Web-log, March 11, 2017


I spent the day driving (four hours), listening to presentations, and talking. Paul Maxwell compared Calvin and Voltaire’s determinism and approaches to theodicy. Kevin Emmert negotiated the “New Perspective on Calvin.” Kristen Mathson unpacked the concept of authority. And Ryan Fields critiqued Webster’s theological ecclesiology. All the talks I attended were excellent, even though Paul was interrupted by a dusty smoke detector–we had a freezing fire drill.

The Set Up

I’m back at Wheaton for a bit today, waiting to hear sparks fly on whether or not God can suffer. The real reason I came down was to hear Austin Freeman and Paul Hartog and to see the Marion Wade Center–I’ve never been. Photos below.



Example of Lewis’s grandfather’s work:



Lewis’s desk


Tolkien’s desk


My favorite book (I have the first American edition on the right):


Web-log, March 10, 2017


Yesterday I fell into a dissertation black hole, was overwhelmed with despair and quit an hour early. There are these days. What is a dissertation black hole? Here’s my explanation.

At least in theology, if you write a dissertation, chances are you are a generalist. This has some very particular difficulties. One of them is the possibility of slipping into a dissertation black hole. A dissertation black hole is when you are drawn deeper and deeper into providing backing for a minor claim to the point where you find yourself buried in a pile of PDFs and books that cost you at least eight hours.

Yesterday it was this. I wanted to illustrate the ways philosophers and theologians denied the immortality of the soul in the late Renaissance. I had a few figures and “schools” picked out, and really was only trying to expand on what I already had written, an introduction of sorts. I had already written about Siger of Brabant, George of Trebizond, Cardinal Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, and Pietro Pompanazzi. However, a passing comment in an article I read yesterday mentioned the rise of “Alexanderism” in the 16th century, which is exactly relevant to my topic. I added “Alexanderism” to “Averroism,” and “Galenism” to be addressed by my paragraph today. The trouble is the relationship between Alexander and Averroes is incredibly complex and involves something like ten other theologians–particularly from the Italian Renaissance–between the early fifteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth. I read through roughly two hundred pages of crap about Alexanderism and Averroes before I realized that I wrote about fifteen words today, all of which will be deleted. I am no further than yesterday, and actually quite a bit more confused.

What have I gained? I now know that actually the reception of Aristotle was quite a bit more complicated than I supposed, and Alexanderism, which is probably not justly an “–ism”, has bearing on my project to a much greater degree than I had realized, culminating in a possibly pervasive influence on the radical Reformers through Jacopo Zabrella. Important, complex, and time consuming. My 14,000 word monster of a chapter threatens to become much bigger.

I could finish the 150 more pages to read, take notes, and write ten very well-crafted and nuanced sentences on the scope of controversy, and how it influenced not only Calvin’s psychology but the anabaptist psychology he attacked as well.

Or… I could write the three sentences I had originally intended, knowing full well I’m oversimplifying the situation, putting a few sources in the footnotes and move on. There are literally hundreds of these black holes to avoid. And what makes this worse is I also didn’t do very well blocking out that I don’t have any job prospects and received a discouraging email around quitting time.

I fell into a black hole.

The Set Up

Today I’m at Wheaton College for the Midwest Regional ETS.


John Donne, “The Anatomy of the World”

John Donne laments that a sort of wisdom by which the world had “coherence” is dead, and only her ghost haunts his forever changed world. Donne lived during the great overturning of the Elizabethan world picture. That world and its wisdom are so dead now that we scarcely remember what they were (Lewis and Tillyard, e.g.).

So, why is it worth remembering? It is worth remembering that the past four hundred years have been a spasm of recovering a world that made sense, that the spasm is subsiding at a blinding speed. Science has brought us stunning technology, but not more wisdom. Donne would surely wail the louder for Western Civilization today. We are left with competing claims for power, a deep loneliness, and a groaning to be reconciled to ourselves, our world, and a God we cannot seem to reach.

She, of whom th’ancients seem’d to prophesy,
When they call’d virtues by the name of she;
She in whom virtue was so much refin’d,
That for alloy unto so pure a mind
She took the weaker sex; she that could drive
The poisonous tincture, and the stain of Eve,
Out of her thoughts, and deeds, and purify
All, by a true religious alchemy,
She, she is dead; she’s dead: when thou knowest this,
Thou knowest how poor a trifling thing man is,
And learn’st thus much by our anatomy,
The heart being perish’d, no part can be free,
And that except thou feed (not banquet) on
The supernatural food, religion,

So did the world from the first hour decay,
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th’earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world’s condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow,
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw, and fasten sund’red parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then
When she observ’d that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world’s sea stray,
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfum’d the East;
Whose having breath’d in this world, did bestow
Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
And that rich India which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money, coin’d from her;
She to whom this world must it self refer,
As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
She, she is dead; she’s dead: when thou know’st this,
Thou know’st how lame a cripple this world is

John Donne, “An Anatomy of the World

Also, just for fun, my very poor attempt at reading with a 17th century (like) accent. I like to read poetry aloud to really experience it, and so I just hit record as I did so (purify and alchemy are all wrong I think).

