize that their gifts are often not truly appreciated by the Church. I don’t think that this motive should be dismissed. We also see that many women have been kept in abusive situations, in the name of ‘submission’. ‘Complementarianism’ in practice in certain quarters is more about what women can’t do, rather than actually encouraging them and supporting them in ministries whose value and importance is truly recognized. We see the pain of these women, relegated to the status of second-class members of the Church and denied the honour due to them in their families, and, naturally, we feel angry and protective. I think that egalitarians tend to presume that, since we don’t agree with their supposed solution, we don’t actually recognize or care deeply about the problem. My arguments have never been meant to serve as an imprimatur for the status quo.

        Most of us have been raised in contexts where ‘equality’ has been the watchword when it comes to honouring women. The only conceivable alternative to ‘equality’ for most people is framed in terms of inequality and repressive hierarchy. It requires a feat of the imagination for us to grasp that there are other ways of framing things, ways that move beyond a narrow and constrictive focus upon equality, allowing for a far more glorious and liberating realization of men and women’s callings.

  24. Thank you, Alastair. Your patience is remarkable, and your stamina for such ponderings is even more impressive.

    I have a few questions that I’m certain you’ve answered somewhere, but I’m not sturdy enough to make my way through all you’ve written. So if you will, could you point me to a place where you address your objections to “unilateral and static hierarchy,” and also where you discuss what you termed “asymmetrical mutual submission.”

    In addition, I am curious about your reference above to a deeper “heart of sexual difference.”

    If you prefer not to continue this conversation on your “About” page, please feel free to email me at diane /at/ bereansnotepad /dot/ com.

    Thank you again!

  25. Alastair, Hello from Dayton, Ohio. I stumbled onto your blog comments recently and have enjoyed them. I recall with great thanks your hospitality when I visited St Andrew some years ago. Blessings on your studies – thanks again.

  26. Marius Zărnescu says:

    God bless you! Good stuff. Greetings from London.

  27. Mike Wagner says:

    I really appreciate the insights and questions you pose here. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us.

    I’m in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

    Much to my surprise I find myself worshipping among the Episcopalians. Your posts often help me better understand what is going on here.

    Keep creating…and writing, Mike

  28. Jonny Rashid says:

    You’re summary of Edwin Friedman attracted me. I’m gonna keep following you. I’m a church planter in Philly, trying to pastor a church. I write a blog too.

  29. Josh Lowery says:

    Alastair, I just finished reading yours and Jake Meador’s back and forth about Lent, etc. As someone who’s become jaded with all the rampant blog-tificating going on these days–even from people with whom I heartily agree–it took something special for me to sit through so lengthy a post. It made an impression on me because the ideas generally–and your contributions specifically–resonated with a spiritual struggle I’ve been going through for over three years now and has been coming to a head during Lent (or dare I say Great Lent?). Yes, just about everything you described has been the prevailing rationale behind my family’s recent decision to begin visiting a nearby Orthodox parish. In some ways I deeply wish to “trust fall” into Orthodoxy’s arms, while in others I fear I’m running toward a cliff.

    Thanks for indulging that brief little confession.🙂 My reason for commenting here is because something like the Orthodox Church seems one of the precious few realistic solutions to the problems you describe. Not to criticize, but it seemed like Jake’s response to your comment about the bastardization of tradition by historically-oriented Evangelicals was essentially to propose more bastardization (group fasts, a partial church calendar, “romantic agrarianism,” etc.). Did I interpret that correctly, and can I ask if you have any firm conclusions (or humble inclinations) of your own in response to the questions you raised?

    P.S. This probably warrants a longer answer than is convenient. Please feel free to be terse.🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Josh! It is encouraging to hear that the article resonated with you.

      Here are a few brief and rough thoughts:

      First, these problems are everywhere in some form or other. We aren’t going to escape individualism by swimming the Tiber or crossing the Bosphorus. As I pointed out in some of my comments, the same individualism widely characterizes the reception of the liturgy in Catholic and Orthodoxy (Mark Searle, whom I quoted, was a Roman Catholic).

      Second, individualism and associated problem of authority—while big problems—are certainly not the only problems afflicting the Church, nor are they the only places where we have become seriously compromised. There is a danger of so fixating upon these problems and our need to escape them—as some RC apologetes would have us do, for instance—that we run headlong into a different set of problems. The grass always greener in the different tradition, especially when our primary encounter with that tradition is on paper.

      Third, the problems may be widely spread, but there are also means that we can take to address them in many contexts. I am an Anglican and committed to the Reformation tradition. I believe that we have many resources within our tradition to address these issues, which is one reason why I appreciate the ressourcement work of groups such as The Calvinist International. One of the things that I appreciate about being an Anglican, despite the immense problems in the communion, is that it keeps me connected to the contexts within which I must minister. It does not allow me to flee the problems into some supposed perfect church, but connects me to the problems in a manner that forces me to seek for ways to address them faithfully. Perhaps comparisons with the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the functioning of the faithful remnant within them could be drawn here.

      Fourth, merely shifting choice from the individual to the community is not really a solution at all. I think that we need to engage with the tradition as a whole entity. While this will involve discernment and a prudential self-situating within it—for instance, Lent isn’t uniform and at its root is almost certainly a compromise between two distinct practices—it recognizes that the Church and its tradition is to be treated as a given factor of our contemporary situation to be engaged with, not just a choice.

  30. Scott Woltze says:

    What a delight to have found such a sharp, well-written blog governed by a gentle Christian spirit. As a former academic, I’m impressed that academic writing has not damaged your craft–your piece on Bell and Mad Men is a masterpiece. I think it took me about four years after my PhD studies to learn how to write again… I look forward to perusing old posts and reading new ones. Pax Christi

    A RC from the States

  31. HI Alistair, loved your contribution on the N.T Wright podcast, appreciated your balanced and well thought-through comments on interpreting Wright.

  32. Hi Alastair. I am on staff at a church called LIG.punt – an Afrikaans, Reformed, Evangelical church in Pretoria, South Africa. We have a transgender issue in our midst. One of our congregants is a male turned female. Subsequent to this change she came to faith, and we are trying to work out what the way forward may be. I would love to email you and share the details of the situation and ask your input on it, if you are able. You now have my details…

  33. Salvatore ippolito says:

    Good morning Alastair. Or good evening I should say. Bruce Charlton referred me to your blog when I told him that my favorite thinkers were Peter Leithart and NT Wright. I Think he knew I was steeped in CS Lewis also. I love to hear what other deep Christian thinkers have to say it stimulates me to further thought and I’m preparing a Bible study right now for my church I also like to write from time to time I hope to hear from you since not many Christian thinkers share a jeep and global view of things.

  34. Arthur Kay says:

    Dear Alastair,

    Since I don’t have private means of contacting you I do so here. My name is Arthur Kay. I’m the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Affetside (near Bury, Greater Manchester). You and your readers may be interested to know that we are hosting a one-day conference on worship in Bolton addressed by the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Leithart on 26th March 2015 . Details are here:
    http://northlondontheology.org/conferences/the-purpose-of-christian-worship/

    Peter will be speaking in London subsequent to that. Details here: http://northlondontheology.org/conferences/for-the-life-of-the-world/
    and he will also lead a ministerial conference, see: http://northlondonchurch.org/ministerial-conference

    Feel free to pass my email address to any enquirers.

    May the grace of Christ be with you and your readers.

  35. Arthur Kay says:

    Thank you so much, Alastair. It is much appreciated. I am sorry you cannot come. I’d have loved to meet you.

