Welcome to Alastair’s Adversaria. I previously blogged at alastair.adversaria and 40 Bicycles. This blog will provide a home for my occasional and various thoughts, links, and notes on my reading. While you may struggle to find a unifying theme here, my thoughts will frequently return to the subjects of biblical theology, the sacraments, and Christian ethics.

My name is Alastair Roberts. I am a student in Durham, in the north of England: the 30+ photos in the header are all taken within a half hour’s walk of where I live. In addition to the subjects mentioned above, I am passionate about word games, English cricket, cathedral cities, long walks, and second hand bookstores.

I would love to hear more about you! Why not introduce yourself in the comments?

64 Responses to About

  1. Richard Bache says:

    Dear Alastair,
    I have just read your excellent blog on the Scottish Gay Marriage Consultation on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog site and was hoping you might be able to pen a few more articles on homosexuality and gay marriage in general; I would be very interested in reading about your view on homosexuality and human rights as well as well as your response to the latest speech from Hilary Clinton re. the U.S’s intention to be a strong advocate for global LGBT rights.

  2. Are you at Durham uni? That picture looks suspiciously like Durham cathedral!
    If so, could be good to meet up. I go to church there, and am a theologian by academic training

  3. Mike Kelsey says:

    Would love to chat with you more. Enjoyed the twitter back and forth and it’s really helping me grasp the scope of the gospel

  4. David McKay says:

    G’day Alastair. I’m appreciating your writings. You have gone to considerable trouble to express your thoughts. It has been worth the effort. Please keep doing it. It’s really worthwhile. 1 Corinthians 15:58 ὁ κόπος ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔστιν κενὸς ἐν κυρίῳ. (1Co 15:58)

  5. David McKay says:

    I have found many posts stimulating, but especially the ones concerning Jared Wilson’s use of Doug Wilson’s Fidelity.

  6. Hello Alistair! We met at Tenth Church a week ago.. I am friends with Paul and Sylvia. I think you met our whole family..or at least Sarah, with me pointing out the rest down the pew…. I have enjoyed reading your latest comments, and hope to spend some time perusing the rest as time allows! We are glad to have met you! Sorry we didn’t have the opportunity to have you stop in to visit our old house! Hope you and your Dad are continuing to enjoy your trip.

    • Thanks, Cheryl! It was great to meet you all on Sunday, though a pity that we didn’t have greater time in which to become acquainted. Lord-willing, I will be returning to Philadelphia at some point in the next few years.

      We are very much enjoying our trip. Today was spent in Monument Valley, yesterday at the Grand Canyon. I hope to blog about the trip here when I have a better connection!

  7. Paul says:

    Hi Alastair , may i ask what you are studying in school?

  8. Ruth says:

    Hi Alastair.
    Found your blog a while ago through a combination of Brad Littlejohn and the Wilson/Held Evans stuff. I’m currently appreciating your ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ review – pretty spot on in my opinion (not that my opinion means much!)
    Thanks for this and for other great posts.

  9. Steve Lichty says:

    Alastair, great blog here…came upon it from Googling orthodox alexithymia…would love to ask some questions in a private email. Cheers…

  10. Dear Alastair,
    Wow! I’ve just come across your blog for the first time as I was researching the background to von Balthasar’s thoughts on Adam’s participation in the creation of Eve as a kenotic act of the first adam. What an amazing resource!
    I also blog as I make my way through postgraduate studies, on quite related themes it would seem, but I am no where near as productive as you!

    • Thanks for commenting, Chelle! Great to have you here.

      I would love to hear more about your work: you seem to be dealing with some fascinating themes! I have added your blog to my Google Reader.

      The creation narrative of Genesis 2 is actually something that I was reflecting upon rather closely recently. There are lots of fascinating things going on there and many themes that are taken up later in the text. I will have to revisit von Balthasar on the subject. It would be great to hear any thoughts that you might have on the subject.

