Assumed Audience: people interested in reading yet more things I write.
So I hopped onto the bandwagon that everyone else is in 2019—with the excuse that I’ve been thinking about it since late 2017!—and started an email newsletter: Across the Sundering Seas
One reason I’m interested in the email newsletter as a medium is because I think it can help with the assumed audience problem. A blog is written into the void, and has a certain kind of atemporality and acontextuality to it. Some readers follow along devotedly in their RSS readers; but equally someone may stumble on something I wrote half a decade ago. That is the beauty and wonder of blogs, and also their great challenge.
An email is a letter to an audience. Like a letter, you can respond, just by hitting the Reply button in your email client! But both of those benefits without the horrible-ness that is public comment threads, and with a much more direct kind of conversation. I can know you’re reading because you want to be, and I can write accordingly.
So here’s to seeing how this goes. I am excited to see how both this and my supporters-only podcast develop over the course of the year. You can read the first issue, subscribe, or just ignore this if newsletters aren’t your thing!
Yesterday while talking with my wife as we drove to spend some time with extended family, I caught myself: tempted to describe a given response to a particular cultural ill as a solution. This is a turn of thinking that’s especially tempting for engineers—and perhaps the more so engineers with a physics background (like me!). In two of the fields to which I have applied myself (physics and software), knowledge often genuinely appears in the form of solutions to problems. But the extent to which science (and scientism) on the one hand and engineering disciplines (especially software) on the other have come to the fore in our culture—the degree to which they have achieved nearly unassailable authority for us—means that we now too often take solutions as coextant with knowledge more generally.
This is solutionism, and it is bad. I noted above that two of the fields to which I have applied myself share this feature of having solutions to problems as their predominant form of knowledge. But this is not so in two of the other fields I have studied in some depth: for neither theology nor music is a solution very often in demand. Very different modes of thought and of reasoning are in play in each of those, and appropriately so.
So it was with some particular appreciation that I read this piece by L. M. Sacasas, reflecting on the recent New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg. Sacasas rightly highlights how mistaken this solutionist frame of knowledge is. From his conclusion (emphasis mine):
Reducing knowledge to know-how and doing away with thought leaves us trapped by an impulse to see the world merely as a field of problems to be solved by the application of the proper tool or technique, and this impulse is also compulsive because it cannot abide inaction. We can call this an ideology or we can simply call it a frame of mind, but either way it seems that this is closer to the truth about the mindset of Silicon Valley.
It is not a matter of stupidity or education, formally understood, or any kind of personal turpitude. Indeed, by most accounts, Zuckerberg is both earnest and, in his own way, thoughtful. Rather it is the case that one’s intelligence and one’s education, even if it were deeply humanistic, and one’s moral outlook, otherwise exemplary and decent, are framed by something more fundamental: a distinctive way of perceiving the world. This way of seeing the world, including the human being, as a field of problems to be solved by the application of tools and techniques, bends all of our faculties to its own ends. The solution is the truth, the solution is the good, the solution the beautiful. Nothing that is given is valued.
The trouble with this way of seeing the world is that it cannot quite imagine the possibility that some problems are not susceptible to merely technical solutions or, much less, that some problems are best abided. It is also plagued by hubris—often of the worst sort, the hubris of the powerful and well-intentioned—and, consequently, it is incapable of perceiving its own limits. As in the Greek tragedies, hubris generates blindness, a blindness born precisely out of one’s distinctive way of seeing. And that’s not the worst of it. That worst of it is that we are all, to some degree, now tempted and prone to see the world in just this way too.
Adam Giese’s “Level up your
.filter game” does something really interesting and helpful: it introduces a bunch of fairly sophisticated functional programming concepts without ever mentioning functional programming and without ever using any of the jargon associated with those terms.
“Level up your
.filter game” gives you a reason to use some standard FP tools—currying, higher-order functions, composition—in your ordinary work. It’s pitched at working JS developers. It gives a real-world example of wanting to filter search results based on user input. It shows the utility of defining a bunch of small functions which can fit together like LEGO.
Array.prototype.filter effectively (though it has some good suggestions that way!) but primarily as a great example of the kind of pedagogy we need a lot more of to demonstrate the value of functional programming in ordinary, day-to-day development work.
