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DIY Christianity

What is the greatest threat to the church in America today? You could list a lot of candidates.

My answer is DIY Christianity.

That's the term I use with my students to communicate the notion—which they readily recognize—of the Christian faith as recreated anew in, by, and for each generation, or even perhaps each local body of believers. This is Christianity without history, without tradition, without authority, without saints or martyrs or anything mediate, that is, anything intervening (thus obtruding, thus obstructing) between the individual and Jesus. DIY Christianity is "founding" a local church the way entrepreneurs found a start-up, with Big Ideas and Enough With The Old and Radical Innovation. (DIY Christianity thinks "innovation," like "curiosity," is a virtue rather than a vice.)

DIY Christianity is a mortal enemy to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and handed on, generation after generation, from the apostles to the present d…

New article published: "The Church and the Spirit in Robert Jenson's Theology of Scripture" in Pro Ecclesia

I have an article in a two-part symposium in Pro Ecclesia commemorating the life and thought of Robert Jenson, and though the issues are not yet published, my article is available in an early, online-first capacity. Here's the abstract:

In the last two decades of Robert Jenson’s career, he turned his attention to the doctrine of Scripture and its theological interpretation. This article explores the dogmatic structure and reasoning that underlie Jenson’s thought on this topic. After summarizing his theology of Scripture as the great drama of the Trinity in saving relation to creation, the article unpacks the doctrinal loci that materially inform Jenson’s account of the Bible and its role in the church. Ecclesiology and pneumatology emerge as the dominant doctrines; these in turn raise questions regarding Jenson’s treatment of the church’s defectability: that is, whether and how, if at all, the church may fail in its teaching and thus in its reading of Scripture.

Check out the whole …

Tolkien on the temptations of rule

“...our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see. ...

"A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying NĂºmenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not b…

Denise Levertov: "Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell"

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

By Denise Levertov

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shro…

Denise Levertov: "On a Theme from Julian's Chapter XX"

On a Theme from Julian's Chapter XX

By Denise Levertov

Six hours outstretched in the sun, yes,
hot wood, the nails, blood trickling
into the eyes, yes—
but the thieves on their neighbor crosses
survived till after the soldiers
had come to fracture their legs, or longer.
Why single out the agony? What’s
a mere six hours?
Torture then, torture now,
the same, the pain’s the same,
immemorial branding iron,
electric prod.
Hasn’t a child
dazed in the hospital ward they reserve
for the most abused, known worse?
The air we’re breathing,
these very clouds, ephemeral billows
languid upon the sky’s
moody ocean, we share
with women and men who’ve held out
days and weeks on the rack—
and in the ancient dust of the world
what particles
of the long tormented,
what ashes.

But Julian’s lucid spirit leapt
to the difference:
perceived why no awe could measure
that brief day’s endless length,
why among all the tortured
One only is “King of Grief.”
The oneing, she saw, the oneing
with the Godhead opened …

The blurbs are in for The Triune Story

I couldn't be more pleased to share the following four blurbs for The Triune Story: Essays on Scripture, the volume of the late Robert Jenson's writings on the Bible that I am editing for Oxford University Press. Due later this summer, pre-order your copy today!

"Robert Jenson was undoubtedly one of the most influential and original English-speaking theologians of the last half century, eloquent, controversial, profoundly in love with the God of Jewish and Christian Scripture. This invaluable collection shows us the depth and quality of his engagement with the text of Scripture: we follow him in his close reading of various passages and his tracing of various themes, and emerge with a renewed appreciation of the scope of his doctrinal vision. He offers a model of committed, prayerful exegesis which is both a joy and a challenge to read." —Rowan Williams

"Robert Jenson never needed to be reminded that the most interesting thing about the Bible is God. For those f…

Thoughts about Don Winslow's Cartel Trilogy

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1. I initially called it his Border Trilogy, but then I remembered that name's already taken.

2. What Winslow has done in these books is impressive, in literary terms, and powerful, in terms of educating the reading public while also entertaining them. Little did he know when he began writing the first book nearly 20 years ago how relevant, and prescient, the topic of the drug war and its ever-widening social, moral, and political consequences would be.

3. Winslow is a gifted writer. His prose is propulsive, soaked in adrenaline and masculine energy, in all its creative and destructive forms. His control of tone, voice, character, cultural reference (popular and "high"), and biblical allusion is masterful. The complexity of his plots, the centripetal force drawing their far-flung lines of action to some center or centers of encounter and explosion (often literal), is enthralling. The man was born to do this.

4. The TV adaptation of the trilogy, on FX, is therefore going …

Two thoughts on Adam Nayman on A Clockwork Orange

You should be reading the film criticism of Adam Nayman. Last week he wrote at The Ringer about Stanley Kubrick's adaption of A Clockwork Orange "in the age of cancellation," i.e., in a time when works of art deemed "problematic" are censored, edited, or banned. Or at least when such a fate is wished upon them by screaming hordes online.

I have two thoughts in response to his piece on ACO, which as usual is an excellent, thoughtful engagement with a difficult and culturally influential film.

First, toward the end of the essay he writes the following:

"It’s hard to say what’s more boring: The idea that a good movie is one made by a good person and/or contains content that could be considered progressive for its time and place, or the shouting-down of that position from those whose investment in rejecting it can seem condescending or creepy."

This is a genuinely strange dichotomy to pose, and there is only one plausible source for it: Twitter, or soc…

Pre-order The Triune Story today!

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Good news: the book I am editing for Oxford University Press, The Triune Story: Essays on Scripture—a comprehensive collection of the late theologian Robert Jenson's writings on the Bible, with a foreword by Bruce Marshall—is available online at both OUP's website and Amazon.

Oxford says the book will be out mid-June; Amazon says mid-July. I'd go with Amazon on that one. I'm working on indexing the book right now, after which point, late this month, I'll get the proofs. So perhaps the revised proofs will be ready by May 1? I don't know how quickly the turnaround is on these kinds of books, but perhaps quicker than I imagined. We also need to get the blurbs, about which more soon.

But, anyway, I only just happened upon this bit of news, and I couldn't be more delighted. This volume is going to be a real resource going forward, for Jenson scholars as well as for theologians interested in Scripture more broadly. I can't wait for y'all to have it in you…

Gentiles exiting the faith

It seems to me that most Christians today—in my context, I mean: college-educated or middle-class American Christians, especially those raised in the church—see their spiritual options as basically threefold. Either they maintain Christian faith of some kind; or they become spiritual but not religious; or they become officially agnostic, though functionally atheist. That is, there are basically two "exit" options from Christianity, both of which can be described as a form of nonbelief: faith in nothing at all, or faith in something-or-other left undefined.

In other words, such wayward believers aren't drawn to other religious traditions: the primary question is organized theism. Give up the former, you remain spiritual but not Christian; give up the latter, you're neither Christian nor spiritual. The temptation isn't ordinarily to become a Muslim or Sikh or Hindu. (Though the other day I did hear someone say, "If it weren't for X in Christianity, I'd…