Try With a Little Help From My Friends

ChatGPT and Wolfe’s book on Christian Nationalism

So, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has been all the rage in artificial intelligence (AI) circles in the last week or so and I decided to experiment with it in evaluating Wolfe’s book on Christian Nationalism. Apparently, there are some who disagree that his work represents nineteenth century romantic nationalism more than it does any historic Reformed perspective. And, of course, not everyone is familiar with critical theory as a methodology and why I see it in his case over and above whatever he might be saying about historic Reformed theology. Remember, even according to Wolfe he’s doing political theory and not theology proper or biblical interpretation (16).

So, below are several interactions with OpenAI’s ChatGPT where I ask a question about Wolfe’s work and provide the text to the AI itself. The answers are quite in line with what I’ve already pointed out but read it for yourself. Each question is followed by a quote from Wolfe’s book and the answer OpenAI’s ChatGPT client provides.

First, can we find racist statements in Wolfe’s book (139)?

Next, are there any parallels between Wolfe’s ideas and Nazism (139)?

What kind of philosophers might be represented in Wolfe’s point of view in quoting Renan, underlying his definition of what a nation and ethnicity are (140)?

The next question is interesting as it seems OpenAI may be using texts from the likes of C.S. Lewis to define something like love, Christianity’s historical theology on this point is actually quite a bit more complex than that (cf. Nygren’s work if you want to jump into that ocean). But, does ChatGPT think Wolfe is right about how he views love? Wolfe’s assertion re: Aquinas and Edwards is in fact, as the AI points out, highly selective and rare (151).

Here ChatGPT explains what is wrong with Wolfe’s problematization of today’s Christianity (4):

Oh. You don’t say. Wolfe’s problematization echoes who?

And, for those not up on their critical theory and analyzing various issues in the social sciences, can ChatGPT tell us what problematization is?

So, overall, just a passing check via ChatGPT reveals some serious problems with Wolfe’s work from a more objective basis than the well-considered opinion of one particular person like myself who traffics in critical theory and philosophy all the time. While the chat function is itself experimental and not conclusive on its own, given what I’ve already pointed out in other blog posts and what other reviews have also considered one can only conclude that Wolfe’s work represents the sort of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism the world just never wants to see again.

Yusoff’s Work and Historical Honesty

Kathryn Yusoff is a professor at Queen Mary University of London. Yusoff is interested in demonstrating the way Blackness “as a material vector” has been a part of geology and geography in the past as well as continuing to affect it today (xii). Following Glissant, Yusoff defines Blackness as a relational state of difference designated through colonial assignment (Ibid.). Yusoff then details the history of geology seen through scientific investigation from the Enlightenment era forward to the nuclear age, demonstrating that the so-called Anthropocene erases the history of racism rather than more properly remembering the stories of the Other (2). Yusoff’s indictment is both a matter of making the record clear through altered discourse and a call for redress (7). Yusoff addresses the origins of geology as a “trajectory of power” and displays geology as inherently political, violent, and racist (25-26). The Anthropocene origin stories are further indicted as a cover for a presupposed black and brown death in producing and maintaining colonialism or its after-effects (66). Yusoff argues for an upended and insurgent geology that replaces one universal Anthropocene for a billion Black Anthropocenes (87). McKittrick’s summary of Sylvia Wynter’s work in geography also adds to this conception by addressing geography as demonic grounds, “always something else besides the dominant cultural logic going on” (123). Demonic grounds are the locus of placeless and silenced black women that provide a cartographic retelling and reframing of our current geographical understanding of the world (133-135). McKittrick further follows Wynter in advocating for a new form of life through black human geographies (143) while Yusoff seems to prepare for an upcoming and continued storm represented in an attempted decolonialization of the Anthropocene (104).

Walter Mignolo is not convinced that the Anthropocene is anything more than a “scientific narrative fiction” and he, like Yusoff, recognizes that the universal story as presented doesn’t exactly tell the whole truth (117). One wonders why one narrative (or many) is to be preferred over others since all seem to be reductionist in some way. Yusoff disallows or does not consider how particular black voices might speak to these realities in ways not offered by her own work. For example, how have black churches and theologians handle the geologic and geographic record of oppression and elements of the sciences in question that Yusoff/McKittrick/Wynter detail? What about the perspective of black geologists? How can redress be made for something that cannot be undone? Instead of exclusion, in forgiveness can we embrace the Other (Volf)? Can religion inform the (political) sciences of geology and geography with an eye to the oppressed, particularly by those who are or have been oppressed? The origin story found in Genesis 4:10 speaks to blood crying out (צֹעֲקִ֥ים, desperately shouting out) of the ground at the murder of the first brother with a term frequently used as the cry of the oppressed, Abel himself still speaking through his death according to Hebrews 11:4 (Hamilton, 231). The entire material universe has been broken by sin, groans, and suffers (Romans 8:22). Jesus himself is the stone that the builders rejected (Acts 4:22) and membership in him relocates one from being slave or free to being seated with him in the heavenlies (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:6).[1]