An example of handling “the liberal order” correctly:
The modern liberal order abets technology’s formative power to the degree that it disavows any strong claims about ethics and human flourishing. It is in the space of that disavowal that technology as an implicit anthropology and an implicit politics takes root and expands, framing and conditioning any subsequent efforts to subject it to ethical critique. Our understanding of the human is already conditioned by our technological milieu. Fundamental to this tacit anthropology, or account of the human, is the infinite malleability of human nature. Malleable humanity is a precondition to the unfettered expansion of technology. (This is why transhumanism is the proper eschatology of our technological order. Ultimately, humanity must adapt and conform, even if it means the loss of humanity as we have known it. As explicit ideology, this may still seem like a fringe position; as implicit practice, however, it is widely adopted.)
—L. M. Sacasas, “Why We Can't Have Humane Technology”
I could not possibly agree more with this view of teaching software/CS.
We are focused on introductory programming education at a high-school and collegiate level — what is often called “CS 1” and “CS 2” (roughly, the first year of college). Pyret is being actively used in everything from high-schools to upper-level collegiate courses, giving us a tight feedback loop.
Of course, even in that setting there are differences of opinion about what needs to be taught. Some believe inheritance is so important it should be taught early in the first semester. We utterly reject this belief (as someone once wisely said, “object-oriented programming does not scale down”: what is the point of teaching classes and inheritance when students have not yet done anything interesting enough to encapsulate or inherit from?). Some have gone so far as to start teaching with Turing Machines. Unsurprisingly, we reject this view as well.
What we do not take a dogmatic stance on is exactly how early state and types should be introduced. Pyret has the usual stateful operations. We discussed this at some length, but eventually decided an introduction to programming must teach state. Pyret also has optional annotations, so different instructors can, depending on their preference, introduce types at different times.
I’m delighted to see work on languages like Dr. Racket and Pyret, and the more so because the teams behind both have been willing to set aside many of the dogmas of how CS has been taught and actually do pedagogical research. Also: OOP is a useful tool, but I’m with them: treating inheritance as a first-semester concept is… nutty.
The whole “Why Pyret?” page is worth reading if you have any interest in programming languages or teaching software development and computer science.
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
—Morning Prayer from the Common Worship of the Church of England
The prayers of the Church are a gift.
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
—Morning Prayer from the Common Worship of the Church of England
If you’re waiting to get out of trouble to praise God, you will never praise God.
—Tony Merida, sermon on November 20, 2016
I don’t often get to compose anymore, but every once in a while I still have opportunities. Here’s the processional I wrote for my little sister’s wedding—a trio for cello, oboe, and piano.
(Unfortunately, almost no one heard this, because it started raining—outdoor wedding—and the sound guys didn’t know to turn up the volume.)
A month ago, Alan Jacobs asked about quality conservative Christian podcasts. Here’s a big part of why there are so few (at Mere Orthodoxy):
As a Christian in the world of podcasting—I have both a “two dudes talking” show (Winning Slowly) and also a “one dude talking with maybe a brief musical intro and outro” show (New Rustacean)—I found much to agree with, but also much to clarify and a few things to disagree with…
First, a set of theses on podcasting as a medium. Some of these are obvious; none are intended to be tendentious. Some of them warrant further explanation—for which, see below….
After which, 32 theses (and another ~3,000 words) on the constraints and challenges of podcasting as a medium.
Aside: the format of this particular piece is heavily inspired by Jacobs’ own “79 Theses on Technology. For Disputation.”
Up the ante, you say? Sure, we’ll tackle the small, easy problem of systemic force and individual agency this season on Winning Slowly.
5.01: A Ph.D.-Level Math Problem—Structures and systems, agency and individuals: three axes (and a sub-axis) for thinking about the world we live in.
We introduce our system for thinking about the “structure/agency” or “systems and individuals” problem: how do the systems and structures of our lives shape us? How do we shape them? How free are we, and where are the places where more freedom is good, and the places where it might actually be bad? How do we confront the structural issues we face, or strengthen and preserve the good systems we do have in place?
It turns out the fastest way to get me to write 1,700 words on hermeneutics is to misread Tolkien.
