New personal website!

Some exciting news to share: I now have a personal website, Built by the wonderful Brannon McAllister (business here , Twitter here ), it will henceforth by the one-stop shop for all my professional activities: updates, bio, links, writing, CV, etc. And that includes blogging. All the posts from this blog have been imported there, and starting today all new blog posts will be published there, at The reasons for creating the site are many: to own my own turf (thanks, Alan Jacobs), to gather all my professional stuff under one roof, to have an online presence prepared should I quit social media altogether, to supply publishers and editors with quick-and-ready information about me, to gear up for my first two books to be published in the next 12 months. And, to be honest, after 15 years using Blogger (via Google), to get away from one of the big tech giants. I've never assumed my writing here was entirely stable, secure, or mine . It'll feel good

Heresy and orthodoxy

"Heresy" and "orthodoxy" (and their variants) are two terms I hear and read with some frequency in low-church Protestant and evangelical circles. Their usage has always nagged at me, though, and lately I've realized why. Heresy is first of all a term of church discipline, not false belief. It is the application by duly constituted ecclesial authority of a certain status to persons, groups, movements, practices, or ideas. That status is anathema : the curse of excommunication. "Such entities do not belong in the community of Christ" is what heresy announces, publicly and definitively. If the relevant persons or groups do not thereupon repent, they become "heretics" or "heretical," which is a formal status relative to a concrete Christian community or communion. Subsequent to the decisive events that constitute said entities as "heretical," similar ideas and practices might be judged at the popular level to be of a piece wit

The four best essays I've read so far this year

We are four months into 2021, and the number of hands-down brilliant, print-them-out-and-mark-them-up, share-them-with-your-friends-and-assign-them-to-all-future-students essays I've read this year is also four. In the order in which they were published: –L. M. Sacasas, "The Insurrection Will Be Live Streamed: Notes Toward a Theory of Digitization," an entry in his peerless newsletter The Convivial Society . By far the best thing written about and in the wake of the Capitol Riot on January 6. Subscribe to TCS today: it's consistently unique in its sober and brilliant analysis of technology, media, culture, and the production and distribution of knowledge. –Ian Olson, "Marcion's 'Gift,'" Mere Orthodoxy . Olson threads the needle just right in his treatment of the church's inseparability from the Jewish people and its own history of injustice toward that same people. The exegetical, theological, and rhetorical subtlety on display here is not

Humor and despair

Last month a review of Jordan Peterson's latest book made the rounds. It was justly held up as a serious, charitable attempt both to understand Peterson's project on its own terms (along with why it has attracted such a following) and to critique his execution of that project. The substance of the critique is that, in an acute manner and to a painful degree, Peterson lacks a sense of humor. He is earnestness incarnate. He never laughs, he never jokes, he never reveals a wry wit or sheepish grin at the joys or absurdities of modern life. He only grimaces, shifting the burden of finitude from one shoulder to the other, and inviting others to do so, in the same unsmiling manner. I've not read one word of Peterson's work, and I have no desire to defend his ideas per se from this charge. But the critique, though plausible and even probably true as far as it goes, fails in two respects. And it does so whatever the quality of Peterson's thought in itself. In summary form:

Biographies of theologians

Alan Jacobs suggests that we need more biographies of theologians. By which he means, on the one hand, quality biographies (not chronicles) written with style and insight; and, on the other hand, biographies about contemporary theologians, such as Robert Jenson or John Webster. I would love nothing more than a biographer on a par with Ray Monk to tell the story of, e.g., Jenson's life and work. And in general I heartily second his recommendation. But it prompted a thought. What makes a life worthy of a biography? Or put differently, what makes a biography worth reading? It seems to me the answer is threefold. Either the person is herself interesting (something about her charisma or temperament or virtue or genius); or her life was interesting (she fought back the English after having a supernatural vision, say, or traveled through the Balkans in between the world wars); or her thought, beyond being interesting in itself (that justifies secondary literature), produced interesting

