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April 21 2017, 3AM

We Westerners know how modernization works. Light dawns in the north and west and spreads Reason and Science to brighten dim worlds to the south and east. We’ve had to nudge the laggers along, for their own good—sometimes with a bit of force&m...

April 20, 9PM

Identity politics has weakened national identity, but it hasn't destroyed it. As Jean and John Comaroff put it ( Theory from the South ), “the fractal nature of contemporary political personhood, the fact that it is overlaid and undercut by a politi...
Anthony Marx's Faith in Nation tells the story of the “exclusionary” basis for modern nationalism. Nations were unified not by inclusive policies but by exclusions within and without. Behind these exclusions were the religious divisions of t...
Robert Cardinal Sarah ( Power of Silence ) notes that “For some years there has been a constant onslaught of images, lights, and colors that blind man. His interior dwelling is violated by the unhealthy, provocative images of pornography, bestial vi...
In a 1991 essay in the American Political Science Review , Timothy Mitchell assesses various theories of the state, concluding that they all attempt to draw a line between state and society, and fail. He proposes to take the very difficulty of drawing th...
Terrence Malick has been on a filmmaking tear, most recently releasing Song to Song . He's back, but that hasn't dulled his skepticism about the film industry. Continue Reading »
Karol Berger argues ( A Theory of Art ) that Lyotard's famed distinction of modern and postmodern is “far too stark.” In fact we aren't faced with a simple choice “between a belief in universal history grasped by an all-explaining meta-n...
What might democracy mean in Africa? What, in particular, “might it mean in cultural contexts, like those in Africa, in which freedom is not reducible to the exercise of choice, the equivalent to homo politicus of shopping to homo economicus ? In...
Jean and John Comaroff offer what they recognize is “a rather stark inventory” of the symptoms of what they call “policulturalism” ( Theory from the South ), which they describe as “politicization of diversity that expresses ...

April 19, 9PM

The prophet Joel famously describes a locust plague. His is the locustest book of the Bible. Continue Reading »
Is the autonomous self a European invention? Jean and John Comaroff address this question in their Theory from the South , arguing that certain African tribes have sophisticated conceptions of the self that include an element of autonomy and anticipate &...

April 18, 9PM

According to Ferdinand Kittel's 1894 Kannada-English Dictionary , the word “samskara” means “forming well or thoroughly, making perfect . . . forming in the mind, conception, idea, notion . . . preparation, making ready, preparation of ...

April 17, 9PM

The Reformers did not start out with a plan to establish separated churches. Their goal was to reform the entire Latin church. In this they failed. Continue Reading »
Karol Berger ( A Theory of Art ) states the common observation that “autonomy is widely seen today, especially among theorists and historians of a sociological bent, as the single most important feature distinguishing modern from premodern art.&rdqu...

April 16, 9PM

We say Jesus’ resurrection is good news. It wasn’t good news for the disciples on the first Easter. More like perplexing, bewildering news. Continue Reading »

April 14, 9PM

Christian often focus on the intense physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross. During crucifixion, a victim’s body was torn with nails and his limbs stretched, as he slowly suffocated. Think of Matthias Grunewald’s angular, contorted Jesu...
From the cross, Jesus cries, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s from Psalm 22, but the Jews say He’s calling for Elijah. Are they so dull they can no longer recognize Scriptur...

April 13, 9PM

Michel de Certeau ( The Writing of History , 126-7) quotes Alphonse Dupront on the post-Reformation situation of the church: “a first piece of raw material, as obvious as capital for the modern mind, is the progressive promotion of heresy in confess...
Guy G. Stroumsa writes in The Making of the Abrahamic Religions in Late Antiquity that “For Weber, as is well known, the most striking ‘disenchantment of the world' in history occurred with the rise of the ‘inner-worldly' asceticism ( ...
In his contribution to Signifying Identities , Fredrik Barth suggests that our notion of political, economic and social boundaries is an extension of the feeling that a tool extends the body: Continue Reading »
In his Landscape, Liberty and Authority , Tim Fulford examines the paradox of William Gilpin's travel writings and tour-leading in the picturesque wilds of Wales, England, and Scotland. Gilpin was aware that “the picturesque might be socially dan...
The great question haunting late medieval piety was that of the inadequacy of human piety. As Berndt Hamm puts it ( Reformation of Faith ), the “harrowing question” was that of the “spiritual inadequacy” of Christians (88). Contin...
Wise words concerning shifts in Christian teaching on the family from Oliver O'Donovan ( Desire of Nations , 266-7). Continue Reading »
Oliver O'Donovan ( Desire of Nations , 262-3) points to the difficulty in the concept of equality. A purely formal doctrine is uninteresting and thin. A theory of equality must be capable of posing a challenge to “alleged distinctions which may be s...
Karol Berger ( Bach's Cycle, Mozart's Arrow ) sets out to reassess what we mean by “modernity” in music. For Berger, that involves discovering a caesura somewhere between Bach and Mozart. They are not, he argues, to be considered part of a con...
Richard Sorabji observes ( Time, Creation, and the Continuum ) that there have been disputes among philosophers concerning the goodness of philosophical perplexity. Wittgenstein compared it to a fly trapped in a bottle, which suggests “it would have...

April 12, 9PM

In a 1971 essay, H.G. Koenigsberger challenged the notion that the Reformation broke up a unified Europe. He criticizes historians and social scientists for assuming a norm of unity: “We have assumed that the theological and ecclesiastical unity of ...
Peter Matheson ( Rhetoric of Reformation ) recognizes that polemic is “both necessary and useful” (8). It enables underdogs to gain a foothold, and “enables us to see things as they are. Its caricatures are nearer to the truth than the s...

April 11, 9PM

2 Chronicles 3-4, the Chronicler's account of the temple, uses the phrase “left and right” several times. Jachin and Boaz, the two pillars, are “left and right” at the porch (3:17). Ten basins are set up in two groups of five on th...

April 10, 9PM

In a famous essay on “rites of violence” in sixteenth-century France, Natalie Zemon Davis argued that one motivation behind mob violence was the desire to purge “the community of dreaded pollution. The word ‘pollution' is often on ...
In her study of Leviticus as Literature , Mary Douglas notes the “house that Jack built” quality of the Levitical descriptions of sacrifice. Priests put animal parts on the wood that is on the fire that is on the altar. Douglas takes this as ...

April 9, 9PM

The Chronicler's account of the construction of Solomon's temple (2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1) follows the creation week of Genesis 1 in general and in specific details. Continue Reading »

April 7, 3AM

Jehu is one of those hyper-violent Old Testament characters who make Christians uncomfortable. Anointed by Elisha’s servant to carry out Yahweh’s vengeance against the house of Ahab, Jehu does his business with relish. Continue Reading &raqu...

April 6, 9PM

Garry Wills is the NYRB's resident expert on Evangelicals, and he gives an overview of the Evangelical movement under three headings - crowds, drama, and cycles. It's familiar territory, and much of it is unexceptional - neither mistaken nor particularl...
Eamon Duffy tells the fascinating story of a Yale library manuscript, Beinecke MS 408, a book of herbal lore and astrology, written in an indecipherable code. It is also known as the “Voynich manuscript” because of the role of Wilfrid Michae...
In a review of new editions of the works of Israeli novelist S.Y. Agnon, Robert Alter highlights Agnon's debts to both his Jewish heritage and modernist revolt against tradition. His description of Agnon's story collection, A City in Its Fullness , cap...
Robert Scribner doesn't think Protestantism “disenchanted” the world. Reformers did attack certain forms of medieval “magic.” They rejected “sacramentals,” which were “functional” rituals that could be used ...
When Jesus condemns hypocrisy, argues Oliver O'Donovan ( Desire of Nations , 109-10), He is speaking of conformity to “public expectation.” O'Donovan suggests that the sense is captured by the word “performance.” Continue Reading ...
John van Engen argues in a 1986 article that the romanticized “legend of the Christian Middle Ages” doesn't hold up to historical scrutiny. Until the Reformation and counter-Reformation, Europe was only superficially Christianized, full of pag...
According to many biologists and philosophers of science, evolution has eliminated all notion of purpose, teleology, and form from biology. Living things are machines that operate by chemical and physical processes, guided by the purposeless process of na...
Christopher Carroll reviews two volumes of music criticism written by Virgil Thomson at the NYRB . Carroll characterizes Thomson as a “knight errant” because of principles like this one, enunciated in his book, The State of Music : Conti...
Why didn't the apostles move more quickly to protest and attempt to abolish slavery? There are various answers to that, but Oliver O'Donovan's gets to the heart of the issue: The church “believed that Christ had abolished it” ( Desire of Natio...

