Two Births and an Annunciation

I’m afraid I’m not in a position to crank this blog back into life in any sustained way just yet (though I will probably be posting a few odds and ends), but I will break the silence to make a trio of announcements (a couple days late for the Feast of the Annunciation, but oh well…).  If you know me on Facebook, you’ll already know all about the first two, so you can skip down to #3, which is all-new and hot off the press, so to speak.

Birth #1

First, I am proud to announce the birth of my son Oliver Aaron, born Sunday, March 23rd at 11:00 PM, and weighing in at 7 lbs., 9 oz., exactly the same as my first son, Soren.  He’s a handsome enough fellow, but he scowls a lot, with the air of someone indignant at being hauled out of his warm comfortable cave into the cold, hard world.  I am prognosticating that he will be the first of our children to display reclusive or anti-social tendencies. Read More


Articles New, Articles Forthcoming, and Something More Exciting

Unfortunately, a series of unforeseen pressures on my time (some of them coming in the form of malevolent microorganisms) have forced me to abandon my blogging ambitions for this month; I still hope that next month will see a return to more writing here, but a number of academic writing commitments will get in the way.

However, I have not been idle, and I do have a number of publications that have just recently come out or are forthcoming.  Unfortunately, many of them you will need institutional journal subscriptions, a lot of money, or a good library to read, but someday, the open-access revolution may burst them out from the closely guarded paywall prisons in which they now reside.  The last and most exciting item, however, will be very widely and inexpensively available:

Fall 2013:

A review of Scott Kindred-Barnes, Richard Hooker’s Use of History in His Defense of Public Worship: His Anglican Critique of Calvin, Barrow, and the Puritans for the Journal of Anglican Studies.  Published online 9/27/13 here.

A review of A.J. Joyce’s Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology for the Anglican Theological Review 95.4 (Fall 2013): 734–36.  Some of you will recall that I reviewed this book at length here last spring.  But if you want the concise version, in which my caustic criticisms are thinly veiled in polite academese, the journal review may interest you.

Winter 2014:

A review of Peter Leithart’s Between Babel and Beast for Political Theology 15.1 (Jan. 2014): 10–12.  Again, I have blogged about this book in a number of places, and reviewed it for Reformation21 last summer, but this is the concise, academic version.

A book chapter, “Bancroft versus Penry: Conscience and Authority in Elizabethan Polemics,” appearing in the very exciting new volume edited by W.J. Torrance Kirby, Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520-1640 (Leiden: Brill, 2014).  And trust me, it really is a very exciting new volume, bringing together historians, theologians, English literature scholars, architectural history scholars, etc. to paint a picture of the enormous cultural impact of the open-air pulpit outside St. Paul’s Cathedral throughout the events that laid the foundation for modern Britain and Anglophone Protestantism.  My essay looks at how the complex dynamics of authority in church and state, conscience, and Christian liberty played out in a sermon by arch-conformist Richard Bancroft and the published critique by John Penry in 1589-90.

An article for a more popular audience in a new journal, The Statesman, entitled, “Three Things Conservatives Could Learn from Richard Hooker.” Forthcoming Feb. 2014.

Spring 2014:

An article, “More than a Swineherd: Hooker, Vermigli, and an Aristotelian Defence of the Royal Supremacy” that will be appearing in Reformation and Renaissance Review 15.1 (April 2014): 78–93.  This is going to be a spectacular special issue of RRR, guest-edited by my friend Jordan Ballor and focusing on the life and thought of the great Florentine reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli.  My friends Eric Parker and Simon Burton also have excellent articles in this issue—indeed, so excellent that I’m a little embarrassed for my little contribution to be appearing alongside theirs.  My article looks at how, in an argumentative strategy that turns many stereotypes on their heads, both Peter Martyr Vermigli and Richard Hooker deploy Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics in order to establish a Christian monarch’s responsibility to care for and advance the church in his realm.  This realization carries lots of exciting implications for our understanding of early modern Protestant political theology, and also strongly suggests something I want to work out more fully in later research—that Richard Hooker was deeply influenced by Vermigli’s work.