Is there perhaps more to this political/social rendering of science to consider than Yusoff, McKittrick, or Wynter offers? One of the things I appreciate about Yusoff’s work is the honesty in which she lays out her case regarding the actual record of scientific inquiry. Part of what bothers me about much of today’s work with figures like Herder is not that folks disagree but that there is a general tendency in scholarship today to either clear the Enlightenment figure’s name or enlist him for a particular cause. I don’t mind at all saying that Herder’s work is both complex and difficult to wade through in characterizing his thinking. However, we cannot simply wave away things like the inherent racism present in his accounting of various cultures in Europe and elsewhere. While I don’t agree with the critical theory dictates of Kathryn Yusoff, she is completely right to notice all the incipient racism present in the Enlightenment that was materially responsible for later more full-blown accountings of the same as we see in Germany in the early twentieth century even in the practice of early modern and modern scientific endeavor. In short, we need honest appraisals of these figures and not merely the sort of revisionist glances that ignores or downplays the very problematic perspectives of these philosophical and theological masters that were still a work in progress even in their own day.

[1] Religion does display itself in the accounts provided above on occasion, though in most cases the witness is negative and Christianity, for example, is seen playing an oppressive part in the dominant cultural paradigm. The speed at which Wynter and Mignolo link the system of mass human sacrifice of the Aztecs to the Christian eschatological thinking of Columbus and the thought of Augustine’s City of God while only indicting the latter is breathtaking (Wynter, 1992, 15-17; Mignolo 2018, 117). The point here is not to take a side or even claim the comparison isn’t apt, but only mentioned to acknowledge that while systems of religion can be oppressive, they are also sources of great comfort, a matter of common human experience, and represent their own epistemological and other considerations in looking at scientific questions that have been largely ignored in these works. At least one of Yusoff’s colleagues seems to agree though imagines a different kind of spiritual consideration regarding a decolonization of the Anthropocene (Szerszynski 2017). Black liberation theology, liberation theology more generally, many currents of other black expressions of Christianity, as well as other religious accounts are mostly absent from the narratives provided by Yusoff et al. Given that what’s really being presented here is a different accounting of the world’s history and presence, in addition to a different worldview than other dominating paradigms, more complex and less reductionist accounts need to be put forward (McKittrick, 141). Trading one reductionist account for another (or a billion of them) does not seem exactly true to the full accounting of what needs to be said and done in moving toward a future for everyone.


Hamilton, Victor P. (1990). The Book of Genesis: Chapter 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. (2000). The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.0. Leiden: Brill.

McKittrick, Katherine. (2006). “Demonic Grounds: Sylvia Wynter” and “Stay Human.” In Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. University of Minnesota Press.

Mignolo, Walter D. (2018). What Does It Mean to Decolonize? In Walsh, Catherine E. and Walter D. Mignolo, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analysis, Praxis. Duke University Press.

Szerszynski, Bronislaw. (2017). Gods of the Anthropocene: Geo-Spiritual Formations in the Earth’s New Epoch. Theory, Culture & Society. 34 (2-3), 253-275.

Volf, Miroslav. (1996). Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Abingdon Press.

Wynter, Sylvia. (1992). 1492: A New World View. In Race, Discourse, and the Origin of the Americas: A New World View. Hyatt, Vera Lawrence and Rex Nettleford, Eds. Smithsonian Institute Press.

Yusoff, Kathryn. (2018). A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. University of Minnesota Press.

Wolfe and the Racist Philosophy of Herder

While Wolfe carefully defines “Christian Nationalism” in a very explicit way and resorts to Aquinas to justify a prelapsarian view of the nation, that isn’t the whole of it. Isn’t it interesting that Wolfe is so careful to define “Christian Nationalism” in his Introduction but only defines nations along the way in making his case by referring to Enlightenment-era thinkers? Wolfe runs to Aquinas and the Reformed scholastics as a stepping stone to ultimately define the nation as a “family, writ large” following Johann Herder (1744-1803; Wolfe, pp. 25, 139). Wolfe calls Herder a “Christian philosopher” to throw his opponents off the scent, but those who know the foundations of German romanticism recognize his influence right along with Rousseau in promoting a romantic nationalism quite apart from any theological case made elsewhere.