April 5, 9PM

Philip Rieff notes, “That word [ Kulturkampf ] first appeared in common German use in the early 1870s during the struggle of the National Liberal political party to disarm by law the moral/educational authority, and political punditry, of a triumpha...
K. Luria examines the Sacred Boundaries (xxvii-xxxxi) of early modern France, in an effort to correct extremes of historiography. Some have argued that sacred boundaries between religious groups led to violence; other historians have pointed to continuo...

April 4, 9PM

A 1989 article by Wolfgang Reinhard on the relationships among the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and early modern state-building is an excellent brief summary of the relationship between Reformation and post-Reformation “confessionalization&rdqu...

April 3, 9PM

Overall, the Chronicler's account of Solomon's temple construction (2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1) is arranged chiastically: Continue Reading »
Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe , edited by Will Coster and Andrew Spicer, aims to fill a gap in accounts of early modern Europe. Despite intense attention to sacred space among anthropologists, scholars of comparative religion, historians, and sociol...

April 2, 9PM

Scott Hendrix argues that the Reformation was united by an agenda of Christianization. By “Christianization,” he means, first, the effort “to reform the rituals of late-medieval piety in conformity with sound doctrine” and, second,...

March 30, 9PM

Earl R. Wasserman ( Subtler Language ) observes that “Until the end of the eighteenth century there was sufficient intellectual homogeneity for men to share certain assumptions. . . . In varying degrees . . . man accepted . . . the Christian interpr...
Mona Charen states the obvious : “There are good and bad arguments against immigration.” Continue Reading »
In an essay on Alexander Schmemann (in Ordering Love , 301-2), David L. Schindler observes that “Creaturely power begins in wonder and gratitude before the inherent beauty of the other. The power of creaturely being originates and consists primaril...
“Laughter,” writes Indira Ghose, “stakes out an area of discourse as a game which follows its own rules” ( Shakespeare and Laughter , 106). Continue Reading »
During the 15th century, Boxley Abbey in Kent boasted a crucifix with a movable Jesus. It was able “to bow down and lifte up it selfe, to shake and stirre the handes and feete, to nod the head, to rolle the eies, to wag the chaps, to bende the browe...
Margo Todd's The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland is an extraordinarily rich study. One brief note will serve to illustrate. Continue Reading »
It's time for “Bluexit,” argues Kevin Baker at The New Republic , a blue-state secession. Here's the thesis: Blues fund most of the federal government, and are responsible for most of the economic output of the country. Red states receive v...

March 29, 9PM

The Chronicler's description of the free-standing cherubim in the temple's Most Holy Place (2 Chronicles 3:10-13) is delightfully repetitive and complicated. The repetition is more obvious in the Hebrew, so I provide a woodenly literal translation: Conti...
Joel Harrington and Helmut Walser Smith summarize the interests of research into confessionalization under three headings: “Research on confessional identity has focused on three processes: the construction of confessional identity as part of early ...

March 28, 9PM

Imagine that you have just been given a new technology that allows you to respond almost instantaneously to critics and opponents. Imagine too that you find yourself in a highly charged situation where attacks and counter-attacks are a regular occurrence....

March 27, 9PM

The late William J. Stuntz spent his life studying the American criminal justice system. In a 2001 article on our “pathological politics of criminal law,” he lays out the institutional barriers to the fundamental reform that we need. Continue...
The “second Reformation” introduced Reformed liturgy and teaching into Lutheran Germany. This was seen by some as a continuation of the Reformation and a purgation of Catholic remnants. The effort to carry on “further reformation” ...

March 26, 9PM

In her “new history” of the Reformation , Lee Palmer Wandel offers a stark, sobering summary of the shattering effects of the Reformation. Continue Reading »

March 24, 9PM

Candy Gunther Brown's The Healing Gods is an effort to explain how Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) “entered the American cultural mainstream,” and especially how it achieved “a niche among evangelical and other theological...

3AM

Why are Dostoevsky’s novels so compulsively readable? What makes his characters seem so alive? Continue Reading »

March 23, 9PM

In his Aesthetics of Architecture , Roger Scruton summarizes RG Collingwood's distinction between art and craft. It has a surface plausibility: “Initially it seems quite reasonable to distinguish the attitude of the craftsman - who aims at a certai...
In his book, Disenchanted Night , Wolfgang Schivelbusch considers the difference between lighting by torches and lighting with candles. With the torch, “the site of combustion and the fuel are one and the same thing, while in the candle they are ...
Hesiod's “Hymn to Hekate” seems to interrupt the Theogony to no good purpose. Hekate isn't a major goddess, and the hymn doesn't seem to be integrated into the rest of the poem. Continue Reading »
Zygmunt Bauman thinks we are awash in nostalgia. We have created a Retrotopia . Continue Reading »
Patrick Deneen ( Democratic Faith , xiv) tells the story of the desacralization of the Cathedral of Saint Genevieve in 1791. The national assembly decided to “rededicate the basilica as a resting place for France’s revolutionary heroes. Above ...
“T here's a new ‘sacred' in town,” write Juan and Stacey Floyd-Thomas in The Altars Where We Worship . Continue Reading »
At the American Interest , James S. Henry examines Trump's Russian connections. It's an unnerving read. Whatever his relationship with Putin, Trump “has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russia...
Two hundred years ago this month, Jane Austen put aside her pen for the last time, dating an unfinished novel that has come to be known as Sanditon . Anthony Lane thinks the novel shows that, despite her physical decay, Austen had lost none of her powe...
Summarizing the argument of Walter Scheidel's The Great Leveler , the Economist reports: “inequality within countries is almost always either high or rising, thanks to the ways that political and economic power buttress each other and both pass d...

March 22, 9PM

Beginning in 1559, the magistrates of the German city of Wesel, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, required the citizens to commune together (Jesse Spohnholz, “Multiconfessional Celebration of the Eucharist in Sixteenth-Century Wesel”). The...
Molly Ball's Atlantic piece on “ America’s empty-church problem ” is a must-read. It provides a penetrating, and sobering analysis of the political shifts that came to the surface in the 2016 Presidential election. Continue Reading &...

March 21, 9PM

Matthew Bates argues in Salvation by Allegiance Alone that “our contemporary Christian culture often comes prepackaged with functional ideas and operative definitions of belief, faith, works, salvation, heaven, and the gospel that in various ways ...

March 20, 9PM

After summarizing recent work on temple building in the Ancient Near East ( 1 & 2 Chronicles , 227-229), Mark Boda takes note of the differences between the accounts of Solomon's temple building in Kings and Chronicles, with an eye to the question of ...
In the blink of an eye, globalization has changed from the inevitable future and the panacea for all human ills to a curse word and the source of all American misery. It takes guts to speak up for globalization these days. Continue Reading »

March 19, 9PM

Paul said that God gives us abundantly more than we can ask or imagine, according to the resurrection power of Jesus in us (Ephesians 3:20). Solomon could have told us as much. Continue Reading »

March 16, 9PM

Without authority, Yves Simon argues ( A General Theory of Authority ), our efforts at collective action would be stymied: “decisions concerning the common action of a multitude could be taken unanimously, at least under the ideal conditions of a co...
The Bible is a narrative of architecture and city planning. The Creator is a divine architect and builder. On earth, He is first a landscape architect, designing and planning a garden, then a designer of tents and temples, finally an architect of people w...
Despite efforts to show that animals cry, Robert Provine ( Curious Behavior ) argues that “dispassionate evaluation of evidence indicates that neither elephants nor chimpanzees, our primate cousins, shed an emotional tear. The exclusivity of humanki...
Slavoj Zizek ( Mythology, Madness, and Laughter ) explains Hegel's sublation of Kantian transcendentalism by noting that Hegel accepts Kant's root insight, the “the subjective constitution of reality, the split that separates the subject from the in...
Next door at First Things , James Rogers asks, “Does the welfare of non-Americans count in the creation of U.S. economic policy? Secondly, to what extent, if at all, should it count?” Or, more fully: “Responding to the impact of globali...
Trees are slow, like Ents. The electrical impulses that pass through trees travel at a rate of one-third of an inch per second. Continue Reading »
Near the beginning of their Dialectic of Enlightenment , Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno “allegorize” on an episode in the Odyssey , in which Odysseus takes his ship past the Sirens who entice mariners toward the dangerous shoals of their...
James Jordan has often called attention to Ezekiel 43:10-11, where the Lord explains the purpose of the elaborate temple vision that He has shown the prophet. When Israel hears the design and plans of the temple, its entrances and exits, it straight lines...
Lawrence Feingold doesn't much like de Lubac's work on the natural desire to see God . He doesn't think the neo-Thomist distinction of natural and supernatural is responsible for the rise of atheism and naturalism. On the contrary, the distinction is nec...

March 15, 9PM

Listening to architect Daniel Lee teach a Theopolis course this week, I had many moments of insight. Here are a couple of them. Continue Reading »
David's ecstatic prayer in 1 Chronicles 29 - the last words he speaks in Chronicles - includes this notable verse: “Who am I and who are my people we we should have strength to volunteer offerings like this? For from you comes all, and from your han...