There are a few other articles and book reviews I’ve got coming down the pipeline, but I don’t have a very good idea of publication dates, so I’ll leave those out, and skip to the big news…

Spring 2015:

Littlejohn.RichardHooker.Littlejohn.RichardHooker.47351Richard Hooker: A Guide to His Life and Thought.  A new book in the Cascade Companions series, to be published by Cascade Books.  These are short (120-200 page) books aimed at a wide audience—students, pastors, church book studies, and more—that seek to introduce the work of important thinkers, texts, movements in the Christian tradition.  Cascade has just sent me the contract to write this, and I’m proposing to finish it within a year.

My provisional Table of Contents (with very pithy, very un-Hookerian chapter titles) at present is as follows

 

 

 

Pt. I: Richard Hooker

1. The Legend

2. The Man

3. The Book

Pt. II: Vision and Aims

4. Protestant

5. Polemicist

6. Philosopher

7. Pastor

Pt. III: Key Theological Issues

8. Salvation

9. Law

10. Scripture

11. Church

Pt. IV: Legacy

12. Richard Hooker: Contemporary

Stay tuned for more news, as this and other projects develop.

 


I Know it Might be Wrong, But…

For my PhD party over the weekend, a few of my old friends decided to get together and, unbeknownst to me, resurrected an old parody from a surprise birthday party seven years ago.  The song, “Littlejohn Has Got it Goin’ On” was a remarkably well-done spoof of that strange, out-of-the-blue, and somewhat disturbing hit song by Fountains of Wayne, “Stacy’s Mom,” from 2003.  Those of you unfortunate enough to have been listening to pop music in the early 2000s may have mercifully forgotten that song, and will now be cursing me for re-inserting its inexpungible catchiness into your head.  But, although the performance on Saturday may have lacked a good deal in musicianship, I promised to pay tribute to the poetic effort, and to keep myself humble, by posting the lyrics of this parody-of-a-parody here today (though as with most such things, it may only be funny if you know the original, and may not be even then).

 

Littlejohn
Has STILL Got It Going On

            by Bradley Belschner, Nov 2013

Littlejohn has got it going on,

Littlejohn has got it going on,

Littlejohn has got it going on,

Littlejohn has got it going on,

Bradford can I come over, after
work (after work)

We can sit around and watch our
kids go berserk (go berserk)

Did you just get back from your
conference trip? (conference trip)

Peter Esca-lan-te’s got you in his
grip (in his grip)

You know, you’re not the undergrad
that you used to be,

You’re all grown up, and you got
your PhD!

Littlejohn has got it going on,

You’re a Doctor now, and you’ve
waited for so long

Bradford can’t you see, that
you’ve got your PhD

I know it might be wrong, but your
name is Doctor Littlejohn.

Littlejohn has got it goin’ on,

Littlejohn has got it goin’ on,

Bradford you were once, a
neo-Anabaptist, (anabaptist)

But then you learned… two
kingdoms was what you’d missed, (what you’d missed)

At first you had your blog, but
then you wanted more, (so much more)

You published Nevin, and named
your son after Kierkegaard, (the D is silent)

And although you were the weirdest
person that I knew,

Oliver O’Donovan is awkwarder than
you!

Littlejohn has got it going on,

You’re a Doctor now, and you’ve
waited for so long.

You’ve proved that Hooker’s-best
…… now you can finally rest,

I know it might be wrong but, your
name is Dr Littlejohn.

            [guitar solo]

Littlejohn, has got it goin’ on, (He’s
got it goin’ onnnn…)

You’re a Doctor now, and you’ve
waited for so long (Waited and waiteeeed…)

Bradford can’t you see, that
you’ve got your PhD

I know it might-be wrooong (ahhh…)

Sourced in papers (Littlejohn
et alllll!)

Cited elsewhere (Littlejohn et
alllll!)

Referenced often (Bradford
can’t you see, that you’ve got your PhD!)

