alastair.adversaria » Uncategorized

New Blog

Just a note to say that I am now (occasionally) blogging here.

Skydiving for Charity

Parachute Jump

On 27th June I will be doing a parachute jump with a friend in order to raise support for the work of UCB. I have never done a parachute jump before and am a little apprehensive. However, it should be a good challenge and hopefully raise some money for a good cause along the way.

I set up an online sponsorship page a few days ago, but haven’t publicized it much yet. If you are able to donate some money, I would be extremely grateful. The cost of the actual jumps will be covered by myself and my friend. Anything that you donate will go straight to the work of UCB.

To make things even better, UCB will give two return Eurostar tickets to the person who donates the most money to our jump. The tickets are valid until 24th April 2010 and can take you to Paris, Brussels, Lille, or the Disneyland Resort Paris.

You don’t have to live in the UK to donate money online, you will just need to know the exchange rate, which can easily be worked out on this site.

Thank you very much for your support.

The Sponsorship Page

René Girard

René Girard receives his honorary doctorate

A week ago I graduated from the University of St. Andrews. The graduation ceremony was very enjoyable, but was made far more memorable on account of the fact that René Girard was being presented with an honorary doctorate.

I have long been a huge fan of the work of René Girard. In contrast to many other thinkers, Girard is renowned, not for many insights in various areas of study, but for a singular idea of profound explanatory potential, a simple insight that illuminates innumerable otherwise perplexing questions. Girard’s great insight is that human desire, far from being purely individual and arising within us apart from external influence, is imitative and ‘inter-dividual’ in its constitution. From this single insight great light is shed upon social and interpersonal dynamics, religion, mythology and culture.

Girard claims that we learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others. This form of behaviour is easiest to observe in the case of children. Put two children in a room with a hundred toys and it is quite likely that they will end up fighting over the same one. Rather than arising spontaneously or being fixed on predefined objects, each child’s desire for the object is mediated and reinforced by the desire of the other. Girard argues that desire is ‘mimetic’ in character; our desire does not directly fix itself on objects, but is mediated by the desire of others for certain objects. Invested with the aura of the other’s desire, certain objects can become suddenly greatly desirable to us.

The relationship of imitation (often mutual) between the desiring person and the mediator of their desire is deeply important. Objects of desire are largely interchangeable, but the bond between the individual and the mediator of his or her desire is far stronger than this. This relationship of imitation can be manifested in a deep attraction between the top mimetic partners, an attraction that can transform into antagonism with incredible ease. Both the attraction and the antagonism find a common source in the imitative relationship that exists between the two partners. In such a mimetic relationship the one who desires wants to be like the model of his or her desire in all things, to occupy their position (Girard’s account of the Oedipus complex follows this line).

As they both seek the same object of desire and cannot share it, it is not surprising that rivalry develops. Girard finds this dynamic in much great literature. For instance, two friends desire the same woman and become each other’s rival. For Girard, the most important relationship in this classic love triangle is the relationship between the two friends. In such a relationship the woman may well be interchangeable with almost any other woman. What makes her significant is not what she is in herself, but what she is as surrounded by the aura of the other’s desire. She is desirable because she is desired by the other. Girard observes the way in which such mimetic rivalries escalate and how ‘scapegoats’ serve as lightning conductors for the violence that these rivalries breed. Warring parties can be reconciled through the scapegoat mechanism, as they join together in venting their violence on a third party.

The fact of imitative desire helps to explain the contagious power of certain evil actions. After the first stone has been thrown, each following stone becomes progressively easier to cast, having a model to follow. Imitation and the scapegoat mechanism illuminates the manner in which evil reports and false accusations can gain virtually unstoppable momentum; the initiation of such a report is like the first fall of stones down a mountainside, which starts the landslide. The guilt of the scapegoat is everywhere presumed and no fair hearing is given. As a single false report is repeated and parroted enough, it gains in credibility with each repetition, until the unanimity created by the contagion of imitation makes its truth appear undeniable.

Girard’s insight concerning mimetic desire can help us understand some of the mechanics of dysfunctional relationships and psychologies. For instance, the masochist is someone who desires the unobtainable, or always thwarts his own attempts to gain the object of his desire. He desires the failure of his desire to reach its supposed object, subconsciously aware of the fact that, if the desire were to achieve its object, it would merely have secured its own death. If the masochist were in fact to gain the object of his desire, it would cease to be desirable to him. The thing that makes the object desirable is the obstacle (whether the prohibition or the person) that obstructs the way.

Masochism is central to the psychology of sin. Sin is aroused by the Law, because the Law sets up a system of prohibitions, which invests the transgression with the aura of desirability for it. Apart from the Law sin lacks this degree of desirability. In the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we see such a dynamic in operation. The fact that the fruit is forbidden is used by Satan to excite the desire of Adam and Eve. Satan portrays God as a model-obstacle to Adam and Eve: God places a taboo on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because he wishes to prevent Adam and Eve from achieving the self-sufficiency that he enjoys. Satan thus twists the natural relationship of imitation that mankind should have with God into a perverted and masochistic one. Rather than the positive imitation of God’s desire that mankind should display, Satan presents God’s desire as an obstacle.

It is this sort of logic that Slavoj Žižek appeals to when he observes that, with the ‘death of God’, far from everything being permitted, nothing is permitted. The perverted desire of sin depends on God for its survival. Where there is no God left to prohibit, everything ceases to be desirable. Sin is drawn to death. It desires that which is forbidden, but it cannot satisfy that desire. Every forbidden fruit will turn to dust in its mouth. Sinners desire the death of God, but this death of God leaves them further from satisfaction than they were beforehand.

Mimetic desire can explain why we often chose as models of desire people who are indifferent to us or despise us (unsmiling models create the aura of desirability that goes with top brand products). Their indifference is seen to be indicative of a self-sufficiency that we lack. We desire to be self-sufficient like them and so we desire the objects that they desire.

Our sense of self-worth is not unaffected by mimetic desire. Our self-worth can often involve imitation of how others value us. This can produce ugly relationships on occasions. The girlfriend who keeps returning to the abusive boyfriend can be hooked on him like a drug. As he continues to mistreat her, her sense of self-worth plummets and becomes increasingly dependent on any displays of affection that he might give her. Far from undermining his role as a model of her self-valuation, the abuse of the boyfriend may actually serve to reinforce his role. A person in such an abusive situation may well reject the very people who most care for her (their care and love being taken as a sign of their insufficiency), while being irresistibly drawn to the one who despises and abuses her. The violence of the boyfriend reinforces her belief that beyond this violence lies the promised land of self-worth. However, deep down she knows that this is an illusory promise; if the violence were to cease, she would not enjoy the self-worth that she seeks. Ultimately it is the violence that creates the illusion; were the violence to end the illusion would disappear too.