What this means for Wolfe’s case is that whatever the Reformed scholastics had to say, the fundamental and definitive consideration of his entire project is based on the notion of “nation” the philosophical father of German romanticism and nationalism proposed along with is logical ends. That’s why we see Herder’s definition of nation introduced in his section on ethnicity and blood ties. Herder is the very one that provided much of the inspiration for thinking about Germany as an Aryan nation and that continues to plague the human race today via the hellbound notion of white supremacy. True to form, Wolfe’s book then invokes images and language we normally reserve for the damned politics of another era via Ernest Renan, one we never want to see again:

The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of efforts, sacrifices, and devotion. The cult of ancestors is the most legitimate of all; our ancestors have made us who we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (I mean the genuine kind), this is the capital stock upon which one bases a national idea. To have common glories in the past, a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more, these are the essential preconditions for being a people. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices to which one has consented, and to the ills that one has suffered. One loves the house that one has built and passes down. The song of the Spartiates—“We are what you were; we will be what you are”—is in its simplicity the abridged hymn of every fatherland.

Wolfe, 140.

Critical Theory and Wolfe’s “Christian Nationalism”

I have taken a closer look at Wolfe’s Introduction to his book on Christian Nationalism. What I find is something common to almost every work in social science today. Keep in mind that Wolfe explicitly presents a political theory and not in fact political theology or some kind of exegetical case for his point of view. In the Introduction, Wolfe problematizes a subject and advances a critical theory meant to motivate change on the part of his readers. This move is inherently Foucauldian.

Wolfe begins by noting that “the absence of God in public life is now normal”, he invokes Rousseau to claim that today’s Christians glory in their suffering, our religion is used as a “coping device for inaction”, and that our problem today is a “lack of will” for political change.

Wolfe then wants to advance a political theory that will “enliven…the hearts of Christians” so that they then are inspired to take action for their good. Wolfe attempts to frame this as a positive answer to what he calls the “secularist civil religion” of our day, but really it’s offered as a negative dialectic as much as we might call it anything positive because his chief concern is to answer the problematization in play. In this way, Wolfe is entirely postmodern in his approach. Wolfe isn’t presenting a normative political theory that attempts to explain the world, he’s offering an alternative critical theory meant to change it. The change he seeks is right in line with Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

We should consider that Augustine wasn’t the only one to frame man’s condition in terms of creation, fall, and redemption. Marx did also and the key difference is the demythologizing Marx offered through gutting Hegel’s work of any Christian content. Of course, Wolfe would like to return to a sort of baptized critical theory in his establishment of Christian Nationalism but he is working in the same vein as Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and the general dictates of political science today as far as theory is concerned. Wolfe would answer that he’s not doing sociology in his work but I don’t believe him. Political science is just as much social science as sociology is and both are thoroughly infected with critical theory throughout the disciplines.

So far, most critical reviews of Wolfe’s work of any substance have focused on how Wolfe misinterprets the Reformed tradition as if the book in the main is about Reformed theology. Critics are certainly right to knock Wolfe here as Mattson has brilliantly done, but I would suggest that Wolfe’s methodology is largely unconcerned with the details of the various Reformed traditions in play. First of all, Wolfe pretends there is a single Reformed tradition to speak of when the fact of the matter is that there are multiple streams in play with both the magisterial Reformation and what we might call post-Reformation Reformed scholasticism. There is actually a great diversity in thought the deeper you go into the various historical sources, but you will never catch Wolfe talking about the Reformed traditions in play as any sort of conversation partner with the actual traditions themselves (except, for example, to dismiss the likes of Augustine or Luther as he moves toward Aquinas). Wolfe merely assumes he’s speaking for the Reformed tradition and as such his presentation is entirely begging the question in the first place.

In fact, Wolfe even extends this to a larger unitary Christian tradition also. Wolfe constantly acts like there is only one Christian tradition. This is perhaps best seen when Wolfe pretends that “the Christian tradition” has historically seen love in three ways (benevolence, beneficence, and complacence). In fact, Christianity has seen love in massively different ways that can’t merely be framed through the work of Aquinas or Edwards as Wolfe representatively cites them for the whole of Christian tradition, both rather late witnesses considering the extensive commentary over the last two thousand years on the subject of love. He’s just wrong here and misrepresents the diverse nature of Christianity throughout the centuries on a fundamental question like the definition of love.

We don’t even see the nuance of Turretin distinguishing between this and that in Wolfe’s Epilogue, for example. No, the politeness of an academic theory is left behind for what’s ultimately tweetable in the last section of his book and operative for political change. Wolfe presents post-Reformation Reformed scholastics precisely because he is appealing to a Reformed audience conditioned by the likes of the Davenant Institute and Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics to see a certain type of historical theology as acceptable sources. In other words, Wolfe needs Aquinas to ground his prelapsarian approach in something valuable to his readers. What better than a selective read of Reformed scholastics that purportedly borrowed from Aquinas and Aristotle? Wolfe’s sources are, true to form, very selective, postmodern in their appropriation since it is anachronistic to say they would endorse a Christian nationalism, and he also ignores other important voices in the various traditions that could be employed to speak against his theory.