March 14, 9PM

David's speech to the assembly of princes (1 Chronicles 29:1-9) has a roughly chiastic form. It begins with David's review of his contributions to the temple and his declaration of his delight in God's house. He sets an example by donating additional gold...

March 13, 9PM

In his recently-published The Great Leveller , Walter Scheidel summarizes evidence from archeology and anthropological studies to answer the question, Has inequality always been with us? Continue Reading »
David's plan for the temple is partly a floor plan. He gives Solomon the pattern for the “porch” and its associated buildings, treasuries, rooms, courts (1 Chronicles 28:11-12). The plan also includes instructions for organizing the priests an...

March 12, 9PM

David gives Solomon the “plan” (Heb. tabnit ) for the temple. Unlike Moses, David doesn't have to climb a mountain to get it (cf. Exodus 25:9, 40). It comes from “the spirit ( ruach ) with him” (1 Chronicles 28:12), and from a &ld...

March 10, 4AM

Christians have long worried over laughter. Church fathers pointed out that Jesus wept but never laughed, and even mild endorsements of laughter were qualified with warnings that laughter must be moderate, never excessive. Continue Reading »

March 9, 10PM

David and Solomon traded in gold from “Ophir.” Later Jehoshaphat attempted to revive the trade route, but failed when his ships sank. Continue Reading »
In an old Paris Review interview with Robert Frost, the interviewer mentions a poet who writes from six to nine every morning. Frost responds with, “I don’t know what that would be like, myself,” and then adds about writing couplets: ...
Robert Provine ( Curious Behavior ) notes that we can't laugh on command, and that tells a lot about our laughter and ourselves. In his experiments, he found that it took longer for people to laugh on command than to say “ha, ha.” That &ldqu...
In an essay in the journal European Legacy , Norman Fiering summarizes the thought of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy on biography. Fiering asks whether there are recurring patterns in the lives of significant individuals, and, relying on Rosenstock-Huessy, call...
In his 1971 study of Modernist architecture, The Golden City , Henry Hope Reed observed that Modernists transferred moral categories to architecture. Buildings could be “honest” (if they revealed their structure on the surface) or “fals...
What is “the Gothic”? Answers vary, and that is, Catherine Spooner argues (in Post-Millennial Gothic ), because Gothic bears “multivalent meanings” and “has adapted and changed with the times” (9–10). Continue R...
S tephen Halliwell begins his Greek Laughter by calling attention to the difference between philosophical and poetic notions of divine laughter. Most Greeks had no doubt that “laughter (and smiles) had an important place in the divine realm; a dei...
“A s a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion” (Proverbs 11:22). Continue Reading »

March 8, 10PM

Popular cliche is that Lutherans and Anglicans are high-church, Reformed lower. Lutherans and Anglicans are sacramentally-minded, Reformed less so. Lutherans and Anglicans take liturgy serious; Reformed do not. Continue Reading »
David assembles the leaders of Israel for Solomon's coronation (1 Chronicles 28–29; cf. 29:22), and, even more importantly, to encourage them to contribute skill, energy, and material to the temple, King Yahweh's fortress. Judged by terminology used...

March 7, 10PM

In a fascinating article on “the structure of significant lives,” Norman Fiering summarizes Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's description of the development of Freud and the psychoanalytic movement. Each involves a different sort of time, and a differ...

March 6, 10PM

At the end of 1 Chronicles, David delivers a series of speeches to the qahal (assembly) of Israel, the officers and princes of his court and bureaucracy (on 1 Chronicles 28-29 generally, see here ). The qahal consists of the “princes” ( s...
According to John Milbank (“Politics of time”), “libertarianism insists that the future lies with the isolated ‘reflective' individual manipulating a plethora of life-choices” but also “claims that civil society is soun...

March 5, 10PM

My youngest son, Smith, is reading through the Bible this year. He's getting bogged down in Leviticus. Continue Reading »

March 2, 10PM

Thomas Nagel reviews Daniel Dennett's latest, From Bacteria to Bach and Back , in the NYRB . It's a wild ride. Continue Reading »
In her editor's introduction to Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing , Candy Gunther Brown observes: “According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals (2006), more than a qua...
Charles Rosen celebrated Chopin's birth in June 2010 with a NYRB essay on the composer. Rosen observed that until the twentieth century, Chopin was often treated as a minor figure: “Chopin’s concentration on the genres of salon music conside...
In a New Yorker profile of filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan ( Manchester By the Sea ), Rebecca Mead calls attention to Lonergan's interest in depicting the lives of teens, manifest especially in his film Margaret . In Margaret , the lead character, named Li...
In an essay on the Brandenburg Calvinist pastor John Bergius, Bodo Nischan observes that “ Unlike most Protestants and Catholics at the time, Bergius did not think that a ruler should impose his religion on his subjects. True faith, he argued, coul...
“W estern history is not, John Milbank argues, an evolutionary progress away from religion and toward human freedom and control.” It should instead be seen as “the history of a tremendous revolt against either particularism or the cult o...
Robert Carle suggests that “sensible refugee policy will balance two competing realities: first, it is a moral duty for a wealthy country like the United States to help displaced and suffering people; and second, not everyone who wants to immigrate...
John Milbank writes, “ Since life passes and is only mediated through memory and desire, every concrete instance of life is always also something other than itself, part of a larger, dimly-imagined reality, disclosed only partially.” Continu...

7AM

In his history of popular culture in early modern Europe, Peter Burke traces what he describes as the “triumph of Lent” during the 17th and 18th centuries. He refers to Brueghel’s painting, Combat of Carnival and Lent and says, &l...

March 1, 10PM

William Henry Green's 1890 Bibliotecha Sacra essay on “ Primeval Chronology ” has been a touchstone of evangelical biblical scholarship for over a century, its arguments regularly cited or alluded to by scholars dealing with the genealogies ...

February 28, 10PM

In his recently-published Sign and Sacrifice , Rowan Williams notes the continuity between the post-Maccabean theology of martyrdom and the death of Jesus. For intertestamental Jews, as for Romans, death could be noble and triumphant. Continue Reading ...

February 27, 10PM

Rowan Williams ( Sign and Sacrifice ) summarizes the Anselmian understanding of the atonement using the categories of sacrifice, obedience, and gift, all set within a Trinitarian frame. It's quite lovely. Continue Reading »
Helmut Kuhn begins his 1941 article on “true tragedy” by noting the chronological proximity of Plato and Sophocles: “When Sophocles died, Plato had just come of age. So the question naturally arises whether the chronological succession i...

February 26, 10PM

Describing the assignments of Levite gatekeepers, the Chronicler records that there were four at the “highway” at the western end of the temple, and two “at the Parbar,” which was also on the west (1 Chronicles 26:18). Continue Re...

February 24, 4AM

If you’re looking for a display of uncorked athleticism, there’s no better show than the NBA All-Star Game. It’s all good fun—soaring dunks, rim-shattering put-backs, off-the-board passes, half-court three-pointers, Steph lying dow...

February 23, 10PM

David Goldman compares “transgressors” Milo Yiannopoulos and Yuja Wang . Milo's transgressiveness is his essence; Wang, a thirty-year-old Chinese pianist, plays the Western repertoire, her transgressiveness evident in her habit of performing ...
Catherine Pickstock claims that the rejection of liturgy is central to modernity. Having refused the integrations of liturgy, modernity forges various forms of pseudo-liturgy, pale substitutes to accomplish what the liturgy once did in Western society. C...
Following Alvin Platinga, Richard Foley summarizes the principles of Locke's epistemology in three principles ( Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others ): Evidence (the “obligation to base one's opinion on one's evidence,” the latter defined ...
Through a series of thought experiments, Richard Foley ( Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others ) develops a concept of rationality as “a matter of making oneself invulnerable to intellectual self-criticism to the extent possible, of living up to ...
Pete Spiliakos makes the counter-intuitive point that Trump's nationalism will fail politically unless it can become more nationalist: Continue Reading »
Denis McNamara's How To Read Churches is an extraordinary book. Subtitled “a crash course in ecclesiastical architecture,” it covers building types, floor plans, sections of churches (nave, apse, choir), materials, windows, altars, ornaments...
John Milbank cites what he calls “Socrates's subversive realization” that “education can never be democratic” ( Being Reconciled , 182). Continue Reading »

February 22, 10PM

1 Chronicles 27:25-31 lists the officials in charge of David's stores and lands. Twelve men are named and each has an area of responsibility: Continue Reading »
In an article on “Liturgy, Art and Politics,” Catherine Pickstock argues that the liturgy holds together universal and particular in a unique way. It does this in part because it “extends the liturgical tension between the ideal and the ...

February 21, 10PM

In her meticulous and revealing study of The Eucharist in the Reformation , Lee Palmer Wandel argues that Luther and Zwingli divided at Marburg because their respective positions were incommensurate, incomprehensible each to the other. Specifically, they...