  36. mcf says:

    Just read your article on Numbers 5. Although I am not an “intellectual” and, in fact I’m just a very uneducated ‘stay at home mom’, I enjoy learning about the Word of God. I have been haunted, for many reasons, about this passage. I am so grateful for a proper explanation. Thank you so much for sharing! Looking forward to exploring more on your site.

    Blessings

  37. I just read your article posted on the TGC site. I really appreciated your thoughts-particularly this: “…to discover how we have marginalized God’s story for the sake of our own.” There is so much to be said about this in so many situations. Have you written any more on this idea, or know someone who has?

    • Thank you!

      Perhaps one of the first people who helped me to think about this was Richard Gaffin, who sharpened the distinction between ordo salutis and historia salutis—the difference between the order of salvation in the life of the Christian and the history of salvation. The ‘gospel’ is primarily a message about the historia salutis—in the fullness of time Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures, is ascended Lord, and will one day return in glory as Judge—rather than a message about a timeless process of salvation for individuals (although it is that too!). The gospel is the story of Jesus accomplished on the grand stage of history (and about the call to place our lives into his story), rather than principally about how Jesus offers to come into the lives of religious consumers. While Christ comes into our lives, he does so as our stories are caught up into his.

      Gaffin helped me to appreciate the importance of the doctrine of union with Christ in the thinking of Calvin, for instance. Through union with Christ, we are ‘plugged into’ a story far greater than ourselves and made part of a much bigger picture (and the Church is important here—the NT says a lot more about the Church as the new humanity that Christ is forming than about individual detached Christians). Many of the ‘conversions’ of the NT are not movements from unbelief to faith, but from old covenant to new.

      This core insight has worked itself out in my thinking in many ways over the subsequent decade or so, but that was probably the first germ of it.

      • Thanks for your quick response. I think I’m most interested in A) how this idea of our personal relationship with Jesus (which is true and important) becomes hyper-spiritualized/emotional-like other movements-as you mentioned in the article. I am interested in its implications in the life of a believer. For example: I recently had coffee with a friend who converted to Islam. Her testimony was almost identical in word and emotion as Christian testimonies I’ve heard at summer camps and church retreats. In talking to her, I realized that there is something more that needs to be communicated when we share the gospel: beyond our personal experiences. Many of the people I attended Bible school with have left the Faith, and I suspect much has to do with a wrong way that we often view our personal relationship with Jesus. And B) as a (I acknowledge, somewhat rare) “Calvinist/progressive dispensationalist”leaning person, how this highlights Gods redemptive purposes for Israel and the church, and reminds us of the Jewishness of the gospel. As you said, many were not new conversions. Rather, they were Jewish people believing in Jesus’ fulfillment as the promised Jewish messiah.

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

      • Your point (A) is incredibly important. I know of people who left the faith in part as a result of seeing how similar the subjective experience of people of other faiths was.

        I suspect that there are a number of contributing factors to this. One of them might be the extreme focus upon conversion over lifelong discipleship in Christian circles. Teens are disproportionately represented among converts and so gospel messages tend to play into the teen search for intimate emotional relationship, existential intensity, identity, etc. Then there is the fact that this sort of individual-focused message really resonates in the cultural context of the West in particular. Presenting things differently would be difficult for our cultures to understand. This is also one reason why other religions often tend to follow evangelicalism’s lead here. Our message presumes individual self-determination over substantial belonging and determination from without because this is fundamental to self-understanding in contemporary Western culture (see the Zizek quotation here, for instance). Much, much more could be said, of course.

        On your point (B), when we start to recentre the story on Christ, the importance of Israel and the Church definitely comes into clearer relief. It has definitely transformed the way that I relate to the Old Testament and was very much something that informed my PhD thesis.

    • Mike Wagner says:

      I “second” what you note regarding the TGC post of Alastair’s. Thanks for asking the follow up question!

  38. Christopher says:

    I find that you and I share some things in common. I am an American who studied theology at a Reformed seminary and at a Catholic faculty at a Catholic university. The focus of my research during my doctoral studies was liturgy and sacraments. I wrote a dissertation on the historical evolution of the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed Church in America, with special special emphasis on the changes the liturgy underwent under the impact of the liturgical and ecumenical movements of the twentieth century. My interests, however, have shifted from liturgical studies to economic ethics, in large part because the ‘”restructuring” of the academic workforce during the years I was a graduate student effectively dashed my hopes of ever earning a living from teaching theology or religious studies at American institutions of higher learning. From what I am learning from you posts, the situation does not seem too different in the UK. I only wonder how long this system of economic arrangements can last before they become absolutely intolerable.

  39. Pingback: Audience Participation? | Re:Forming Theology

  40. brazencam says:

    Is it possible that you have ever passed through Guadalajara, Jalisco?? If so, then I met you there…if not, then it was another Alastair.

  41. DieT says:

    Hello Alastair, I have a question. Many things I have read about election/predestination… Some say God is choosing people from eternity past to be saved. Is that true? Or what is election? I read a lot in John 6, John 10, ephesians 1 or acts 13:48 that God is calling and electing people. Nowadays a lot of people state it like that. I struggle with this greatly. How can I see God as loving and righteous through all this?

    Dieder

    • Thanks for the question, Dieder. For future reference, every fortnight I have an ‘open mic thread’ on the blog, which is for people’s questions, so that readers can discuss them (if you visit my blog, you shouldn’t usually have to scroll down more than two or three posts before finding one). There is also currently an Ask Us Anything thread for a forthcoming episode of Mere Fidelity. Those are usually the best places to ask questions.

      I don’t have much time to answer your question right now, but the most important preliminary step with such questions is to break them down to a less threatening size. Here are a few considerations to start with:

      1. God has revealed who he is in Jesus Christ. Whatever is hidden to us about the will of God in the world and our lives is not inconsistent with how we know God in Christ. Also, God is the just judge: we can trust him to be righteous in things that we don’t understand.
      2. Our faith does not rest upon uncertain speculations. There are ‘hidden things’ that belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29), and revealed things that belong to us. Speculation beyond the clear facts of revelation (and the exact nature of election, in contrast to the fact of election) is not such a clear fact. We may not understand how it works, but our very experience of finding seemingly intractable tensions resolved for us in other areas of our thoughts should leave us open to the possibility that the apparent tensions that we experience here would not be perceived as such were we to have a fuller understanding.
      3. Election is focused upon Jesus Christ. Jesus is the shape of God’s election, so the decree is not radically hidden. We are elect in Christ and if we want to know whether we are elect it will by recognizing Christ as the ‘mirror of our election’.
      4. Election and reprobation should not be presumed to be symmetrical, nor is it obvious that reprobation is a ‘decree’ of its own. Depending on how we frame election there are ways to structure it that mean that no individual is necessarily excluded.
      5. We should distinguish between God’s sovereignty in forming his people in history (which I think is in view in Romans 9, for instance), and a choice of individuals in eternity.
      6. We should distinguish between election of a people for special service (Israel in particular) and election of people for salvation: these two things are not necessarily the same. God may have chosen Isaac rather than Ishmael, but I think that we have good reason to believe that Ishmael was a God-fearer.
      7. Many biblical references to election refer to election in history, not to an eternal election. Little is said about an eternal election of detached individuals. When Scripture talks of God’s providential directing of the lives of individuals, it tends to focus upon points in history. God chooses individuals before they were born. Sometimes there are promises of establishing the conditions of a promised child’s conception (and I would suggest that we should be wary of universalizing such things). Or God raises up persons in history for particular ends. What should be noticed in such cases is that God’s purposes are related to specific persons and situations, not represented as being carried out in detachment from history in some ‘eternity past’.
      8. Election typically focuses upon the people of God as a body, not upon detached individuals (for instance, in Ephesians 1). It is the Church that is elect in Christ, and we are members of the Church. We share in the status that Christ has enjoyed since before the creation of the world. God may and does act inscrutably in our lives according to his will to bring us into the Church, but this is not where the centre of gravity of the doctrine lies. Christ is the chosen one and he is forming his Church. As we address the Church, we are addressing the elect people, the sons and daughters of Abraham.
      9. When speaking about a notion such as ‘eternity past’, it is important to consider the assumptions built into such a notion about God’s relationship to history. Take, for instance, the relationship between a novelist and the characters in his novel. Should the character in the novel think that the novelist’s choice preceded all of his actions? Not necessarily. The novelist doesn’t straightforwardly inhabit the character’s timeline, so the novelist’s decision isn’t prior to the character’s decision temporally, nor need the novelist do violence to the integrity of the character, although every decision of the character is founded upon the creative work of the author. I suspect similar things are true about the relationship between God’s election and us.
      10. Election is a wonderful truth to be celebrated. The Son is chosen and beloved before the foundation of the world. God’s creative purpose is to form a glorious humanity in his Son. The Church is the place where this new humanity is coming to form and we are being made part of this. This is the shape that election takes and we want to be the means to draw others into this life.