Further, Wolfe also forgets that nationalism as he theorizes was not in play per se in the 17th-18th centuries but rather the discovery of a New World and colonialism along with the likes of Westphalia. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a colony, not a new nation, so grounding religious tolerance in the descendants of Cotton Mather don’t ring quite as true as he would like. Geneva was a city-state of sorts, not a nation. So, whatever Wolfe would like to posit toward nationalism in its historical context is likely operative in arguing for other alternatives seen in things like the foundation of the Dutch Republic establishing the modern nation-state, a new international order contra the previous Holy Roman Empire, and the rise of the British Empire, itself a multi-ethnic conglomerate.

Notice that Wolfe has an entire chapter devoted to revolution and a second one on freedom of conscience. The critical nature of critical theory is to liberate the oppressed and the yearning toward freedom is the one thing that critical theory seeks to establish. While Wolfe’s view is premised on order (following, incidentally, Hegel), the truth is he seeks freedom for a nation to do good in line with the dictates of the gospel. So, Wolfe’s viewpoint properly understood also aligns with critical theory. The question is not whether Wolfe is some kind of Marxist parading as a Nationalist but rather the methodology he employs and the goal of his working theory.

Wolfe also demonstrates other tendencies common to contemporary political thought that go uncited and unnoticed unless one has read Marcuse and other critical theorists. Watch in his chapter on revolution how he describes today’s society in fine Marcusean fashion:

“The powers of our modern world—the ones that undermined true religion in the West—are more implicit and psychological; they operate in the normalization of secularism. Its normalization is evident in the fact that “normal” people affirm it, live it, and expect it. Our secularized minds are shaped for it, and thus theological traditions that are clearly opposed to secularism had to be recast as its greatest adherents (e.g., modern two-kingdoms theology).” (341)

Further, Wolfe then goes on to say that the solution to “normalized modern liberalism” is “deconstruction” because the current “regime’s chief objective is suppressing an activist Christian religion that seeks Christian normalization and anti-secularism” the very thing Wolfe would like to see instituted as Christian Nationalism.

The point here is not to call Wolfe a Cultural Marxist but only to identify that the methodology of his book certainly follows the dictates of critical theory and his project can be seen in that light given how he proceeds throughout his book to establish a case for what he calls Christian Nationalism. While Wolfe draws on selective support from historical theology, remember that his work is really a political theory and ought to be evaluated as such. The irony, of course, in being yet another instance of critical theory at work is that it remains a racist accounting meant to support a nationalism that isn’t Christian and that remains attached to the obscure political movement of Kinism. Other more sinister tones are offered in light of struggle, the will of a people, and the constant focus on order in the book that should also give one pause the same way films like Triumph of the Will cause us to shudder today. The real historical tradition Wolfe relies on here is much more a matter of nineteenth century romanticism and the stuff of Wagnerian operas. Thinking Reformed theology is the primary driver of his viewpoint is a royal mistake as he quotes figures like Ernest Renan in addition to Aquinas and whoever else provides cover for the inherent racism he projects through terms like ethnicity.

On Technology and Self-Control

I listened to this podcast a couple of days ago, a conversation between Pastor Steve Jeffery of All Saints in Dallas (CREC) and Tyler Turner. Jeffery is one of the pastors in the CREC that might go easily unnoticed since he sticks to the normal everyday stuff of ministry and discipleship. I admire him for that and he has a lot of very good content online.

Here, however, I want to register some level of disagreement with his considerations on technology because it reflects a common outlook that seems to resonate well in some Reformed circles. There is a tendency for some Reformed folks to take a detailed look at something like this with an operative paradigm without questioning the foundational assumptions in play. So, while I respect Jeffery’s work immensely, given the subject matter I have to say a few words.

Given how heavy many of us read in philosophy and theology, a preference typically exists in the books we source for doing so that are on the older side. One of the problems with doing this is that sometimes new research and additional considerations aren’t in play for a particular topic we might examine. Calvin’s commentaries are a great read in studying the Bible as long as you understand we don’t live in sixteenth century Geneva and the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy isn’t the great threat it once was to all of Europe. Similarly, when it comes to Neil Postman’s work and others like it that were produced ~1985 or so what we have are dated takes on technological and cultural issues that can’t be immediately applied to this present hour.

