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    PloughCast 44: Carl Trueman and Alastair Roberts – Freedom, Belonging, and Begetting

    Generations, Part 2

    By Carl Trueman, Alastair Roberts, Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts

    January 24, 2023

    About This Episode

    Peter and Susannah speak with Carl Trueman about communicating the gospel to the current generation, and the distinct challenges that that can bring.

    Then, they talk with theologian Alastair Roberts, Susannah’s husband, about the genealogy in Matthew and the way that looking at its details can call up Old Testament parallels and associations that give us clues about what God is doing in the birth of Christ.

    They discuss the way that God works not just with individuals but with whole families through the generations, and talk about how we can be blessings to both our descendants and parents.

    They also talk about Alastair’s experience of joining Susannah’s large family through their marriage. There are anecdotes about lobsters.

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading


    Section I: Carl Trueman: On the Modern Self

    Susannah Black Roberts: Welcome back to the PloughCast! This is the second episode in our new series, covering our Generations issue. I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough.

    Peter Mommsen: And I’m Peter Mommsen, editor-in-chief at Plough. In this episode, we’ll be speaking with Carl Trueman, and then with Susannah’s husband of six months, Alastair Roberts, about the Bible’s begats, and marrying into Susannah’s large family.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Carl Trueman is a professor of humanities and biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. Thank you so much for joining us. Obviously, I’d been excited to have you on for a while. One of the things that, as I said, I’d like to talk about is this question of whether the church needs to speak different things to different generations or whether the gospel obviously is one thing and so we shouldn’t worry too much about speaking different things to different generations. You kind of take both a theological, a philosophical, and also a sociological tack in a lot of your writing, and so it kind of seemed to me that might be something that you had given some thought to. Any general ideas?

    Carl Trueman: Yes, I think it’s a good question. I mean, the origins of a lot of my work came out of the context when I was not only teaching at the seminary, but also pastoring a small church just outside of Philadelphia and becoming acutely aware that anybody under thirty-five, I suppose. The younger generation simply didn’t think in quite the same way that I did about things that I’d grown up assuming were obvious. That I think does raise interesting questions, not so much about the content of the gospel. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

    But in terms of engaging young people, of getting them to pay attention, of getting them to realize that the message of the gospel is important, that it challenges them at key points, that is something that I think that has to be worked on by every generation.

    I think the key questions for me were in many ways very similar to the sort of question that Luther was asking in the sixteenth century. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always resonated with Luther, that question of I know that I’m convinced God exists, I’m convinced He’s holy and righteous, and I’m convinced that in and of myself, I am not able to stand before Him in my own strength and expect anything other than wrath or judgment. My questions were very traditional from that perspective. What I’ve noticed from younger people, and particularly the kids I teach at Grove City College, is the questions now often focus around how can I be authentic? How can I be truly me? How can I find fulfillment?

    Now, I think the answer both to me and to this younger generation is one and the same, it’s the gospel and it’s the Lord Jesus Christ. But, the way you present the gospel or the way you get the students to think about the gospel today has to be a little different I think. I tend to play it in class as everybody wants to be free, we have a big thing today, an intuitive desire to be free. On the other hand, we also understand or we also intuitively know that we need to belong, we need to have other people who acknowledge us as people of value in order for us to have self-worth. Freedom and belonging are very hard to tie together because to belong is to sacrifice freedom, to be free in an absolute sense is not to belong. How do we tie those two things together? I found it quite fruitful in the class, not so much to zero in on the concept of sin, but to pick on Christ’s language of “if the Son sets you free, you’ll be free indeed.” If you’re united to Christ, you are truly free.

    Susannah Black Roberts: You talked in your book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, a good deal about Philip Rieff and the idea of the triumph of the therapeutic. Can you just go into that a little bit more, explain to listeners what that is?

    Carl Trueman: Yes. Rieff, He was actually a professor of sociology officially at the University of Pennsylvania. Probably his most famous work is his 1966 book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, where he’s trying there to wrestle with “Well, what is the good life? How do we conceptualize the good life after God in a post-Christian or post-theist kind of world?” His answer is that what you get when the idea of external truth, objective truth, some sort of objective moral framework to the universe collapses, then everything changes. The whole notion of what it means to be a human being ceases to be learning the rules of the social game so you can fit in and becomes pursuing those things that give you a sense of psychological happiness.