I am reading John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision for the independent study on hermeneutics and theological method I am doing this summer. I have found the book fairly helpful overall, and think the authors are right to commend the church Fathers as models for Biblical interpretation in many ways. The authors do good (albeit somewhat tendentious) work arguing for whole-Bible/“intensive reading” strategies and the validity of typology as part of theological method. When they come to allegory, though, their argument almost immediately goes off the rails with a deeply misguided interpretation of The Lord of the Rings….
You can read the rest over at Mere Orthodoxy.
One of the reasons we do history… is because it acts as a brake… on our otherwise unbridled enthusiasm for our own ideas.
—N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Parts I & II, p. 54
I always appreciate Ben Thompson’s takes, but this—on the Thiel/Gawker imbroglio—is one of his best posts ever.
When designing a program, one should first think about how to make a intuitive and powerful program. Implementation issues should only be considered once a user interface has been designed.
This design rule is different than the others, since it describes how one should go about designing new features, not what the features should be. The problem with focusing on what can be done, and what is easy to do, is that too much of the implementation is exposed. This means that the user must know a great deal about the underlying system to be able to guess how the shell works, it also means that the language will often be rather low-level.
No one is ‘not worthy’ of our service in the body of Christ.
—Tony Merida, sermon at Imago Dei Church on March 6, 2016
N. T. Wright makes it painfully clear that it’s difficult (if not impossible) to understand Jesus fully and rightly without having a deep knowledge of the Old Testament:
Equally impressive are the strong hints, throughout the gospels, that Jesus was modelling his ministry not on one figure alone, but on a range of prophets from the Old Testament. Particularly striking is his evocation of the great lonely figure Micaiah ben Imlach (1 Kings 22), who, when asked about the coming battle, predicted the death of Ahab, king of Israel, by saying, ‘I saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no sheperd.’ Jesus, looking at the crowds, takes pity on them, because that is what they remind him of: leaderless sheep. Like Ezekiel, Jesus predicts that the temple will be abandoned by the Shekinah, left unprotected to its fate. Like Jeremiah, Jesus constantly runs the risk of being called a traitor to Israel’s national apsirations, while claiming all the time that he nevertheless is the true spokesman for the covenant god. This, as we shall see, lies behind a good part of the story of Jesus’ action in the Temple, and his subsequence ‘trial’: Jesus has predicted the destruction of the Temple and is on trial not least as a false prophet. Jesus replies to earlier critics and questioners with the sign of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was predicting immenent judgment on Nineveh, following his adventure with the fish; Jesus is predicting imminent judgment on Israel, and a similar sign will validate his message too. He is constantly redefining what the coming day will mean for Israel, warning her, like Amos, that it will be a day of darkness, not of light. Like Amos, too, he implies that the people of god are to be judged as the climax of the divine judgment upon all nations. The judgment which he announces upon Israel is sketched with the help of prophetic passages relating to the judgment of Jerusalem by Babylon, and also, more terrifyingly, passages which speak of the divine judgment upon Babylon itself.
Above all, Jesus adopts the style of, and consciously seems to imitate, Elijah. Here we are again in an interesting position vis-à-vis the sources. It is clear from all three synoptics that they, and presumably with them the early church as a whole, regard John the Baptist as in some sense Elijah redivivus. They nevertheless portray Jesus as acting in Elijah-like ways, and show that the disciples were thinking of Elijah-typology as giving them a blueprint for his, and their own, activity. Jesus himself, explaining the nature of his work, is portrayed using both Elijah and Elisha as models. Again, it is highly unlikely that the early church, seeing Jesus as the Messiah and hence John as Elija, created this identification out of nothing. However, at the same time, though John himself seems to have thought that Jesus was to be the new Elijah, Jesus actually returned the compliment. We begin here to see both parallel and distinction. Jesus’ ministry is so like that of Elijah that they can be easily confused. He too is announcing to the faithless people of YHWH that their covenant god will come to them in wrath. But at the same time he is also acting out a different message, one of celebration and inauguration, which bursts the mould of the Elijah-model.
From all of this it should be clear that Jesus regarded his ministry as in continuity with, and bringing to a climax, the work of the great prophets of the Old Testament, culminating in John the Baptist, whose initiative he had used as his launching-pad.
—N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
Title: Autonomous Individualism Date: 2015-09-26 13:00 Template: formats/quotation Tags: [quotes] Category: theology Source: Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians bibliography: /Users/chris/writing/icloud-drive/Documents/writing/library.bib csl: /Users/chris/writing/icloud-drive/Documents/writing/chicago.csl …
The pro me of the gospel does not further an autonomous individualism. It brings it to an end.
—Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians
Dear Republicans: your opposition to net neutrality might be justifiable as something other than kowtowing to megacorporations if you ever got around to proposing something else. As is, all you’re doing is propping up some of the nastiest, most anti-consumer companies in the country and sustaining monopolies and duopolies, supposedly in the name of “free markets”.
N.b. This isn’t intrinsically a partisan issue. It’s become one, but mostly because Republicans have felt compelled to do the bidding of the telecom industry for… reasons.
The only thing worse than a government monopoly is a private monopoly.
If Republicans wanted to push for local loop unbundling in place of net neutrality, almost everyone would be for it. (The exception: telecom companies.)
It would be pleasant if, for once, the historians and the theologians could set the agenda for the philosophers, instead of vice versa.
—N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996, p. 8.
This is one of the single most beautiful sentences in the Bible, and it is incredible in the original:
τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ.
He made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us—so that we might become God’s righteousness in him.
—2 Corinthians 5:21 (SBLGNT and my translation)
You don’t just use illustrations in preaching; you illustrate something. You don’t just offer applications in preaching; you apply something. That something is the word of God, rightly applied.
—Jim Shaddix, lecture, August 19, 2015
In my dream of dreams, Trump actually runs third party, which emboldens Bernie Sanders (should he not get the nom–whoa, Sanders vs. Trump would be the greatest political race OF ALL TIME) to also run third-party, since all of them have viable “cores,” and we get a four-party race that spawns four actual parties and American politics is freed from its bipartisan lock and a bald eagle screams across the sky while Stephen Colbert tears his shirt and flexes his muscles and fireworks explode in the shape of America over his head.
Internet acquaintance and generally solid thinker Derek Rishmawy hits this nail right on the head:
And here’s where I just want to say, if your first instinct when you watch or read about these videos is to think, “Geez, are you telling me they lied to get the footage of these people sorting through these fetal parts, or discussing prices non-chalantly over lunch? Woof. That’s a bridge too far”, then you’re reading the story wrong.
Ooh, look! A beta for Reeder 3! Shiny!
Another one in the music industry—but in this case, companies taking the long view and advancing the good of the whole community, rather than just their own bottom line. (Spreadbury, the guy behind SMuFL, was one of the team laid off in the aforementioned layoff from the Sibelius team, and now heads the product development for a new notation software tool from Steinberg.)
Avid: charging Sibelius users more money than ever for less value than ever, after laying off their dev team a couple years ago just to maximize profits.
This is not Winning Slowly material here, folks. They lost me (and many other) customers along the way, and they’re headed further down that road here.
Subscription models for software can be valuable and reasonable—but the providers have to justify them with product to match. Avid isn’t, and hasn’t been. I’ve no doubt they’re continuing to profit in the short term, but this will no doubt erode their market position and waste an amazing product in the long term. Greed destroys good things.
Holy Scripture is more than a watchword. It is also more than ‘light for today.’ It is God’s revealed Word for all men, for all times.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 50.
I confess: my first response to seeing this page was a flash of anger: Hey, he didn’t just learn from my site configuration, he actually stole my site design_!_ And then I remembered: I open-sourced the design precisely so people could do that. This was just the first time I’ve ever actually had someone reuse something I did and shared like this. It was a strange (but ultimately wonderful) feeling. I hope to have it again many more times.
In any case, I rather like the tweaks Andrew Comenga made to my design to make it his own; go take a look!
Poetry, as I have been arguing throughout this study, is not just a set of techniques for saying impressively what could he said otherwise. Rather, it is a particular way of imagining the world—particular in the double sense that poetry as such has its own logic, its own ways of making connections and engendering implications, and because each system of poetry has certain distinctive semantic thrusts that follow the momentum of its formal dispositions and habits of expression.
—Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 151.