Web-log, March 9, 2017

Morning Reading

Hosea 10:10-11

Screenshot 2017-03-09 08.57.48

My translation:

They will follow YHWH
Like a roaring lion-for he will roar
And his sons will tremble coming from west

They will tremble
as birds coming from Egypt
and as doves from the land of Assyria
And they will be settled in their homes
Declares YHWH


I was able to dedicate the day to one task, dissertation. And I was pleased with the progress I made. However, I’m still not done with chapter 3. This chapter is a bit like untying the Gordian knot for me. I’ve planned and re-planned the various sections and I still find myself moving stuff around and adding explanation. I’m up over 14,000 words at the moment. Matthew Levering told me that he would look over it, and that he looked forward to receiving my email. He may rue these words.

I did receive word again yesterday from the third job in a row, “thanks but no thanks,” without even a phone call. I’ll need to avoid this thought today by staying logged out of email.

Set Up

IMG_6163.JPGToday I’m holed up in the “green room” at Crossway Community Church. This is very strange since the room isn’t green and there is another room that is. This “room” a transitional space between the stage and the back hall which seems to have very marginal heat. But it’s quiet and I have access to a coffee pot and bathrooms. In fact, I have the baptismal bathroom about ten feet away. So, I’m happy and ready to go. I also am using for the first time today, my new $6 monitor from Goodwill–a very nice score.


  1. Clear away one book review task
  2. Finish chapter 3
  3. (Try not to think about the job search)

Web-log: March 8, 2017

Morning Reading

2017-03-08 09.08.06 am.png

My translation:

How can I hand you over, Ephraim?
How can I deliver you [up for destruction] Israel?
How can I hand you over like Admah?
How can I do to you like Zeboiim? 

My heart turns on me
All my affections run hot

I will not act in burning anger
I will not turn to destroy Ephraim
For I am God
And I am not man
I am the holy one in your midst
I will not rage


I was able to clear away my books. It was again a satisfying day, two in a row. These are the small victories I celebrate. I scanned somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pages, but this will be necessary, as I don’t yet know where home will be in June. I can’t continue to make weekly library trips if I am living in Iowa. I suppose this is why morning goals feel so important right now. I spent most of the day deciding what I will need and getting about 15-20 pdfs saved into appropriate folders. But, since I met my goal, it was a good day.

The Set Up

I’ve had my morning eggs, bacon and coffee. No one else has come down with norovirus. I’m primed for a big day. Today, I return again to the dissertation chapter 3, trying disparately to get it sent off to my mentor. I have my “Fall Into Autumn” candle burning, Gregory Porter coming through the speakers, and my Robert Farrar Capon poster on the wall to inspire me to being an amateur today. It reminds me of my responsibility to cultivate a certain way of seeing in the world, one that fully appreciates God’s creative wisdom and love.

2017-03-08 09.36.28 am.png

The Plan

Finish Chapter 3.



Web-log, March 7, 2017


It was a good day as far as these days go. I achieved my goal of clearing my editing responsibilities for the latest issue. When I say this, obviously, I don’t mean it. But, I mean that I satisfied that nagging part of my conscience that couldn’t allow me to go a day longer without as much done as could be done yesterday. So, it was a good day.

The Set Up

I’m in the library pretending that I don’t see anyone I know in the hopes that I can get my books returned, scanned, and annotated without spending time in conversation. Do you see what a PhD does to you? Right now I’d pretend I didn’t know my own mother if it would save me a few minutes. I’m got the headphones in place with nothing playing, and I’m ready to take notes on Dennis Des Chene’s Life’s Form.

The Plan

(1) Get these other regional libraries off my back about overdue books. (The books wouldn’t be overdue if you’d let me renew them. And I wouldn’t have to request them from you if my institution would invest some resources in medieval theology and philosophy.) This will probably involve scanning as many as 500 pages to pdf.

(2) Take notes on Des Chene so that I can turn it in only a week and a half late (I wonder how many people in America have taken detailed notes of this book?).

Web-log: March 6, 2017

The Week Past

It’s been quite a week. Since I last posted I’ve been to Houston where I was able to spend time with a number of really good scholars, who as it turns out happen to be really generous and gracious people too. In particular Craig Bartholomew was really encouraging. My talk with him stimulated me writing this lament about the loneliness of aspirations to working in academia in this market. If I reflect on the conference, it is precisely the reason I want so badly to be gainfully employed in academia. I enjoyed it as “guest.”

I won’t get into all other reasons it was a turbulent week, other than to say we used the industrial strength hydrogen peroxide wipes all over the house the last few days (curse you norovirus).

The Set Up

I’m again at The Corner Bakery for middling coffee and eggs. The secret to their eggs is apparently too much pepper.

The Plan

Today I need to try to get the Spring book reviews finished. I have one job to do. That should make it simple, but editing is variable. If everyone were as smoothly proficient as Josh Jipp, this job would be unnecessary. But, not everyone is. Nothing teaches you to write like having to make sense of bad writing for publication. I’m storing this away for when I’m teaching again–today’s assignment, rescue this mess for publication.