  11. I do love to read widely, which might be a challenge 6 months from now when I have to start writing something succinct for the PhD!
    Basically, I am developing an argument for a mystical hermeneutic for public conversations about God, religion and ethics, that is Love as Revelation. So, I read about love because I hope to show how it works as an analogy for a certain epistemology; and I read mystics and mystical philosophy/theology because I’m trying to show that is fits firmly within orthodox Christian theology; and I read public theology because that is my application context.
    Ambitious? So said the examining panel who approved the topic – but a fantastic amount of fun!

    • Believe me, I quite understand the struggle of trying to produce a tight and disciplined PhD out of rather feral reading habits (if you have any tips, please share them…)!

      Your project does indeed sound ambitious: to my mind, the best projects always are. I await with interest what you come up with and hearing about your thoughts on the subject as they develop!

  12. Hello, Alastair. My name is Dzmitry Kastsiuchenka, I live in the city of Minsk in Belarus.
    I am interested in Christianity, in particular by Anabaptists, the Amish and Mennonites.
    Your blog I found in google-plus Ribbon when searching for topics that interest me.
    English is not my native language, if there are errors, I apologize.

  13. mickey says:

    can i sign up for an email alert when you’ve posted a new post? if so then where? thanks – ha ha just saw the tick box as i was about to post comment :-)

  14. Janine Talley says:

    Hello Alastair,

    Are you on Facebook? I would like to link to you there if you post on subjects discussed here.

    Kind regards,


  15. Pingback: A Lament for Google Reader | The Kuyperian Commentary

  16. Michael Cook says:

    Hi Alistair,
    I edit MercatorNet http://www.mercatornet.com/, an on-line magazine which runs out of Sydney.
    I saw your piece on Google Reader and found it quite interesting.
    Would it be possible to post a slightly abridged version of it on MercatorNet, with due credit? We liked your more philosophical ruminations on the internet and I think that our writers will, too. We can send you the edited version for your approval. You might benefit a bit as well, as it would be useful publicity for your blog.
    Michael Cook, editor, MercatorNet

  17. Joshua says:

    Dear Alastair,

    Do you know of any reliable sources documenting the objections that Christians apparently used to promote segregated marriage? It strikes me that those who are wielding this as a club in the SSM debate generally have little to no idea of what the objections actually were, and are guilty of a slippery slope themselves in implying that if we reject SSM we must reject interracial marriage.

    Thank you

    • Thanks for the comment, Joshua.

      Unfortunately, I can’t help you here. I would be interested to see if anyone else can provide sources. I think that the analogy between the two is quite specious, as I argue here.

  18. Matt J. says:


    if you don’t mind me asking, what is the long-term goal of your studies? Are you aspiring to do scholarly work (presumably in a university setting) full-time for the rest of your life? Part-time? The priesthood hold any interest to you? (I’m on the fence about that one myself.) You’ve threatened to write a book several times over the years – is one secretly in the works? I’m assuming at some point you will be writing a dissertation or two. Is the topic set? Just curious. :) Peace.

    • Yes, there is (at least one) book in the works (that’s all I’m saying about that for now!). As for longer term plans, much depends on what positions are available, of course. Academia is my preferred context at the moment, although I am less excited about that direction than I once was.

  19. Hi Alastair,

    I read through one of your Christian tech articles on Google Reader and I wanted to reach out the opportunity to get an early sneak peek at Thoughtree: a new and fun mobile journal that I envision many Christians using, as it’s an ideal place to record prayers, sermon notes, and scripture – along with the other types of valuable ideas you’d like to remember, but don’t really have a good place to write down.

    Along with being free, Thoughtree is designed to be drop-dead simple, to the point where even the most atypical writer can enjoy recording ideas. It combines the familiar organizational skeleton of a social network with the personal security of a journal, to create an honest and productive digital environment.

    The unique focus on one individual idea at a time makes it the easiest and most effective way to start writing in 2013. It gives users unique freedom to write whatever randomly and naturally comes to mind, while maintaining colorful and beautiful organization.