Two new essays on the long Lent of Covidtide

Last week in Mere Orthodoxy I wrote about Tish Harrison Warren's terrific new book, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep . Today I'm in First Things reflecting on what it means to celebrate the Triduum in Covidtide. The essays are, in a way, companion pieces. Both are about persisting in Lent as we approach Easter Sunday; both reflect on the long Lent of the last year (the emergency liturgical season of "Covidtide"); both insist that resurrection is coming; both remind us that the passage to Sunday runs through the passion of Jesus. Some of us need to know in our bones that Jesus is risen; some of need to recall that Holy Saturday comes first. Yesterday I read St. Luke's account of Jesus's final hours with his disciples. The passage in 22:31-34 is almost too much to bear: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned ag

Dame, ACU, sports, glory

Two years ago I wrote the following in a short tweet thread, in response to Damian Lillard's walk-off buzzer-beater to win Portland's playoff series against Oklahoma City: What's revealed by Dame's buzzer-beater walk-off series-winner, and the hoopla surrounding it since, is something simple but often forgotten in today's analytics-driven journalism: People do not watch or play sports for the sake of technical proficiency. They do so for glory. What Damian Lillard did was all-caps GLORIOUS. The stakes, the moment, the narrative, the beef with Russ, the degree of difficulty: People watch what is often sheer monotony in sports for a single, once-in-a-lifetime moment just like that. Paul George's comments after the game that "it was a bad shot, though nobody's going to say it," was true but seriously beside the point. Of course it was a bad shot! If by "bad" we mean "having a low probability of going in," it was definitionally

NYT, guilt by association, and libraries

It's a relief to see so many thoughtful—albeit blistering—responses to the long-awaited NYT hit piece on Scott Alexander and his erstwhile blog. It means that I'm not crazy for having the reaction I did when I read it, and that I don't need to write much to draw attention to the article's numerous flaws: only to point you to all the existing ones that already do the job . That's only a few, and none of the Twitter threads and dunks. I must say, the immediately striking thing about the piece is how boring and boringly written it is, in such a bone-deep passive-aggressive voice. Why all the fuss (internally, that is, at the NYT ) for that ? But: one additional thought. It has to be strange, at the experiential (nay, existential) level, for a writer truly to think that he can damn another writer through nothing but guilt by association. And not just association in general, but association understood, first, as proximate contact (i.e., having read and engaged a &

Anthropomorphism and analogy

Andrew Wilson has a lovely little post up using Herman Bavinck's work to show the "unlimited" scope of the Bible's use of anthropomorphism to talk about God. It's a helpful catalogue of the sheer volume and range of scriptural language to describe God and God's action. It's a useful resource, too, for helping students to grasp the notion that most of our speech about God is metaphorical, all of it is analogical, and none of it is less true for that. In my experience not only students but philosophers and theologians as well often imagine, argue, or take for granted that doctrine is a kind of improvement on the language of Scripture. The canon then functions as a kind of loose rough draft, however authoritative, upon which metaphysically precise discourse improves, or at least by comparison offers a better approximation of the truth. Sometimes those parts of the canon that are literal or less anthropomorphic are permitted some lexical or semantic control.

Digital ash

I'm on the record regarding "streaming" the sacraments, or otherwise digitally mediating the celebration of the Eucharist. With Lent approaching, the question occurred to me: Might churches "stream" Ash Wednesday? That is to say, would they endorse or facilitate the self-imposition of ashes? Nonsense, was my initial thought. No way. Of course not. Who would suggest such a thing? But that was naive. Surely, after almost a full year of administering the body and blood of Christ to oneself at home, the imposition of ashes upon one's own forehead at home is but a small leap; indeed, it is not so much a leap as a logical next step. If the blessed sacrament admits of auto-administration via digital consecration, how much more so the rites of Ash Wednesday? I am prepared, therefore, for digital ash. Which is another way of saying that I am praying: Lord, deliver us from Covidtide .