Further, what we do know about things like dopamine signals and the brain remain in the most nascent stages of neuroscience that keep us from being as dogmatic about it as we might otherwise think. Movies like Netflix’s Social Dilemma are designed to trash social media not because it’s addictive but because Netflix has a vested interest in getting you off your phone to watch their content. So, we can’t simply take some of the conclusions offered here at face value based off these types of sources without a great deal of reserve or qualification.

In the church, we need to learn to do better social science in terms of refraining from thinking correlation equals causation, that somehow our own impressions are the fact of the matter when we really only have a very few examples in play of what we think is happening typically tied to our own use of technology, and we forget the complex and diverse nature of the social reality we enjoy in our society.

We know that technology is not neutral but in saying so its telos is not to be subdued because really technology is a giftedness granted to us in Creation by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. So talking about ‘controlling technology’ as if it was something bad is not exactly being accurate with our words. Nature is what we exercise dominion over and subdue, not technology. Technology is the result of that subjugation we enable in practicing dominion. So, properly used and understood technology is actually helping us fulfill the dominion mandate.

As such, one of the things we know is that technology has both good and bad uses. Technology can be perverted toward ill ends and it can also be moved to help us in living life to the glory of God. This is one reason why the critique of social media offered here is somewhat empty. Technology can be used for good quite apart from the intentions of its designers and often in ways they don’t expect. It really doesn’t matter that some Facebook developers and executives try to make social media addictive. We are not bound to their intention in using the platform.

The other thing I would ask is what exactly is the problem being identified here in this podcast? I’d suggest it boils down to self-control. The issue is not technological. Technology only happens to be the means focused on here where self-control is a problem. I’d venture to say if you’re having problems with self-control whatever you’re doing with technology won’t be the only place where such a problem is demonstrated. Self-control, if you remember, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. So, the remedy is not going to be additional restrictions on technology usage or setting up filters or any manner of other things that somehow make us more or less free. You’re also not handling your lack of self-control wisely if all you’re really doing is avoiding the ability to make a choice in obedience to God. We forget that the Scriptures don’t really enjoin us to “don’t touch” or “don’t taste” in thinking about how me might fence the law.

We might also remember that fencing the law never worked for the Pharisees and that it was really just their demise. Our Lord can be seen fencing the law in the Sermon on the Mount but what we really see there is not more restrictions per se but a strike at the intentions of the heart. The fencing of the law that the Pharisees tried wasn’t enough because going out of your way not to disobey is irrelevant if you’re going to miss the whole point of obedience to God in the first place. For the Pharisees external conformance was never enough, what they needed was to be born again and then to live in the Spirit.

Technology is rarely defined in a presentation like this. What Pastor Jeffery and his friend discuss is never really put on the dock in terms of examining what exactly they’re talking about when they mean technology. It’s clear that they’re working roughly with social media/computers/iPhones and the like, but a lathe that you fashion wood with is just as technological as any computer today. Even hand tools are technology in play. So, you’re not getting away from technology if you turn off your iPhone and take the time to go and do some woodworking in your garage with a lathe and a drill press.

I do think we’re often too critical about how we use our time in Reformed circles. Technology has gifted us with the ability to have a lot of time free and there is something to be said for being productive. But, as Deut. 14:26 enjoins, once you’ve met your obligations spending your money and your time feasting and enjoying yourself with close family, friends, and even doing things like playing video games with people a thousand miles away isn’t necessarily problematic. Rather, such festive lives mark the abundant life of a believer in Christ who sees true shalom in play with extensions provided by technology. I’d argue that this reality is the very thing the technology of the liturgy points to in taking bread and wine from the harvest in communing with one another. A proper theology of work is important but so is the Sabbath and all that it entails.

Foster’s Need for Other Men

I would like to address this tweet and video by Michael Foster as a follow up to my original review of his book. The question here is not whether relationships between men might be a good thing but rather what men need. The claim here by Foster is not in fact that it would be good to have a relationship with other men “who get it” but that men need other men. Of course, Foster extends this needing to a gang of men in his book but Scripture doesn’t in fact say this as I’ve handled in talking about fraternity in one section of my review of his work. Further, Foster is explicitly adapting a secular ethic to a Christian framework by echoing the neo-pagan Jack Donovan that is unhealthy and ultimately rooted in homosocial tendencies not reflected in the Scriptures.

The relationship of David and Jonathan is quite unique in the pages of Scripture, something that is both good and wholesome. However, the providential relationship the two maintained is not paradigmatic for all relationships especially in an age where homosexual behavior plagues a culture. Rather, the closeness they exhibit is essentially a type of proto-Christian love we see finally exhibited in the person and work of Christ among both sexes and not merely man-to-man. Can men be friends, even really good friends? Sure. But, the gender/sex of Jonathan/David is not in view in the Scriptures. Jonathan and David didn’t love each other as deep friends because they were men, but because they were David and Jonathan loving each other as he loved himself (1 Samuel 18:1, 20:16; Lev. 19:18).

