Welcome to Sword and Ploughshare 2.0!

Well, here at last is the new and improved Sword and Ploughshare that I’ve been muttering about for the past couple weeks.  I hope you weren’t expecting too much, as, whatever talents I may have in the word-writing department, they are not matched by similar talents in either creativity and aesthetics, or web technology.  Quite the contrary.  Accordingly, there is much work yet to be done in terms of cleaning up the design, and no doubt I shall discover over the coming days several significant technical glitches.   However, this new platform does provide a great deal more flexibility and ease of use, so hopefully the growing pains will be worth it.

But, before saying more about what may yet be improved, I’ll say a few words about what *has* been improved.  

  • You’ll notice that the separate “About Me” and “What is the S&P?” pages have been combined—after all, who really needed to read whole separate explanations of both?  
  • The Writings page has been considerably overhauled, and although copies of old papers are no longer downloadable, I’m afraid, feel free to email me if you’d like to look at something.  
  • “Projects” has been replaced with a page specifically devoted to my main project, my Ph.D thesis work, since most all of the work I’m doing now ties in with that in some degree.  As that nears its end, and I branch out again, I may see about re-revamping that page.  
  • The Blogroll has been moved from a sidebar to a separate page of its own, has had its membership considerably modified, and now is annotated—that is, I try to give you some idea of why each of the links I’ve put there is there.
  • The Old Blog, I’m sorry to say, is gone.  As it contains material that’s up to 5 1/2 years old, much of which I would now want to say rather differently (or in a few cases, not at all), it seemed a bit needless to continue appending it.  For those really interested in digging up old dirt, you can still access it here.
  • The sidebars, as a whole, have been trimmed down considerably.  There was simply too much before.  In particular, the tag cloud is gone.  Tags still exist, and you can access them by clicking at the bottom of posts, or by using the search, but there were getting to be way too many of them for a sidebar.  I may still be adding a “Recent Posts” widget back into the sidebar, if I can figure out how, which I haven’t been able to yet.  
  • An exception to the general sidebar-trimming is the addition of my Twitter feed, since I have just joined Twitter this week.  We’ll see how that goes.  (Goodreads is gone, as i’ve been inactive there for six months, alas.  Hopefully not forever)
  • The categories have been rationalized somewhat.  Excess categories have been merged, and some have been renamed.  

Things that need work

  • The banner.  Yes, I know it’s big, and that depending on what size your browser window is, a lot of the image doesn’t show up.  I’ll be working on that, and maybe replacing it altogether.
  • The categories.  I’ve rationalized them, as I said, but there’s a good deal of work to be done in going back through old posts and reclassifying.  Once that’s done (a week or two), the Categories listing should at last be a genuinely useful tool for browsing this blog.
  • The subscribe button.  There’s no button to subscribe to the Comments feed at the moment; I shall try to rectify that.  I’m crossing my fingers that all those who subscribed at the old platform shall have their subscriptions carry over here without difficulty.  If not . . . well, that could be a problem.
  • Yes the books are too big on the Writings page.  That’s not because I’m super-vain, or trying to yell in your face to buy my books.  It’s just cuz I’m not tech-savvy.  I’ll be working on it.
  • Let me know if you’re running into other problems, as you try to use the site.  I’m sure there will be some.  Just comment on this post, or, if commenting is one of the things giving you trouble (it was glitchy at the old platform), then use the Contact Me form.

Thanks for following me. I hope you enjoy the new layout, and enjoy the exciting (read: controversial) upcoming posts I’ve had waiting on the back burner, which I can now bring to a boil

Et Tu, Brute?