Girard’s insight into the mimetic character of desire challenges us to ask questions about the reasons why we desire and don’t desire certain things. For example, do we pay a high price for items because we value them, or do we value items because we pay a high price for them? I know a bookseller who sends out a regular mailing list. If one of the books doesn’t sell after a number of mailings he will, counter-intuitively, raise the price of the book in question. The book almost invariably sells in the next mailing. Supposing the price tag to be an indicator of the desire of the other, we can invest certain objects with an aura of desirability that they might otherwise lack. Girard also helps us to uncover the hidden causes of our rivalries and exposes the manner in which we have unwittingly used others as our scapegoats.

Links

It has been several months since I last blogged here; it is about time that I made some sort of return. As a number of you already know, this blog is currently convalescing after having been hacked by blog spammers. I trust that, in time, everything will return to normal. However, at present there are still several posts with hidden script at the end of them, and a couple of dozen other posts have been deleted altogether. My blog has also been removed from Google’s index. Lord-willing, I will be able to get it back on within the next month or so. Fortunately, most of the damaged and deleted posts can be recovered and, thanks to the generous help of Jon Barlow and my brother Peter, most of the problems seem to be resolved.

I thought that I would start with a relatively brief links post, before blogging some more substantial material within the next few weeks.

***
Jon Mackenzie, a (particularly smart) fellow student here at the University of St. Andrews has kicked off the 2nd Annual Karl Barth Blog Conference, with a superb exploration of the relationship between philosophy and theology in the work of Eberhard Jüngel.

There are a number of parts of the post that invite thoughtful engagement. My initial questions have to do with the strength of the exegetical underpinnings of Jüngel’s approach, most particular with regard to his understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject of faith. One of the general effects of the New Perspective on Paul has been that of throwing the Christological (subjective genitive readings of pistis Iesou Christou), corporate and active dimensions of faith into sharper relief, situating the faith of the individual within the faith of the community that exists out of the faithfulness of Christ, who is the manifestation of the faithfulness of God and the author and perfecter of the whole narrative of Faith. While Bultmannian and overly existential understandings of faith might be called into question, one wonders whether such exegetical readings of faith might provide a more secure foundation for Jüngel’s theological approach and provide an even more Christological reading of faith.

***
Peter Leithart comments on Matthew Levering’s new book, Participatory Biblical Exegesis over on the First Things blog.

Levering’s decision to focus attention on history is a brilliant theological and rhetorical move. Theologically, Levering recognizes that exegesis always assumes some conception of history. Typology, as de Lubac recognized, was not so much a way of reading texts as a way of reading history. Rhetorically, by focusing on history, Levering upends historical-critical exegesis in its own living room. Historical-critical scholarship has boasted of its historical achievements, often with considerable justification. Yet it has also used historical scholarship as a solvent of theological interpretation. Levering could have taken the easy, polite route of saying that historical critics only need to add a theological layer to their historical interpretation. Instead, he mounts a direct assault: “Historical exegesis can’t even get history right.”

***
One of my lecturers, Steve Holmes posts some thoughts on confessionalism in light of the Enns affair.
***
N.T. Wright is on the Colbert Report on Thursday! [HT: Team Redd]
***
Lots of great lectures in the Calvin Seminary lecture archives. I have listened to several of these already, including those by Miroslav Volf, Oliver O’Donovan and N.T. Wright. However, ‘Why Only an Atheist Can Believe: Politics Between Fear and Trembling’ by Slavoj Žižek looks like it will be worth watching. Žižek is even more fun to watch than he is to read or listen to! [HT: Chris Tilling]
***
Andrew Cameron — Beyond Homophobia [HT: Michael Jenson]. More balanced than most and some good observations along the way. For instance,

However I want to suggest that the term is not really that helpful. Of course it does have handy political uses. I am accused of homophobia; I reply ‘but I am not!’ Therefore according to the well-known theorist in political rhetoric, George Lakoff, in that moment of reply I lose the argument. By resisting the label, I actually give the game away to my accuser. In the odd ways of modern political discourse, to resist a definition actually makes it stick all the harder. To protest that I am not-a-homophobe (or not-a-anything-else) somehow proves that really, I am.

My accuser’s terms of engagement have won the day.

***
Daniel Kirk has some thoughts on and quotes from James D.G. Dunn’s revised edition of The New Perspective of Paul. I am halfway through reading this myself (it is a rather weighty book, over 500 pages in length) and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get their head around the NPP. I will probably be posting some quotes in the next few days.

The 97 page-long introductory essay — ‘The New Perspective: whence, what and whither?’ — is itself worth the price of admission. Guy Prentiss Waters’ Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul comes in for particularly scathing criticism. Anyone who was ever under the delusion that Waters fairly represented Wright and Dunn should be completely disabused of that notion by the time that they finish reading this essay.

***
During the period of my absence from blogging here at Alastair.Adversaria, I took up online Boggle in a serious way, giving it up just after the end of my final exams (I finished in the top ten of the almost 60,000 players of Prolific). A few months ago I started a blog devoted to online wordgames. I doubt that any of you will be interested, but if anyone is — The Bogglers.
***
Today is Firefox 3 download day. Let’s break a record!
***
Nicholas Carr asks, ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’.

When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

Read the whole thing.

***
50 office-speak phrases we love to hate
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Cut Out Conversational Placeholders for Better Persuasion
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Joe Carter reposts an old post on the subject of LOLCatz. Ben Myers links us to a LOLCatz Bible. Not sure that I will be switching any time soon.

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Scans see gay brain differences
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How to Live With Just 100 Things
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Worst Office Freakout Ever


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Kevin Pieterson’s switch-hitting against New Zealand


The legality of the shot has been called into question. Unlike the traditional reverse sweep, switch-hitting involves a changed hand position and stance, effectively changing the offside into the legside, complicating lbw and legside no-ball rules, apart from anything else. Jonathan Agnew discusses it here. I suspect that it will be banned, which will be a pity. It is an entertaining thing to watch. UPDATE: It has just been given the all-clear by the MCC!

***
A Sheep with the Brain of a Goat

‘Well, when we started out we were trying to cure Alzheimers. Now we have a sheep with the mind of a goat…’


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Alastair.Adversaria will return in a month’s time (perhaps)

Lenten Guest Post - Day 17 -


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Outside the Castle in St. Andrews

George Wishart

Lenten Guest Post - Day 11 - The Jesus Diet

John 4:31-34

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

If more of America embraced Jesus’ teaching in John 4, perhaps we as a nation would not have the problem of rampant obesity that we do. In fact, it’s surprising that someone in Christendom hasn’t tried to capitalize on this as a weight-loss gimmick yet. Imagine: “The Jesus Diet: Serve God and Lose Weight…or Your Money Back!”