We need to avoid the sort of Greek thinking that splits something like this into a discussion quite foreign from its original context in focusing on one quality of their persons and misses the forest for the trees. The relationship in play was covenantal and dealt with the house of David, not merely David or Jonathan themselves or a particular quality they had. For all the reliance in certain quarters on James Jordan, one would think the typology and the covenantal nature of the relationship invoked between David and Jonathan would be more easily recognized than the gender identity they both shared.

Christian love is different than the old pagan and fallen strictures that posited a heavy split between the sexes due to physical and other differences between men and women. In the gospel of John we see Christ expressing intimacy among his friends who were both men and women. He deeply loved Mary and Martha as much as he loved Lazarus and John. The words used to express that love are the same for both sexes and not merely for the men close to him. Take a close and deep look at the gospels and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Yes, of course Jesus had the twelve disciples but he was never unaccompanied by women in the gospels in his earthly ministry. In fact, we even see women leading the way on occasion in terms of their devotion to him and friendship with him contra the pettiness of his disciples. The intimacy of friendship is seen in actions like washing one’s hair in perfume on his feet, laying on his breast, and devoting one’s life to his service. Christ also received such intimate friendships between the sexes willingly and without reserve. That engagement on the part of men and women for Christ transcended any known cultures in play at the time and in fact put Jesus and his followers in hot water on occasion. But, look at the nature of friendship and association with Christ. Friendship and familial relations with Christ is a matter of obeying his commands and not in fact bound to whether one is a man or a woman (John 15:14; Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 12:46–50; Luke 8:19-21). The only man that men really need is Christ himself and the only way to him is to trust and obey him. But, that same need exists for women also.

Paul makes it very clear in Ephesians 4 that we are all sons of God in Jesus Christ and that the brotherhood we have in the church is not strictly speaking a male-only thing. Galatians 3:26 calls us all sons of God through faith in Jesus and not merely the men of the church. Further, Galatians 3:26 is paired with Gal. 3:28 that says there is neither male nor female in our oneness in Christ, we are all sons together. If we’re all sons together, that also means that everyone who is in Christ is a brother in and of Christ and not merely men in using such language. Romans 8:14 repeats this to tell us that whoever is of the Holy Spirit is a son of God. Christian brotherhood is one that extends to all who know Christ and not merely to men. In other words, the brotherhood of the church is the church of men and women God has called together to be in union with him through Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

In 2 Cor. 6:18, Paul does speak of both sons and daughters in coming to know Christ so it’s clear that Paul isn’t advocating the erasure of all distinctions between men and women in the church. The distinctions Paul made are covenantal and not in fact due to some hidden brotherhood and sisterhood that draws a sharp line between the sexes so that our main concern in terms of who we associate with is driven by whether we are men or women. Paul also traveled with Aquila and Priscilla in spreading the gospel among the Gentiles and had to know both of them well beyond a sort of Sunday morning acquaintance (Romans 16:3-5). Take note that the holy kiss in Romans 16 is premised on the deep relationships of both men and women serving in the church together, it is the church as a whole that greets one another in such loving intimacy, and not men alone (Romans 16:3-16).

There is no encouragement and exhortation when instructing the churches in the New Testament that is for men only that doesn’t also address women in some way. All of us are to ‘grow up as the mature man, lay aside falsehood, for we are members of one another’ and even submit to one another (Eph. 4:13, 25; 5:21). We’re to confess our sins to one another, encourage, exhort, stimulate one another to good deeds, admonish, all of which belongs in a repeated focus of these things, and so much so that one chief way to do this is in song and worship before God as the whole congregation (Col 3:16; James 5:16; Heb. 3:13; 10:24). How does this occur? By having a monthly men’s forum or by not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the Body of Christ any time we do meet (Heb. 10:25)? Have all the men’s forums you like, but the primary call of the New Testament church was for all members to assemble, “from the least to the greatest”–men, women, children, infants, young, and old–in honor to our Lord, in deep filial relationships with both men and women, and in worshiping him (Heb. 8:11; Joel 2:16).

None of this means men can’t get together or that we can’t be friends and women can’t do the same in the church. But, you don’t find the foibles of our postmodern insecurities about gender identity and association in play in the pages of Scripture. The Scriptures are entirely unconcerned with the assertions of Michael Foster below because the real focus of relational activity is the local church congregation as a whole in the Bible and not merely part of it.