    We could perhaps make the point clear by drawing an obvious contrast between, well say, my education . . . as English grammar school boy, even in the 1980s, when I went to school, the first thing we were told when we arrived at school was that none of us were of any particular importance whatsoever. We were made to play team sports regularly; they were a core part of the curriculum. The purpose of grammar school education traditionally was to crush one’s individuality and make you part of a team. That very much comes out of a kind of culture where . . . what is education? It’s learning how to become a member of a broader, clearly structured society, how to fulfill one’s role in that. That is where ultimately one finds one purpose and satisfaction. I’m very struck today at the way colleges, and even Grove City College, which is a Christian liberal arts college, advertise itself this way.

    It’s very much a sort of “come to us and find your calling, come to us and fulfill your unique potential.” When you think about the shift in culture between those two things, the one is very much focused upon the individual having to fit into a larger whole, the second is very much predicated on the idea of the individual finding what satisfies them as an individual. Rieff would say that the second is symptomatic of what he calls the therapeutic society, and he makes a number of interesting observations. One of the things he says in his analysis of the therapeutic society is the institutions that society considers to be important will change when a society moves in this kind of therapeutic direction. Under the old regime, he would say that the nation and the church, or the nation and the religious institution, would be important because they were the places where character was formed to allow you to fit in and belong to part of this larger whole.

    Today, he would say in the therapeutic society, that the theater and the hospital become the dominant institutions. Why is that? Well, he would say, Nation and church, nation and religious institutions ultimately demand a sacrifice of the self. You are not the most important thing, there is something bigger than you, that you’re expected to sacrifice yourself to some extent for in certain situations. Once you lose sight of that larger understanding of reality, then everything comes down to whether you feel happy at this particular point in time. Does it work for you? What a hospital and cinema do, is they take away your physical pain and they take away boredom. Rieff, in 1966, is predicting that hospitals and theaters will become the dominant institutions in the therapeutic culture. I don’t have figures at my fingertips, but I’m pretty sure if you were to look at the amount of money that the West spends on healthcare and on entertainment, it would be a huge part of the gross domestic product of most countries.

    Susannah Black Roberts: One of the things that I’m kind of curious about or interested in, the way that people tend to talk about themselves I think in the paradigm that you’re examining in that book is there’s a kind of tension between the self as something that you discover and the self as something that you create. Those are actually an opposition to each other logically, but it seems like the way that people think of these selves that they are making or discovering, there’s a very rapid back-and-forth in the way that people are talking about those things. Is that accurate, do you think?

    Carl Trueman: Absolutely. I think the whole idea of the self is very interesting on a number of levels in that, one, we do believe that we create our own identities. One of the odd things about the self, of course, is we think we are sovereign individuals, but our way of expressing ourselves is always socially conditioned, it’s always dialogical with the world around us. That’s one of the paradoxes of the notion of modern self.

    I think the other one is the one you’ve pointed to. There’s a sense in which, yes, we create ourselves, but we also discover ourselves. You see some of this I think in the way that sexual identity politics has played out over the years, that sometimes being gay is a given identity over which the person has no control. At other times, being gay is a lifestyle choice. Politically, one has to be very careful as to which one is the mood of the moment as to how you talk about these things. But, I think that reflects that paradox that you’re pointing to, Susannah, that it’s fascinating.

    Peter Mommsen: I’m curious, Carl, do you see any positive sides of the modern self and the expressive individualism that you discuss in your book? I mean, it’s I think quite easy, and on this podcast we often have talked about the ways that can head in really unhelpful directions. I’m kind of thinking of this famous C. S. Lewis quote about how every age has its own outlook and is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. In terms of how the church talks to this generation, I’m just curious from your point of view, having reflected on expressive individualism, what are the good things that are there?

    Carl Trueman: Yes, I think there are quite a number of good things. One of . . . I mean if you go back to Rousseau in the book, I could have started earlier than Rousseau, but I focus on Rousseau. I think one of the great things that Rousseau does, and those who stand in his kind of tradition, is that they bring out the universal dignity of what it means to be a human being. That, in a sense, one could look at the reformers and the medievals, and they certainly believe that everybody’s made in the image of God, but the way that’s practically articulated often doesn’t reflect that. I mean, Calvin I think is in no doubt . . . yes, we’re all made in the image of God, but some people are just born better than others, there’s a hierarchy He operates with. I would say with the foundations of expressive individualism in emphasizing the unique dignity and universal dignity of human beings, we certainly see a foundation laid down there for respecting people with Down [syndrome], for example.