Why does Jesus compare food to the work of God in John 4? Probably because there are few other things in life as consistent a part of my daily routine as food. In comparing the two, Jesus is not saying that I should never need to eat (in other words, the will of God should be physically enough for me); rather, He urges me to compare my desire to eat to that of my desire to accomplish God’s work. Which is consistently greater? And why?

I eat – usually three meals a day – because I want to, and because I realize I need to in order to live. But do I have the same desire and realization as to the importance of doing the will of God and accomplishing His work? Why does the intake of food seem so automatic to me, but doing the will of God seems so optional at times?

Probably because of the varying visibility of the results of each. Because I am too often blinded by the physical nature (i.e that which I can see and feel), I am more aware of when I don’t eat (or don’t eat the right things): my body reacts by losing strength, I don’t feel all that good, and (most telling of all), I get hungry. The physical nature of my being takes over, and I become affected and motivated to do something about it.

However, if I don’t do what God asks, the physical repercussions often are not as evident. While my conscience might rage within me, I usually am able to still function physically; thus, my motivation to obey is diminished as the spiritual need for obedience often does not register in my world so consumed with the practical and tangible. Sadly, I must admit that my desire for food is at times greater than my desire for sanctification, all because my stomach becomes more of a god than God is. This sounds vaguely familiar to what Paul says in the New Testament: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

In considering all this, I arrive at the conclusion that I need to go on “The Jesus Diet.” I need to fast (for at least a couple of days) to make sure that I still do (and should) have control over my physical cravings. I need to read my Bible in the morning before I eat so as to not fool myself into thinking that just because I address my physical hunger, my spiritual hunger has been addressed as well. Finally, I need to take as much pleasure in obeying God as in observing dinner in order that, truly, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

Help me in all this, Lord, and enable me to only be a glutton in matters of serving You.

Craig Dunham is a husband, father, author, and seminarian (Covenant Theological Seminary) who lives in St. Louis. He is a member of Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) and blogs at Second Drafts.

Yet Another Bible Quiz

You know the Bible 100%!
 

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
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Want to feel better about your Bible knowledge? Try this quiz. It is incredibly easy (although the correct answers to a few of the questions could be debated). [HT: Dr Jim West]

More Wright Talks

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Part 1, Part 2

Anti-Wright Bullshit

There are a few things that make me really angry. People who throw around accusations and insinuations of heresy without bothering to get their facts straight first or without seeking to read those they criticize carefully and charitably rank very highly on this list. This particular quote from Dr. Fesko has been making the rounds of the blogosphere (see here, here and here):—

On core issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Wright stumbles about. He defines the Holy Spirit in the following manner: ‘In Genesis 1.2, the spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation’ 1:169). Here Wright avoids pantheism (the idea that God is the creation), but leans toward modalism (the idea that God merely takes on different forms, rather than being three distinct persons). … While one cannot be sure what Wright’s personal views are on the Trinity, his statements reveal no concept of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Given this absence, one suspects that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnessess would have no problem with his definitions and descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I have long ago ceased to be surprised at the bullshit that many Reformed writers spout on Wright and the FV. This is the sort of bullshit that you should expect from theologians who want to retain an appearance of competence, but lack the charity, honesty, commitment to the truth or self-discipline to make sure that they study very carefully before they open their mouths. The sheer quantity of bullshit that the present debates have produced is, it seems to me, very good proof that they are at least as much about power and maintaining the status quo as they are about substantial theological issues. There are theologians attempting to save face. Such accusations and insinuations are thrown out with ease and one will seldom if ever see them taken back or repented of. Nor will you see such accusations and insinuations really substantiated. The truth-value of such statements is not really important, precisely because they are attempts at bullshitting.

Sometimes it is good to call a spade a spade.

Glory to God in the Highest, And on Earth Peace, Goodwill Toward Men!

Greco - Nativity with Shepherds and Angels - 1605

May the presence of God in the gift of His Son be known in your heart and home this Christmas!

In Honour of Ninja Day

Theoninja

Ezekiel 24 and 1 John 2

A Useful Invention

There are so many uses for the invention that won this competition. Where does one get one?

Petty Arguments

It is amazing how petty some arguments can get when you are really close to someone. I quite relate to this web page. There are some mannerisms and habits that can get absolutely infuriating when you are around them for long enough. It is really only my brothers who have this effect on me. In the case of Mark, it is his habit of picking leaves off bushes and hedges as he walks down the street. For some reason, this habit irritates me immensely and, what is worse, Mark likes to irritate me as much as possible, so he gives his habit full rein when I am around. In Peter’s case it is his inability to walk into my room back home without beginning to fiddle mindlessly with the first thing that his fingers settle upon. He doesn’t even realize that he is doing it.

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My Brother Mark Unicycling

Respect.

Lil' Brother

Congratulations to Peter, who just received a slew of ‘A’s and ‘A*’s in his GCSE results this morning. Altogether he achieved a GNVQ (worth 4 GCSEs), an AS Level (worth 2 GCSEs) and 11 GCSEs. Not bad for a guy who spends much of his time getting on my nerves!

A Bad Day for Cricket


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A Visit to the Roaches

While I’m posting panoramas, I thought that I’d also post this one. This is where I went with my brothers yesterday evening to watch the sunset.

The Roaches

Cricket Match at Headingley

England vs. Pakistan

I spent the day in Headingley with my brothers Mark and Peter, watching England win the third Test against Pakistan and ‘Monty’ Panesar and Sajid Mahmood taking apart Pakistan’s batting order. England have now won the series and ensure that the Ashes will be competed by the top two teams in the world.

Bledsoe on the Gadarene Madman

The John 6 discussion continues here and in the comments of my last post.

Rich List

Thoughts on Lectures

This morning, while I was working, I listened to a couple of lectures. The first was a lecture by James Jordan, entitled ‘Rethinking Evangelism’. It was helpful, even though the points that he made are quite familiar to me by now. One of the important points that Jordan makes on this subject is that we tend to limit our understanding of the gospel when we focus primarily on the problems of sin, guilt and condemnation. Such concerns are no longer central in the minds of most people in our society.

Jordan suggests that we highlight different elements of the good news in primary evangelism. He is not saying that the gospel has changed, just that we need to emphasize different aspects of it if we are to address the issues that are most pressing in our current context. He draws attention to the fact that the underlying problem that the gospel addresses is that of death. The problem of death has, for most Protestants, been understood primarily in terms of sin, guilt and condemnation. However, the problem of death meets us in many forms. The problem of death confronts us in the form of the separation of loneliness and alienation. It faces us as a fear that holds us in bondage. It faces us in the form of anarchy and societal breakdown and it faces us in the form of tyranny and its power.