February 20, 10PM

1 Chronicles 26:1-19 lists the names and positions of gatekeepers at Solomon's temple. The passage is framed by references to the “allotment” or “apportionment” of assignments to Korahites (v. 1) and sons of Korah and Merari (v. 19...
“The art of man is the expression of his rational and disciplined delight in the forms and laws of the creation of which he forms a part.” This is the first thesis of John Ruskin's “All Great Art Is Praise,” in The Laws of Fesole ...

February 19, 10PM

In their 1662 treatise on Logic, or the Art of Thinking , Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole question the straightforwardness of the Calvinist logical analysis concerning the Eucharistic “This is my body.” They summarise the argument this way:...

February 16, 10PM

According to Ingolf Dalferth ( Creatures of Possibility ), Christianity “contradicts a view that understands human beings in their fundamental dependence, finitude, and passivity, not merely biologically, but anthropologically, as deficient beings ...
Ingolf Dalferth thinks we are Creatures of Possibility . By that, he means that “we are creatures in the making whose actual becoming depends on possibilities beyond our control that occur in our lives as opportunities and chances that we can negle...
It’s a challenge to get a clear idea of what slackers are really all about. Tom Lutz isolates the dilemma in his Doing Nothing (18-19): Continue Reading »
According to Pierre Manent ( Beyond Radical Secularism ), May 1968 marked a critical turning point in the political history ofFrance. Despite the persistence of the “Gaullist” party in political power, ‘68 undermined “collective ru...
In his Rise and Fall of American Growth , Robert J. Gordon argues that the growth rates for the American economy have leveled because the rate of innovation has leveled. And the rate of innovation has leveled, in part, because some innovations happen onl...
Separation of church and state, religion and politics, is not “sufficient unto itself,” argues Pierre Manent ( Beyond Radical Secularism ). After all, he points out, citizens are believers, believers citizens, and they don’t cease to be ...
Christian theology has long taught that we are “finite copies of the infinite Creator: created creators” (Dalferth, Creatures of Possibility , 198). Christian anthropology is eschatologically oriented: “Who we are is not determined by o...
The title essay of John Summerson's Heavenly Mansions sets Gothic architecture in a story of the architecture of fancy. He begins with doll houses, and moves to aedicules, originally small buildings holding the image of a god that eventually became pure...
Joseph Ratzinger reflects on Romans 12:1-2 in his Theology of the Liturgy (349-51), which is evident in the Roman Canon's prayer that “our sacrifice may be rationabilis .” He writes: Continue Reading »

February 9, 10PM

This year marks the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It is a year of celebration, because the Reformers accomplished what they claimed: They stripped away idolatries that had encrusted and obscured the gospel of grace, and they re...
In a brief 1949 article in the Lutheran Quarterly , Roland Bainton observes that, far from being stubborn and intransigent at the 1529 Colloquy at Marburg, Luther and the Lutherans “took the initiative in proposing a formula of concord. They confes...
McDonald's looks like a fast food restaurant, but it's a site of “embedded science,” writes Steven Shapin : Continue Reading »
Jean-Louis Chretien begins his Hand to Hand with a series of meditations on the story of Jacob wrestling with God, and artistic representations of that episode. Continue Reading »
In Hand to Hand , Jean-Louis Chretien meditates on silence in painting. He doesn't simply mean that painting is a visual rather than an audible art. Instead, he argues that paintings must not only be viewed but listened to: Continue Reading »
David Smith and Susan Felch devote several pages of their Teaching and Christian Imagination (129-134) to a summary of John Amos Comenius's seventeenth-century treatise on education, Great Didactic . Comenius starts where humanity starts, with Eden's g...
Writing in the Hedgehog Review (Fall 2016), Lorraine Daston identifies 1890-1914 as the “moment when science went modern” (20). Going modern here involves an acceleration in the pace of discovery and invention: Continue Reading »
“Giving oneself up to sleep can constitute the worst of abandonments,” writes Jean-Louis Chretien ( Hand to Hand ), “wherein we abandon another person to his solitude and his distress by withdrawing ourselves from the common world and fr...
Paul Collier devotes a long, provocative, stimulating TLS review to a sketch of a “new pragmatism.” The review doubles as an essay on the “future of capitalism.” Along the way, Collier discusses the problems of multiculturalism a...
David I. Smith and Susan M. Felch ( Teaching and Christian Imagination ) want to rehabilitate the symbolism of “gardening” as a model of education. Continue Reading »

February 8, 10PM

It is a great mystery. Continue Reading »
In Hand to Hand , a meditation on “listening to the work of art,” Jean-Louis Chretien traces the origins of the notion of God as artist and the artist as created. “How did the creative act, which for biblical Revelation properly belongs...

February 7, 10PM

Day 3 of the creation week was unique, and a turning point in the creation week. When God first made the “earth” and heaven, the earth was tohu-v-bohu , formless and empty, and also dark. Over the course of the creation week, God corrected th...

February 6, 10PM

Irene Dingel's contribution to Lutheran Ecclesiastical Culture, 1550-1675 examines the role of controversy in the formation of Lutheran theology and practice. She examines several early intra-Lutheran controversies, among them the contest between the Gn...
In a 1991 article in the Journal of Biblical Literature , John H. Wright asks what role 1 Chronicles 23–27 play in the Chronicler's account. The chapters look like a digression. David delivers an exhortation to Solomon (1 Chronicles 23) and makes h...

February 5, 10PM

During the early decades of the Reformation, there were efforts on all sides to reconcile Reformers and Catholics. Diarmaid MacCulloch ( Europe's House Divided ) describes the ecumenical efforts of the Archbishop of Cologne, Hermann von Wied. Continue R...

February 2, 10PM

Zechariah thought utopia is a place where there are games in the streets: “the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:5). Continue Reading »
Diarmaid MacCulloch ( Reformation: Europe's House Divided ) points to the “bizarre fortunes” of the Bremen Cathedral to illustrate the “stand-off and ill-will between the two Protestantisms,” Lutheran and Reformed: Continue Readi...
Brad Gregory ( Unintended Reformation , 130-2) argues that, despite their obvious differences, modern states that allow free religious expression, confessional states, and totalitarian states that suppress religion have a common root. Both assume that the...
At the beginning of their Dialectic of Enlightenment , Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno define Enlightenment in terms of disenchantment of the world: “Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment of the world. It wanted to dispel myths, to...
The Reformation and the Catholic reaction to it caused a massive split within Western Christendom, and further divisions proliferated from that original split. As Diarmaid MacCulloch points out ( Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490–1700 ), that...
Douglas Murray reports at The Spectator on the ongoing and largely ignored persecution of Christian villages in Nigeria: Continue Reading »
“T he most influential work of Italian spirituality in these years, the Bene-ficio di Cristo (published 1543, and apparently selling in tens of thousands before translation into other European languages), illustrates this continuing shapelessness&md...
Owen Chadwick devotes a chapter of The Reformation to “the decline of ecclesiastical power.” He reviews the effects of the Reformation on excommunication, the benefit of clergy, church property and the power of the local parish church. Sanct...
Diarmaid MacCulloch ( Reformation: Europe's House Divided ) calls attention to the effect of Psalm-singing, spurred on by Beza's publication of a French Psalter in 1562–3: Continue Reading »

February 1, 10PM

1 Chronicles 23 begins the concluding section of 1 Chronicles (chs. 23-29), which is mainly concerned with David’s arrangements for personnel and material of the temple. Chapter 23 consists of two chiastically arranged sections. The first is framed ...
T rump is an executive, used to making twenty-five major decisions a day. Now the press is watching every motion of his hand, and it looks as if he's overturning the world as we have known it with each stroke of his pen. Tallying up pluses and minuses is ...

January 31, 10PM

A year ago, I had a long debate about aging with a Polish friend while driving from Poznan, Poland, to Rivne, Ukraine. My friend said he didn't mind dying young, while I said I wanted to live to a ripe old age. My friend accused me of fearing death (not v...

January 30, 10PM

Missional ecclesiology is all the rage these days, but for many being “missional” means downplaying or even eliminating concern for the “internal” life of the church, particularly its liturgical life. Missional and liturgical, miss...

January 29, 10PM

David's census makes him a Pharaoh but he doesn't end like Pharoah. It's not exactly because he offers sacrifice (21:26). By the time he does that, the Lord has already relented (21:15). The chapter's structure makes it clear that the Lord's mercy is the ...