    There are all kinds of great ethical results that come from that insight. Secondly, I think it’s true that we are not just brains on sticks, and expressive individualism captures that nicely by pointing to the importance of emotions and our intuitions. I make the point to the students when Rousseau is talking about ethics, and I say, “He’s not entirely wrong because if you look out of the window and you see a gang of hooligans beating up a little old lady or a little old man and you don’t feel something, then we have a word for you. You’re a psychopath, and that’s not a good thing to be.” That Rousseau is definitely onto something when he sees the importance of the emotional inner space of human beings, so those two things for definite. I would say in the Christian Church, again, I suppose I’m the product or the victim of my own buttoned-up English grammar school background. I’m not comfortable with a lot of expression of emotion in worship, but the Psalms are full of emotions being expressed.

    I think there’s a lot that expressive individualism underscores that has been neglected in certain strands of the Christian tradition, including my own, the sort of reformed Presbyterian one. The care and concern for the inner space, the acknowledgement that our irrational, for want of a better term, our irrational feelings and emotions are an important part of who we are, that’s something that expressive individualism brings out. There is a time when it’s appropriate to give outward expression to that which we feel inside, not in an uncontrolled or un-corralled way at points, and not all the time, but I think the emphasis one finds in expressive individualism, no, they’re not entirely bad at all, it’s when they become the be all and end all, that’s the problem.

    Peter Mommsen: There’s no countervailing considerations.

    Carl Trueman: Yes, I mean I often think of . . . I think it’s Psalm 73 where the psalmist is wrestling with that inner agony. Why is it that the good die young and the wicked prosper? He’s going through strong emotional feelings about this, and then it makes sense to him when he goes to the sanctuary, ultimately his inner turmoil needs to be set within the framework of God’s revelation of himself. I think that’s a good way of balancing the legitimacy of the psalmist’s inward emotional struggles on that point with the finality of God’s revelation.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Also obviously Christ is quite down on hypocrisy, and I think at its best, authenticity is a kind of rejection of hypocrisy. I don’t know if this is a legitimate biblical interpretation, I would have to ask my husband, but the bit in Revelation 2:17 where Jesus says, “To him whoever comes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” That’s always struck me as a kind of . . . that idea of the stone with the new name that only you and God know, that just strikes me as a very kind of . . . an answer to the expressive, individualist, authenticity hunger in the context of God’s own knowledge of you. I don’t know if that’s . . .

    Carl Trueman: Yes, I’d have to ask Alastair that as well, I’m afraid, but it sounds a very attractive interpretation.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I know.

    Peter Mommsen: We should call Alastair right now on the podcast and clarify this point.

    Susannah Black Roberts: We should. I mean . . .

    Carl Trueman: I’m sure all the patriarchalists out there are delighted that you would ask him to explain that bit.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I know!

    Peter Mommsen: Susannah, I refrain from comment on “I will have to ask my husband.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: My specific husband!

    Section II: Carl Trueman: On Negative World and the Gospel in This Generation

    One of the things that has been kind of in the, I guess, chatter sphere recently is an idea, which I think Aaron Renn came up with about six months ago now or something like that, about the movement from what he called positive world to neutral world to negative world.

    Peter Mommsen: Susannah, we should just introduce Aaron for those who don’t know him, he’s a Plough contributor. He writes Substack, which I enjoy reading, and he’s written for a whole bunch of other publications as well. He also comes from a reformed kind of point of view, doesn’t he?

    Susannah Black Roberts: I think he’s . . . is he Lutheran? I can’t remember. I don’t know.

    Peter Mommsen: OK, ask Alastair.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I know. Anyway, so I’m not sure how much you’ve been tracking this conversation, but his general idea seems to be that at some point before . . . I think 1997 is the year that he for some reason gives, there was . . . we were in “positive world”. The world in general was generally positive towards Christianity. If you were Christian, that was, all else being equal, a good thing. It was kind of a feather in your cap. It made you more respectable. Then, up until maybe four years ago, we were in what he calls “neutral world.” “We” being, I’m not quite sure, so that’s kind of one of the issues that I have with it. But, “we” being I guess the West or America or something like that. Up until four years ago, we were in “neutral world” where Christianity was neither a positive nor negative. Then as of, I think around four years ago, he thinks we’ve entered “negative world” where being a Christian is something that means that you are likely to be less reliable, less respected, more suspect.