What I would like to suggest about the effect of the language of poetry in this [Isa. 1:2–9] and most other Biblical prophecies is that it tends to lift the utterances to a second power of signification, aligning statements that are addressed to a concrete historical situation with an archetypal horizon. The Judean contemporaries of Isaiah the son of Amoz become the archetypes Sodom and Gomorrah in respect to both their collective destiny and their moral character. If one considers, as the metaphors of the poem require one to consider, how God has treated them as beloved sons, then their exploitation of the poor and the helpless in their midst (1:23 and elsewhere), in flagrant violation of God’s commands, becomes a paradigmatic instance of treachery, of man’s… capacity for self-destructive perverseness. In this fashion, a set of messages framed for a particular audience of the eighth century B.C.E. Is not just the transcription of a historical document but continues to speak age after age, inviting members of otherwise very different audiences to read themselves into the text.
—Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 146.
When the police beat an 87-year-old grandmother who called 911 to get medical help for her grandson who had been shot—just because they don’t believe her—and suffer no consequences for it, the “law” as such has become wicked. This doesn’t excuse riots, but it sure as heck explains them. Baltimore is broken, but primarily in a massive system of abuse. Yes, pray for peace. But remember that civic peace comes in large part through civic justice; rule of law follows the law ruling justly.
Connor Friedersdorf has a lot more; you need to read it, even though—or rather, precisely because—it is such a mess.
No matter that Deuteronomy had envisioned it and the prophets had foretold it; nothing could prepare one for the ruel reality and the apparently finality of the situation. The burden of Lamentations is not to question why this happened, but to give expression to the fact that it did. At certain moments the book seems to look beyond the destruction, to hold out hope for the future, but in the end despair overcomes hope. Past and future have little place in the book. It centers on the “present”—the moment of trauma, the interminable suffering. The book is not an explanation of suffering but a re-creation of it and a commemoration of it.
Why immortalize this moment of destruction? Because in its own way it signals the truth of the Bible’s theology, and it points to the continuation of the covenant between God and Israel….
This explains why the poet can cry out to God and expect a response, why can vent his anger at God, why he can declare that God continues to exist even though his temple does not (Lam 5:18–19), why God is portrayed as so strong and the enemy gets no credit for the destruction. The suffering is, as it were, an affirmation that God is still there and still concerned with the fate of Israel. He may hide his face, but he has not ceased to be Israel’s God. Lamentations contains the seeds of comfort and religious rebuilding that the exilic prophets (especially Second Isaiah) developed more fully in the aftermath of the destruction.
—Adele Berlin, Lamentations: A Commentary, 18–19.
… Lamentations more than anything is about formation: discovering what it means to be human in a world where things often times seems [sic] upside down. Lamentations squares off with this reality and responds with artistry and humanity before God.
—Heath A. Thomas, Poetry and Theology in the Book of Lamentations, p. xi.
“I don’t want a back door,” Rogers said. “I want a front door. And I want the front door to have multiple locks. Big locks….”
Rogers suggests the adoption of “front door” access will allow for essential security measures while keeping data safe from hackers or an outside attack. But opponents of the idea note that even broken into pieces, a master digital key creates security flaws. “There’s no way to do this where you don’t have unintentional vulnerabilities,” Donna Dodson, chief cybersecurity adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technologies, told the Post.
That last bit is absolutely true. The government basically wants to make sure it can spy on anyone, any time it wants. That’s a bad, bad plan.
This is sort of a hybrid review and essay. The review proper concludes:
In short, Echoes of Eden says all the right things. Barrs has provided a healthy, sound theology of the arts, reiterating and synthesizing the helpful work of Schaeffer, Lewis, Tolkien, O’Connor, and Dostoevsky. What is more, his survey of English literature grounds that theology in concrete examples we can follow. This is a solid book.
But there was a bit more to say about this, because…
There was one thing it lacked, though: beauty of its own. As Barrs himself says, “A book that is not well-written, no matter how compelling the story is, will not be reread multiple times” (114). I doubt I will read Echoes of Eden again, because this is true for non-fiction as well. Form matters. It may not be quite true that the way we say things is just as important as what we say—better to say the truth boringly than a lie splendidly—but it comes a close second. The truth is beautiful, and we should always aim to present it beautifully.
I think you’ll find the rest interesting! Take a look.
A note: I actually meant to have this reviewed about 18 months ago. I got buried in Greek III and it totally slipped my mind! Gladly, the folks at Crossway who sent me the book were understanding.