    It is the 1st place winner of the 2013 South Florida Christian business competition held by United Franchise Group and Palm Beach Atlantic University.

    Check out http://www.Thoughtr.ee to see it in action.

    We’re planning to launch the iPhone and iPad app into the Store soon in the coming weeks, but if you’re interested in playing with it early I’d be happy to send over a beta by way of TestFlight. It is a whopping 1.9MB!

    Thanks in advance for considering the app for review, and have a great day!

    Jude Abeler
    Mobile: 763.355.2509

  20. Jacob Therakathu says:

    Hi Alastair,
    I am a christian from India. Your blog is really one of a kind for the detailed exposition of the fundamental basis of lots of things we take for granted. I recently came across your blog and read through many posts(posts related to same sex marriage, Rachel Evan’s book review etc).
    I am seriously impressed by the logic, detail and historical perspective you bring to the task. I have also thought about many of these matters and hope to interact with you in the future regarding many of my persisting questions. I am deeply encouraged by your willingness to be challenged regarding your convictions.
    Thanks :)

  21. DavidA says:

    Are there other ways to follow you Alastair? I so much enjoy your blog, but rarely have time to respond with the kind of depth it requires. It truly is one of the highlights of my week… mostly because we think so differently… but you in fact THINK. :)

  22. Rick Wise says:

    Hey Alastair!
    I’m writing to you from across the pond, a little outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you that I really enjoy you blog, and to be honest I am practically and anti-blog guy. I think I discovered you, maybe from Derek Rishmawy’s blog (??), but I just wanted to say that I have really appreciated your thoughts on many things. I was raised in a Christian home but have in recent years slid into the “Reformed camp.” I have loved growing in understanding the reformed thought, and you have been a great person on the interwebs that has helped in processing some of it. Just today I have been reading your responses on Denny Burk’s blog, and they are incredibly incitful and well defended. I wanted to write you and tell you how much I appreciated you doing that. You were getting a bit beat up and you were definitely outnumbered over there in the comments section. However, you handled yourself really well and with love. I think what you said is a good way forward in the manhood/womanhood topic. Particularly in America things get really out of control, and what you were saying struck me as deeply rooted and progressive in a non-egalitarian way. I was really blessed by it!! Thanks and keep up the good work brother!!

    • Thanks, Rick! I enjoyed visiting Philly about a year and a half ago. My girlfriend comes from that city.

      I am pleased that you have enjoyed the discussion over on Denny Burk’s blog. It has been rather intense! I’ve added several more comments over the last couple of hours, but have dropped out of the discussion altogether now. I have made most of my points and there comes a stage where the responses come through at such a pace that I don’t see the purpose of trying to keep up! :)

      • ws harbor says:

        Sorry to interrupt your hiatus! (c: Like Rick, I have enjoyed your comments over on Denny Burk’s blog (egalitarianism…). What resources (books) would you recommend on the subject?

      • Thanks! To be honest, there isn’t any book that I have found especially helpful on the subject. I am thinking about writing one at some point soon, actually (I’ve already written about 50,000 words that could be put into a book).

        Most of my reading is of egalitarians, actually. I often prefer reading the best of the people who disagree with me. I find it a more helpful way to hone my thinking.

        As I think that these debates should focus upon close reading of the biblical text, my one recommendation would be an unpublished manuscript written by James Jordan, a detailed commentary on Genesis 2-4 entitled Trees and Thorns, which can be bought from here. Jordan has elaborated on his thoughts as they relate to the vocations of men and women in other places (for instance, see the piece here, the series here—1, 2—or here—1, 2, 3). While I don’t see eye to eye with Jordan on some issues, I think that he is one of the few who is doing the sort of attentive reading of the text that we need.

        Other helpful movements in moving beyond some of the current stale positions are discussed in places such as this blog post.

        I would want to extend the debate much, much further, but these aren’t bad places to start thinking things through.