    Do you think that there’s anything to this hypothesis, or how would you read it?

    Carl Trueman: It seems to me what he’s describing there is very similar to in some ways the kind of move from what Charles Taylor called secular two to secular three. In secular two, you have this neutral public square where religious differences can be safely accommodated in the private sphere because there is sufficient agreement on, for want of a better term, public morality, or we might say the moral imagination of society, for it not to create tension between non-religious and religious communities. To a position in secular three, as Taylor calls it, where the public square has really become highly contested along religious terms because morality based upon religion is now being contested. I do think we are in that kind of situation now. I put it in terms of recognition or the terms of membership in society are shifting in America now, whereby things that in the past would not have been issues or where the consensus was broadly along the same lines as the Christian consensus, that’s no longer the case.

    I may use different terminology to Renn, but I think he’s certainly putting his finger on a very significant shift in the culture, and I think it’s going to have an impact upon Christians in their professional lives and their lives in the public square.

    I’m very conscious that even now, I think, Christianity as a cultural force is far more important in America than it is in other parts of the world. And I also think Renn, and to an extent myself on that front, may well be tracking along a distinctively Protestant path as well. Because chatting to Catholic friends, they’re experiencing the transformations that are taking place in society somewhat differently to us Protestants. And I asked one friend why he thought that was the case and he said, “Well, we never thought we owned the country.” And I think if you imagine that you own the country, then having the country, as far as you’re concerned, stolen from you is a much more serious and painful experience. I know this is a touchy subject at the moment, but connects some to some of the strands of so-called Christian nationalism that are emerging that seem angry and belligerent to me.

    Susannah Black Roberts : Yeah. I’ve absolutely seen that myself. And it’s actually really strange because hypothetically Catholicism is the more, I don’t know how you, imperial or . . .

    Peter Mommsen: They did a good job owning Boston for a while.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I mean, that’s the thing. Even if you think of somewhere like Boston, I mean, the Adamses weren’t Catholics, the people who actually owned Boston were Unitarians. The people who did the grunt work in Boston were Catholic.

    Peter Mommsen: They did a good job of renting Boston.

    Susannah Black Roberts: They did a good job of renting Boston.

    Peter Mommsen: So how do we look at these two conversations? That’s one thing I’m curious about, is to the extent that there is no doubt that there are many places in the United States, and then if you extend to Europe, even more so, where this negative world that Aaron Renn describes is the case, where being publicly Christian is not good for your social or career life with various degrees of severity of that. How does that connect into what we were talking before about how to preach the gospel to a generation so shaped by individualism and this desire for authenticity?

    Carl Trueman: I think that community is going to be very, very important as we move forward. One, it’s going to be very important for providing a strong environment for people who are being severely challenged in their day-to-day lives and their day-to-day careers relative to their faith. They’re going to need strong community at church to support them. And secondly, I think strong community is something that young people find very attractive. I think that online community is very thin. They’re becoming aware of that. Most of the students at Grove, if not all of them, hated the time of Covid when they could only come to class online.

    I think in the hyper-individualized world we are living in, people are waking up to the fact that real, true, rich human relationships are important and irreplaceable. Now, I’m a Presbyterian, so I certainly don’t want to downplay the actual preaching of the gospel. But I would say the first thing that churches need to do is be strong communities. That’s going to give a framework or a context in which the gospel, I think, could well be intuitively attractive to those who come.

    Peter Mommsen: I mean, that’s one thing that jumped out at me from discussions with Aaron. I’m not sure how much he’s written about this. Exactly what you said, this desire for community. Some years ago, Rod Dreher wrote this much discussed book, The Benedict Option. And we’ve talked on this podcast about the limitations of framing this desire for community as either Benedictine or an option or a retreat or anything else. But it does seem to me that a large part of the response to that book has to do with exactly that, this desire for community, for not just propositional truth, but for relationship, for personal connection, for the church to be a human reality.