After a blogless week due to illness and continued work on blog renovations (the reason you haven’t seen any yet is that I’m reconstructing the blog on a whole new platform, although all the important content will carry over; stay tuned for a launch hopefully later this week), I’m popping in just to announce/confess that I am finally on Twitter, under the unimaginative moniker WBLittlejohn.  Yes, me, author of those anti-Twitter screeds this past year—although, to be clear, I never argued against Twitter as such, merely that it was a platform ill-suited for certain functions, and ripe for abuse.  Whether I shall be among the abusers, remains to be seen.  No doubt it will have deleterious effects on my already overtaxed productivity, as I’m already finding my Twitter feed full of diverting links and utterances.  Whether I shall be among those offering such engaging contributions, or whether I will find myself continually stymied by that shocking 160-character limit (a couple times today, I tried posting what I took to be very short quotes, only to find they were around twice the character limit), remains to be seen as well.  This is a highly experimental enterprise for a chronically sesquipedalian Luddite.  Stay tuned for the results.

At the very least, it means much fewer spammy posts here—the sort, like this one, where I announce some modest landmark in my online existence, or point your attention to something interesting someone has written elsewhere.  Hopefully in future, most such housekeeping and marketing can be done via Twitter (which, in any case, will appear in a little box on the upcoming renovated blog).  I look forward to “seeing” you there.

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.

Philippa Hope Littlejohn

Born 10:06 PM on 10/10.  Little Pippa is just 6 lbs., 7 oz., but lovely, quiet, and happy.
Everything went as perfectly as could be—born on her due date, quickly, naturally, in great health; my amazing wife Rachel is doing great as well, and we’re already back home—just four hours later!

God is good, incredibly good. 

Updates, Interlocutions, and a Hiatus

As of today, I will be taking off for a couple weeks for some long-awaited time with friends and family in London, Wales, Yorkshire, and sundry places, and blogging should be quite limited during this period—though I do hope to finally put up a review of John Perry’s excellent book Pretenses of Loyalty (thanks to Davey Henreckson at Reforming Virtue for putting me onto it).

Meanwhile, though, there are a number of exciting things to which I can direct your attention.  First (and perhaps not quite so exciting), I have made long-overdue updates to the other pages here at the S&P—About Me, What is the S&P?, Projects, and Writings.  The most significant changes: I have tried to bring the “What is the S&P?” description more into line with what I actually write about here these days, and I have mercilessly purged excess projects from the Projects page, reflecting my real-life purge as I try to focus more of my attentions and energies on my thesis and related work.

Second, and rather more exciting, the Two Kingdoms debates go on.  Oh yes—and on, and on, and on, no doubt.  Matt Tuininga, not content with one rebuttal to my original post, posted five (here, here, here, here, and here), with which I interacted in a few comments, though whether any clarification was thereby achieved, I leave it to you to judge.  This impending trip has not left me leisure for a full-blown response, chock full of big bloc quotes and footnotes, but fortunately, Peter and Steven at The Calvinist International have happily stepped in to provide such a response, which will be forthcoming any day now—I recommend you check in on TCI every ten minutes or so this weekend. 😉

As if Tuininga’s responses were not enough, Darryl Hart has now kindly jumped into the fray with a post at Old Life, “Speaking of Ecclesiastical Authority.”  Although Hart displays again his odd obsession with trying to somehow link everything he disagrees with to Moscow, ID, I am grateful to him for highlighting in his post what I think is the key issue in this whole two-kingdoms debate—namely, the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty and its occlusion by ecclesiastical legalism.  Hart insists that the modern R2K view is “an effort to recover Christian liberty from the pious intentions and historical circumstances of some in the Reformed world eager to assert the Lordship of Christ without sufficient qualification.”  The problem, of course, from my perspective, is that the modern R2K view achieves this liberty in its civil kingdom at the cost of banishing it from the Church, ruled as it is with a strictly enforced biblical absolutism.  Hart asks, “how the church as a temporal authority, ruled by an earthly monarch, is going to be any less tyrannical, even if its reach only goes to externals,” which is, one might say, just the question my thesis aims to address.  I hope, therefore, to have the opportunity for a full engagement with this line of challenge after my traveling hiatus is finished; we shall see.