Writers who read their mentions

There may be nothing more poisonous for the quality of a writer's work than "reading your mentions." You can tell immediately when reading or listening to someone (say, in an interview or podcast). Everything is couched, defensive, anticipating the inevitable "ur the wurst" tweet-reply or comment at the end of the article. It doesn't matter the style of writing, or the subject. It's present in politics as much as in sports journalism. I suppose in certain sub-cultures of theology, it might actually be muted, because while the rabies theologorum is a vast, multi-headed beast, it feasts on numbers and passion. So you find it in evangelical arguments and intra-Catholic skirmishes—both of which communities are large enough to have sizeable Extremely Online contingents.

But academic theologians? Now that's a small group of folks. And surprisingly friendly online, at least in the corners I frequent.

Regardless, though, we're all susceptible to it. And…

The coronation of Jesus

Sitting in church yesterday, listening to an account of Jesus's baptism, it occurred to me that there is a good analogy that works against the adoptionist overtones historically seized upon both by critics and by heretics (but I...). All agree that the use of Psalm 2 paints the scene in royal colors: this is a coronation. The adoptionist reads this in line with Israel's long-standing practice of suggesting that, in some important but mysterious sense, the king of Israel is or becomes God's son upon succession, for to be the human king under the divine king implies a relationship of intimacy and representation analogous to human paternity and generation. The anti-adoptionist reads the scene as both the fulfillment and the archetype of such a practice, for Jesus is uniquely God's Son, naturally and from all eternity. The Gospels (not least Mark) all bear out this distinct status and relationship, from which derive all that Jesus is, says, and does.

How, then, to explain …

Audience age for Star Wars films

Over the last year or so I've re-watched nearly every Star Wars film. My sons (6 and nearly 5) have been making their slow initial journey through the Original Trilogy and into the prequels. (We're currently paused between Episodes II and III. The former is even worse than you remember.)

Reflecting on these repeat viewings in conjunction with the recent new entries and the conversation surrounding them (not to say controversy, though whether that term calls for scare quotes is an open question, given the heavy doses of bad faith and trolling involved)—anyway, upon reflection, I've noticed one way to slice up all ten films: by the implicit age of the film's target audience. Let me show you what I mean:

IV: All ages
V: Adults
VI: Children
I: All ages
II: Children
III: Adults
VII: All ages
RO: Adults
VIII: Adults
Solo: Adults

These designations are arguable, obviously. And audience age doesn't in itself correlate with quality (though I suppose that's arguable, too…

Party spirit distorts vision

This is an old story, but it's one worth reiterating nonetheless. Partisanship mitigates the analytical clarity necessary for deep understanding, of oneself, of the situation (whatever that may be), of those one disagrees with, of strategic action. That is, the drive to win itself becomes the obstacle to winning. But even if that were not the case, winning is not understanding; practice is not theory. And time and again one sees would-be analysts—thinkers, whether in the political-cultural sphere or the academy—blinded by their all-consuming focus on defeating their opponents, to the point that they simply cannot offer a plausible account of the situation beyond "they're bad, we're good, Must Vanquish All Enemies."

A good recent, and ongoing, example of this is the NYT podcast The Argument, co-hosted by David Leonhardt, Michelle Goldberg, and Ross Douthat. Listen to any episode in which Goldberg and Douthat talk to each other directly, not about a normative ethic…

Blogging in 2019

It has been a slow—and I mean slow—year on the blog. In the last seven months of the year, I think I wrote a single "real" post, by which I mean a post that wasn't a list or a quote. I wrote nine similarly "real" posts in the first five months of the year. Oof.

I did write "real" things for other venues (more on those here in the next few days), but that is not what I'd been hoping for or planning when I revived this blog in a new form two summers ago. Teaching 10 courses in 12 months and welcoming our fourth child into the world had a lot to do with that; I very much doubt I had the time to give to writing the occasional post on here, much less a couple posts per week.