  23. Scott Williamson says:

    Alastair, your patient commentary on Denny Burke’s blog has been immeasurably helpful to me. I am stunned at your command of the subject matter, from so many different angles. I added a few comments of my own, but later decided just to watch and learn. Blessings on you.

    • Thanks, Scott! Such discussions can be very difficult because a proper understanding of gender in Scripture is so bound up with a very big picture. Once we start to grasp this picture, so many different things start to click into place. At some point I hope that I will have the opportunity to present this picture in extensive detail, to show how everything slots so neatly within it. It would be good to move the debate beyond the zoom lens of competing isolated texts to challenge all of us to think in terms of more global and explanatory visions.

      • Hello Alastair,

        I agree with Scott, you brought some real refreshment to a well-worn conversation. At some level, however, these exchanges are beneficial mainly to the outside reader, as most of the participants have no honest interest in being swayed from their stances.

        I’m wondering if you’ve been able to put your finger on why that is. Why, in the face of nature, tradition, and reason itself do modern women and men contend for these new models of reality?

        One thing I’ve learned about the innate motivational differences between men and women is that women have a strong felt need for security, whereas men have an equivalent need to feel significant. (This of course fits well with some of your models of understanding.)

        Thus it’s my contention, if you look closely, that women and men endorse the egalitarian paradigm for two different reasons. Women have been persuaded that equality of opportunity (and a concomitant rejection of any form of male supremacy) is the key to avoiding abuse and securing their wellbeing. In the case of men, however, it isn’t so much their perceived benefit from the contributions of peer females (although they might express it as such), as it is their “chivalrous” sense that women have been treated unfairly and need defending.

        Will your careful reasoning change their conclusions? Probably only rarely. All of us work off our ‘gut’ far more than we acknowledge. Those of us who have experienced the graces and empowerments of God operate in a different milieu than those who have no internal comprehension of these. I am able to feel safe as a woman primarily because of the security that emanates from God’s sovereignty. Men will find satisfactory significance only when they understand that God has positioned them as regents in His kingdom.

        I appreciate your desire to seek the global view. It’s a rare practice these days, and much needed.

      • Thanks for your comment, Diane!

        I agree with your point that such exchanges are often primarily about outside readers. That said, they also help us to hone our own arguments and thinking, which is one of the reasons why I engage in them. I don’t expect that there is much possibility of my mind being changed on an issue that I have thought much about in the course of an online conversation. However, I always try to be open to change, which usually results from road-testing elements of my own thinking, to see what people can respond with and what holes they can pick.

        On occasions, I will also road-test ways of approaching such debates in ways most calculated to change other participants’ minds. If I had wanted to persuade other participants, among other things I would have toned down my arguments considerably and taken a gentler and less oppositional approach, so that coming around to my position wouldn’t entail a costly climb-down on their part (this article explains the logic behind such an approach). However, knowing Don and Suzanne well from several previous interactions, I didn’t think that there was much point in doing this. Sadly, they are so polarized and reactive on this particular set of issues that they aren’t really receptive to any argument and even arguments that have been clearly laid to rest in the past will be exhumed and made to stumble around like the living dead.

        I suspect that you are right about some of the motivations behind people’s holding of an egalitarian position (that said, I think that, although men and women may have different motivational tendencies in some areas on average, these are only general tendencies, with plenty of exceptions: the heart of sexual difference lies at a deeper level). That said, some will just have been raised in an egalitarian social setting and any else will seem alien and threatening to them. Egalitarianism is such a basic assumption for many that the notion that it could be seriously challenged just doesn’t enter into their minds. Consequently, the force of the biblical passages that do challenge it will be lightly bruised off and never truly recognized, because they aren’t paying attention. We are all at risk of doing this sort of thing in certain areas.

