Sword and Ploughshare 2012 Year-in-Review (and 2013 Look-Ahead)

A number of other blogs have marked the beginning of the new year by taking a look back at what they’ve been blogging about over the past year.  Although I am temperamentally allergic to any hint of faddiness, this seems like a genuinely good idea, so I’ll give it a stab.  I should also mention, however, before commencing this review, that big changes (ok, medium changes) will be coming to the S & P soon.  I was hoping to use Christmas break for a long-needed overhaul of the layout, links, and organization of this site (you may have noticed that the tags and categories in particular are woefully disorganized), and launch the new and improved S & P in time for the new year.  That hasn’t happened, but the overhaul, to some extent or other, should be coming soon. Stay tuned.

So what’s been happening here over the past year?  Well, although it saw considerably fewer posts than 2011 (113 compared to 160), 2012 saw a considerable increase in readership, and in the quality of discussions carried out in comments.  The less frequent post count (particularly toward the end of the year, which saw the birth and baptism of my second child) was due largely to a diversion of some of my blogging energies into new venues, as 2012 proved an exciting year for blog-networking.  First, in the Spring came the launch of the Calvinist International, run by Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth, who’ve long been conversation partners here.  Over the course of the year I contributed a number of posts there, primarily related to ongoing controversy about the two-kingdoms, a topic on which this year saw two rounds of somewhat testy, but ultimately quite profitable engagement with Matthew Tuininga, whose blog I commend to you.  (Here at S & P, I posted roundups of the first phase of the controversy here and here, and of part of the second phase here, plus Pt. 1 of my huge final response (Pt. 2 on TCI here).  Another venue was the blog of the journal Political Theology, which hosted a series reviewing John Perry’s fascinating The Pretenses of Loyalty and a series attempting to boil down the 2K debate for general audiences, “The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed,” as well as posts reflecting on the ethical and political implications of The Dark Knight Rises and of Superstorm Sandy.  As a contributing editor there now, I have the opportunity to bring in other Reformed political theologians, such as Jordan Ballor and Davey Henreckson, who will be joining the lineup there in the future—look for a post from one of the three of us on most Wednesdays throughout the coming year.  Finally, I have recently begun contributing on occasion to Matthew Lee Anderson’s excellent Mere Orthodoxy.  My first post there, on the recent kerfluffle over women bishops in the Church of England, caused a bit of a kerfluffle of its own at Doug Wilson’s blog, to which my second post, “Speaking the Truth in Love,” was in part a response.  As a result of these networks and others, I’ve encountered a number of excellent new blogs and bloggers over the past year; in addition to the venues already mentioned, I would commend to you Andrew Fulford’s The City of God, Alastair Roberts’s Adversaria, and a promising new entry, Joseph Minich’s Minicheism.  All of these friends and interlocutors can take credit for stimulating many of the reflections that I’ve posted here over the past year, on a wide range of topics. 

But what about here at the Sword and Ploughshare?  Well, this year’s 113 posts saw their fair share of links, book snippets and reading notes, and several prayers composed for worship at my church, St. Paul’s and St. George’s.  Among the longer posts, this year saw my blogging perhaps more tightly focused than in previous years, as I got into the heart of my Ph.D writing, and thought through some issues related to that research here, as well as occasionally sharing some draft material from the thesis.  Among the latter were posts on Hooker’s theology of worship, what I called the “key” to his theology; his understanding of law and corporate moral agency; his account of the relation of nature and grace; the application of this relationship to his understanding of religion in the commonwealth; his Christological politics, or political Christology; an introduction to Puritanism, or “precisianism”; and an account of Puritan biblicism.  (Good gracious—I didn’t realize I’d posted quite that much!  Might not stand me in good stead when I go and try to publish the thesis…)  Prominent among the former were discussions of the relationship of love and law, of disciplinarianism and early Reformed ecclesiology (see particularly here and here), of the doctrine of Christian liberty, and of the regulative principle.  

Unsurprisingly, few of these, so near and dear to my heart, were exactly the sort of thing to draw in the masses and provoke frenzied discussion in the comments thread.  Far more effective at this were my occasional and reticent interactions with contemporary politics and the Christian Right’s approach to it, particularly my July post on Obamacare, and my trio surrounding the election: “Why I Won’t Ve Voting,” “Post-Apocalyptic Musings,” and “The Abortion Question.”  

There were just three book reviews, though all three books have been crucial in the development of my own thinking.  Although I’d grudgingly accepted the reality of anthropogenic climate change a couple years ago, Merchants of Doubt was perhaps the first thing to get me really passionate about the issue, which has cropped up in several posts since, and about the broader problem of the Christian Right’s relationship to science.  John Perry’s The Pretenses of Loyalty provided me with a very useful conceptual lens—the “harmonization of loyalties”—in which to cast the problems I will be exploring in my thesis, as well as offering profound insights on Locke and modern liberalism.  Susan Schreiner’s Are You Alone Wise? I read quite recently, and it too promises to provide a very useful lens—the quest for certitude—through which to view Hooker’s contribution to sixteenth-century debates.  Aside from a fairly short and casual reflection on The Hobbit, there was only one film review, but boy was it a whopper.  I spent a solid chunk of July distilling a few years worth of thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s films, brought into conversation with Oliver O’Donovan’s The Ways of Judgment (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).