    Carl Trueman: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s very striking that Jesus himself says, “By this, will all men know you are my disciples, by the love you have for each other.” Clearly Christ does not see believing and belonging as two separable things. We may be able to conceptually separate them in our minds, but they’re clearly intimately connected in practical church life. So I think we need to think about how to achieve that. So we need to think about how to make strong communities given the realities of the integrated world in which we now live.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I have a suspicion about what might be coming next in terms of the progress from the hunger for authenticity and what the church might need to be thinking about speaking into, I guess, the next generation, the upcoming generation. And it has to do with the uniqueness of people, the uniqueness of human beings as against, for example, AI. What is it that actually makes us different? What is it we’re able to do? What is it that we are that makes us different than a chatbot, that makes us different from an AI that can generate art given lots of inputs?

    I’m not quite sure how the church is going to go about handling it. I’m not quite sure how you can approach that from anything other than a metaphysical, highly abstract level. But it does seem to me that knowing ourselves in relationship to other people, as opposed to knowing ourselves primarily as things that can look like chatbots as we message each other on the internet, might be something, might be one way that that might be answered.

    Carl Trueman: Absolutely. And I think, Susannah, you’re putting your finger on what is the great problem of our day, I think, is we are living in the midst of a – crisis is an overworked word, but I do think we are living in the midst of an anthropological crisis. What is man? I’m struck that I think next year, 2023 is the eightieth anniversary of C. S. Lewis delivering the lectures that became The Abolition of Man. I reread them just a couple of weeks ago and was struck, particularly the final lecture on The Abolition of Man, how incredibly prescient those lectures are. It’s a little bit like Rieff’s 1966 book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic. There’s no way Lewis could have known just how accurately he was speaking when he actually spoke.

    And I think you’re absolutely right that I’ve not looked so much at artificial intelligence. The person that I’ve zeroed in on a bit has been Peter Singer, human beings relative to other animals. But the same thing applies because the bottom line is once you repudiate the idea that human beings, of all creatures on the face of the planet, are made in the image of God, then everything goes. You can reduce us to the level of an animal, or you can turn us into a cyborg. There are no givens that cannot be transgressed with impunity if you take that view. Yeah. It’s a very important point. And I think it’s something that I’ve been encouraging in my students, those thinking of going on to do postgraduate work. I say, “Do postgraduate work in ethics. Do postgraduate work on the ethical implications of how we understand what it means to be a human being.” Because I think these are the big questions that are facing us.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I’m going to have to give a shout out to That Hideous Strength, which is the fictionalized version of The Abolition of Man. And those two are probably my two favorite Lewises, other than maybe his autobiography. But That Hideous Strength, which is the third volume in his Space Trilogy, was basically a novelized version of the arguments in that book. And that’s just fantastic. Again, just incredibly, insanely prescient.

    Carl, thank you so much for coming on.

    Carl Trueman: It’s a pleasure to speak to the two of you. And just to thank you both for your work as well. I think it’s great that we have Christians from so many different traditions now focusing on really important issues of the rising generation. So thank you to Plough for all the work that you do. See you guys. Bye.

    Susannah Black Roberts : Bye bye.

    Section III: Alastair Roberts: On Families

    Peter Mommsen: So on this half of the podcast, we’re welcoming Plough contributor, Alastair Roberts, who is the husband of my co-podcaster, Susannah Black Roberts. Welcome, Alastair.

    Alastair Roberts: Thank you for having me.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Hi, Alastair.

    Alastair Roberts: Hi.

    Peter Mommsen: Now, Alastair’s written a wonderful piece for the issue called “Decoding The Bible’s Begats” about genealogy and scripture. I should introduce him first. Alastair Roberts received his PhD from Durham University. He teaches for both the Theopolis Institute and the Davenant Institute, and he participates in the Mere Fidelity and Theopolis podcasts, and lives with Susannah, alternating between New York City and the United Kingdom.

    So we’re going to talk about genealogy and scripture and in general about the importance of genealogy and family lines and the weird themes of both affirmation and relativizing of family history of lineage. But we’re also going to talk, and I hope we can actually start with talking about something that you mentioned at the beginning of your piece, Alastair, which is what it’s like to get married and go to a big family reunion of your new spouse’s family. So what was that like?