January 27, 4AM

As a service to aspiring writers, I outline the five key stages of writing a book. My plan applies best to non-fiction. Fiction, I’m sure, has its own rhythms. Continue Reading »

January 26, 10PM

In her study of postmodern apocalypticism, Apocalyptic Transformation (xxiii-xxv), Elizabeth Rosen asks what effects secularization has on apocalyptic stories. The most obvious thing is a change in “how the deity is portrayed.” The perfect G...
Vauhini Vara reports at The Atlantic about how US frackers beat OPEC. Continue Reading »
According to Robert Kolb ( Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith , 125-8) Luther had a “relational” understanding of righteousness: “Whereas most medieval thinkers conceived of human ‘righteousness’ in terms of performance or...
Walter McDougall ( Promised Land, Crusader State , 4-5) divides the history of American foreign affairs into two testaments, summarized by the two phrases of the title. Continue Reading »
In her TLS review of new books about Jane Austen, Devoney Looser comments on the irony that we think of Austen as a truthful, i.e., “factual,” novelist, a reporter of life as it was. Continue Reading »
The Economist summarizes the notion of “information asymmetry” pioneered by George Akerlof and others. Using a used car lot a setting for a thought experiment, Akerlof showed (in a paper published in 1978) that the information asymmetry betw...
Robert Kolb ( Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith ) observes that Luther resisted presenting a systematic theology of atonement. Instead, he employed various biblical images and descriptions to meet the pastoral needs of his audience: “When he add...
The Wire is the best TV series I've ever seen. Also among the raunchiest. In an aside in an eccentric piece comparing the Fairie Queene to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit , Cambridge English scholar Joe Moshenska sketches an even more eccentric comp...
Like all right-thinking Americans, Emily Nussbaum is suitably horrified by Trump's election. But she grasps his appeal better than most. He won by being a better stand-up comic and shrugging off criticism by claiming he was just joking: Continue Readin...

January 25, 10PM

The final section of 1 Chronicles is neatly framed by speeches by David. Chapter 22 contains David's speech of encouragement to Solomon, concluded by a brief exhortation to “all the leaders” (22:17-19). Chapters 28-29 record several public spe...
Anticlerical agitation was more consequence than cause of the English Reformation, argues David Loades in his contribution to Anticlericalism . Continue Reading »

January 24, 10PM

1 Chronicles doesn't say anything about David's sin against Bath-Sheba and Uriah (cf. 2 Samuel 11-12). Bath-Sheba is never mentioned in Chronicles at all, Uriah only once, in a list of David's warriors (1 Chronicles 11:41). Continue Reading »

January 23, 10PM

1 Chronicles 22:6-16 records David's hortatory speech to Solomon about building the temple. It is divided into two large sections, both marked by the phrase “my son” (22:7, 11). The first section repeats Yahweh's oracle to David explaining why...
Since the Son is incarnate, argues Aaron Riches in his Ecce Homo , “we must speak of unum esse simpliciter ,” yet Constantinople II determined that the Son is persona composita . Thus, in the words of Aquinas, “there is another being ...

January 22, 10PM

When King Nahash of Ammon dies, David sends his condolences to his son Hanun (1 Chronicles 19). Nahash had shown love-and-loyalty ( hesed ) to David, so David returns hesed (v. 2). Hanun doesn't believe it, and the princes (apparently young advisors) st...

January 19, 10PM

Summarizing a line of argument from Aquinas, Robert Spaemann ( Essays in Anthropology ) notes that Thomas acknowledges that “By nature animals are sufficiently equipped to attain their own end” (15). The question is: Are human beings? And if t...
Jesus is the Lion of Judah. This is no random metaphor, according to the medieval bestiary, the verse Physiologus attributed to the 11th-century writer Theobaldus. Lions have various habits, all of which point to Christ. Continue Reading »
Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter ( Nation of Rebels ) characterize the 1999 film, American Beauty , as “a completely uncompromising recitation of '60s countercultural ideology. It's the hippies versus the fascists, still slugging it out three decades...
Nicholas Barber gets Sherlock just right. Benedict Cumberbatch has the intensity to kill the title role, and, puppyish though he is, Martin Freeman's Dr. Watson is a credible sidekick. The production is slick, the characters compelling, the rapport shar...
In an essay on “America's Shakespeare” at National Interest , Algis Valiunas traces the shifting political of Shakespeare in the US. Continue Reading »
Linguist and philosopher George Lakoff, co-author of Metaphors We Live By and many other works, wants to help Democrats win elections. In a Salon interview with Paul Rosenberg, he explains the advantages conservatives have in American elections. Stu...
In his Eclipse of Man , Charles Rubin traces a genealogy of transhumanism. Among the sources is a now-forgotten 1872 book by William Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man . Continue Reading »
Nick Spencer ( Atheists: The Origin of the Species ) doesn't believe the standard creation myths about atheism. According to the standard account, atheism is the produce of reason and science: “men began to work the metal, which they called ‘r...

January 18, 10PM

David is no Achan. Continue Reading »
Boethius defined persona as an “individual substance of a rational nature ( natuae rationalis individua substantia ). This definition is often cited as evidence that medieval Trinitarian theology, deeply influenced by Boethius, did not teach that ...

January 17, 10PM

Nestled within several chapters of 1 Chronicles that describe David's wars, 1 Chronicles 18:14-17 explains the purpose of those wars: To establish Yahweh's order of justice in Israel, an order of justice that David himself administers and mediates. Having...

January 16, 10PM

In his Essays in Anthropology , Robert Spaemann observes that “the beginning of modern science was marked by polemics against the concept of nature. The concept of nature is now taken to be anthropomorphic, while the essentially teleological idea...
What does God give in creation and redemption? He gives is our own existence, and that the gift He gives is Himself. Both are true. Continue Reading »

January 15, 10PM

Philip Gorski's American Covenant examines the American tradition of civil religion or civic republicanism from the Puritans through President Obama. Gorski contrasts this tradition with the two most belligerent contenders in contemporary American polit...

January 13, 4AM

Unanswered prayer is hard to take. “Ask and it will be given,” Jesus promises. When we ask and ask, and it’s not given, we wonder if Jesus had his fingers crossed when he said that. Continue Reading »

January 12, 10PM

At the Atlantic , Matthew Hutson summarizes recent research on the psychology of awe. The executive summary: Awe is good for you. Continue Reading »
James Fallows summarizes his findings from a period of travel around the US. It's good news: Continue Reading »
In their just-released Decolonization: A Short History , Jan Jansen and Jurgen Osterhammel observe that decolonization not only remade the maps of former colonies, but also involved the “Europeanization of Europe” and produced changes in poli...
Kate Symondson begins her TLS review of recent editions of Joseph Conrad’s letters and his novel Victory with a reminder of FR Leavis's complaint about Conrad's “insistence on inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery.” Continue R...
The Guardian devoted a long recent editorial to an analysis of the political outlook of British Prime Minister Theresa May. Whatever Mayism might be, it is not an ideology, not Thatcherism, not David-Cameronian modernizing. For May, Toryism is not &ldqu...
In his pre-game New Yorker profile of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Benjamin Wallace-Wells suggests that Saban is an anomaly, perhaps an outmoded one. Continue Reading »
In a lengthy, admirably dispassionate New Yorker piece on “Intellectuals for Trump,” Kelefa Sanneh notes that “ Trumpism draws on a political tradition that has often been linked to white identity politics.” Continue Reading &...
In an interview with Asia Times reporter Doug Tsuruoka, Brookings Fellow and former US Treasury emissary to China David Dollar assesses the scale and impact of Chinese investment in Africa. Continue Reading »
Christopher Caldwell's review of Walter McDougall's The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy is sooo good. McDougall explains (as his subtitle has it) “How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest.” Continue Reading »
Christopher Caldwell's review of Walter McDougall's The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy is sooo good. McDougall explains (as his subtitle has it) “How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest.” Continue Reading »

January 11, 10PM

The joint Lutheran-Catholic reflection on the Reformation, From Conflict to Communion , acknowledges that medieval Catholicism was muddled on Eucharistic sacrifice. As a result of a “loss of an integrative concept of commemoration, Catholics were f...
From Conflict to Communion , the Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, offers a summary of Luther's theology, particularly on the points of dispute between Catholics and Lutherans. They offer the following summary of...

January 10, 10PM

1 Chronicles 18-20 record David's wars with immediate neighbors of Israel. The chapters are organized chiastically: Continue Reading »

January 9, 10PM

1 Chronicles 18-20 brings together David's conquests into a neatly packaged unit. (In Samuel, the same wars are scattered over several chapters.) By the end of chapter 20, David has established control over greater Israel, the ideal kingdom promised to Ab...
As recounted in From Conflict to Communion , jointly produced by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Reformation was an academic dispute that careened into a division of the church. Continue Readi...

January 8, 10PM

Daniel Everett thinks language is a tool, and has written a book about it: Language: The Cultural Tool . He develops his theory over-against the notion that language is the product of a biological “instinct.” On this Chomskyan/Pinkerian view,...

