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Showing posts from June, 2019

New essay published in The Los Angeles Review of Books: "Enter Paul"

I have a new essay published this morning over in The Los Angeles Review of Books, titled "Enter Paul," on Paula Fredriksen's two latest books, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle and When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation (both from Yale University Press). Here's a sample:

"Put it this way: an itinerant rabbi from the Galilee — the backwaters of Palestine — leads a popular movement among the Jews, one that comes to an ignominious end when he is executed for sedition by the Roman authorities. Some of his followers form a small community in Jerusalem, proclaiming that not only was this rabbi and prophet the longed-for Messiah of Israel, but he is alive, in glory with God, vested with impregnable power and heavenly authority. These messianic Jews share goods in common and worship daily at the temple, praying and waiting eagerly for Jesus’s imminent return, when he will drive out the pagan occupiers and restore his people’s fortunes.

"Pause the fra…

"We can't really be that fallen": a question for Christian socialists

Recently Nathan Robinson, editor-in-chief at Current Affairs, a socialist magazine, responded toNational Review's issue "Against Socialism." He considers, successively, thirteen different writers' contributions in the issue. The tone of the piece is cheeky while wanting genuinely to respond in kind to substantive critiques of socialism.

One passage stood out to me. First, here is a paragraph that Robinson quotes from Theodore Dalrymple's essay in the NR issue:

"Socialism is not only, or even principally, an economic doctrine: It is a revolt against human nature. It refuses to believe that man is a fallen creature and seeks to improve him by making all equal one to another. It is not surprising that the development of the New Man was the ultimate goal of Communist tyrannies, the older version of man being so imperfect and even despicable. But such futile and reprehensible dreams, notwithstanding the disastrous results when they were taken seriously by r…

Theses on preaching

1. The principal subject matter for preaching, always and everywhere, is the triune God of Israel attested and revealed in the good news about Jesus, the Lord and Messiah of Israel. If a sermon could not plausibly be said to have been about that, it was not a sermon.

1.1. This is primarily a substantive point, that is, regarding what a sermon is "about," which doesn't mean that counting the number of times the words "God," "Lord," "Jesus," "Spirit," "Trinity," etc., are mentioned in a sermon is going to do the job. Throwing around those words isn't good enough; indeed, imagine an expertly crafted sermon on the book of Esther that somehow avoided such terms, just like the text in question, while nevertheless rendering God's providential, saving hand throughout.

1.2. Having said that, the point is secondarily grammatical. That is, months and months of sermons unpopulated by liberal use of the sentence structure, &qu…

Politics on the pattern of the martyrs

In my Comment essay earlier this year titled "The Church and the Common Good," I wrote the following, describing and recommending Paul Griffiths' idiosyncratic spin on quietism as the proper form of Christian political action:

"At bottom it is a radical call for epistemic, moral, and theological humility. For we cannot know either the actual or the unintended consequences of the policies for which we advocate; nor can we know those of the policies we oppose. We must assume our opponents act in good faith, even as we admit we act from mixed motives ourselves. If we fail, we may trust that providence has allowed it, for reasons opaque to us; if we prevail, we are in an even more precarious position, for we will be responsible for what results, and we will be tempted to pride. In any case, what good comes, we receive with gratitude. What evil comes, we suffer with patience.

"Quietism, in short, is politics on the pattern of the martyrs, who, like Christ,…