For as when a figure painted on wood has been soiled by dirt from outside, it is necessary for him whose figure it is to come again, so that the image can be renewed on the same material—because of his portrait even the material on which it is painted is not cast aside, but the portrait is reinscribed on it. In the same way the all-holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came to our place to renew the human being made according to himself, and to find him, as one lost, through the forgiveness, as himself says in the Gospels, “I came to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19.10)…. So, rightly wishing to help human beings, he sojourned as a human being, taking to himself a body like theirs and from below—I mean through the works of the body—that those not wishing to know him from his providence and governance of the universe, from the works done through the body might know the Word of God in the body, and through him the Father….
Now then, if they ask why he did not appear through other more noble parts of creation, or use some nobler instrument, as the sun or moon or stars or fire or air, but merely a human being, let them know that the Lord came not to be put on display but to heal and to teach those who were suffering. One being put on display only needs to appear and dazzle the beholders; but one who heals and teaches does not simply sojourn, but is of service to those in need and appears as those who need him can bear, lest by exceeding the need of those who suffer he trouble the very ones in need and the manifestation of the divine be of no benefit to them….
Properly, therefore, the Word of God took a body and used a human instrument, in order to give life to the body and in order that, just as he is known in creation by his works, so also he might act in a human being, and show himself everywhere, leaving nothing barren of his divinity and knowledge. Again, I repeat, resuming what we said before, that the Savior did this in order that as he fills everything everywhere by his presence, so also he might fill all things with the knowledge of himself, as the divine scriptures say, ‘The whole earth was filled with the knowledge of God’ (Isa 11.9).
—St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 14, 43, 45.
A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.
—Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters, p. 55.
Doctrine is not merely an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart…. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful.
—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:6.4.
One thing I didn’t talk about in comparing reading experiences on a Kindle and on an iPad the other day is the elephant in the room: old-fashioned books. I enjoy Kindle and iPad, but I still love books best. Turns out I’m not alone… and there might just be reason for it.
Paper books were supposed to be dead by now. For years, information theorists, marketers, and early adopters have told us their demise was imminent. Ikea even redesigned a bookshelf to hold something other than books. Yet in a world of screen ubiquity, many people still prefer to do their serious reading on paper.
Count me among them. When I need to read deeply—when I want to lose myself in a story or an intellectual journey, when focus and comprehension are paramount—I still turn to paper. Something just feels fundamentally richer about reading on it. And researchers are starting to think there’s something to this feeling.
I spent a good bit of time working on this over the last week, and I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Last week saw the premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, and with it a (predictable) storm of controversy from the evangelical community. Reviews have ranged from predictably critical to outright disdain to hostile readings, and from strongly (though not unreservedly) positive to more restrained restrained affirmation of the film on aesthetic and spiritual grounds to especially measured theological and artistic engagement. In short, the responses spanned exactly the range one would expect from the evangelical community, which is itself deeply divided on the purpose, value, and meaning of the arts—decades of conversation on the topic notwithstanding. Noah works as a sort of theological-artistic Rorschach test. We seem to find it in what we expect given its origins and our disposition.
Rather than offer another review (which would add nothing to the conversation at this point), or decry once again the predictable evangelical response to the arts, or even critique reviews with which I disagreed, I thought it might be useful instead to ask where we stand today and point to a few places we might grow from this.
I think you’ll find the rest of the piece salient and helpful.
This bit by Alastair Reynolds is an excellent summary of the position to which I have slowly come over the last few years of reflection on the question of physical death before the Fall. It shows the influence of patristic thought in the best way possible, and also demonstrates a great handle on the bigger picture of salvation history in the whole of the canon.
A few salient quotes. First, on moral and physical perfection:
Perfection was not the creation’s natural state, but its intended destiny (and salvation is not a ‘rebooting’ of creation to its primary state, but the restoring of creation to the future that God originally intended for it)….
With perfection, our wills will be so capable of apprehending our good that we will no longer be capable of willing to do evil, not by virtue of some external compulsion, but by virtue of mature wills and natures and their appropriate mutual correspondence.
And then from the conclusion, which I positively loved:
First, Christ’s obedience is not about ‘innocence’ but about ‘perfection’. Christ brings humanity to the height and fullness of its divinely intended moral stature. He gives us, not merely innocence or obedience, but full maturity.
Second, humanity was always intended to die and rise again to a more glorious form of life. Christ death and resurrection achieves this destiny.