January 5, 10PM

Allen Guelzo observes in his history of the Reformed Episcopal Church that historians of American Episcopalianism are misled by Anglo-Catholicism's success in establishing “their own vision of Episcopal history, as the single reigning view of the ...
Two test questions from Michael Lewis's The Undoing Project (184-5, 192-3). Continue Reading »
A delicious 1964 poem from Norman MacCaig ( Poems of Norman MacCaig , 165), entitled “The Smuggler”: Continue Reading »
Religion News Service reports on a Pew survey of the religious makeup of the 115th Congress: “Nearly 91 percent of members of the 115th Congress convening Tuesday (Jan. 3) describe themselves as Christian, compared to 95 percent of Congress members...
In a TLS retrospective on Kipling , Michael Holroyd notes the obvious: “By the time he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 he was well known as the private soldiers' poet, and had achieved fame for beating the drum on behalf of the British E...
In his The Undoing Project (205-8), quotes two lengthy passages from a 1972 lecture by Amos Tversky on “Historical Interpretation: Judgment Under Uncertainty.” Both describe how historians trick themselves into seeing inevitability: Continu...
In her TLS review of John Kerrigan's Shakespeare's Binding Language , Emma Smith calls attention to the liturgical and sacramental dimensions of Shakespearean oaths, contracts, and vows: Continue Reading »
Reflecting on Daniel Craig's recent performance as Iago, Tamsin Shaw puzzles over the “Iago problem” in a secular world: Continue Reading »

January 4, 10PM

Michael Lewis is the writer every writer wants to be. Every book since Liar's Poker has been a best-seller (30 years on, Liar's Poker is still a best-seller), several have been made into movies, and he writes clean, amusing, vivid, highly informativ...

January 3, 10PM

In his essay on “The End of All Things,” Kant analyzes the “pious language” that speaks of “a person who is dying as going out of time into eternity.” Kant finds no comfort in the thought. On the contrary there is &ldqu...
Joseph did not know his wife until she gave birth to a Son (Matthew 1:25). Why not? Continue Reading »

January 2, 10PM

Eric Gilchrest ( Revelation 21-22 in the Light of Jewish and Greco-Roman Utopianism ) suggests that the conclusion vision of Revelation would receive a quite different reaction from its original readers, depending on whether they had been schooled in Jewi...
The angelic “guards” at the gates of the new Jerusalem are, argues Margaret Barker ( Revelation of Jesus Christ , 323), “probably a memory of the ancient guardians of the city known to Isaiah, ‘the watchmen set on the walls' (Isa. ...

December 30 2016, 4AM

The Kingdom of Speech by tom wolfelittle, brown and company , 192 pages, $26 Continue Reading »

December 19, 4AM

Since its first issues appeared more than twenty-five years ago, First Things has been hailed as the leading journal of religion and public life in America, one of the leading journals of its kind in the world. Continue Reading »

December 18, 10PM

I‘m taking a break from blogging over the Christmas holidays. Continue Reading »

December 15, 10PM

Allison Coudert ( Religion, Magic, and Science in Early Modern Europe and America ) speaks of an “anthropological revolution” taking place in the eighteenth century, as Europeans became optimistic about the future prospects of human evolution ...
1 Chronicles 23:24-27 is arranged chiastically: Continue Reading »
Costica Bradatan wants us to attend to The Other Bishop Berkeley . The Berkeley that is most often studied is the one who addresses issues of interest to contemporary philosophy. Bradatan looks instead at Berkeley's sources and the uses he makes of the...
Christian Wiman ( My Bright Abyss , 51-2) claims that some poets—“surprisingly few”—possess “a very particular gift for making a thing at once shine forth in its ‘thingness' and ramify beyond its own dimensions.” ...
Christian Wiman ( My Bright Abyss , 41) quotes a poem, “These Poems, She Said” by Robert Bringhurst, which Wiman says he “carried . . . in my mind like a totem.” It begins: Continue Reading »
Adam Seligman compares Modernity's Wager to Pascal's: Continue Reading »
Fellow Alabamian Quin Hillyer says that Trump should pay attention to what's happening in Alabama if he wants to help American workers. Forbes.com rated Mobile America's top mid-sized city for manufacturing growth in 2015, and the growth has come from f...
Timothy Beal ( Religion and Its Monsters ) analyzes Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1926) as a tale of two monsters. Continue Reading »
In his recent study of figural exegesis, Time and the Word , Ephraim Radner traces the “fate of figural reading.” The Middle Ages form a crucial stage in that history. Drawing on the work of Friedrich Ohly, Radner argues that the “medie...

December 14, 10PM

The authors of Ritual and its Consequences (104-6) note a contrast between civilizations that are bound by authoritative rituals and those that are not. The latter are deeply concerned with sincerity: “ Civilizations or movements with a diminishe...
One paragraph illustrates both the reasons I admire Christian Wiman's 2013 searingly honest My Bright Abyss , and the reasons I find the book frustrating to the point of irritation. A poet and erstwhile editor of Poetry , Wiman came to Christianity as a...

December 13, 10PM

“Priestcraft” was one of the charges regularly lodged by skeptics against clergy and theologians in early modern Europe. It connoted obscurantism, deception, manipulation of popular opinion. It connoted everything wrong with established Christ...

December 12, 10PM

Keith G. Meador devotes his contribution to The Secular Revolution to an analysis of the therapeutic takeover of American Protestantism. He focuses on the role of the Christian Century under the editorship of Charles Clayton Morrison, who used the mag...
One of the virtues of Anthony J. Carroll's Protestant Modernity is his effort to put flesh on the bony term “secularization,” often batted about in an airily sociological fashion. On-the-ground secularization is easiest to spot in Revolution...

December 11, 10PM

Peter Harrison points out in his The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (10-11) that the Reformation coincided with the rediscovery of ancient skepticism. While the Reformers were undermining traditional Catholic sources of authority from one si...

December 8, 10PM

According to Cyril O'Regan, von Balthasar saw Hegel and Heidegger as the great exemplars of post-Enlightenment mis-remembering ( Anatomy of Misremembering ). Misremembering is not the same as forgetting. To misremember involves a will to overcome forgetfu...
Near the beginning of his Religion and its Monsters , Timothy Beal points to the etymological hint that monsters might have some inherent connection to religion: “the monster's religious import is rooted in the word itself: ‘monster' derives ...
Geography has historically imagined a flat world: “territory, sovereignty and human experience have long been flattened by a paradoxical reliance on flat maps - and, more recently, aerial and satellite images - projected or imaged from the disembodi...
In a 2011 New Yorker profile of Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen, D.T. Max digresses to explain the logic behind the Soviet interest in chess: Continue Reading »
In the middle stanzas of “Erotikos Logos,” watching someone else reading, Scott Cairns ( Slow Pilgrim , 278) writes, Continue Reading »
Thomas Fabisiak wonders, What does the New Jerusalem have to do with modernity? ( Apocalypses in Context ). Ask most modern philosophers, and the answer will be, Not much. Fabisiak speaks of the “'rhetorical construction' of modernity” that ta...
Andrew Pettegree ( Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion ) observes a shift in rhetorical tone in Protestant-Catholic debates between the early and mid sixteenth century: Continue Reading »
Andrew Pettegree ( Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion , 201-2) describes the post-Reformation efforts to cultivate a sense of brotherhood and solidarity among Protestant Christians who had rejected medieval rites and practices of kinship. He quotes...
Karl Shuve's contribution to Apocalypses in Context traces the Christian use of Jewish apocalyptic, especially of the Book of the Watchers from 1 Enoch, which even makes it into the universal canon of the New Testament (Jude). Continue Reading »...

December 7, 10PM

“Come out from her!” says a heavenly voice to the saints (Revelation 18). Come out from Babylon, the harlot city, the doomed city. Continue Reading »
King Ahaz of Judah is in a panic. Israel and Aram have allied to resist Assyria's expansion, and they are pressuring Ahaz to join the alliance. If he refuses, they will overthrow Judah and replace him with another king. The result may be the end of the Da...

December 6, 10PM

Mark Garnett ( The Snake that Swallowed Its Tail ) identifies four core beliefs of liberalism: “that the individual ought to be treated as prior to society; that human beings are capable of rational decision-making; that rational people are worthy o...
D. Stephen Long ( The Perfectly Simple Triune God ) claims that the doctrine of divine simplicity is designed to answer a question of Trinitarian theology, specifically, “How do we speak well of the mystery of the Holy Trinity?” Simplicity ...

December 5, 10PM

In a contribution to Apocalypses in Context , Christopher Hays recounts the rise of apocalyptic writing during the Hellenistic period. He briefly discusses the historical context for the book of Daniel, a book that, he says, leaves “a series of &ls...

December 4, 10PM

Nathan MacDonald ( Not Bread Alone , 176–7) has a fascinating chapter on the role of food in the establishment of Israel's monarchy. In part, this has to do with agricultural policy, but it also has an anthropological dimension: Feasts form a circle...