      • Dieder Yesser says:

        Hi Alastair,

        What’s your email? I want to contact you,

        Dieder ________________________________ Van: Alastair’s Adversaria Verzonden: zondag 11 oktober 2015 04:00:59 Aan: diederyesser@outlook.com Onderwerp: [New comment] About

        Alastair Roberts commented: “Thanks for the question, Dieder. For future reference, every fortnight I have an ‘open mic thread’ on the blog, which is for people’s questions, so that readers can discuss them (if you visit my blog, you shouldn’t usually have to scroll down more than tw”

    • Sunny says:

      Goodday…
      What is acts 13:48 really about? What is the ordaining? Is this a calvinistic tulip proof text or doesn’t it say that much about election?

      Personally I don’t think the writer of acts is putting a sort of tension in the text. As in a hidden decree or type of election like being taught in tulip calvinism. I don’t know exactly what it is talking about but I don’t think it’s as clear as many think.

  42. Howdy Alastair, my name is Michael Spalione. I am curious if you are planning on attending SBL this year. If so I would love to meet with you and pick your brain over coffee.

  43. rhstay says:

    Hi: My name is Rebecca Holt Stay. I teach adult Bible studies in local congregations. I got a degree in Judaic-Near Eastern Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio in the US. I am take with your series 40 Days of Exoduses. In particular, I had noticed the parallel language in the story of Abram and Sarai going down into Egypt: I think the dead giveaway is when God plagues Pharaoh.
    I wondered if you have read this elsewhere? I am not finding it in the books I;ve looked at.
    Great work, by the way!

  44. alaskadoctor says:

    Hello Alastair. Thank you for your recent book reviews. My name is Robert Lawrence, a physician and author from Alaska. A mutual friend recommended I send you a copy of my new novel, The Dignified Death of Joseph Sherman, about a nurse who struggles with the assigned task of handing a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill convicted murderer who has requested a medical-assisted death. The story has many layers, the deepest of which is allegorical. I’ve mailed a personal copy to you in Durham. If you have the interest and time, I would be interested in your reflections. A preview is available at http://www.willowptarmiganpress.com.

  45. Andrés Collado says:

    Hi Alistair,

    Recently came across you and your writings(you have an admirer in Derek Rishmawy over at Reformedish). A little bit on introductions, i am a 24 year old working profesional living in Washington, DC. I became a believer only two years ago but I feel like God has me on an accelerated growing plan lol. I am becoming really passionate about theology and have been blown away by the richness of the Christian Tradition. I feel like since coming to Christ, my thoughts and readings are scattered everywhere. Currently I am looking into the turbulent waters of the creation debate, Genesis interpretations, theistic evolution and all that jazz. Have you written anything substantial about this? I have seem stuff here and there. Maybe you could point me in the right direction?? I gotta say it is tremendously good for my faith finding blogs like yours. Congratulations. I will be following and really appreciate your help.

  46. Nathaniel V. says:

    Hey Alastair,

    I’ve kept tabs on your blog for years now, and have recently begun listening regularly to Mere Fidelity, and I’ve enjoyed your thoughtful reflections on that podcast and throughout the blog world. I’m particularly intrigued by your recent writing over at Theopolis Institute, as I have been a long time appreciator of Leithart, and the new program they have unveiled looks very attractive to me as I am looking over the seminary landscape.

    I am currently wrapping up my undergrad at New College Franklin in Tennessee, and have worked as a pastoral intern for the past two summers at my home church in Langley, British Columbia. As a part of that internship, I have been assigned to write an exegetical paper centred around I Corinthians 11 & 14, re-examining the topic of gender and the church, and more specifically the space women occupy in the liturgy. I am dialoguing with this essay, http://www.trinity-pres.net/essays/women-ministry-liturgy.pdf, which is a good summation of general CREC (Communion of Reformed Evangelicals) thought. My home church is a member of the CREC, which has many rather settled, strong opinions on this topic, some of which I would like to re-examine and possibly question. I have been intrigued by some of your comments in various places about the issue of gender, as well as a desire that you have expressed to see women occupy a more significant role in the worship liturgy. I was wondering if you could dialogue with me over this, and if you could point me to some reading that you have found helpful as you pondered this issue. I am in need of some orientation towards the subject from someone who has reflected on this topic at more length. If you could help me, I would be very grateful!

    In Him,
    Nathaniel

  47. Nick Nowalk says:

    Hey Alastair, I’m a long-time reader of your blog, though I’m sure you have no idea who I am! I want to send you a private email with some ministry-related questions, but can’t find your info anywhere. Could you shoot me an email at nick.nowalk@gmail.com when you get a chance? Thanks!

    Nick

  48. Peter Lawley says:

    Dear Alistair

    This blog & related podcasts looks like stimulating and edifying stuff. I was pointed in it’s direction when looking to promote an up-coming theological conference in Durham on the topic of Jonathan Edwards & The Glory of God; your name came up as someone who might be interested (&/or might know people who would be). The conference has drawn in some exciting speakers including Iain Murray & Gerald McDermott, I pray that God will powerfully use it to his own glory and the building up of his Church.

    It would be great if you wanted to come along or could recommend others who might be interested. The website is at: http://www.edwardsconference.org or you can email me directly at: peterlawley@doctors.org.uk

    your brother in Christ

    Peter Lawley

  49. Kavi says:

    Dear Alistair, I would like to write to you regarding “Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality” particularly point 1. I’m a Christian and I would like to know if you have any advice on how more effectively can I engage the society in which I live, regarding sexuality. In particular, when people say things like what you’ve mentioned in point 1 of your article. Thanks in advance.

  50. Tim Avery says:

    Alastair,
    I’m a Mere Fidelity listener and have enjoyed your contributions there as well as your writing on this blog. My wife and a friend and I (all Americans) are making a dream trip to England later this month and expect to pass through Durham in our travels, probably at the very end of the month. Any chance that you might like to let a few traveling Mere Fidelity listeners treat you to lunch? 🙂 If so, you have my email.
    Tim

  51. Luke says:

    The link to the PDF for your Biblical Theology of Clothing essay is no longer active, but I am interested in reading that. How can I access that? Could you email it?