Third, as the last Adam, Christ will pacify and tame the entire creation, ruling until every enemy is placed under his feet.
Fourth, as we are in Christ, the bad character of death is minimized. We are not unclothed to be left naked, but in order to be more fully clothed, to have death swallowed up in life. We are still subject to the hostile attacks of the world and to the possibility of death within it, but Christ is the Tree of Life and we have unrestricted access to him. Death is no longer the alienating power that it once was.
This is a great read, start to finish. “Death Before the Fall”
The short story is the pastoral form for narrating Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) in the vocabulary of Seelsgeschichte (soul history). In the Heilsgeschichte of Judges, for instance, the enmity of the Midianiites is kerygmatically integrated into the historical narrative and shown to be a part of salvation; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth the bitter emptiness of Naomi is pastorally attended to under the dynamics of providence and guided to a concluding fullness. In the Heilsgeschichte of Exodus the formidable and unyielding Egyptians are judged and defeated in the catastrophic plagues and miraculous sea crossing; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth the everday ordinariness of gleaning in the barley fields is used as a means for accomplishing redemption. In the Heilsgeschichte of Joshua the gigantically walled fortress Jericho is surrounded and conquered by the total community of God in colorful parade, accompanied by brilliantly sounding trumpets, and the promised land is entered; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth an old levirate law is patiently and quietly worked through by some old men at the city gates of provincial Bethlehem, and a link is forged in the genealogical chain of the Messiah.
—Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, pp. 84–85.
My latest piece over at Mere Orthodoxy (and the first such in too long):
It has been common these past few years to speak of “incarnational theology” as a way of describing the Christian mission to the world: we ought to “incarnate” Christ to the world as Christ “incarnated” the Godhead to us. There is much to appreciate in this sentiment…. Yet for all that, I think that applying the language of incarnation to believers is a serious mistake.
The Incarnation matters, and it matters as more than a means of getting Jesus to the cross so that he could die for our sins. We evangelicals too often reduce everything to penal substitutionary atonement. Yes, the atonement is incredible and amazing. It is one of the central affirmations and joys of the Christian faith: our sins are paid for! Glory to God! But Jesus did more than that, and he is worthy of yet more praise. He did not stop at paying the price for our sins while leaving our bodies subject to corruption. He did not content himself with performing a judicial act while leaving our wills broken, certain to turn again to the same sin that led to our death in the first place.
I think this is the best thing I’ve written so far this year; I hope you find it stimulating.
Christ and Pop Culture has some great follow-up on the link I posted last week:
If you run in certain Facebook circles, you’ve likely already read that North Korean leader Kim Jung-un has called for the execution of 33 North Korean Christians. According to the widely circulated reports, these 33 people were detained after it was discovered they had ties to Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean missionary whose arrest for religious activity last year has made international headlines….
But here’s the thing: No one can verify this call for executions actually took place.
A great example of journalism done right, and of how Christians ought to carry ourselves in the public square. It matters whether our facts are right or not— even when the “message” might be right either way. The whole thing is worth your time.
Great piece here from Alan Noble, who is increasingly showing himself to be one of the sharpest guys around.
It seems inevitable that our country will try to combat generational poverty and all its great harms by investing heavily in early childhood intervention. We already see signs of the State moving towards such programs with President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address and Mayor de Blasio’s expanded pre-K. Tragically and despite enormous costs, de Blasio’s pre-K initiative in New York will most likely have very modest results, particularly since it begins intervention at age four, so late in the child’s mental development. The question for the church is, will we allow the state to take the initiative, or will we take up this task and engender the kind of deep, redemptive healing that the state can only dream of?
The Washington Times reports:
North Korea tyrant Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered that 33 Christians believed to be working alongside South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook be put to death.
N.b. the source is Breitbart, which I usually take with a very large grain of salt—but this is not exactly surprising for Kim Jong-un or North Korea, so it is deserving of further investigation and prayer in any case.
Pretty damning of the current (lack of a) regulatory regime, if you ask me:
According to a recent study by Ookla Speedtest, the U.S. ranks a shocking 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds. The leaders in the world are Hong Kong at 72.49 Mbps and Singapore on 58.84 Mbps. And America? Averaging speeds of 20.77 Mbps, it falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay.