The Best of Lent image

The Best of Lent

C. S. Lewis was right: joy is incomplete until it is expressed. Reading and hearing great material, and not sharing it with anyone, means your enjoyment of it is curtailed. That's why I do an annual round-up each year in December, and it's also why I've got into the habit of doing one after Easter as well, to share all the great stuff I saw during Lent. (I didn't go down the Andy Crouch route and do an absolute fast from screens. I mean, I'm not that abstemious.) Here's a selection of the best stuff I've come across since I was here last:

Best OT biblical studies piece: Jewish scholar Joshua Berman, in Mosaic Magazine, asks if there was really an Exodus. “When Jews around the world gather on the night of Passover to celebrate the exodus and liberation from Egyptian oppression, they can speak the words of the Haggadah, ‘We were slaves to a pharaoh in Egypt,’ with confidence and integrity, without recourse to an enormous leap of faith and with no need to construe those words as mere metaphor. A plausible reading of the evidence is on their side.”

Best NT biblical studies piece: Chris Keith asks whether, according to Mark and Matthew, God forsook Jesus on the cross. A superb example of Jesus scholarship.

Best blog series: Justin Taylor’s series on influencers of unbelief was excellent. Using Peter Kreeft as his guide, Justin took a number of important unbelievers - Freud, Marx, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre - and summarised answers to a number of key questions about them, in an extremely helpful format. Blog serieses are difficult to do well, as they tend so quickly to the repetitive, but this was a real joy to read. (It did, however, include the bizarre statement that we should pronounce Kant’s name “Kahnt”, and not “can’t”. As an English speaker, I confess, it took me several moments to work out what on earth he meant.)

Most widespread meme: remember that blue/black or white/gold dress thing? That was weird. (I thought it was blue/gold, for what it’s worth. Very New Labour.)

Best rant: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on why English, Anglican-ish atheism is so boring. “Do you see what I mean about this drearily unreflective and English vibe? No attempt to deal with metaphysical questions, or moral questions, or the history of idea beyond some illiterate Whiggish notion of enlightened secular progress from the medieval dark, no reflection upon the tremendous impact on human history, and art, and endeavor, and the soul, of ideas and beliefs (this from a philosopher!). It’s all just so boring. Give me Nietzsche, give me Camus. Heck, give me Luc Ferry, who at least is a subtle historian of ideas and actually gives Christianity its historical due. Frequent readers will know that I’m no fan of the English Reformation. I guess to its very long list of crimes we can add producing the world’s most boring atheists.”

Best piece of mythbusting: You’ve got a specific learning style, right, that helps you achieve? Bunk, says the data.

Best devotional: the Pebble and the Seed, from Doug Wilson. “When the Word is preached to you, and when the bread and wine are presented to you, you are called to respond in faith to the felt presence of Christ. This is possible because the Spirit has quickened you—you are a seed, not a pebble. You are green shoot, struggling up through the soil, beginning a glorious journey for such a small plant. You are three inches tall and you plainly want to make a journey of 93 million miles. The glory of grace is this—that distance is traveled, not by us, but rather by the sunlight.”

Best audio content: Carl Trueman’s outstanding lectures on Medieval and Reformation church history, via iTunesU. You’ll be hearing more from me about these.

Best newspaper essay: John Gray, in the Guardian, on the new atheism. “Fortunately, this type of atheism isn’t the only one that has ever existed. There have been many modern atheisms, some of them more cogent and more intellectually liberating than the type that makes so much noise today. Campaigning atheism is a missionary enterprise, aiming to convert humankind to a particular version of unbelief; but not all atheists have been interested in propagating a new gospel, and some have been friendly to traditional faiths. Evangelical atheists today view liberal values as part of an emerging global civilisation; but not all atheists, even when they have been committed liberals, have shared this comforting conviction. Atheism comes in many irreducibly different forms, among which the variety being promoted at the present time looks strikingly banal and parochial.”

Best statistic: British people are, according to the THE, less ambitious than you might think. We would rather be librarians (54% of people surveyed) than movie stars (31%), and we prefer the idea of being an academic (51%) than an Olympic athlete (31%) or Formula 1 driver (29%). But what’s the thing we’d most like to be? An author (60%). Nice.

Best Twitter discussion: Christianity Today hosted a superb discussion around shame in mid-March, specifically focusing on the important issue of online shaming, and it brought some super contributions out of the woodwork. You might want to look up the hashtag #CTShame.

Best headline: The Economist, as the 49th state legalised marijuana, led with “Baked Alaska.”

Best sentence I read: the inimitable Peter Escalante, in a response to David Bentley Hart in The Calvinist International, beats Hart at his own game by combining several enjoyably obscure words with a striking mental image. “But the Schleiermacherian transport, the imagined desideratum left after fitting the Augustinian heart with a Kantian condom, never does arrive.”

Best book I read: Jamie Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, a superb introduction to Taylor’s massive and important tome A Secular Age. I read Smith’s book on the same day as Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought, and they shed fascinating light on each other; I was struck by how different were the two genealogies of modern thought, and how much more convincing Taylor’s explanation (the move to secularism begins with Reform) was than Ferry’s (the move to secularism begins with science). Smith’s abridgement / analysis / homage / whatever-we-call-it of Taylor is a superb bit of work.

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