The gospel is the message of resurrection, of the defeat of death. For some it will be the knowledge that there is no more condemnation that will strike them most strongly. For others it will be the overcoming of alienation and restoration of community and fellowship. For others it will be the defeat of death as the great tyrannical power that keeps us in fear and bondage. Jordan draws attention to the prominent attention given to many of the themes in Scripture and in certain eras of Church history. There is no need to give one of these elements primacy over the others. People who respond to the gospel as the message of the restoration of community in an age of loneliness and alienation will find about other dimensions of the gospel in due course.

I also listened to the first of Alan Strange’s critiques of the FV. Whilst Strange’s treatment is considerably better than a number of the FV critiques out there, it seems to me that it fails on a number of grounds. Strange’s characterization of the FV as a response to ‘easy believism’ seems to be off-target to me. Regular opponents of ‘easy believism’ do not write books entitled Paedofaith. When I first encountered FV it struck me to be more of a response to neo-Puritan ‘hard believism’ than anything else. James Jordan’s assessment of the debate in The Sociology of the Church, seems to me to be one that most FV people would largely share. He writes:—

The neo-Puritan movement reacted strongly against “easy believism.” From my experience, ‘they tended to substitute “hard believism” for it. The neo-Puritans complained that the campus conversion experience is too superficial: People aren’t warned about hell, about the suffering that Christians will face, about predestination, etc. My problem with the neo-Puritan critique of campus conversion experiences is the same as my problem with campus conversionism. Both groups act as if some big crisis or decision were necessary to come into the faith. Both groups ignore the reality of the faith of young children. (In fact, both groups are heavily Baptist, thus typically American, in orientation; the neo-Puritans being almost to a man Reformed Baptists. ) Both groups put too much stress on an initial conversion experience. The neo-Puritans don’t like the soft-sell “easy” conversion; they want a hard-sell gospel with all the hard facts brought out first. They seem to want to manipulate “true conversions,” and eliminate “stony ground and thorny ground” conversions. This, however, I do not think is Biblical. The Sower sowed the stony and the thorny ground, and did not object to the plants that sprang up from his “easy and free” sowing. Not all persevered, however, a fact that the Sower also recognized (Matt, 13:4-9, 18-23). Perseverance is the real issue here. There is no need to react against simple evangelistic methods, such as the “Four Spiritual Laws.” The issue is not initial conversion. Rather, the issue is perseverance. Once people are brought into the faith, they need to be shepherded into maturity.

FV proponents are often mistaken for moralists, because they believe that ethics cannot be marginalized in our understanding of the gospel and faithfulness cannot be tidily separated from faith. As Peter Leithart points out, the gospel is about transformation of life. The problem that many critics of the FV have is that they have not appreciated the reality of gospel ethics — a form of ethics that is truly good news, rather than condemning legalism. Consequently they are doomed to perennial debates about ‘nomianism’ and ‘antinomianism’. As Oliver O’Donovan observes at the start of his Resurrection and Moral Order, moralism and antinomianism are two sides of the same coin; both positions operate within the realm of the flesh. He writes:—

Every way of life not lived by the Spirit of God is lived by ‘the flesh’, by man taking responsibility for himself whether in libertarian or legalistic ways, without the good news that God has taken responsibility for him. Consequently we cannot admit the suggestion that Christian ethics should pick its way between the two poles of law and licence in search of middle ground. Such an approach could end up by being only what it was from the start, an oscillation between two sub-Christian forms of life. A consistent Christianity must take a different path altogether, the path of an integrally evangelical ethics which rejoices the heart and gives light to the eyes because it springs from God’s gift to mankind in Jesus Christ.

I also believe that the suggestion that the FV is a reaction against judicial theology is without genuine foundation. I have yet to see any of the key FV proponents attacking judicial theology. What they have attacked is the failure to think in relational categories. However, there need not be any either-or.

The supposed antagonism that FV proponents create between systematic and biblical theology also seems to be largely a figment of the imaginations of the critics of the FV. What FV proponents are reacting against is a certain way of doing systematics, which is indeed at odds with the best of biblical theology; they are not rejecting systematics per se. It seems to me that many of the problems that FV people have with Reformed systematic theology arises from the fact that much classic Reformed theology operates according to an overly spatial ordering system. Such systems cannot adequately account for temporal development, which is central to biblical theology. I have no problem imagining forms of systematic theology in which temporal categories could have fuller expression.

Much Reformed theology is written in the form of the theological map, with different ‘loci’ (or places) detailed. There are, however, other ways of writing theology. Theology written as itinerary, rather than as map, is a way of writing theology in which the time element can be more adequately dealt with. Such forms of theology have far more room for analogical ways of thinking and can also easily hold things together that appear contradictory to a purely spatially-ordered system.

It seems to me that many of the charges of ‘monocovenantalism’, for example, that one hears today arise in part from an overly spatial ordering of theology. Documents such as the Westminster Confession do not have very developed understandings of eschatology and of the covenant as something that is continuingly developing throughout history. Understanding the character of the Church and the reality of apostasy is difficult without robust temporal categories, let alone the relationship between the old and new covenants.

The transformation of the old covenant order in the resurrection of Christ is something that Reformed theology has often struggled to understand in terms of its familiar spatial categories. For example, the idea that Leviticus might still regulate new covenant worship in an analogical fashion is hard to process within a spatial understanding of theology, where Leviticus is hermetically sealed in its own ‘place’ within redemptive history. Within a form of theology that has ‘space’ (the ubiquitous metaphor again!) for temporal development and transformation, however, it makes a lot of sense.

Wright in Birmingham

From here:

‘Christian Mission in a Pagan Culture’
A day with Bishop Tom Wright
Carrs Lane Church Centre, Birmingham
Saturday 17th June 2006
10am - 4pm
£18 (unwaged £12) - bring your own lunch

Is British culture Christian, secular - or pagan? How is paganism understood in the New Testament? What is a Christian and a pagan worldview? Is it constructive to talk, or think, of our culture as pagan? How should this affect Christian living, church life and mission today?

To request a registration form, please e-mail conference@gospel-culture.org.uk typing ‘register’ in the subject box.

Exalted to the Pantheon

Apparently I am now one of the ‘top Alastairs in the world’ (which probably says a lot about the paucity of great Alastairs around)!



New Blog

Just a note to say that I am now (occasionally) blogging here.

Skydiving for Charity

Parachute Jump

On 27th June I will be doing a parachute jump with a friend in order to raise support for the work of UCB. I have never done a parachute jump before and am a little apprehensive. However, it should be a good challenge and hopefully raise some money for a good cause along the way.

I set up an online sponsorship page a few days ago, but haven’t publicized it much yet. If you are able to donate some money, I would be extremely grateful. The cost of the actual jumps will be covered by myself and my friend. Anything that you donate will go straight to the work of UCB.