  52. koishiichan says:

    I’m a new reader (US citizen living in Japan) and am looking forward to reading and learning here. I’ve just read (twice) Kelby Carlson’s post on Disability Theology. My husband and I have a son with a cognitive disability and this branch of theology is brand new to us but so enlightening. Is there a way to follow you both on social media? Would love to stay connected so we can learn more. Thanks for your time!

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I’m not currently active on social media, beyond automated tweets for blog posts. My Twitter account is @zugzwanged. I’m not sure whether Kelby is on Facebook; I don’t believe he is on Twitter.

  53. Fellipe do Vale says:

    Hi Alastair,

    My name is Fellipe; I am graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in America. I hope you’re doing well! I wanted to get in contact because I am just finishing up a thesis (~200 pages) on analytic theology and the ontology of gender, especially in conversation with historical and biblical theology. I’ve just been told that you’re working on something similar, so I thought I’d get in contact to see if you’d be interested in discussing the matter. I’m keen on hearing what you’d have to say, especially since not many evangelicals have contributed to the topic in a systematic way. My email is dovalefellipe@gmail.com; I look forward to corresponding further.

    Blessings,

    Fellipe

  54. Hi Alastair
    I’ve recently discovered your voice on the web — your posts in various places, your voice on Mere Fidelity podcasts, your comments on other people’s blogs — and I find myself in great affinity to you. I have never been convinced by egalitarianism, but have been uncomfortable with CBMW’s version of complementarianism.

    I’ve not had time yet to read thru this whole thread to learn more about you, but I know that your are active in the Trinity Debate and that I agree with your view that ESS is not orthodox Nicene theology. I also know you are contributing to the debate about the ESV’s changes.
    ( for tweeters: the hash tag is #ESVpermanenttranslation )

    I am greatly concerned about the change to Genesis 3:16 in the ESV, and am equally concerned about the harm that ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) is having on the church, especially the harm it is doing to women.

    Would you have the time to read my thoughts on this?

    I dare not give the link in case it sends my comment to Spam, but you can find my post if you google this:
    The change of Genesis 3:16, ESS, the colonial code of relationship, and a call to bystanders

    Feel free to email me at barbara@notunderbondage.com

    • Thanks for the comment, Barbara. It is good to have you here!

      I took a look at the post that you link. Thanks for passing it on. I have a number of thoughts on this issue, which I will sketch out briefly. I probably don’t fall tidily on any side of the current Genesis 3:16 debate, even though I agree with many critics of the change.

      First of all, I think that we should begin with charity in our judgment of the motives and intentions of the translators, even when we may believe them to be wrong. I have little doubt that the translators translated the text in the way that they did primarily because they thought that it was the best translation, not because they wanted to support a particular complementarian agenda. I think that Alan Jacobs make some wise remarks on this front here. We really need to try to believe better of each other; even when people make serious errors in ignorance or carelessness, it is not appropriate to impute malice.

      Second—full disclosure—I have a publishing contract with Crossway, and know many of the people in question. Many of them are very open to challenge and question, and have always gratefully received—and, indeed, asked for—my questions and criticisms, knowing that they come from someone who respects and believes the best of them. Although I am a complementarian, I strongly and thoughtfully differ from most complementarians on several points, but I am not their enemy. I think that many complementarian positions are profoundly vulnerable to abuse and to being abused in order to rationalize abuse. However, this is not their intent and, rather than produce a reaction and digging in of the heels through antagonistic attack, I have found that a great many are open to thoughtful persuasion. Most are appalled when they see abuse happen, but they will tend to circle the wagons when they face attacks that are uncharitable, and risk dismissing the important element of truth that is present in the criticisms. I want to see a number of things change, and resonate with many of the concerns that you raise, and have found friendly but firm challenge to be the best way to go about it. If we want to prevent abuse, it is very important that we make our cases as persuasively and winningly as possible to people who could have their minds and actions changed. If we unnecessarily antagonize them, we risk making the problem worse.

      Third, I think that abuse is an immense issue within the Church, an issue that we have hardly begun to tackle. I am very encouraged to see more and more brave people speaking out about it. The importance of this issue is manifold. It is imperative that it is addressed for the sake of the well-being of the most vulnerable of God’s people. It is imperative that offenders are openly brought to justice. It is imperative that the Church undertakes the difficult and painstaking struggle of reestablishing a moral authority that lies in tatters in many quarters on account of its tragic and catastrophic failure to handle abuse situations. Beyond bringing people to justice who abuse, we must also recognize patterns of complicity with abuse that we can be caught by. We must be hyper-vigilant about the ways in which our theologies can be twisted into rationalizations for abuse and close every such route off. All of this said, I think that the dynamics of situations that are vulnerable to abuse are not primarily ideological or theological. Rather, they are emotional, psychological, communal, and institutional. It would be reassuring to believe that our theological or ideological opponents have a corner on them, but they don’t. This is a threat that each of us face, dangerous patterns that any of us can fall into.

      Fourth, I believe that we are all in danger of having our reading of Scripture blown off course by the crosswinds of the gender debates. I think that this has happened in the case of the eternal subordination of the Son position and strongly suspect that this translation of Genesis 3:16 is another example of it taking place. However, there are many people opposing these readings who are no less in danger. As much as possible, we all need to put the concerns, antagonisms, and questions of the gender debates to the back of our minds when studying Scripture and learn to be patiently attentive to what it has to say instead. I really do not like to see translations and interpretations of Scripture become so heavily politicized.

      Fifth, I think that the ESV change is very unfortunate. However, a number of the points with which they justify it seem absolutely correct to me. For instance, I think that they are quite right to connect Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. In a text as richly literary and poetic as the opening chapters of Genesis, such a parallel isn’t an accident. One doesn’t have to accept their conclusion to recognize that they are correct at this point and I fear that some may resist this parallel in large part because they do not want to reach an unwelcome conclusion. Be assured: the conclusion of Susan Foh and others needn’t follow, but they are completely right in observing a connection. I have written on this at some considerable length in private correspondence and will make public some of my thoughts on the subject in the future.

      Sixth, I fear that many critics of the ESV decision are seriously over-reading the new ESV translation, insisting that it bears a sense that it does not necessarily bear (e.g. Scot McKnight arguing that it is prescriptive rather than descriptive or Claude Mariottini saying it means that only the man’s desire is correct). Others are going over the top in claiming that the ESV is implying that its translation is perfect and beyond need for change. We can also raise concerns that the new translation leaves itself vulnerable to being abused, without suggesting that it is abusive or justifying of abuse. There are plenty of grounds for criticism here without exaggerating the case.

      Anyway, I hope that gives you a clearer sense of where I come from here. Thanks again for commenting. Blessings!

      • Thanks Alastair for your gracious and detailed reply.🙂

        I’ve read Alan Jacobs’ post ‘The Frozen Standard Version’ in which he says he is at a loss to understand why a good many people are freaking out over the ESV permanent text.
        Alan Jacobs doesn’t allow comments on his blog (sigh) but if I could I would have said to him that my concern over it is only about what they’ve done to Genesis 3:16 and the impact this will have on women.

        Jacobs has published a followup post called ‘humility, shame, etc.’ in which he reminds us all that “The presiding spirit of the ESV, from its beginning to its conclusion, is J. I. Packer,” that Packer’s health and age is now such that he’s probably unable to continue working on the ESV, and that “given Packer’s strong leadership at every stage of the project, it is difficult to imagine how he might be replaced — especially since several other members of the translation committee are near or beyond retirement age.”
        — That’s a fair point. If only Crossway had explained in their press release why the translators had decided to draw a line across the project and declare it O.V.E.R. Then we would all be enlightened!