December 2, 4AM

“R epent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” John the Baptist commands in a traditional Advent reading (Matt. 3). It sounds like a threat, and it is. He goes on to urge the Pharisees and Sadducees to bring forth the fruit of repentance or ...

December 1, 10PM

In an editorial introduction to King Lear , GK Hunter observes that the play depicts three forms of madness. First, “The Fool has a quality of savage innocence that the other two lack. . . . His stock consists in the main of songs and riddles, nons...
Alexander Leggatt ( King Lear ) captures the oddity of King Lear by calling attention to the blunt physicality of the play: “The tortured body is a recurring image. . . . According to J.I.M. Stewart, ‘The blinding of Gloucester represents a so...
Note #1: Act 1, scene 2 of King Lear , which initiates Edmund's plots against father Gloucester and brother Edgar, is structured chiastically: Continue Reading »
Nathan MacDonald ( Not Bread Alone ) argues that “The description of the feast in [Isaiah] 25.6–8 is usually taken to be of a coronation meal or a meal to celebrate YHWH's kingship. Although this idea has been related to theories of an enthron...
“S cott Alexander” (a pseudonym) applies some common sense the media characterization of Trump as an “openly racist” candidate dedicated to courting the KKK. He estimates, for instance, that there are 3-5000 Klansman in the US. O...
Emma Tarlo's recent Entangled is a study of the global market in human hair. Continue Reading »
Dympna Callaghan points out in her Shakespeare's Sonnets that “Petrarchan love was always unrequited and unconsummated, like Romeo’s love for the ‘fair Rosaline' who has taken a vow of chastity in Romeo and Juliet .” Thus, the ...
Diarmaid MacCulloch starts his study of the Reformation, All Things Made New , with a sketch of the medieval world. It's a bit rosy, emphasizing the unity of medieval Europe: “The most noticeable characteristic of Western Europe in what we call the...

November 30, 10PM

1 Chronicles 22 records a lengthy speech from David to his son Solomon. The very setup suggests an analogy with the book of Proverbs, in which Solomon gives instructions to his son the prince. For the Chronicler, Solomon learned to teach wisdom by receivi...
In his 1892 Lectures on the Apocalypse (29-30), William Milligan argues that “the symbolism of the Revelation is wholly and exclusively Jewish.” Continue Reading »

November 29, 10PM

Shakespeare's Sonnet 103 laments the limits of language to capture the thing it describes. “Look in your glass,” the poet says, and you will see a face that overwhelms “my blunt invention quite.” The reality dulls the poet’s ...
The paragraphs below are taken, with slight changes, from a column I wrote at Firstthings.com in July 2015. The questions are even more pressing since Trump's election. Continue Reading »

November 28, 10PM

After David sinfully takes a census of Israel (1 Chronicles 21), the threshing site where he builds the altar that arrests the plague becomes the temple site (1 Chronicles 22:1). David begins preparations for the temple. Continue Reading »
Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 embodies the excessiveness of poetry. It’s possible to summarize the poem in a brief statement: “I’m getting old. I'll die. Love me while you can.” Why so belabor the point? Continue Reading »

November 27, 10PM

Like many Renaissance writers, Shakespeare is obsessed with mutability, with the vaporous quality of human life. Nothing remains forever. Kingdoms rise and fall. Monuments erode and decay. People grow old and die. Continue Reading »

November 22, 10PM

In Ecclesiastes 9, Solomon urges, “Go, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” Joy comes from knowing that God accepts and approves what we do, and, implicitly, accepts a...

November 21, 10PM

For years, I've highlighted the triple structure of Merchant of Venice : Three romances, three plots (casket, bond, ring), three caskets. But then I've forced that triple structure into a dual setting - Belmont and Venice. But the geography of the play i...
Buzzfeed has posted a transcript of a 2014 talk that Trump strategist Steve Bannon gave to a meeting of the Human Dignity Institute, an effort to promote Christian faith in European politics. Continue Reading »

November 20, 10PM

Carl Trueman's review of The End of Protestantism was published in the December 2016 issue of First Things. It's a fair but critical review, and gives much fuel for further discussion. Here I respond to two main points. Continue Reading »

November 18, 4AM

For many Evangelical Protestants, the gospel is justification by grace alone through faith alone. It’s the good news that God has declared sinners righteous solely on the basis of the work of Christ, a declaration that sinners receive by resting o...

November 17, 10PM

In his Not Bread Alone , Nathan MacDonald cites the letter to Aristeas, which includes an early Christian attempt to explain the food laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. For Aristeas, the food laws were instructive to human beings. Clean animals ruminate;...
Whatever their later American heirs thought of alcoholic beverages, the Reformers were lovers of beer and wine. For Luther, that goes without saying. Gisela Kreglinger shows ( Spirituality of Wine ) that Calvin's views were the same as Luther's. Continue...
African immigrants to the US are preparing to leave in the wake of Trump's victory, reports Quartz . Though not specifically a target of Trump's assaults on immigrants, they feel they are not welcome. Continue Reading »
In a critique of Locke’s theory of consent (and more extreme varieties), Stephen RL Clark ( Civil Peace and Sacred Order ) invokes the ancient Irish system of gessa (s. geis ). These are obligations placed “chiefly on great chieftains and w...
In his history of American lighthouses ( Brilliant Beacons ), Eric Jay Dolin describes mid-19th century conflicts over the American lighthouse system. It sounds familiar—conflicts between those who wanted to rationalize and those who preferred the r...
James Davison Hunter calls attention to the urban setting of the Reformation ( To Change the World , 65): “During the sixteenth century, international commerce expanded dramatically. In Eastern Europe and in France, growing revenues accrued to the b...
Early medieval evangelists had theological reasons for targeting their evangelistic efforts to kings. Kings were heads of political bodies; convert the head, convert the body. Continue Reading »
Is Trump's election the death rattle of white Christian America? Philip Jenkins doesn't think so . It's true that, if trends continue, the US will be a minority-majority nation by mid-century, with no single ethnic group having more than half the populat...
Gil Bailie notes in his recently published God’s Gamble (25, 27) that modern thinkers have often pointed to the similarities between gospel and myth as evidence against the uniqueness of Christian faith: “The anthropological discovery of the...

November 16, 10PM

David wants to build Yahweh a house, Nathan the prophet encourages him. Then Yahweh appears to Nathan to correct him and give directions to David. The nighttime oracle is actually two oracles (noted by William Johnstone, 1 & 2 Chronicles ). Continu...
Apart from dispensationalists, few commentators on Revelation try to match the characters and events of the book to particular people and historical incidents. In the view of many commentators, that would be a violation of the character of apocalyptic lit...

November 15, 10PM

NT Wright complains about the marginalization of the Gospels in atonement theology. He doesn't think it's an accident. Rather, it's “the direct, long-term result of the way in which ‘atonement' has been seen as a transaction taking place, as i...

November 14, 10PM

Some commentators on Revelation give the Parthian empire a major role in the book. The Parthian empire stretched from the Euphrates to Iran; the Silk Road passed through, making it crucial to trade routes from the Roman empire to the far east. Romans and ...
In his freshly published Triune God , Fred Sanders emphasizes that God's self-revelation is a communicative act, and that the communication doesn't come only in act but also in speech: “Revelatory words are not epiphenomenal to revelatory acts....

November 13, 10PM

David wants to build Yahweh a house, and Nathan the prophet approves (1 Chronicles 17:1-2). That night, the word of Yahweh comes to Nathan to correct him. When Nathan delivers the oracle, David is a new Abraham, to whom the “Word of the Lord came&rd...

November 10, 10PM

In a scintillating poem, “Late Apocalypse,” Scott Cairns ( Slow Pilgrim , 214-5), Scott Cairns gives the sharpest, pithiest description of the contradictions of communications technology I've ever read. Cairns is playing off Revelation 1, wher...
Nathaniel Rich reviews Arlie Russell Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land in the NYRB . Hochschild, a Berkeley sociologist, examined theories about the rise of the Tea Party and Trumpism, but, she writes, “I found one thing missing in them...
In a TLS review of James Sharpe's history of violence in England ( A Fiery & Furious People ), David Horspool calls attention to Sharpe's account of infanticide in the 18th and 19th centuries. Continue Reading »
Enrique Dussel ( Underside of Modernity ) explains Hegel’s defection from Kant in theological terms. Inspired by Schiller's distinction of reason as “the vital faculty of synthesis” and understanding as the faculty that “determines...
I have only two quick responses to Toby Sumpter's generous and thoughtful review of (a part of) The End of Protestantism . Continue Reading »
Paul Duff ( Who Rides the Beast? 90) calls attention to five parallels between the prophetess Jezebel of Thyatira (Revelation 2) and the harlot city Babylon (Revelation 17-18). Continue Reading »
Lambert Zuidervaart's essay on “radical Augustinian social critique” is, of course, mainly about Radical Orthodoxy. He devotes several pages to Graham Ward and John Milbank, highlighting the power of their work but offering some criticisms. C...
In an essay on radical Augustinian social critique in his Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation , Lambert Zuidervaart zummarizes the social vision of Herman Dooyeweerd with two themes: spiritual antithesis and structural differentiation. The antithe...
Lamber Zuidervaart thinks that Christian scholars have a “modernity complex” ( Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation , 222). He illustrates with quotations from writers from Groen van Prinsterer to Merold Westphal, and concludes that Chri...