    Alastair Roberts: I’m not sure I can speak to the more generic experience of what that would be because Susannah’s family is a very particular family, a large extended family that are very eccentric and have a very intense family culture. So it was really a delight. We went to Mystic and next to a lake, they have this old house.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It’s in Connecticut.

    Alastair Roberts: Well, in Connecticut, it’s one step up from camping.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It’s more than one step up from camping, but it doesn’t have any electricity. So we light it with kerosene lamps. So the kerosene lamp is actually the family’s symbol. And several of my cousins have kerosene lamp tattoos, which gives you some idea of what’s going on with us.

    Alastair Roberts: It is very intense. So there are bridge tournaments, there are all sorts of games and talent competitions, a big lobster meal, which we helped prepare. And that was an experience. We had to pick up about eighty lobsters in Rhode Island and then traveled back. I was in the back of . . .

    Susannah Black Roberts: He was in the back. My brother was driving. It was my cousin’s van, and Alastair was in the back with eighty live lobsters. I’m so proud of you.

    Peter Mommsen: A whole family of lobsters.

    Alastair Roberts: I’m not sure they were all related but, yes, there were quite a number of them.

    Susannah Black Roberts: We also had a pig roast, like a large, large pig, which was troubling as a whole experience, but was very delicious. And then there’s all kinds of . . . there’s a series of recitations that every family . . . so we have a family reunion every five years at a minimum. And then we gather informally during the summer on other years. There were sixty-seven people at this reunion. There were probably more like a hundred when you get all of us together of direct blood relatives. The in-laws, I think that’s including in-laws. The in-laws call themselves the outlaws because there’s a certain amount of hazing that you have to undergo when you marry into the family. And Alastair was just a total mensch about it.

    Peter Mommsen: He underwent the hazing and was . . .

    Susannah Black Roberts: He did.

    Peter Mommsen: . . . initiated into the wider family. So with this, Alastair, you entered into some of the things that we’ve been talking about on this series of podcasts. And we’ll continue to talk about the specificity of each family and what it means to join this intergenerational project. And there’s something amazing about that. I mean, I remember when we first got married and I met, sometime later, my wife’s big family. She has, I believe, I should know, it’s eight siblings.

    Susannah Black Roberts: You don’t know how many siblings Wilma has?

    Peter Mommsen: Well, I just had to do quick math in my head. Yeah. So there’s lots of them, and there’s lots of cousins, and there’s nephews and nieces and stuff flowering out from there. And what’s really funny then is watching your kids grow up and reflecting the personalities and interests and quirks of sides of the family that you don’t actually know that well, which maybe ties into the theme of genealogy. I mean, you do tie it into the theme, Alastair, even though that might seem unlikely to get from the lobster bake to the first chapter of Matthew. Is there a connection there?

    Alastair Roberts: Well, maybe not directly to the lobster bake, but there was a strong sense of genealogy. So there are the different lines of the family with different T-shirts, different colors for each part of the family. And then you also have this family tapestry, which Susannah had to sew a leaf on for me because we’d been married since the last reunion. So there is a very strong sense of becoming part of something that is much larger than yourself and part of a series of generations. So we’re Gen Four of five generations at this point from the initial founding parents. And that, I think, is also something that we see within the beginning of the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew. It begins with placing the story of Christ and his birth within the context of this larger genealogy and narrative.

    Susannah Black Roberts: One of the peculiar things about the genealogy itself is the way that you were describing it to me as you were writing this piece, is that the genealogy, it’s almost a way of telling the story of who Jesus is and of almost the Old Testament in nuce or distilled down, and it makes various points. Especially the genealogy of Matthew as you see who Matthew decides to highlight in that genealogy. Do you want to talk about some of those?

    Alastair Roberts: Yes. So we might think about the very beginning of Matthew as similar to the “previously on” that you’d have at the beginning of the first episode of a new series or of a new season of an ongoing series on TV. So you’ve watched the previous season, and yet it’s about a year ago now, so you’ve forgotten what has happened. And then you have this recap at the beginning of the new season that fills you in on what happened and gets you up to date. And so you can watch the new season at that point. And that’s something very similar to what’s going on in the beginning of Matthew. Matthew presents in a very brief sketch of the story in the form of this genealogy, a sense of where things have gone to this point and then what’s going to happen next. He gives you a sense of anticipation.