        In principle I agree with you that we should begin with charity in our judgment of the motives and intentions of bible translators. And yes, the translators of the ESV no doubt think that ‘contrary to’ is the best translation of Gen.3:16.

        But my question is — why do they think that? They’ve clearly been persuaded by Susan Foh’s interpretation. The threads of this can be traced back thru CBMW’s materials and books written by CBMW people over several decades. Why did Foh come up with her interpretation? She made it clear that her 1975 paper was responding to feminism. Her paper she said: “The current issue of feminism in the church has provoked the reexamination of the scriptural passages that deal with the relationship of the man and the woman.”

        And CBWM have been responding to feminism since then, and many people who produced the ESV are from CBMW, Wayne Grudem being the chief editor of the ESV and the co-founder of CBMW.

        Because you have a publishing contract with Crossway, and know many of the people in question and think that many of them are very open to challenge and question, and they have always gratefully received—and, indeed, asked for—your questions and criticisms, I wonder whether you are thinking that they are equally open to questions and criticisms from people like me. And let’s be blunt, are they open to questions and criticisms from women?

        From where I sit, and from my many years of experience in trying to offer then helpful and constructive criticism, they are NOT open to people like me. Is it simply because I’m a woman and you’re a man that we each have received such different impressions? The question needs to be asked, even though it can’t be answered.

        Here is what I see and have experienced from the folks at CBMW and their associates.
        CBMW never allow comments on their posts. TGC and other big sites like that which are more or less in alignment with CBMW don’t allow comments either. Many men don’t allow comments on their blogs. (Case in point — the MOS team: Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt don’t allow comments but Aimee Byrd does.)

        So non-egalitarian women like me, and the few men who are trying to speak about the way complementarian dogma can so easily become dangerous and toxic to women — we are unable to express our concerns to those who most need to hear them because they are most responsible for the harms that are being done. We blog, but who follows our stuff? The victims of abuse do. And a few other people do. But the leaders who COULD fix the problems in comp-land are ignoring us. Silencing our voices. Blocking us from their twitter feeds. Ignoring our phone calls and emails. Or giving us the patronising ‘pat on the head’ and then ignoring us.

        You said “We really need to try to believe better of each other; even when people make serious errors in ignorance or carelessness, it is not appropriate to impute malice.”

        Yeah. But when I observe and can document a clear pattern of behaviour from the leaders and hangers on at CBMW, and that pattern shows a consistent unwillingness to listen to feedback from non-egalitarians such as myself… what are my conclusions? Maybe I don’t jump to impute malice, but I can’t be blamed, I think, for saying that there seems to be something seriously wrong in the camp. And it can’t all be explained by mere ignorance and carelessness.

        I invite you to read my post titled “Wayne Grudem & CBMW don’t seem interested in reducing domestic abuse”. It gives documentation about how longstanding this pattern of behaviour has been.

      • Thanks for the response, Barbara.

        Despite the fact that some people may only be concerned about the translation of Genesis 3:16, there has been considerable comment about the fact that ESV is not making any more changes. Many people have reached uncharitable and seemingly unfounded judgments about this move on Crossway’s part, and have connected it closely with the change to Genesis 3:16. Crossway shouldn’t have to explain any of this for Christians to refrain from making unfounded uncharitable judgments. The fact that they didn’t give out more information doesn’t mean that they were ‘asking for it.’ It would be good to see some people retract the unchristian statements that they made. It is quite possible to criticize Crossway sharply while still seeking to believe the best of them where possible.

        It probably isn’t accurate to say that Foh’s interpretation was ‘responding’ to feminism. She makes it clear that the general re-examination of such texts was occasioned by feminism, but this is a rather different thing. Besides, even if they were responding to feminism, this does not mean that their interpretation is incorrect. That must be proved from the text and the relevant arguments themselves, not from a fallacious dismissal of their case on the basis of their supposed motives.

        That said, there is definitely a high possibility that, as we seek to challenge particular errors, and are driven by specific questions and concerns from outside of the text, we can unwittingly misread the text in line with those concerns. However, this danger applies no less to the critics of Foh and CBMW at this point. I believe that the reading of Genesis 3:16 in the ESV has been distorted by complementarian concerns, but I also see plenty of distortion and unhelpfully motivated reasoning on the other sides of the debates.

        I suspect that I am asked for my opinion on such matters mostly because I am a theologically conservative scholar with a relevant doctoral degree, who has done a lot of thinking on the areas under debate, but who has a much broader base of scholarly research. They didn’t start listening to me until I had a lot of writing, research, and credentials under my belt, which is one reason why I am surprised when some people without such things feel entitled to be listened to. Most of us have to devote decades of our lives in study and research to earn a voice and seat at the table. I am also—I hope—someone who isn’t highly agenda or issue driven, but who writes and thinks on a wide range of topics and is more defined by theological instincts, insights, and scope of knowledge. I am also clearly primarily a friend and brother in Christ of the people involved: when I express any disagreements, it is quite apparent that I am not driven by animus.

        I won’t speculate on whether they would be listening to me if I were a woman: I hope that they would. However, the main reasons why they do listen to me have very little to do with the mere fact that I am a man. I also know that they listen to many other people, a number of them being women. Besides, the very fact that they have engaged in email correspondence with you in the past suggests that they are open to criticism and questions from women. The points that Stinson makes in his final email have to do with your mode of engagement in particular, and imply that, had you approached him differently he would have been receptive. Furthermore, people can welcome criticism and questions while not agreeing. The fact that someone doesn’t take the action I want them to take doesn’t mean that they didn’t weigh up my words carefully or take my criticisms seriously.

        In my experience as a blogger, people make extensive demands on my time and many people feel entitled to my attention. On the typical day at least a couple of people will make requests of me that amount to a hope or often expectation that I give at least an hour worth of attention to them. Someone will write to me expecting me to give them feedback on a book. Another will email me asking for my general thoughts on a huge doctrine. Someone else will want to Skype about their research. Yet another person will have strong differences with something that I have written and will want to argue it out over email. With a lot on my plate, I have to be much more selective about my response to these. I used to engage very heavily with comments on my blog, but simply don’t have the same time nowadays, so often just ignore them. Occasionally people will complain that I am ignoring them, not considering that, in expecting me to engage with them, they are making demands on my time—a resource that is currently very limited for me.

        Having experience as a blogger whose time is heavily in demand and who occasionally faces very hostile criticism, I have a great deal of sympathy for groups like TGC, CBMW, and Crossway. In the Internet Age, it is easy to presume that the ease of publishing our passionate opinions online entails a duty on other people’s part to listen to what we have to say and engage with them. We complain about people not responding to us, but we do not realize the scale of the demands that people experience. Besides, if they respond to us, everyone else may expect a response from them too. Most people think that their concerns are the most important. For instance, do the people complaining about TGC not responding to critics on Twitter really have much of an idea about what they are demanding, or of what TGC’s Twitter presence actually involves? People who make such unreasonable, entitled, or hostile demands are generally best avoided. The more I have encountered such demands, the more I have retreated to private email addresses, my private Twitter account, private discussion lists, and have considered deactivating comments on my blog.