Let me also just comment on the TikTok video that goes with the post Foster offers. We don’t know what the problem is with the young man thinking about suicide. He’s in the military however, a place where young men are together a lot. If friendship with other men was the key to solving his issue, you’d think the military would be the one place where he’d find opportunity for such relationships. Even Foster has acknowledged the camaraderie of war. But, the truth is we don’t know why he was upset and the two people in the video are actually total strangers to each other. A female police officer would have acted the very same way as the man responding to the traffic stop in the first place. The reasons for suicide among men in the military are complex and typically don’t have to do with men hanging out with each other or developing deep relationships. Usually, there is some trauma or family/marital separation in play. There is nothing in this video for Foster’s case except a gut-wrenching appeal to sympathy. Of course, we all feel for the guy in pain but the solution is found in Christ alone and not in some relational bonding with another man or a hug by one on the roadside.

And, this is one point we need to finally make. You will notice everything (including the kitchen sink) being thrown at you to look at men and their “need” for other men the way Foster and white supremacists like Jack Donovan advocate but what you will not find is good argumentation and what the Scriptures say about these things. I’ve already read a reflection by one pastor this morning whose work I dearly love, but Scripture is very much missing in his endorsement of what Foster outlines in talking about this video.

Men of God, your cultural preferences aren’t enough to shepherd the people of God. Feed them with the word of the living God. That is the only thing that will increase their faith and right their point of view (Romans 8:5, 10:17; Gal. 3:2, 5).

A Theology of Leisure

One of the reasons why I say we need a theology of leisure has to do with the nature of innovation and technology. Our economy is all about knowledge today. Without the time to play, to enjoy, to associate freely with others, to game, to explore, and to tinker in technological development separate from whatever job obligations you require to live and provide for your family you won’t be able to innovate or improve technology in any significant way. We tend to emphasize work as hard labor or drudgery but even here work isn’t what it used to be. As the gospel progresses in our society, work itself is transformed into something creative and glorious and so is our leisure time.

On Unwin’s 1934 Book and Historical Science

For the second time in recent weeks I’ve seen folks pushing Unwin’s 1934 book on sex and culture. I would just like to issue a couple of precautionary warnings about picking up a near hundred year old social science work and acting like its conclusions are true without more in the way of examination and thought simply because most Christians would agree that traditional sexual morality stabilizes society versus the alternative. Among Christians on social media, often what happens is that people read an article like Durston’s and if they go beyond rank confirmation bias in the first place, they’ll add Unwin to a list of referenced sources as proof with quotes to follow, and exhibit a sort of Wikipedia-level knowledge of what he presented as true. Then, major planks of Unwin’s thought become talking points on Facebook, in sermons, in conversations with others, and sometimes enough momentum gets going that the relevant bullet points go viral. But, an actual analysis of the text in question and its thesis isn’t typically done and this is where we get into trouble.

Some of what Kathryn Yusoff points out about the historical practice of science is helpful for us to remember even if you may have to sift out what she offers on race and racism in looking at geology and other science through the lens of critical theory. Early twentieth century social science suffers from a lot of problems that we don’t typically think about today in our Google-inspired bullet-pointed examination of anything people consider “science”.

Anthropology and the social sciences in some ways were very much in their infancy in the days leading up to World War II, still very much bound to Enlightenment concerns that included both the works of Freud and Darwin, similar methodologies that helped produce Nazi ideology are present in older works like Unwin’s, and they inevitably work with the sort of gloss that would make Hegel himself proud. A way to think about this without all the references to the philosophy of science that no one but myself and a few others read is still possible. The way they practiced science a hundred years ago can be compared to movie depictions of the quintessential safari hat wearing old English gentlemen traipsing through the jungle with a magnifying glass with locals at hand to guide him where he wants to go, all the while thinking he’s about to discover something momentous that the indigenous there have known about for ten generations. Because. Science.

That’s why you see Unwin surveying 80+ cultures/civilizations for commonalities, something almost impossible to capably do today even with the vast level of technology we can bring to such a question. The West has had to learn the hard way that social science can’t be capably practiced with such a wide scope and devastating presuppositions in play. Further, the glosses required to do so make it very difficult to come to definitive conclusions about any given subject under examination. The categories employed in differentiating between cultures and civilizations are usually quite arbitrary and easily subject to question. Further, Unwin excluded other data as Christians we’d value such as the fact that the earliest cities and civilizations we see in the Genesis narrative are in fact from the line of Cain. Technology in its primal form develops in light of the sons of polygamy and not the sort of monogamy Christians normally envision (Gen 4:19-22).