    It’s introduced as the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. And the words there are important. So “the book of the genealogy” is an expression that we have back in the book of Genesis itself. As we read through the gospels, you’ll often see at the beginning of the gospels various illusions back to the very beginning of the Bible. So if you’re reading the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” puts us back in the text of Genesis chapter one. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

    And so there is a sense in which this is a retelling of the story of Creation, but helping you to see what was there all long. Christ as the one who is the Word, ordering all things, the one by whom all things are created. You have something similar in the Gospel of Mark, the beginning of the gospel. And it begins with those words, which again draw our mind back to Genesis the beginning. This is the initiation of what’s going to take place.

    And the other thing that we see with Matthew is there is a sort of framing of the larger gospel in terms of the whole of the Old Testament canon. So it begins with Genesis, the book of the genealogy, and then it ends with an allusion back to the very last words of the book of Second Chronicles. So Second Chronicles ends with the command to return to the land and it says, “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him, let him go up.’”

    Now that’s very similar to what we have in the Great Commission. The return from exile is something that provides a pattern for thinking about the Great Commission. There is this new building of a church. The Church corresponds to the Temple. This authority that’s given to this character Cyrus is similar to the authority that’s given to Christ, but just on a far higher level. So Cyrus in the book of Isaiah is spoken of as a sort of messianic figure. But Christ is the greater Messiah, the one who’s truly the anointed one who’s going to bring about the kingdom of God.

    So that way of framing the text gives us a sense of the whole book of Matthew as a retelling of the Old Testament in a way that helps us to see Christ summing up the history of what has happened to that point and condensing it. And what has gone so badly wrong previously is going to be brought to its proper end in him. There’s a sort of recapitulation as Irenaeus and other church fathers spoke about.

    So if you’re reading through the story, you may be able to pick up some of the other beats. So if you’re listening for the story of the Exodus you can hear that at a point such as the return of Jesus and his family from Egypt: “Out of Egypt, I have called my son,” in 2:15.

    There are other extra allusions at the beginning. You have magi coming from the east to the court of the king who’s trying to kill the baby boys. It’s a very similar sort of story but mixed up. So here the magicians, the magi, are not actually the opponents. They’re the people who are the faithful ones coming to the court of a king in Jerusalem rather than a king in Egypt. And the king in Jerusalem is the one that’s trying to kill the one who’s born king of the Jews.

    And then we have other allusions, for instance, in the forty days in the wilderness in Jesus’ temptation or him teaching the people on the mountain as Moses taught the people on Mount Sinai. And then the climax, you can see allusions back to the story of the destruction of Jerusalem in its temple and that corresponds with Christ himself on the cross.

    So all of this gives us a way of seeing the way that Matthew is telling the story as part of his theological point. He’s telling the story in such a way that triggers the minds of his hearers to recognize that this is Israel’s story brought to its climax. It’s Israel’s story, recapitulated. This is what has happened before as it should have been.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So how does the genealogy fit in with that project of Matthew’s?

    Alastair Roberts: So if you look through the genealogy, one of the things that you’ll notice is there are certain names that are missed, and there are certain names that are included that you might not expect to be included. So the first thing that many people point out are the women that are mentioned. If you were going to mention women within the story of the Old Testament, who would be the ones that come to mind? Well, perhaps you’d think-

    Susannah Black Roberts: The matriarchs.

    Alastair Roberts: Yes, you’d think of the matriarchs. You’d think of Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel or Leah. These would be the ones that you would instantly think of. Then you’d maybe think of other key characters. You’d have Ruth and you’d have Miriam and other characters like that. Now those characters are not all within the genealogy of our Lord. So for instance, Rachel is not mentioned in this chapter because she’s not part of Jesus’ genealogy. Leah would’ve been. And then you wouldn’t have Miriam or you wouldn’t have other characters like that.

    But the women that are mentioned here are Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba. And as you go through it, you’ll see that these are not necessarily the ones that you would expect. What is it about these particular – And Rahab. Why are these the women that are mentioned? What do they have in common? What are some of the things that set them apart?

    Now as you look through it, it seems to me that one of the things is that they tend to be Gentiles. So Tamar is a Canaanite woman. Rahab is another Canaanite woman. Ruth is a Moabitess and Bathsheba was formerly the wife of Uriah who was a Hittite, again, one of the people of the land. And in each of these cases, we see someone who is not automatically part of Israel, not necessarily born into Israel or someone who is married to someone outside of Israel initially being brought into the story. And as we go through the story of the New Testament, we’ll see this is part of the point, that there’s going to be this bringing in of the Gentiles into the people of God.