I know that it sounds wrong but, (ahhh…)

Your name is Dr Littlejohn!


Another Blogging Hiatus

Apologies to all for my inactivity these past couple weeks, which is likely to continue, I’m afraid, for another week or two.  I will be defending my Ph.D dissertation, “The Freedom of a Christian Commonwealth,” on October 2nd, and the demands of preparing for that, as well as travel, illness, and other responsibilities, have forced me to postpone completion of my Dismissing Jesus review, as well as most other writing, until at least after the defense. 

I have written a couple items for other venues, however, which Id encourage you to check out.  One, “On the Follies of Contraceptive Historiography,” is a critique of Peter Lake and the sterile methodological orthodoxy he seems to impose on historical theology, and was recently posted at The Calvinist International.  Another, a two-part series on Edward Snowden, surveillance, and the “right to privacy,” will appear this Friday and next on CapitalCommentary.org.


Omni Cui Multum Datum Est . . .

This afternoon, I submitted my Ph.D thesis, “The Freedom of a Christian Commonwealth: Richard Hooker and the Problem of Christian Liberty.”

Vital statistics: 7 chapters; 99,999 words; 333 bibliography entries; 2 appendices.

The following text appeared in the Acknowledgments section at the beginning, and I tried to make it a slightly more engaging read than your average Acknowledgments page:

Like perhaps many other things in life, a Ph.D thesis is a disconcerting combination of, on the one hand, meticulous planning and disciplined execution, and, on the other hand, the completely unforeseen and fortuitous: the chance meeting and conversation at a conference or (more often perhaps nowadays) online, the furious footnote pursued into a treasure-trove of exciting discoveries, an offhand suggestion by your supervisor that blossoms into an important new line of inquiry, the epiphany that comes during the morning walk to your desk or over your third coffee as you muse on Rachmaninov’s Third. Unfortunately, it is only the first of these categories, by far the less consequential contribution, that the lowly writer can take credit for. For the rest, he can only say, non nobis, Domine, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam! However, it smacks suspiciously of false modesty to wax eloquent thanking God on an Acknowledgements page, a way of not-so-subtly insinuating to one’sexaminers that everything before them has God’s personal stamp of approval, being His own handiwork. Thankfully, however, God works mostly through strange and fallible secondary causes, especially those that walk on two legs, and to these it is appropriate to indulge in effusions of gratitude.

Many of these (some long dead) have made their contribution primarily through the written word, sealed up between two covers of a book; these are honored in the appropriate (though depressingly formal) way in the footnotes and bibliography that accompany this thesis, so there is little point listing them here. I will make an exception of three only. David VanDrunen, given the rather merciless beating (although with all due academic decorum) he receives in a few of the pages that follow, deserves a word of thanks here. His book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms fortuitously came my way three years ago, and set me on a quest of refutation that led me unexpectedly to this thesis (in the process of which the nature of the refutation changed dramatically, and I learned a great deal from him). He was polite enough to meet me for a beer and a somewhat confusing argument about Calvin even after I had intemperately savaged him in print—and I have no doubt he will have the graciousness to do so again next time our paths should cross. In a very different way, my debt to Torrance Kirby in various ways is evident all over the pages that follow, although he will no doubt find much to quibble with. The rich insights I have mined from his books and articles have been complemented by his patient correspondence and feedback over the past few years, during the early part of which he displayed great perseverance in trying to drill the Reformational two-kingdoms concept into my thick head. Third, of course, I must thank Richard Hooker, “of blessed memory” (as Paul Stanwood likes to always add), who has been far more to me these past two and a half years than the subject of a thesis. I hope it will not sound like sacrilege to say that his words have been a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path in more ways than I can count, many of them well beyond the scope of this research.

For introducing me to Hooker (or re-introducing, as I had made a passing though passionate acquaintance with him during a summer study at Oxford some years ago), I must thank of course my supervisor Oliver O’Donovan, who has throughout this process guided me with a gentle but judicious hand. His suggestions have been few but carefully-chosen, and have usually yielded abundant fruit—none more so than his absurd insistence that I spend my Christmas break two and a half years ago toiling through the eight books of the Ecclesiastical Polity, which had, I thought, little bearing on my anticipated thesis topic. His wife Joan has proved an extraordinary (though again, an unforeseen) secondary supervisor, meticulously flagging the least grammatical transgression or conceptual ambiguity throughout the process. Perhaps just as important as this formal supervision has been the quirky but unfailing advice of my friend and mentor, Peter Escalante. I have had the uncanny experience, ever since stumbling upon the topic and argument of this thesis, that I was simply unfolding an idea that he had mysteriously “incepted” into my mind sometime in autumn 2010. Of this thesis it might truly be said “Peter planted, Hooker watered, and God gave the growth.” I appreciate also Peter’s willingness to read over each chapter draft as it appeared, reassuring me that yes, it was coherent enough to pass on to my supervisors for their scrutiny.

Many other friends (some of them friends formed along the way) helped by their suggestions, conversations, feedback on drafts, and penetrating questions. Steven Wedgeworth and Jordan Ballor, in particular, gave me many helpful ideas and put a number of key resources in my path; the opportunity to work with Jordan on a project on 16th-century Calvinist church discipline was especially fruitful. Andrew Fulford read over several bits of the thesis at the crucial revising stage, helping me ensure that they were polished and comprehensible enough. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my old and brilliant friend Davey Henreckson, who will no doubt be the secure occupant of a professorial chair at Yale Divinity while I’m still trying to jerry-rig my own personal theological-paedagogical revolution from my parents’ basement a few years hence. Throughout the Ph.D process, he has asked many annoying but penetrating questions, and made a number of suggestions, many of which turned out to be very useful indeed—putting me onto John Perry’s Pretenses of Loyalty, for instance. And of course my faithful friend Brad Belschner has always been there to chat things through when we have the chance to catch up every few months.

Even the rare reader inquisitive enough to read through an Acknowledgements section is likely to skip along when he encounters the section thanking family, as it is sure to be sentimental, and almost entirely unrelated to the matter of the thesis. And yet for the writer of the Acknowledgments, no section could be more important. In particular, the bit where the author thanks his wife for her extraordinary patience and longsuffering over years of penniless and seemingly pointless toil (often in a foreign land, no less), can seem quite perfunctory, and yet it is anything but. To my wife, Rachel, I am indescribably and eternally grateful for her unfailing support at every stage of the way. It may sound trivial, clichéd, or maybe even sexist to single out for gratitude the extraordinarily fine dinners that I could look forward to at the end of a day of study and writing, but few things contributed so much to the relative ease and efficiency of my work. “An army can’t move except on its stomach,” said Napoleon, and the same is true of an academic. My four-year-old son Soren has been a source of frustration as well as delight along the way, but even the former has been invaluable in keeping me grounded—such as his resort to the blunt expedient of slamming my laptop shut and saying “Don’t work!” when it was high time to call it a day. My eight-month-old angel Pippa has provided constant joy and inspiration on the crucial last leg of the thesis (and to think I was afraid she would slow it down with sleepless nights!). To thank one’s mother may seem acceptable at a high school graduation speech, but frankly embarrasing in a Ph.D thesis Acknowledgements page. And yet I must thank her once more for teaching me to write—to write essays clearly, quickly, and effectively, from a young age. Too many writers must labor simultaneously with forming their ideas and forming their words; I have been fortunate enough to be able to focus on the former and let the latter take care of themselves, thanks in large part to that training many years ago. My dad too has provided an ever-ready ear, to chat about things thesis-related, or not-so-related, throughout my Ph.D work, keeping my morale up with his humor and his uncanny willingness to agree with me.

Finally, I will thank God directly—not for the content of the thesis, but for the joy it has brought me. For too many Ph.D students, it seems, a thesis has become stale and lukewarm by the date of submission, and they are only too happy to do to it what God wanted to do to the Laodiceans. I am happy to say it is not so for me, and it is with a fond farewell that I send this thesis forth upon its voyage of examination.