        Unfortunately, a great many critics simply aren’t worth engaging with and will only eat up your time: they are overly hostile and are open neither to persuasion nor to two-way conversation. Their criticisms are exaggerated, uncharitable, and they are often unprepared to moderate or revise their judgments. This is the point at which people generally disengage. Nowadays, I try to engage primarily with conversation partners with whom I can hope for a profitable conversation, or at least a publicly visible conversation that will be of benefit to some spectators. Such conversation partners tend to be predominantly people with extensive theological education, wide-ranging research, and charitable judgment. They may be highly critical of things that I say, but I can generally be assured that their criticisms are driven primarily by their scholarly judgment, rather than by their dislike for me.

        Such conversations largely occur in private forums too. The fact that you do not see the conversations occurring publicly is no evidence that they aren’t taking place. The more I know what goes on behind the scenes in such organizations, the more I am struck by how presumptive and unfair many of the accusations made against them are. They typically do listen to criticisms, to women’s voices, and to the voices of abusers, but this listening occurs out of the public eye, where it can proceed without being disrupted. The important conversations have moved into private settings because there are too many hostile and unreasonable people in open and public settings. Most of my most challenging theological conversations take place in private nowadays because public settings are so filled with angry, uninformed, or entitled people who would prevent the conversations from making progress.

        Not following a blog, or blocking someone on Twitter really isn’t the same thing as ‘silencing’ someone. No one is preventing the people in question from speaking; they are just resisting the notion that they are entitled to demand everyone else’s attention. This point really is important, as I know how intrusive and even abusive such demands can become (I’ve received phone calls from people who are obsessed in the middle of the night). When TGC’s Twitter notifications are being filled with hostile, uncharitable, and often vitriolic criticism, I don’t blame them for blocking people. The worker who probably runs their social media really does not deserve to be bombarded with such negativity and, besides, the account does not exist for that sort of engagement. Notifications filled with such criticism prevent them from seeing the notifications that they really need to see. Likewise, just as I am not silencing someone by not reading their book, by not attending their church to hear their sermons, by not watching their TV shows, so I am not silencing anyone by not responding to their blog or answering excessive emails. None of this need imply that I am not cognizant of their valid concerns, or that I don’t in any way share them. It just means that other people cannot have my time on tap and that I have determined that my time would be better employed elsewhere.

        Sadly, my experience has been that, when the tables are turned and certain critics of groups like CBMW or TGC have criticisms made against them, they dodge the issues in much the same way. They think that everyone should listen to them but, when they face intense demands upon their attention, they can suddenly close down. They presume that the justice of their cause gives them peculiar entitlement to others’ attention, often without considering that they are not the only people who believe that they have especial claims to wider attention. I hardly ever get serious engagement for my comments when I try to engage with egalitarians, for instance. I think that they are unwise and naïve to ignore the issues that I raise, but it is entirely their prerogative to do so (even though they bear more responsibility for their errors if they have wilfully been ignoring criticism from thoughtful critics).

        As I believe that the issue of abuse is an incredibly serious one, and also one that has been very poorly handled in conservative evangelical circles, I believe that it is important to consider how to make criticisms in a way that they are most likely to be attended to. In my experience, that requires moderation of judgment, especially when speaking about people’s motives.

        Most people stop paying attention to criticism when they see hostile, uncharitable, and inaccurate representations of their motives. The final letter from Stinson that you post illustrates such a response, I think. He makes clear that they are, in fact, listening to women and victims of abuse. However, he has closed off to you because you have aligned him with those in support of abuse, which he really is not, even if he is addressing the issue poorly.

        This is regrettable, because your criticisms may have been very valid and may have been received well and made a difference if presented in another fashion. The same concerns coming from a friend who wants to strengthen and improve our approach will be received very differently from a hostile critic who suggests that, because our approach doesn’t meet their expectations on particular fronts, we are in fact supportive of the very abuses we are seeking to oppose. The claim that Wayne Grudem and CBMW don’t seem interested in reducing domestic abuse is a serious one to make, for instance. It seems to me that it is quite false too: the problem is not that the issue doesn’t matter to them, but that they may have handled it poorly.

        Once again, thanks for the comment. I hope that this (extremely long!) response will give you a sense of how things can appear from the other side of such conversations. My hope is that, rather than close you down, it would be an encouragement to you in your quest to present exceedingly important concerns on the subject of abuse in a manner most likely to enjoy a receptive hearing and to make a genuine difference. Blessings!

      • typo. I meant … trying to offer THEM helpful and constructive criticism,

      • Al, If you have time to read and comment on it, this just-published post by a Hebrew scholar is EXCELLENT:
        “On the New ESV Translation of Genesis 3:16”
        — find it at neurosciencelinguisticsandhebrewDOTwordpressDOTcom

      • Thanks for the link. That is probably the most sensible thing that I have read on the discussion so far, because it frames the issue in exactly the right way. I also feel somewhat vindicated, because I recently wrote a lengthy discussion of that verse that emphasized the importance of such an intertextual meaning that recognizes the subtle interplay of similarities and differences of intentionally juxtaposed statements.

        He also has the good exegetical sense and the ability to detach his interpretative faculties from the blinding antagonisms of argument to see that many (perhaps most?) of the critics of the ESV’s decision go very seriously wrong in detaching Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 from each other. Genesis is a highly poetic and literary text and such similarity of phrasing is definitely not accidental. The writer intends us to read those two verses in relation to each other.

        That said, although he has framed the issue exactly correctly and his instincts are spot on, I am not persuaded by his interpretation. I believe there is more going on there than he thinks.

  55. Thank you so much Alastair for this second thoughtful response from you. I am mulling over many of the points you made. You have truly stimulated me to think in different and enlarged directions. I may respond more later but I’m very aware you’ve given me a lot of your precious time already… and I’ve got other pressing tasks at the moment anyway.

    Bless you brother, and again, thank you.

  56. I’m not fully persuaded by neurosciencelinguisticsandhebrew’s interpretation either, but it sure open up light in the debate!

  57. Alastair, I appreciate the trouble you’ve taken to help me understand how things can appear from the other side of conversations, and to encourage me in my quest to present exceedingly important concerns on the subject of abuse in a manner most likely to enjoy a receptive hearing and to make a genuine difference.

    In regards to Randy Stinson’s response to my Critique of CBMW’s Statement on Abuse, the bottom line, as I see it, is this :
    When he was President of CBMW, Randy Stinson told me he that CBMW would make some changes to their Statement on Abuse. But they never tweaked their Statement. They only removed it from their website.

    Stinson perceived my Critique as fairly hostile to CBMW. “You practically have us as accomplices in the act of abuse” were the words he used to indicate his perception my Critique.
    …. And you, Alastair, seem to have accepted Stinson’s perception at face value, without investigating to see whether I WAS in fact saying that CBMW were accomplices in the abuse.

    This is the problem I face perennially.
    When I try to point out where a person’s or an organisation’s teaching is effectively enabling abusers / or tacitly condoning the abusers’ mindset / or unwittingly or inadvertently complying with the abuser’s agenda, — when I give this feedback to people, they think I am being hostile to them. And they swiftly reject my feedback.

    It seems that many folk in Christendom are happy to ‘in principle’ say they disapprove of domestic abuse, but when try to I give them informed feedback about how and where they are tacitly or unwittingly enabling domestic abuse, they bristle! If I point out how they are permitting domestic abuse to flourish by their unbalanced teaching and victim-blaming language, they bristle. If I point out how they may be at fault for turning a blind eye to the problem, they bristle! If I give evidence of how they are treating the victims of abuse unjustly, they bristle! And if I try to show them how naive they are to the tactics and mentality of abusers, and how they are so easily snowed by abusers, they bristle!

    This is the big problem I face.