But in 2019, I'd like to get back into the habit—especially of the 2-3-paragraph, bloggy sort of reflection that this venue's made for. I'm prolix in writing and talking both, and drafting a blog post always sounds time consuming, even if in reality it would take fewer …

Scialabba, Jacobs, and God's existence: where the real problem lies

Alan Jacobs is right about George Scialabba's latest review essay, in this case of John Gray's new book, Seven Types of Atheism, for The New Republic. Scialabba is always great, but his theological instincts fail him here. As Jacobs observes, Scialabba wants to speak up for nonbelievers who wish God—if he does in fact exist—would simply make himself known in some inarguably clear way. But since, apparently, he does not and has not, that in itself is evidence that no such thing as an all-wise, all-good, all-powerful deity exists; or that, if he does, our knowledge or beliefs about or relationship with God is a negligible matter, and all will be sorted out in the hereafter.

Jacobs takes Scialabba to task for both the unthinking glibness on display (frivolous speculation about our ancient ancestors; writing contemporary mystics and charismatics out of the picture; etc.) and the more serious inattentiveness to what a truly incontrovertible divine self-revelation would mean. Jacobs…

John Lukacs on what makes history

"This short history of the twentieth century is not a philosophical treatise. But at this point I am compelled to add two brief digressions. The first is a summary of my view of history, which goes contrary to the still very widely accepted categorical beliefs of why and how history happened and happens, of course including that of the Second World War. The current, often deemed 'scientific' belief is that history, perhaps especially in the democratic age, is the result of great material and economic factors, of which the lives, acts, and thoughts of people are largely the consequences. That is less than a half-truth. In 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany not just because of the economic crisis of 1930–1933, but because of the political mood of many Germans at that time. It was not the state of the British economy that made the British government reluctant to resist Hitler in the Thirties. It was not inferiority of materials or armaments that led to the collapse of Fra…

Ian McFarland on the doctrine of creation from nothing

"In short, if the doctrine of creation from nothing means ... that even prior to being created, creatures are not absolutely nothing insofar as they are grounded in the Word, it also implies that creatures, as created, are absolutely nothing apart from God. The richness of divinity not only lies behind creation's diversity as its presupposition (nothing but God), but also is an active presence that underlies and sustains every feature of that diversity at every moment of its existence (nothing apart from God). Not can this perspective be charged with compromising the integrity of creatures' relationship with God, as though that which has absolutely no existence part from God is reduced to the status of a puppet. Once again, the Trinitarian framework of the Christian doctrine of creation is crucial here, since the existence of creatures is rooted in the Word, whose very being establishes, within the divine life itself, a set of relationships whose constituent terms (viz., …

The most stimulating works of systematic theology from the last 20 years

On Twitter yesterday I made an observation followed by a question. I said that Paul Griffiths' Decreation is, in my view, the most thought-provoking, stimulating, exhilarating work of systematic theology written since the first volume of Robert Jenson's systematics was published in 1997. Then I asked: What are other plausible candidates from, say, the last two decades?

I thought of half a dozen off the top of my head, then started adding others' replies to the list. See the (lightly curated) resulting list below.

A few preliminary comments, though. First, everything on the list was published (for the first time) in 1998 or later. That's arbitrary, but then, all lists are; that's what makes them fun.

Second, your mileage may vary, as mine does; I think some of these books are in a league of their own compared so some of the others. But I've tried to be broader than just my own preferences.

Third, candidates for this list are works of Christian systematic theo…

Genre lists: the best science fiction authors and series

All right. I've written about my crime fiction list and my fantasy list; here, rounding out the genres (at least those in which I'm interested), is my chronological list of the authors and series in science fiction that I have read or aim to read. Far from exhaustive, and not aiming to be "completist." I want to read the best. What should I add to it? [NB: The list has now been expanded with suggestions.]
H. G. Wells, Time Machine + Invisible Man + War of the Worlds (1895–98)Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars (1917)Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)C. S. Lewis, Space Trilogy (1938–45)George Orwell, 1984 (1949)Ray Bradbury, Martian Chronicles (1950) + Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy (1951–53)Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End (1953) + 2001 (1968)Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954)Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1957)Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961) Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a…