To make things even better, UCB will give two return Eurostar tickets to the person who donates the most money to our jump. The tickets are valid until 24th April 2010 and can take you to Paris, Brussels, Lille, or the Disneyland Resort Paris.

You don’t have to live in the UK to donate money online, you will just need to know the exchange rate, which can easily be worked out on this site.

Thank you very much for your support.

The Sponsorship Page

René Girard

René Girard receives his honorary doctorate

A week ago I graduated from the University of St. Andrews. The graduation ceremony was very enjoyable, but was made far more memorable on account of the fact that René Girard was being presented with an honorary doctorate.

I have long been a huge fan of the work of René Girard. In contrast to many other thinkers, Girard is renowned, not for many insights in various areas of study, but for a singular idea of profound explanatory potential, a simple insight that illuminates innumerable otherwise perplexing questions. Girard’s great insight is that human desire, far from being purely individual and arising within us apart from external influence, is imitative and ‘inter-dividual’ in its constitution. From this single insight great light is shed upon social and interpersonal dynamics, religion, mythology and culture.

Girard claims that we learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others. This form of behaviour is easiest to observe in the case of children. Put two children in a room with a hundred toys and it is quite likely that they will end up fighting over the same one. Rather than arising spontaneously or being fixed on predefined objects, each child’s desire for the object is mediated and reinforced by the desire of the other. Girard argues that desire is ‘mimetic’ in character; our desire does not directly fix itself on objects, but is mediated by the desire of others for certain objects. Invested with the aura of the other’s desire, certain objects can become suddenly greatly desirable to us.

The relationship of imitation (often mutual) between the desiring person and the mediator of their desire is deeply important. Objects of desire are largely interchangeable, but the bond between the individual and the mediator of his or her desire is far stronger than this. This relationship of imitation can be manifested in a deep attraction between the top mimetic partners, an attraction that can transform into antagonism with incredible ease. Both the attraction and the antagonism find a common source in the imitative relationship that exists between the two partners. In such a mimetic relationship the one who desires wants to be like the model of his or her desire in all things, to occupy their position (Girard’s account of the Oedipus complex follows this line).

As they both seek the same object of desire and cannot share it, it is not surprising that rivalry develops. Girard finds this dynamic in much great literature. For instance, two friends desire the same woman and become each other’s rival. For Girard, the most important relationship in this classic love triangle is the relationship between the two friends. In such a relationship the woman may well be interchangeable with almost any other woman. What makes her significant is not what she is in herself, but what she is as surrounded by the aura of the other’s desire. She is desirable because she is desired by the other. Girard observes the way in which such mimetic rivalries escalate and how ‘scapegoats’ serve as lightning conductors for the violence that these rivalries breed. Warring parties can be reconciled through the scapegoat mechanism, as they join together in venting their violence on a third party.

The fact of imitative desire helps to explain the contagious power of certain evil actions. After the first stone has been thrown, each following stone becomes progressively easier to cast, having a model to follow. Imitation and the scapegoat mechanism illuminates the manner in which evil reports and false accusations can gain virtually unstoppable momentum; the initiation of such a report is like the first fall of stones down a mountainside, which starts the landslide. The guilt of the scapegoat is everywhere presumed and no fair hearing is given. As a single false report is repeated and parroted enough, it gains in credibility with each repetition, until the unanimity created by the contagion of imitation makes its truth appear undeniable.

Girard’s insight concerning mimetic desire can help us understand some of the mechanics of dysfunctional relationships and psychologies. For instance, the masochist is someone who desires the unobtainable, or always thwarts his own attempts to gain the object of his desire. He desires the failure of his desire to reach its supposed object, subconsciously aware of the fact that, if the desire were to achieve its object, it would merely have secured its own death. If the masochist were in fact to gain the object of his desire, it would cease to be desirable to him. The thing that makes the object desirable is the obstacle (whether the prohibition or the person) that obstructs the way.

Masochism is central to the psychology of sin. Sin is aroused by the Law, because the Law sets up a system of prohibitions, which invests the transgression with the aura of desirability for it. Apart from the Law sin lacks this degree of desirability. In the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we see such a dynamic in operation. The fact that the fruit is forbidden is used by Satan to excite the desire of Adam and Eve. Satan portrays God as a model-obstacle to Adam and Eve: God places a taboo on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because he wishes to prevent Adam and Eve from achieving the self-sufficiency that he enjoys. Satan thus twists the natural relationship of imitation that mankind should have with God into a perverted and masochistic one. Rather than the positive imitation of God’s desire that mankind should display, Satan presents God’s desire as an obstacle.

It is this sort of logic that Slavoj Žižek appeals to when he observes that, with the ‘death of God’, far from everything being permitted, nothing is permitted. The perverted desire of sin depends on God for its survival. Where there is no God left to prohibit, everything ceases to be desirable. Sin is drawn to death. It desires that which is forbidden, but it cannot satisfy that desire. Every forbidden fruit will turn to dust in its mouth. Sinners desire the death of God, but this death of God leaves them further from satisfaction than they were beforehand.

Mimetic desire can explain why we often chose as models of desire people who are indifferent to us or despise us (unsmiling models create the aura of desirability that goes with top brand products). Their indifference is seen to be indicative of a self-sufficiency that we lack. We desire to be self-sufficient like them and so we desire the objects that they desire.

Our sense of self-worth is not unaffected by mimetic desire. Our self-worth can often involve imitation of how others value us. This can produce ugly relationships on occasions. The girlfriend who keeps returning to the abusive boyfriend can be hooked on him like a drug. As he continues to mistreat her, her sense of self-worth plummets and becomes increasingly dependent on any displays of affection that he might give her. Far from undermining his role as a model of her self-valuation, the abuse of the boyfriend may actually serve to reinforce his role. A person in such an abusive situation may well reject the very people who most care for her (their care and love being taken as a sign of their insufficiency), while being irresistibly drawn to the one who despises and abuses her. The violence of the boyfriend reinforces her belief that beyond this violence lies the promised land of self-worth. However, deep down she knows that this is an illusory promise; if the violence were to cease, she would not enjoy the self-worth that she seeks. Ultimately it is the violence that creates the illusion; were the violence to end the illusion would disappear too.

Girard’s insight into the mimetic character of desire challenges us to ask questions about the reasons why we desire and don’t desire certain things. For example, do we pay a high price for items because we value them, or do we value items because we pay a high price for them? I know a bookseller who sends out a regular mailing list. If one of the books doesn’t sell after a number of mailings he will, counter-intuitively, raise the price of the book in question. The book almost invariably sells in the next mailing. Supposing the price tag to be an indicator of the desire of the other, we can invest certain objects with an aura of desirability that they might otherwise lack. Girard also helps us to uncover the hidden causes of our rivalries and exposes the manner in which we have unwittingly used others as our scapegoats.