    • Barbara,

      In your post you stated:

      On October 14 (was I patient enough?) I emailed Randy Stinson to let him know that if he didn’t follow through on his avowed intention to dialogue, I would be putting an addendum on my post advising my readers that Stinson had said he wanted to talk with me but had failed to follow through. Therefore, it seemed that CBMW was unwilling to review its Statement on Abuse, was unwilling to enter into dialogue, unwilling to listen to victim-survivors of domestic abuse, and saw no need to improve its approach to domestic abuse.

      It is the sentiment expressed in that final sentence that I believe Stinson would have strongly objected to. I’m not sure how you intended that to come across, but I can quite understand why Stinson would hear it in the way that he did. Stinson can’t see your intentions: he can only see your words. And busy people in his situation really have to weigh up which interactions to give their limited time to. They will often cut off interactions that seem to be unconstructive, because they have more constructive conversations they could engage in. They simply don’t have the time to investigate each interlocutor’s intentions in detail, to discover if they really are as hostile as some of their statements appear to be.

      Whatever your intentions in writing it, that sentence comes across as a very hostile construction of the situation and I expect most people would bristle in response to it. I think that most people in Stinson’s position would just cut off interaction were they sent a statement like that from someone. There are many people who are survivors of abuse, so Stinson doesn’t need to engage with you in particular to hear the position of a survivor. That they aren’t engaging with you in particular doesn’t mean that they aren’t engaging with survivors.

      The fact that they may hear your perspective yet not change things that you challenge needn’t mean that they didn’t pay attention to what you say. They may listen to what you have to say, carefully assess it, listen to various other positions and pushback against yours, weigh it up, and come to a different conclusion from you. I’ve been asked for my thoughts on two particular matters in the last couple of weeks by organizations, who decided not to follow through with my suggestions in key details. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t really value my opinion, or that they won’t ask me for advice again. Such organizations are listening to many smart, informed, and experienced people presenting their differing perspectives. I feel honoured to be included in such a group, but I don’t expect that I will always be agreed with, nor do I believe that I am entitled to my place at the table. When they don’t follow my advice, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t listened or taken what I have to say seriously.

      I hope that you understand that my intention here is not to side with Stinson against you on the substance of the issues that are at stake in the conversations surrounding domestic abuse. Nor even to side with him against you in this conversation. Rather, I think it is essential to be aware of how your statements will be heard and handled by someone in Stinson’s position, if you want to encourage him to be attentive and receptive to your concerns, or even to persuade him of your viewpoint.

  58. Good to know that you follow Wendy’s blog and know Hannah well!

  59. I agree, Al, that it is essential for me to be aware of how my statements will be heard and handled by someone like the President of CBMW (which Stinson was in 2010) if I want to encourage him to be attentive and receptive to my concerns, or even to persuade him of my viewpoint. And I can doubtless improve my awareness how I come across to such people.

    But to me the most important thing is not whether people in such positions of power and influence are willing to dialogue directly with me — but whether they actually take ACTION to improve the way churches are responding to domestic abuse.

    Whether Stinson felt I was too hostile and chose to not dialogue with me for that reason, is really not the main point any more. Since 2012, the blog A Cry For Justice has been publishing masses of information and resources about how churches could better respond to domestic abuse. If people don’t want to actually dialogue personally me or my colleagues at A Cry For Justice, they don’t have to. They can read what we are saying without personally engaging with us. And if the leaders at CBMW wanted to improve the way CBMW responds to domestic abuse, they can get feedback and perspectives from anywhere they like — including from our blog.

    But these facts speak volumes —
    1. CBMW have not published a revised version of their Statement on Abuse.
    2. Some time after 2010 CBMW removed that Statement from their website.
    3. There is no Statement on Abuse at CBMW’s website any more.

    And if CBMW want to demonstrate that I’ve attributed motivation to them unfairly, if they want to demonstrate that ARE interested in reducing domestic abuse, then the ball’s in their court. One way they could do that is to revise their Statement on Abuse and publish the revised statement on their website.

    You mentioned that you are on some private forums where people respect your views even though they may not necessarily end up agreeing with you, and that you are not driven by animus which may be one of the reasons you are received in those forums.

    The definition of animus:
    1. hostility or ill feeling
    2. motivation to do something.

    I certainly have animus of the second kind — I am motivated to provoke and educate the church to improve how it responds to domestic abuse. When many in the evangelical church are deeply resistant to improving on this matter, I am outraged, because I know how much the abuse victims are being deal injustice by churches.

    In my Critique of CBMW’s Statement on Abuse, I pointed out how some things in the statement would enable abusers and unjustly blame victims. Randy Stinson’s read it and told me: “You practically have us as accomplices in the act of abuse.”

    Hmm. If there is disease in the body, the first step is to face the diagnosis, is it not?. If something is being done poorly, isn’t it better to face up to the facts and fix what one is doing? If the medicine is bitter, does that mean you can be excused from drinking it?

    The injustice being done to the victims of abuse by churches is HORRENDOUS. We regularly hear of women being excommunicated by their churches because they refused to reconcile with their unrepentant abusers, or because they decide to divorce their abusers. Some of these women write letters to resign their church membership and the church refuses to let them resign but instead insists on subjecting them to Biblical Discipline in the church court system! And that’s just a tip of the iceberg of the dreadful ways many churches are treating victims of abuse. Would it be godly to have NO animus, when such injustice is being done by churches?

    A person’s animus may simply be their motivation to bring justice, truth and righteousness into this sin-blighted world — which is surely a godly motivation, a motive our Lord exhorts us to embody and embrace.

    Yes, it is essential for me to be aware of how my statements will be heard by folk who I’m trying to persuade, but it’s also essential for me to be aware of how my statements will be heard by the victims of abuse. If I soften my diagnosis of the disease to make it more palatable to the resistant leaders, and if I squelch my animus, I will be betraying the victims. Jesus showed animus when he was criticising the scribes and Pharisees. And he strongly urged his followers to not heed the Pharisees’s interpretations of Scripture. I try to do likewise.

    • Thanks for the response, Barbara.

      Some of the cases of abuse and the injustice in the handling of them in churches are indeed horrific. There is also definitely cause for challenging certain church leaders for their complicity.

      If you want to condemn people like Stinson as Pharisees, you will gain a large and appreciate hearing among victims of abuse and also among partisans who strongly dislike complementarians. However, if you take this route, you will give the impression that you think that they are beyond persuasion and that condemnation is all that is left. They will probably stop listening to you at that point, as no genuine dialogue will occur. They may well even become more resistant to the perspective that you represent.

      If they were prepared to make changes, however, such an approach would be counterproductive and damaging. It would create polarization and alienation. It also tends to come with and produce an emotionally reactive environment (I’ve written a lengthy summary of Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, which you might find interesting on these dynamics).

      The climate of the conversation surrounding abuse online is so reactive that it is surprising that any progress is made sometimes. Like many others, I give it a wide berth much of the time, because there is so much polarizing anger. This dynamic is not unexpected in the circumstances. Avoiding reactivity is all about having strong boundaries and a robust sense of self and near the heart of abuse is the violation of both of these things. This is why advocates for those who have been abused are so important. Movements founded upon outrage and reactivity tend to be counterproductive.

      In my experience, avoiding feeding the dynamics of reactivity is so important in conversations like this, especially if we want persuasion to occur. This all comes down to prudence. Firmly, unambiguously, and openly condemning abusers is extremely important. However, there is no reason to believe that someone like Stinson is an abuser, even were he not taking as clear and effective an approach in dealing with abusers as he ought.