November 9, 10PM

International observers have looked with dismay on the 2016 Presidential election, often for good reason. But David Goldman offers a rebuttle. He observes that Trump’s victory “is not strictly speaking a Republican victory. The self-appointe...
After David installs the ark of the covenant in the tent he prepares for it, he sets up Levites to carry on continuous praise before the Lord’s throne. 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 is a long sample of praise. As commentators point out, the Psalm consists of...
When teaching hermeneutics, I've limited myself to giving students two rules: “Pay attention!” and “Remember!” The exclamation points are essential. Continue Reading »

November 8, 10PM

The account of David's reign in 1 Chronicles alternates between house-building and war, house-building and international recognition and repute. David builds his house, and then fights Philistines, spreading fear throughout the region (1 Chronicles 14). T...

November 7, 10PM

In his Apocalypse Commentary , Nicholas of Lyra pauses from his comments on Revelation 11:11 to describe the various ways a figure can figure. He starts from the reasonable premise that “a figure of another thing is necessarily something in itself,...
O God of earth and altar, Continue Reading »
David is the hyperactive organizer of the effort to bring the ark into Jerusalem. After the first attempt ended in Uzza’s death, David determines that they had violated the ordinance, the word of God through Moses (1 Chronicles 15:13, 15). He makes ...

November 6, 10PM

The Hebrew word ma'al is a key term in Chronicles. It means “act of unfaithfulness” or “sacrilege,” and is the sin that leads to Saul's fall (he ma'aled a ma'al , 1 Chronicles 10:13) and to the exile of Judah, whose officials ...
My End of Protestantism (the book) deals with a number of the questions Doug Wilson raises in his brief review . Here I correct several of Doug’s misrepresentations and clarify some points, but mainly point to fuller discussions in the book. Co...

November 3, 9PM

The Reformation was highly improbably, writes Andrew Pettegree in his lively, vivid Brand Luther : “that a monk who into his thirtieth year had published nothing, and who shared the conventional education of other churchmen, should somehow reinvent...
Bruce Ellis Benson ( Improvisation of Musical Dialogue ) doesn’t think that “the binary schema of ‘composing’ and ‘performing,’ which goes along with the construal of music making as being primarily about the production...
In his elegant study of Reformation commemorations ( Remembering the Reformation ), Thomas Albert Howard notes that the first centenary of the 95 Theses started out as an ecumenical effort. Elector Friedrich V of the Rhineland Palatinate hoped to “r...
Tracing the pre-history of European modernity that started with the Cartesian cogito , Enrique Dussel ( Underside of Modernity , 135-6) calls attention to the role of European exploration and conquest in the Americas. Modernity doesn’t begin with D...
In several places in Scripture, idols are characterized by their sensory deprivation (Psalms 115; 135). They have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear prayer, noses but cannot smell incense of sacrifice. By implication, Yahweh the living God can do...
There were many Dick Turpins, writes James Sharpe in his study of the mythical English highwayman. There was “the son of John and Mary Turpin, born in Essex in 1705, who was a butcher by trade, drifted into crime, became a notorious highwayman, an...
Writing in The Australian , Paul Kelly views the state of American politics from Down Under. He gets some things wrong, I think, but he also nails some of the cultural and political toxins of which the 2016 Presidential debate is symptomatic. Continue R...
In her The Body in Pain , Elaine Scarry describes the “aversiveness” of our experience of pain. By that, she means that pain is sheerly negative, experienced as something set against us. Even though it is in us, it’s not us. Scarry writ...
Age obliterates and collapses our world, writes Elaine Scarry in The Body in Pain (32-3): “the body works to obliterate the world and self of the old person. Something of this world dissolution is already at work even in the tendency of those in ...

2AM

Some years ago, an older friend turned fifty and his body suddenly fell apart. He had several surgeries during his fiftieth year, and every other month revealed another system failure. He recovered, and remains hale and active today, but I took the warnin...

November 2, 9PM

The Chronicler’s account of David bringing the ark of the covenant to Zion takes up several chapters of 1 Chronicles. Chapters 13-15 describe two ark processions, and chapter 16 describes the organization of the ark tent and its worship in Jerusalem...
Derek Rishmawy is on to me . In a charitable review of The End of Protestantism , he sees through my effort to make a proposal that is “pre-emptively impervious to critique.” He’s right that I admit “that any number of my worries...

November 1, 9PM

The thesis here is: Inclusion in the sacraments is a necessary privilege of membership in the covenant people. There is no covenant membership except one that is sealed by participation in covenant signs and rites. Continue Reading »

October 31, 9PM

Paedocommunion not only implies that the church is the new Israel, but that the church is the new humanity . To say the one is to say the other, for Israel was chosen from among the nations to be Yahweh’s instrument to reverse the sin at Babel, the...
Summarizing Russell Moore’s 2016 Erasmus Lecture, Rod Dreher writes : Moore is “saying that the best way to influence the culture for Christ is to stop trying to ‘influence the culture for Christ,’ but rather to be deeply and th...

October 30, 9PM

All paedobaptists agree that the church is the new Israel, formed as the body of the Risen Christ. But paedocommunion reinforces this point dramatically, for it insists that the admission requirements to the church’s meal are exactly the same as the...

October 27, 9PM

Terrence Rafferty calls filmmaker Guillermo del Toro the “Master of Highbrow Horror” ( The Atlantic ). He traces del Toro’s aesthetic to a childlike mix of fear and fascination: “Toro’s work isn’t simply the something&r...
Matthew Hutson reports in The Atlantic about technical developments that will make it impossible to know when we’re on camera: Many of the cameras that can be pointed at us today are easy to spot. But researchers are developing recording devices t...
Born to Run is an anthem of escape, seemingly an exodus from the confinements of small-town America: “H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back / It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we’re young ...
In an essay on the notion of “cosmopolitanism,” Wayne Cristaudo presents Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy as thinkers who propose an un philosophical cosmopolitanism. That un- is critical, Crustaudo thinks, to a genuine recognitio...

October 18, 9PM

My End of Protestantism (the book) deals with a number of the questions Doug Wilson raises in his rejoinder . I’m sure Doug will have more to say if he reads the book, and I’ll try to respond then. Here I limit myself to a few notes. I stat...

October 17, 9PM

Bernd Wannenwetsch ( Political Worship , 63–65) denies that in Luther’s theology politics and economics “count as being a preserve of the law .” The usus politicus of the law doesn’t mark “a particular preserve not t...
John Milbank and Adrian Pabst ( The Politics of Virtue , 269) argue that secular critiques of liberalism cannot hit home because “they are incapable of making the key argument that various different faith traditions are able to make—that natur...

October 16, 9PM

John is caught up by the Spirit into heaven and sees a throne, cherubim, a sea, seven torches burning. I daresay he knew exactly where he was: In the heavenly temple, specifically in the heavenly archetype of the most holy place, the throne-room of the ...

October 13, 9PM

In a TLS review of several new books on Kierkegaard, Will Rees comments on the therapeutic cruelty of Kierkegaard’s writing. In Sickness Unto Death , “Anti-Climacus explains how, far from an inheritance of birth, the ‘self’ is i...
In Revelation, martyrs sing before martyrdom and after martyrdom (Revelation 14-15). Their martyr songs are the war songs of the Lamb, the triumphal chants of those who overcome because they, like the Lamb, do not love life even to death. Continue Readi...
Prior to the 1830s, argues JCD Clark ( The Language of Liberty, 1660-1832 ), British political debate was carried on with denominational idioms. Political divides were denominational divides. Political and denominational issues overlapped and intertwined....
According to Mathew Crawford ( The World Beyond Your Head ), economics once held “that we are rational beings who gather all the information pertinent to our situation, calculate the best means to given ends, and then go about optimizing our choices...
Summarizing themes from his Love, Sex, and Tragedy , Simon Goldhill highlights the difference between ancient Greek conceptions of eros and Christian and post-Christian conceptions of romantic love. Even the most famous lovers of Greek antiquity, he ...
Look at a wall, suggests Matthew Crawford ( The World Beyond Your Head ). What color is it? You probably have an answer, a simple one, but when you force yourself to look closely you can see all sorts of variations. The paint is uneven; the old color show...
Devoney Looser says that Jane Austen’s juvenilia is an exercise in burlesque . Not the strip-tease variety, but not so far from that either: “Where a parody sets out to mimic conventions and make us laugh, a burlesque relies ‘on an extr...