C. S. Lewis on the fumie

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room, something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic. “We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all. At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that his own training by the Macrobes had, at one point, suggested the same odd idea to himself. But he had no choice. Whether h…

Just published: a review essay of Patrick Deneen and James K. A. Smith in the LA Review of Books

I've got a review essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books of Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed and James K. A. Smith's Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. It's called "Holy Ambivalence." Go check it out.

Principles of Luddite pedagogy

My classes begin in this way: With phone in hand, I say, "Please put your phones and devices away," and thereupon put my own in my bag out of sight. I then say, "The Lord be with you." (And also with you.) "Let us pray." I then offer a prayer, usually the Collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. After the prayer, we get started. And for the next 80 minutes (or longer, if it is a grad seminar or intensive course), there is not a laptop, tablet, or smart phone in sight. If I catch a student on her phone, and Lord knows college students are not subtle, she is counted tardy for the day and docked points on her participation grade. Only after I dismiss class do the addicts—sorry, my students—satiate their gnawing hunger for a screen, and get their fix.

For larger lecture courses (40-60 students) with lots of information to communicate, I use PowerPoint slides. But for smaller numbers and especially for seminars, neither a computer nor the internet n…

Rowan Williams on Jewish identity and religious freedom in liberal modernity

"The [French] revolution wanted to save Jews from Judaism, turning them into rational citizens untroubled by strange ancestral superstitions. It ended up taking just as persecutory an approach as the Church and the Christian monarchy. The legacies of Christian bigotry and enlightened contempt are tightly woven together in the European psyche, it seems, and the nightmares of the 20th century are indebted to both strands.
"In some ways, this prompts the most significant question to emerge from the [history of Jews in modern Europe].  Judaism becomes a stark test case for what we mean by pluralism and religious liberty: if the condition for granting religious liberty is, in effect, conformity to secular public norms, what kind of liberty is this? More than even other mainstream religious communities, Jews take their stand on the fact that their identity is not an optional leisure activity or lifestyle choice. Their belief is that they are who they are for reasons …

My dissertation acknowledgements

Dissertations are strange creatures: written by many, read by few, important to none but the authors. In a way, dissertations are like the angels of St. Thomas Aquinas, not species of a genus but each a genus unto itself.

And yet many years, blood, sweat, and tears go into dissertations; and so the acknowledgements at their beginning are often a moment to step back and thank those who have made finishing the (by then) cursed thing possible. So far as I can tell, there are two different types of acknowledgements: minimalist and maximalist. Either the author thanks only those who contributed materially and directly to the dissertation's production (one friend thanked, if I recall correctly, only about a dozen individuals), or she mentions more or less every single human being she has met along the way—anyone from whom she has received as much as a cup of cold water. I fall in the latter category, both by temperament (being prolix in life and in prose) and by conviction (a lot of peo…

On the speech of Christ in the Psalms

Tomorrow morning I am giving a lecture to some undergraduate students at Baylor University; the lecture's title is "Unlike Any Other Book: Theological Reflections on the Bible and its Faithful Interpretation." The lecture draws from four different writings: a dissertation chapter, a review essay for Marginalia,an article for Pro Ecclesia, and an article for International Journal of Systematic Theology.

As every writer knows, reading your own work can be painful. There's always more you can do to make it better. But sometimes you're happy with what you wrote. And I think the following quotation from the IJST piece, especially the final paragraph, is one of my pieces of writing I'm happiest about. It both makes a substantive point clearly and effectively, and does so with appropriate rhetorical force. Not many of you, surely, have read the original article; so here's a sample taste:

"[S]ince the triune God is the ecumenical confession of the church, i…

An honest preface to contemporary academic interpretation of the New Testament

The figures and authors of the New Testament, especially Jesus and Paul, taught and wrote primarily during the middle half of the first century A.D. Their teachings and texts were not, alas, understood in the 2nd century, nor were they understood in the 3rd century, nor were they understood in the 4th century, nor were they understood in the 5th century, nor were they understood in the 6th century, nor were they understood in the 7th century, nor were they understood in the 8th century, nor were they understood in the 9th century, nor were they understood in the 10th century, nor were they understood in the 11th century, nor were they understood in the 12th century, nor were they understood in the 13th century, nor were they understood in the 14th century, nor were they understood in the 15th century, nor were they understood in the 16th century, nor were they understood in the 17th century, nor were they understood in the 18th century, nor were they understood in the 19th century, no…

What I wrote in 2017, and what's coming up

Last year was momentous for me, both personally and professionally. I submitted my dissertation; I earned my PhD from Yale; I got that rarest of things, a bona fide job—teaching at my alma mater no less; I moved my family to a place we love; and I taught my first semester as a professor of theology, a dream 14 years in the making. My wife and three small children are content and flourishing, and for the first time in any of our lives, we don't have an end date bearing down on us from the horizon.

My gratitude and joy know no bounds.

I also started a new blog! (This one, just like the old one.) And I wrote some stuff, here and elsewhere, scholarly and popular. A 2017 rundown...


“Reading the Trinity in the Bible: Assumptions, Warrants, Ends,”Pro Ecclesia 25:4 (2016): 459-474. Technically published in 2016, but not actually available to read in print until 2017, so I'm counting it. This article does not, unfortunately, contain this footnote, which was originally meant to b…

Notes on The Last Jedi, Godless, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Though not in that order, because spoilers.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

–I did not like this film. I admired its craftsmanship, not least the acting, the unwieldy plot, the attempted control at something like permanent tonal dissonance (which is, I suppose, a backhanded way of saying I thought the tone was out of control), the thematic complex animating the film's every turn. I generally admire and enjoy the work of both the writer-director Martin McDonagh and his brother. But not this one.

–Eve Tushnet captures a great deal of what's wrong with the film here. These two paragraphs sum it up:
Or take the reason for Mildred Hayes’s furious grief. She feels guilty about her daughter’s horrifying death–of course she does, that’s how anyone would feel. But the film doesn’t trust us to accept that anybody would feel that way. The movie has her feel guilty because she literally, exactly in these words told her daughter to go walk in that field and get raped and murd…

Jenson on being stuck with the Bible's language

"[In my work] I have used Luther's insights [about the hiddenness of God] therapeutically, to ward off a bowdlerized apophaticism which has recently been popular. That God is unknowable must not be construed to mean that he is but vaguely glimpsed through clouds of metaphysical distance, so that we are compelled—and at liberty—to devise namings and metaphors guided by our religious needs. It means on the contrary that we are stuck with the names and descriptions the biblical narrative contingently enforces, which seem designed always to offend somebody; it means that their syntax is hidden from us, so that we cannot identify synonyms or make translations. It means that we have no standpoint from which to relativize them and project more soothing visions."

—Robert Jenson, "The Hidden and Triune God," in Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics: Essays on God and Creation, 69-77, at 70-71