Links

It has been several months since I last blogged here; it is about time that I made some sort of return. As a number of you already know, this blog is currently convalescing after having been hacked by blog spammers. I trust that, in time, everything will return to normal. However, at present there are still several posts with hidden script at the end of them, and a couple of dozen other posts have been deleted altogether. My blog has also been removed from Google’s index. Lord-willing, I will be able to get it back on within the next month or so. Fortunately, most of the damaged and deleted posts can be recovered and, thanks to the generous help of Jon Barlow and my brother Peter, most of the problems seem to be resolved.

I thought that I would start with a relatively brief links post, before blogging some more substantial material within the next few weeks.

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Jon Mackenzie, a (particularly smart) fellow student here at the University of St. Andrews has kicked off the 2nd Annual Karl Barth Blog Conference, with a superb exploration of the relationship between philosophy and theology in the work of Eberhard Jüngel.

There are a number of parts of the post that invite thoughtful engagement. My initial questions have to do with the strength of the exegetical underpinnings of Jüngel’s approach, most particular with regard to his understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject of faith. One of the general effects of the New Perspective on Paul has been that of throwing the Christological (subjective genitive readings of pistis Iesou Christou), corporate and active dimensions of faith into sharper relief, situating the faith of the individual within the faith of the community that exists out of the faithfulness of Christ, who is the manifestation of the faithfulness of God and the author and perfecter of the whole narrative of Faith. While Bultmannian and overly existential understandings of faith might be called into question, one wonders whether such exegetical readings of faith might provide a more secure foundation for Jüngel’s theological approach and provide an even more Christological reading of faith.

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Peter Leithart comments on Matthew Levering’s new book, Participatory Biblical Exegesis over on the First Things blog.

Levering’s decision to focus attention on history is a brilliant theological and rhetorical move. Theologically, Levering recognizes that exegesis always assumes some conception of history. Typology, as de Lubac recognized, was not so much a way of reading texts as a way of reading history. Rhetorically, by focusing on history, Levering upends historical-critical exegesis in its own living room. Historical-critical scholarship has boasted of its historical achievements, often with considerable justification. Yet it has also used historical scholarship as a solvent of theological interpretation. Levering could have taken the easy, polite route of saying that historical critics only need to add a theological layer to their historical interpretation. Instead, he mounts a direct assault: “Historical exegesis can’t even get history right.”

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One of my lecturers, Steve Holmes posts some thoughts on confessionalism in light of the Enns affair.
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N.T. Wright is on the Colbert Report on Thursday! [HT: Team Redd]
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Lots of great lectures in the Calvin Seminary lecture archives. I have listened to several of these already, including those by Miroslav Volf, Oliver O’Donovan and N.T. Wright. However, ‘Why Only an Atheist Can Believe: Politics Between Fear and Trembling’ by Slavoj Žižek looks like it will be worth watching. Žižek is even more fun to watch than he is to read or listen to! [HT: Chris Tilling]
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Andrew Cameron — Beyond Homophobia [HT: Michael Jenson]. More balanced than most and some good observations along the way. For instance,

However I want to suggest that the term is not really that helpful. Of course it does have handy political uses. I am accused of homophobia; I reply ‘but I am not!’ Therefore according to the well-known theorist in political rhetoric, George Lakoff, in that moment of reply I lose the argument. By resisting the label, I actually give the game away to my accuser. In the odd ways of modern political discourse, to resist a definition actually makes it stick all the harder. To protest that I am not-a-homophobe (or not-a-anything-else) somehow proves that really, I am.

My accuser’s terms of engagement have won the day.

***
Daniel Kirk has some thoughts on and quotes from James D.G. Dunn’s revised edition of The New Perspective of Paul. I am halfway through reading this myself (it is a rather weighty book, over 500 pages in length) and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get their head around the NPP. I will probably be posting some quotes in the next few days.

The 97 page-long introductory essay — ‘The New Perspective: whence, what and whither?’ — is itself worth the price of admission. Guy Prentiss Waters’ Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul comes in for particularly scathing criticism. Anyone who was ever under the delusion that Waters fairly represented Wright and Dunn should be completely disabused of that notion by the time that they finish reading this essay.

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During the period of my absence from blogging here at Alastair.Adversaria, I took up online Boggle in a serious way, giving it up just after the end of my final exams (I finished in the top ten of the almost 60,000 players of Prolific). A few months ago I started a blog devoted to online wordgames. I doubt that any of you will be interested, but if anyone is — The Bogglers.
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Today is Firefox 3 download day. Let’s break a record!
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Nicholas Carr asks, ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’.

When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

Read the whole thing.

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50 office-speak phrases we love to hate
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Cut Out Conversational Placeholders for Better Persuasion
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Joe Carter reposts an old post on the subject of LOLCatz. Ben Myers links us to a LOLCatz Bible. Not sure that I will be switching any time soon.

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Scans see gay brain differences
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How to Live With Just 100 Things
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Worst Office Freakout Ever


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Kevin Pieterson’s switch-hitting against New Zealand


The legality of the shot has been called into question. Unlike the traditional reverse sweep, switch-hitting involves a changed hand position and stance, effectively changing the offside into the legside, complicating lbw and legside no-ball rules, apart from anything else. Jonathan Agnew discusses it here. I suspect that it will be banned, which will be a pity. It is an entertaining thing to watch. UPDATE: It has just been given the all-clear by the MCC!

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A Sheep with the Brain of a Goat

‘Well, when we started out we were trying to cure Alzheimers. Now we have a sheep with the mind of a goat…’


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As of 2007, several airlines are experimenting with base station and antenna systems installed to cam dildo allowing low power, short-range connection of any phones aboard to remain connected to the aircraft’s base station.

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Alastair.Adversaria will return in a month’s time (perhaps)

Lenten Guest Post - Day 17 -


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Passengers wanting to use the service received carson loan california officer message welcoming them to the AeroMobile system when they first switched-on their phones.

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Concepts covered in this patent (cited in at least 34 other patents) also were later extended to several satellite communication systems.

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With third generation (3G) networks, which are also known as IMT-2000 networks, about three out of four networks are on new home xealand loans (also known as UMTS) standard, usually seen as the natural evolution path for GSM and TDMA networks.

Outside the Castle in St. Andrews

George Wishart

Lenten Guest Post - Day 11 - The Jesus Diet

John 4:31-34

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

If more of America embraced Jesus’ teaching in John 4, perhaps we as a nation would not have the problem of rampant obesity that we do. In fact, it’s surprising that someone in Christendom hasn’t tried to capitalize on this as a weight-loss gimmick yet. Imagine: “The Jesus Diet: Serve God and Lose Weight…or Your Money Back!”