        I think that a number of women have come from abusive or restrictive backgrounds in conservative evangelical circles, where unhealthy teaching and practice concerning the callings of men and women exist and that they are reacting against this. You can’t really argue with such a person because their issue lies at a deeper, almost instinctual, level. They react to arguments for non-egalitarian positions, rather than listening, ensuring that they have a clear understanding, carefully reflecting, and then responding. Even for those who haven’t experienced such a background themselves, the stories of others who have are widely shared. Their relationship to the issues is reactive because they think that opponents are a live and personal threat. Debates then become polarized and antagonistic, when there is actually a surprising amount of common ground that could be explored.

        I also think that people react to what they imagine you are arguing for, rather than to your actual arguments. It is interesting to see how consistently people attack a caricature of a position that they think that I hold, rather than engaging with my actual words. They apply a label—‘complementarian’ (a label that I don’t typically apply to myself for various reasons)—and then associate you with a caricature of what some such people hold (I’ve discussed the unhelpfulness of such label-based thinking here). Once the label has been attached, they don’t really pay attention to much that you say. Anything that you say that sounds positive is merely presumed to be a ploy to cover the ugly reality of what you really believe. The way that people form an imaginative picture of what you stand for is so important.

        People like Don and Suzanne are also so focused on a particular form of complementarianism that they fail to appreciate that most non-egalitarian Christians do not identify with ‘complementarianism’ as it is usually understood. The possibility that strong criticism of their position could come from a quarter that doesn’t identify itself as ‘complementarianism’ doesn’t seem to occur to them. It is like people who fail to recognize that most Christians are neither Calvinists nor Arminians. When you are so absorbed in a polarized debate, you lose sight of the wider world.

        I think that many of us as men see that there are profoundly gifted women that we know and care about and we recognize that their gifts are often not truly appreciated by the Church. I don’t think that this motive should be dismissed. We also see that many women have been kept in abusive situations, in the name of ‘submission’. ‘Complementarianism’ in practice in certain quarters is more about what women can’t do, rather than actually encouraging them and supporting them in ministries whose value and importance is truly recognized. We see the pain of these women, relegated to the status of second-class members of the Church and denied the honour due to them in their families, and, naturally, we feel angry and protective. I think that egalitarians tend to presume that, since we don’t agree with their supposed solution, we don’t actually recognize or care deeply about the problem. My arguments have never been meant to serve as an imprimatur for the status quo.

        Most of us have been raised in contexts where ‘equality’ has been the watchword when it comes to honouring women. The only conceivable alternative to ‘equality’ for most people is framed in terms of inequality and repressive hierarchy. It requires a feat of the imagination for us to grasp that there are other ways of framing things, ways that move beyond a narrow and constrictive focus upon equality, allowing for a far more glorious and liberating realization of men and women’s callings.

  24. Thank you, Alastair. Your patience is remarkable, and your stamina for such ponderings is even more impressive.

    I have a few questions that I’m certain you’ve answered somewhere, but I’m not sturdy enough to make my way through all you’ve written. So if you will, could you point me to a place where you address your objections to “unilateral and static hierarchy,” and also where you discuss what you termed “asymmetrical mutual submission.”

    In addition, I am curious about your reference above to a deeper “heart of sexual difference.”

    If you prefer not to continue this conversation on your “About” page, please feel free to email me at diane /at/ bereansnotepad /dot/ com.

    Thank you again!

  25. Alastair, Hello from Dayton, Ohio. I stumbled onto your blog comments recently and have enjoyed them. I recall with great thanks your hospitality when I visited St Andrew some years ago. Blessings on your studies – thanks again.

  26. Marius Zărnescu says:

    God bless you! Good stuff. Greetings from London.

  27. Mike Wagner says:

    I really appreciate the insights and questions you pose here. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us.

    I’m in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

    Much to my surprise I find myself worshipping among the Episcopalians. Your posts often help me better understand what is going on here.

    Keep creating…and writing, Mike

  28. Jonny Rashid says:

    You’re summary of Edwin Friedman attracted me. I’m gonna keep following you. I’m a church planter in Philly, trying to pastor a church. I write a blog too.

  29. Josh Lowery says:

    Alastair, I just finished reading yours and Jake Meador’s back and forth about Lent, etc. As someone who’s become jaded with all the rampant blog-tificating going on these days–even from people with whom I heartily agree–it took something special for me to sit through so lengthy a post. It made an impression on me because the ideas generally–and your contributions specifically–resonated with a spiritual struggle I’ve been going through for over three years now and has been coming to a head during Lent (or dare I say Great Lent?). Yes, just about everything you described has been the prevailing rationale behind my family’s recent decision to begin visiting a nearby Orthodox parish. In some ways I deeply wish to “trust fall” into Orthodoxy’s arms, while in others I fear I’m running toward a cliff.

    Thanks for indulging that brief little confession. :-) My reason for commenting here is because something like the Orthodox Church seems one of the precious few realistic solutions to the problems you describe. Not to criticize, but it seemed like Jake’s response to your comment about the bastardization of tradition by historically-oriented Evangelicals was essentially to propose more bastardization (group fasts, a partial church calendar, “romantic agrarianism,” etc.). Did I interpret that correctly, and can I ask if you have any firm conclusions (or humble inclinations) of your own in response to the questions you raised?

    P.S. This probably warrants a longer answer than is convenient. Please feel free to be terse. :-)

    • Thanks for the comment, Josh! It is encouraging to hear that the article resonated with you.

      Here are a few brief and rough thoughts:

      First, these problems are everywhere in some form or other. We aren’t going to escape individualism by swimming the Tiber or crossing the Bosphorus. As I pointed out in some of my comments, the same individualism widely characterizes the reception of the liturgy in Catholic and Orthodoxy (Mark Searle, whom I quoted, was a Roman Catholic).

      Second, individualism and associated problem of authority—while big problems—are certainly not the only problems afflicting the Church, nor are they the only places where we have become seriously compromised. There is a danger of so fixating upon these problems and our need to escape them—as some RC apologetes would have us do, for instance—that we run headlong into a different set of problems. The grass always greener in the different tradition, especially when our primary encounter with that tradition is on paper.

      Third, the problems may be widely spread, but there are also means that we can take to address them in many contexts. I am an Anglican and committed to the Reformation tradition. I believe that we have many resources within our tradition to address these issues, which is one reason why I appreciate the ressourcement work of groups such as The Calvinist International. One of the things that I appreciate about being an Anglican, despite the immense problems in the communion, is that it keeps me connected to the contexts within which I must minister. It does not allow me to flee the problems into some supposed perfect church, but connects me to the problems in a manner that forces me to seek for ways to address them faithfully. Perhaps comparisons with the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the functioning of the faithful remnant within them could be drawn here.

      Fourth, merely shifting choice from the individual to the community is not really a solution at all. I think that we need to engage with the tradition as a whole entity. While this will involve discernment and a prudential self-situating within it—for instance, Lent isn’t uniform and at its root is almost certainly a compromise between two distinct practices—it recognizes that the Church and its tradition is to be treated as a given factor of our contemporary situation to be engaged with, not just a choice.

  30. Scott Woltze says:

    What a delight to have found such a sharp, well-written blog governed by a gentle Christian spirit. As a former academic, I’m impressed that academic writing has not damaged your craft–your piece on Bell and Mad Men is a masterpiece. I think it took me about four years after my PhD studies to learn how to write again… I look forward to perusing old posts and reading new ones. Pax Christi

    A RC from the States

  31. HI Alistair, loved your contribution on the N.T Wright podcast, appreciated your balanced and well thought-through comments on interpreting Wright.

  32. Hi Alastair. I am on staff at a church called LIG.punt – an Afrikaans, Reformed, Evangelical church in Pretoria, South Africa. We have a transgender issue in our midst. One of our congregants is a male turned female. Subsequent to this change she came to faith, and we are trying to work out what the way forward may be. I would love to email you and share the details of the situation and ask your input on it, if you are able. You now have my details…

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