But obviously, there is no reason to try to be exhaustive and catalog everything—the links in the sidebars do that well enough.  Thematically speaking, though, one topic that jumps out at me from the past year as something that has increasingly preoccupied me is a matter not so much of content as of form: how does the medium of the internet shape our communication and debate, particularly about theological and political matters?  How ought we to communicate better?  In April, I asked the question, “How ought pastors to use social media?” and followed up, in response to Toby Sumpter, with “What Would Jesus Tweet?”  In a related vein the next month, I explored in “Narcissism Goes Social” how Facebook shapes and distorts our perception of ourselves and how we interact with others.  In the latter half of this year, I explored the question of the appropriate forms of online debate and polemical discourse in part one of my response to Matt Tuininga, and with the help of posts by Alastair Roberts, and Matthew Lee Anderson’s concept of “intellectual empathy,” which I elaborated on recently; see also Steven Wedgeworth’s interaction with my recent post.


Well then, if you’ve survived the journey through that forest of links without being hopelessly distracted or else, perhaps, so bored that you retreated to whatever more important thing you were doing before you stumbled on this bit of thinly-veiled self-promotion, here’s a few thoughts about what to expect in 2013.

As I come into the final stages of my thesis, and work more on its contemporary application, you can expect to find me blogging more about issues of contemporary political theology—about liberalism, pluralism, and the place of faith in public.  Also, hopefully in quite the near future, you can expect to find some more systematic wrestlings with the concept of natural law, which has put in quite a number of cameo appearances here over the past year or two.  (In the meantime, I refer your attention to this excellent recent reflection at the Calvinist International.)  While finishing up the thesis, I hope to also work up at least two publishable articles, one on Hooker’s contribution to the early modern problem of certainty (as outlined by Susan Schreiner), and one on the current state of Hooker studies—the Battle for the Protestant Hooker.  Reflections relevant to both of those matters are likely to show up here in the next few months.  On a less academic note, I hope to perhaps do more in the way of film reviews/theological analyses, such as I did with the Dark Knight Rises over the summer.  As it is not an election year, I will probably venture into the arena of American politics even less than I did last year, though I will perhaps be correspondingly less reticent to speak up on current matters of ecclesiastical politics.  In particular, following off of my foray into women’s ordination debate a month ago, a number of people have asked me for a more systematic consideration of that issue, and you can expect that in the very near future.  (Of course, in the past, making a promissory note about blogging something has often been a surefire way of making sure I never got around to it, so take all these with a grain of salt).  

Finally, let me end by thanking all of my regular readers and those who take the time to engage in the comments thread (or on Facebook, or in private); I have profited immensely from so many of these interactions, and look forward to many more in the future.

2 thoughts on “Sword and Ploughshare 2012 Year-in-Review (and 2013 Look-Ahead)

  1. AJ

    Brad, I love the blog. I have a question: Given your disposition against digital interaction (on FB and Twitter), why blog? Is it somehow superior or lacking in the other pitfalls? This isn't a rhetorical dis, just a question. Personally, I like blogs and FB posts.


    • Brad Littlejohn

      Hey AJ,I don’t think I’ve ever expressed a "disposition against digital interaction" in general; on the contrary, it has a great many strengths relative to non-digital interaction. My beef with Facebook and Twitter specifically has been that they tend to allow for debates and discussions only to happen in bite-sized chunks, deprived of the and qualifications context necessary for thoughtful discussion, and therefore to encourage emotional, knee-jerk reactions. This is particularly so as the mediums create an incentive to be deliberately provocative so that your remarks get noticed, in the form of retweets and likes—a popularity contest in which the spoils go to the most provocative, often. Facebook allows a little more scope for longer, more thoughtful comments, relative to Twitter, but has the added disadvantage that, because of the intimate and personal context, it is hard for people not to take criticisms personally.

      Of course, neither medium is thereby useless as a platform for disseminating opinions and ideas (indeed, I now—with some trepidation—use both), but we simply need to be extremely aware of the problems and temptations they pose, and accordingly be very careful.

      Blogging, it should be clear from that summary, does not suffer from those same problems and temptations. It has some temptations of its own—notably, that being a more self-contained space, rather than porously open to constant social input (as FB and Twitter are), one can fall into a kind of megalomania, treating one’s blog as a soapbox, where everyone ought to come and listen to your brilliance. One of the reasons I try to keep things a bit casual here.


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