      In my experience, avoiding reactive dynamics when dealing with someone in that position is absolutely crucial. My approach in such a situation tends to be self-differentiated firmness in engaged relationship (read my Friedman summary for a better sense of what this means: I appreciate I’m using some jargon words here!). I don’t compromise my convictions, but I maintain their strength in relation less through vehement and polarizing expression than through friendly but firm disagreement with people I continue to interact with. As soon as things become reactive people harden in their positions and instinctively polarize.

      In short, it is important that you don’t compromise. However, carefully containing and channelling outrage and trying to avoid reactivity more generally is not compromise. In fact, if changing things for the better is what motivates you above all else—even above venting anger and outrage—the uncompromising path to take is always the path of prudence. Such a path may not seem as cathartic in the short term, but in the long run it will make the greatest difference.

  60. Al, thanks for interacting with me patiently and giving me your perspective on the way I’m writing about abuse issues.

    On a slightly different topic — Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 —
    An article recently published in the Journal of Semitic Studies will probably help our understanding of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 a great deal. It deals with the meaning of the Hebrew word teshûqâ which has been translated as desire in so many English translations.

    Here is Dr Claude Mariottini’s summation of the article
    [pasted from https://claudemariottini.com/2016/10/04/genesis-316-and-the-esv/ ] —

    In a recent article, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387, Andrew A. Macintosh did a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה and came to an interesting conclusion.

    In his article, Macintosh studied how the word תְּשׁוּקָה is used in the Hebrew Bible, how the word is translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), in the Peshitta, and how it was understood in Rabbinic writings, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Arabic, and in the Quran. Macintosh said that modern translations of the Bible are almost unanimous in translating the word תְּשׁוּקָה as “desire.”

    However, Macintosh wrote: “Where the ancient versions are concerned, the same unanimity of interpretation is not apparent, and now, in recent times, different understandings of the word have begun to appear” (2016:365).

    In his study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, Macintosh does not mention any translation, ancient or modern, that translates Genesis 3:16 as “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,” as the ESV has done.

    After a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה, Macintosh offers his view on how the verse should be translated. He wrote: “In summary, I conclude that ‘desire’ is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה in the Hebrew Bible or in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, on the evidence of comparative philology and of the ancient versions, ‘concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus’, appears to be more likely” (2016:385).

    If the word teshûqâ means “concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus,” then that would fit perfectly with my interpretation of Genesis 3:16.

    • That is an interesting and helpful article.

      My concern in this debate, however, is that the cart has so consistently been put before the horse. So many of the arguments that I have read against the ESV’s new reading have been driven by a reactive resistance to what they suppose to be the ESV’s implications for women, rather than by responsible and careful exegetical reasoning. They have grasped at some good readings of Genesis 3:16, but the process whereby they arrived at such readings is quite contrary to sound scriptural reasoning and inspires little confidence. Some seem to approach this more as a matter of choosing the reading on offer that is most amenable to their preconceived opinions, rather than as a matter of teasing out what the text actually says, even if that meaning runs directly against what we may want to believe.

  61. I haven’t looked at Andrew Macintosh’s article itself yet, but Matt Lynch has yesterday published an article which includes a summary and quotes from Macintosh’s article. IMO Lynch uses sound scriptural reasoning.

    http://theologicalmisc.net/2016/10/contrary-women-genesis-316b-now-non-permanent-esv/

    • I’ve read Macintosh’s article and it is a scholarly piece that makes its case pretty well, whether one ends up agreeing with it or not. My concern is more with the general tenor of the discussion online, where people have appealed to articles like Macintosh’s, but where patient, careful, and balanced exegesis has frequently seemed to be overwhelmed by reactivity and the desire to attack the ESV reading with whatever ammunition comes to hand. It is that dynamic that has concerned me.

  62. That dynamic concerns me too, Alastair. And I say that, even while acknowledging that I have had a tone of reactivity myself at times because of my concern for the harm the 2016 version of Gen 3:16b will do to women, esp to women who are abused by their husbands.

    My perception of the general tenor of the discussion online is that some people are keen to attack the ESV reading with whatever ammunition comes to hand, and some are keenly defending the new ESV reading with whatever ammunition comes to hand. And particularly in comments threads, I’m noticing some men defending the 2016 ESV reading as if to criticise it would be to criticise the concept of ‘male as head’ per se; that form of reaction is very common when issues of gender relations are discussed.

    • Yes, the reactivity is something that is generally found in all of the gender debates, and is present on almost all sides. We really need to find ways to resist it and create contexts where it does not dominate.

  63. How to find ways to resist that reactivity and creating contexts where it does not dominate? Hmm.

    I don’t have any ideas about how to do that to with dedicated egalitarians. As you’ve observed yourself, they tend to avoid engaging with people like you when you bring up your concerns about how they tend to flatten out and oversimplify male-female differences, and how they tend to skate over or misread the parts of Scripture which indicate that man is head.

    But I do have some ideas about how to do it with the folks (mostly men) who reactively defend the idea of male headship. Jeff Crippen and I, as the admins at A Cry For Justice, have developed a good nose (so to speak) for discerning the language of abusive men who portray themselves as victims of abuse. And we’ve also become able to discern when men or women present themselves as being concerned for the spiritual health of the church but they are in fact abusers or abusers’ allies. Their language gives them away, if you know what to look for. And if we are not sure, we invite them to converse privately with us by email until we can decide. After one or two emails from them, it’s clear who they really are.

    You may think we are nuts to imagine we’ve developed this discernment, but secular experts in the Department of Justice in Vic, Australia have discerned the exact same language features we have picked up on. These secular experts train the men who work on Men’s Hotlines. They teach the workers about these features so that the workers can better discern when a caller is genuine victim of spouse abuse, and when a caller is most likely a perpetrator of spouse abuse.

    We have also observed that most leaders and laity in churches are pretty naive about the features of the language of abusers. They can’t discern it. When the ‘c’hristian abuser is in Dr Jekyll mode, most Christians can’t detect that it’s an abuser speaking. They get snowed. And most Christians (except the victims) rarely if ever see the ‘c’hristian abuser in Hyde mode. (There are many examples of abusive ‘c’hristian men in Hyde mode on a certain website which I will not name because I don’t want to drive traffic there.)

    I don’t think it’s possible to create contexts where these reactive abusers and their allies do not get a chance to contaminate the debate unless (a) enough people develop the ability to detect the language of abusers, and (b) enough people realise that these abusers must simply be moderated out of the conversation.

    The scriptural ground for moderating them out is 1 Corinthians 5:11 —
    “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one.”

    • The Friedman series I linked earlier has some helpful insights. I’ve also written some thoughts on the subject in various places like this and this. The key thing is creating differentiation for ourselves and others. Differentiation is a jargony way of speaking about the manner in which we create various sorts of intervening space and time between people within which they can act independently. Differentiation is what enables us to respond rather than merely react and it is absolutely essential if such debates are to be engaged in well.

  64. I’ve got your Friedman series on an open tab but haven’t had time to read it yet.🙂

  65. Phillip Johnston says:

    Hey Alastair – Would love to get in touch about the possibility of you coming down to do a lecture for the English branch of L’Abri Fellowship in Hampshire. Do get in touch if you’d be interested. Thanks!

  66. Ian Jones says:

    Hi Alastair, I attended the conference at London Seminary on Tuesday at which you gave a paper. I would love to connect with you as I have a question relating to Genesis 1-3 but couldn’t find an email address anywhere. Thanks, Ian Jones

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