Why does Jesus compare food to the work of God in John 4? Probably because there are few other things in life as consistent a part of my daily routine as food. In comparing the two, Jesus is not saying that I should never need to eat (in other words, the will of God should be physically enough for me); rather, He urges me to compare my desire to eat to that of my desire to accomplish God’s work. Which is consistently greater? And why?

I eat – usually three meals a day – because I want to, and because I realize I need to in order to live. But do I have the same desire and realization as to the importance of doing the will of God and accomplishing His work? Why does the intake of food seem so automatic to me, but doing the will of God seems so optional at times?

Probably because of the varying visibility of the results of each. Because I am too often blinded by the physical nature (i.e that which I can see and feel), I am more aware of when I don’t eat (or don’t eat the right things): my body reacts by losing strength, I don’t feel all that good, and (most telling of all), I get hungry. The physical nature of my being takes over, and I become affected and motivated to do something about it.

However, if I don’t do what God asks, the physical repercussions often are not as evident. While my conscience might rage within me, I usually am able to still function physically; thus, my motivation to obey is diminished as the spiritual need for obedience often does not register in my world so consumed with the practical and tangible. Sadly, I must admit that my desire for food is at times greater than my desire for sanctification, all because my stomach becomes more of a god than God is. This sounds vaguely familiar to what Paul says in the New Testament: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

In considering all this, I arrive at the conclusion that I need to go on “The Jesus Diet.” I need to fast (for at least a couple of days) to make sure that I still do (and should) have control over my physical cravings. I need to read my Bible in the morning before I eat so as to not fool myself into thinking that just because I address my physical hunger, my spiritual hunger has been addressed as well. Finally, I need to take as much pleasure in obeying God as in observing dinner in order that, truly, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

Help me in all this, Lord, and enable me to only be a glutton in matters of serving You.

Craig Dunham is a husband, father, author, and seminarian (Covenant Theological Seminary) who lives in St. Louis. He is a member of Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) and blogs at Second Drafts.

Yet Another Bible Quiz

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Ultimate Bible Quiz
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Want to feel better about your Bible knowledge? Try this quiz. It is incredibly easy (although the correct answers to a few of the questions could be debated). [HT: Dr Jim West]

More Wright Talks

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Part 1, Part 2

Anti-Wright Bullshit

There are a few things that make me really angry. People who throw around accusations and insinuations of heresy without bothering to get their facts straight first or without seeking to read those they criticize carefully and charitably rank very highly on this list. This particular quote from Dr. Fesko has been making the rounds of the blogosphere (see here, here and here):—

On core issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Wright stumbles about. He defines the Holy Spirit in the following manner: ‘In Genesis 1.2, the spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation’ 1:169). Here Wright avoids pantheism (the idea that God is the creation), but leans toward modalism (the idea that God merely takes on different forms, rather than being three distinct persons). … While one cannot be sure what Wright’s personal views are on the Trinity, his statements reveal no concept of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Given this absence, one suspects that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnessess would have no problem with his definitions and descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I have long ago ceased to be surprised at the bullshit that many Reformed writers spout on Wright and the FV. This is the sort of bullshit that you should expect from theologians who want to retain an appearance of competence, but lack the charity, honesty, commitment to the truth or self-discipline to make sure that they study very carefully before they open their mouths. The sheer quantity of bullshit that the present debates have produced is, it seems to me, very good proof that they are at least as much about power and maintaining the status quo as they are about substantial theological issues. There are theologians attempting to save face. Such accusations and insinuations are thrown out with ease and one will seldom if ever see them taken back or repented of. Nor will you see such accusations and insinuations really substantiated. The truth-value of such statements is not really important, precisely because they are attempts at bullshitting.

Sometimes it is good to call a spade a spade.

Glory to God in the Highest, And on Earth Peace, Goodwill Toward Men!

Greco - Nativity with Shepherds and Angels - 1605

May the presence of God in the gift of His Son be known in your heart and home this Christmas!

In Honour of Ninja Day

Theoninja

Ezekiel 24 and 1 John 2

David Field observes a very interesting potential parallel.

A Useful Invention

There are so many uses for the invention that won this competition. Where does one get one?

Petty Arguments

It is amazing how petty some arguments can get when you are really close to someone. I quite relate to this web page. There are some mannerisms and habits that can get absolutely infuriating when you are around them for long enough. It is really only my brothers who have this effect on me. In the case of Mark, it is his habit of picking leaves off bushes and hedges as he walks down the street. For some reason, this habit irritates me immensely and, what is worse, Mark likes to irritate me as much as possible, so he gives his habit full rein when I am around. In Peter’s case it is his inability to walk into my room back home without beginning to fiddle mindlessly with the first thing that his fingers settle upon. He doesn’t even realize that he is doing it.

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On July 20, 2005, the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), loan officer michigan mortgage ohio California consumer advocacy organization, filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) against Cingular Wireless for the unauthorized billing of non-communications related charges, such as loan officer michigan mortgage ohio s.

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My Brother Mark Unicycling

Respect.

Lil' Brother

Congratulations to Peter, who just received a slew of ‘A’s and ‘A*’s in his GCSE results this morning. Altogether he achieved a GNVQ (worth 4 GCSEs), an AS Level (worth 2 GCSEs) and 11 GCSEs. Not bad for a guy who spends much of his time getting on my nerves!

A Bad Day for Cricket


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A Visit to the Roaches

While I’m posting panoramas, I thought that I’d also post this one. This is where I went with my brothers yesterday evening to watch the sunset.

The Roaches

Cricket Match at Headingley

England vs. Pakistan

I spent the day in Headingley with my brothers Mark and Peter, watching England win the third Test against Pakistan and ‘Monty’ Panesar and Sajid Mahmood taking apart Pakistan’s batting order. England have now won the series and ensure that the Ashes will be competed by the top two teams in the world.

Bledsoe on the Gadarene Madman

The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine (Anglo-Saxon, c.1000)

Thought-provoking post from Rich Bledsoe. [HT: Mark Horne]

The John 6 discussion continues here and in the comments of my last post.

Rich List

Money

How rich are you? [HT: Dr. Jim West]

Thoughts on Lectures

This morning, while I was working, I listened to a couple of lectures. The first was a lecture by James Jordan, entitled ‘Rethinking Evangelism’. It was helpful, even though the points that he made are quite familiar to me by now. One of the important points that Jordan makes on this subject is that we tend to limit our understanding of the gospel when we focus primarily on the problems of sin, guilt and condemnation. Such concerns are no longer central in the minds of most people in our society.