Few have even bothered to really counter Unwin’s work because of the advent of postmodern/post-structuralist philosophy underlying science that calls the question entirely irrelevant even while it helps men like Marcuse argue that sexual libido should be a primary driver to overturn Western civilization. We don’t see much in the way of replies to Unwin but not because his work can’t be capably countered. In fact, I imagine it would be very easy to write a Yusoff-like criticism of Unwin through the eyes of critical theory. Rather, Unwin actually assists someone like Marcuse more than we might consider at first glance.

This, of course, dovetails into some of the recent criticism I’ve laid down contra Foster/Tennant and how they view sex as the engine of dominion. Marcuse would actually agree and further uses sexual libido to corrupt civilization rather than stabilize it. We’d like to say at first glance, like some others have, that the way forward for civilization is monogamy and avoiding sex before marriage but this misses the forest for the trees.

For the Christian, the real driver of life in Christ is love as it is proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can’t be like Foucault in analyzing sex and marriage thinking all we need to look at is the how of the relationship in terms of its power to stabilize society. We need to understand both the what and the why of this thing God called the union of two becoming one.

Further, we also have to get back to why we do anything apart from its perceived utility. God commanded for us to live a certain way and we do so because we are his children. Trust and obey is the order of the day in terms of how we live our lives in love through Christ and by the work of the Holy Spirit. We love God and we love our neighbor as ourselves because God himself is love and first loved us. While doing so has tremendous benefit to society merely doing what’s required because it’s practical or we think it will solve some social problem is a reductive pragmatism rather than true obedience to God and his word.

A PDF of the Review Is Now Available

A number of friends suggested I put the reviews on Foster/Tennant’s It’s Good to Be a Man for each chapter in a PDF so they could all be in one document. The PDF below contains each chapter review in order and can be redistributed freely for use in a church or other context as long as you don’t modify the content or charge people for the document.

You can find the PDF here.

An Extended Review of It’s Good to Be a Man

Update: You can download a PDF of all of the chapter reviews here or keep reading to review them individually online. The links to each chapter entry are below.

A few weeks ago I decided to read and review Michael Foster and Bnonn Tennant’s book It’s Good to Be a Man. The posts included in this review were written over the last couple of weeks as I read through each chapter. I’d generally read a chapter a day and then wrote my thoughts about the chapter in review on the same day and posted them to friends on Facebook. Once finished, I decided to take the completed posts and put them up here where they can be publicly accessed.

On the whole, I can’t recommend Foster/Tennant’s book and as you go through the chapter-by-chapter reviews, you’ll see why. Although I offer heavy criticism of the work, I wouldn’t call this an exposé as my primary focus is not on the authors themselves but the arguments and claims they make that I find generally wanting. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my conclusions and since this set of reviews was a read-then-review effort chapter-by-chapter, a more complete review in summary that addresses the book overall may be something I’ll write later. I also included in this series of posts a couple of excursions about video games and other technological issues that Foster/Tennant comment on and in one case Douglas Wilson as well.

I didn’t read any other reviews of the book with the exception of a quick read of Alastair Robert’s review of Foster/Tennant’s book and another prior to reading the book and offering my own comments. For my part, reviewing two books in one shot isn’t fair to the writers and not every work lends itself to the sort of compare and contrast normally done when that’s the strategy. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in masculinity so I’m not approaching this as having read thoroughly either the requisite social science research, so-called red-pill secular masculinity literature, or more Christian considerations of the topic. I do have expertise in philosophy, theology, development, social science, technology, and interdisciplinary approaches concerning a variety of issues that likely make my contribution informed in a different way that is both unique and thought-provoking.

I’ve also not consulted with the authors in writing except to ask about their own qualifications especially as it pertains to methodology, something I address later in one of the posts. I hope folks find these reviews useful and offer them in the spirit of helping to steer young Reformed men toward a Christian understanding of what it means to be a man that may not be working with the same training and considerations that I might offer. In any case, enjoy.

Here is the full list of chapter reviews and other relevant material from beginning to end:

Is Jerusalem Burning?

The War Between Patriarchies

The Anti-Technological Stance of It’s Good to Be a Man

Sex and Sexuality

Toxic Sexuality

The Effeminate Church

No Fatherhood, No Manhood – Part 1

No Fatherhood, No Manhood – Part 2

No Gravitas, No Manhood – Part 1

No Gravitas, No Manhood – Part 2

Gravitas Through Duty

How Porn & Video Games Hijack Manhood

Two for One Day – How to Bear the Weight/Manhood Through Mission

The Necessity of Fraternity

The Excellence of Marriage

Just a closing note: I’ll likely spice up the theme and looks of this new blog as I go, though I like the minimalist approach because it forces you to focus on the text offered. Stay tuned!