Jordan suggests that we highlight different elements of the good news in primary evangelism. He is not saying that the gospel has changed, just that we need to emphasize different aspects of it if we are to address the issues that are most pressing in our current context. He draws attention to the fact that the underlying problem that the gospel addresses is that of death. The problem of death has, for most Protestants, been understood primarily in terms of sin, guilt and condemnation. However, the problem of death meets us in many forms. The problem of death confronts us in the form of the separation of loneliness and alienation. It faces us as a fear that holds us in bondage. It faces us in the form of anarchy and societal breakdown and it faces us in the form of tyranny and its power.

The gospel is the message of resurrection, of the defeat of death. For some it will be the knowledge that there is no more condemnation that will strike them most strongly. For others it will be the overcoming of alienation and restoration of community and fellowship. For others it will be the defeat of death as the great tyrannical power that keeps us in fear and bondage. Jordan draws attention to the prominent attention given to many of the themes in Scripture and in certain eras of Church history. There is no need to give one of these elements primacy over the others. People who respond to the gospel as the message of the restoration of community in an age of loneliness and alienation will find about other dimensions of the gospel in due course.

I also listened to the first of Alan Strange’s critiques of the FV. Whilst Strange’s treatment is considerably better than a number of the FV critiques out there, it seems to me that it fails on a number of grounds. Strange’s characterization of the FV as a response to ‘easy believism’ seems to be off-target to me. Regular opponents of ‘easy believism’ do not write books entitled Paedofaith. When I first encountered FV it struck me to be more of a response to neo-Puritan ‘hard believism’ than anything else. James Jordan’s assessment of the debate in The Sociology of the Church, seems to me to be one that most FV people would largely share. He writes:—

The neo-Puritan movement reacted strongly against “easy believism.” From my experience, ‘they tended to substitute “hard believism” for it. The neo-Puritans complained that the campus conversion experience is too superficial: People aren’t warned about hell, about the suffering that Christians will face, about predestination, etc. My problem with the neo-Puritan critique of campus conversion experiences is the same as my problem with campus conversionism. Both groups act as if some big crisis or decision were necessary to come into the faith. Both groups ignore the reality of the faith of young children. (In fact, both groups are heavily Baptist, thus typically American, in orientation; the neo-Puritans being almost to a man Reformed Baptists. ) Both groups put too much stress on an initial conversion experience. The neo-Puritans don’t like the soft-sell “easy” conversion; they want a hard-sell gospel with all the hard facts brought out first. They seem to want to manipulate “true conversions,” and eliminate “stony ground and thorny ground” conversions. This, however, I do not think is Biblical. The Sower sowed the stony and the thorny ground, and did not object to the plants that sprang up from his “easy and free” sowing. Not all persevered, however, a fact that the Sower also recognized (Matt, 13:4-9, 18-23). Perseverance is the real issue here. There is no need to react against simple evangelistic methods, such as the “Four Spiritual Laws.” The issue is not initial conversion. Rather, the issue is perseverance. Once people are brought into the faith, they need to be shepherded into maturity.

FV proponents are often mistaken for moralists, because they believe that ethics cannot be marginalized in our understanding of the gospel and faithfulness cannot be tidily separated from faith. As Peter Leithart points out, the gospel is about transformation of life. The problem that many critics of the FV have is that they have not appreciated the reality of gospel ethics — a form of ethics that is truly good news, rather than condemning legalism. Consequently they are doomed to perennial debates about ‘nomianism’ and ‘antinomianism’. As Oliver O’Donovan observes at the start of his Resurrection and Moral Order, moralism and antinomianism are two sides of the same coin; both positions operate within the realm of the flesh. He writes:—

Every way of life not lived by the Spirit of God is lived by ‘the flesh’, by man taking responsibility for himself whether in libertarian or legalistic ways, without the good news that God has taken responsibility for him. Consequently we cannot admit the suggestion that Christian ethics should pick its way between the two poles of law and licence in search of middle ground. Such an approach could end up by being only what it was from the start, an oscillation between two sub-Christian forms of life. A consistent Christianity must take a different path altogether, the path of an integrally evangelical ethics which rejoices the heart and gives light to the eyes because it springs from God’s gift to mankind in Jesus Christ.

I also believe that the suggestion that the FV is a reaction against judicial theology is without genuine foundation. I have yet to see any of the key FV proponents attacking judicial theology. What they have attacked is the failure to think in relational categories. However, there need not be any either-or.

The supposed antagonism that FV proponents create between systematic and biblical theology also seems to be largely a figment of the imaginations of the critics of the FV. What FV proponents are reacting against is a certain way of doing systematics, which is indeed at odds with the best of biblical theology; they are not rejecting systematics per se. It seems to me that many of the problems that FV people have with Reformed systematic theology arises from the fact that much classic Reformed theology operates according to an overly spatial ordering system. Such systems cannot adequately account for temporal development, which is central to biblical theology. I have no problem imagining forms of systematic theology in which temporal categories could have fuller expression.

Much Reformed theology is written in the form of the theological map, with different ‘loci’ (or places) detailed. There are, however, other ways of writing theology. Theology written as itinerary, rather than as map, is a way of writing theology in which the time element can be more adequately dealt with. Such forms of theology have far more room for analogical ways of thinking and can also easily hold things together that appear contradictory to a purely spatially-ordered system.

It seems to me that many of the charges of ‘monocovenantalism’, for example, that one hears today arise in part from an overly spatial ordering of theology. Documents such as the Westminster Confession do not have very developed understandings of eschatology and of the covenant as something that is continuingly developing throughout history. Understanding the character of the Church and the reality of apostasy is difficult without robust temporal categories, let alone the relationship between the old and new covenants.

The transformation of the old covenant order in the resurrection of Christ is something that Reformed theology has often struggled to understand in terms of its familiar spatial categories. For example, the idea that Leviticus might still regulate new covenant worship in an analogical fashion is hard to process within a spatial understanding of theology, where Leviticus is hermetically sealed in its own ‘place’ within redemptive history. Within a form of theology that has ‘space’ (the ubiquitous metaphor again!) for temporal development and transformation, however, it makes a lot of sense.

Wright in Birmingham

From here:

‘Christian Mission in a Pagan Culture’
A day with Bishop Tom Wright
Carrs Lane Church Centre, Birmingham
Saturday 17th June 2006
10am - 4pm
£18 (unwaged £12) - bring your own lunch

Is British culture Christian, secular - or pagan? How is paganism understood in the New Testament? What is a Christian and a pagan worldview? Is it constructive to talk, or think, of our culture as pagan? How should this affect Christian living, church life and mission today?

To request a registration form, please e-mail conference@gospel-culture.org.uk typing ‘register’ in the subject box.

Exalted to the Pantheon

Apparently I am now one of the ‘top Alastairs in the world’ (which probably says a lot about the paucity of great Alastairs around)!