    And as you go through as well, and look at the junctures at which these women come, they come at points of crisis. So you can think about the story of Tamar. And as we look at that story, it’s a very irregular, strange story. It’s a story that stands in juxtaposition to the story of Joseph, but it’s a story where we see a line descending into crisis where Judah has lost his family, two of his sons. He’s lost his wife, he’s not giving Tamar to his youngest son, Shelah. His line is gradually withering and he himself has given over his signet ring and his cord and there’s a sense in which this is giving your passport and your driving license. These are tokens of his identity and significance, and yet he’s giving those up quite freely. And so there’s a great descent to a very low point for Judah and then this intervention and out of that his line is formed from which David will come.

    We see a similar thing in the story of Ruth. There is this intervention within a story of death. So there are again two sons who die, Mahlon and Killion. And at that point, Naomi, having lost her husband and her two sons wants to go back from the land of Moab where they’ve retreated for the famine in Bethlehem and go back to her homeland just destitute. And her two daughters-in-law accompany her and Orpah is sent back but Ruth continues with her. She won’t let her go. And in the end, Ruth raises up a child for this widow who seemed absolutely bereft. And so again, we see something of an intervention in a situation of crisis, some form of mercy, some form of redemptive action and event.

    You see a similar thing in the story of Bathsheba. So David’s great sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. He’s killed Uriah. He’s taken Bathsheba. And in that story, the first child that they have dies. But yet this other child is raised up, and this child is Solomon who will be the great king, the one who is in many ways the fullest flourishing at least in the earlier part of his reign of the kingdom of Israel.

    And then the other character of course is Rahab. Rahab who sheltered the spies. A Canaanite woman who’s saved as the one survivor with her family of the land of the city of Jericho, which is the great initial city that’s defeated in the land of Canaan.

    So in each of these points, there is a surprising act of redemption or divine intervention into a story where it seems that everything is going to go wrong, where it seems that the line of David is about to be wiped out or where it seems that he is someone who has no part in the story whatsoever and yet they’re going to be brought in and made part of it. So in this way I think it’s priming us for what’s going to happen later on, that this is a story where God is going to raise up the seed of David. He’s going to redeem his people. He’s going to intervene in a history that seems lost. He’s going to act when all seems to be going down to death, and we see that of course most fully in the resurrection of Christ, which is the rising up of the seed of David.

    Susannah Black Roberts: But you also see it in the birth of Christ. And that’s actually one of the things that was most interesting to me and most moving to me when I kind of was really thinking about it as you were writing this piece and we were talking about it because one of the surprising and weird things about Matthew’s genealogy is that it ends with Joseph, the son of David – he’s called the son of David – rather than with Mary. And Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father. And I think it was Augustine who said, “Well, maybe it’s also Mary’s genealogy in some way. They might have been related.”

    And I can sort of see that, maybe. But your explanation had to do more with the nature of everything that you’ve been talking about so far.

    Peter Mommsen: Well even just before you answer that. I mean it just strikes me, especially if you read the Authorized Version of this, is that word begat, right, is repeated and repeated and repeated in this genealogy. The emphasizing the biological nature of this begetting, right? This seed of David being passed on through the act of begetting and then suddenly you get to the end and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. Suddenly the begats end.

    Alastair Roberts: Yes. And I think there are other oddities within this narrative that are worth paying attention to.

    So if we think back through certain genealogies, we can see that there will be oddities like that, oddities that explain something of the differences between the two genealogies in Matthew and Luke. When we consider that there are maybe two different routes back through a family. When you consider the possibility of first of all, levirate marriage and second of all, adoption. In a case of adoption, someone from another line of the family can be brought in. So you could tell their genealogy in different ways. You could tell their genealogy biologically or in terms of their legal status by virtue of adoption.

    And at the very end of the story, we have the one who is born in the city of David. The one who’s born of the line of David, is not actually born through the action of a man. This is not something that man could bring about, just as we’ve seen in the story hints of these situations where the line was dying out, and the Lord acted redemptively. At the end, it’s not something that arises from man’s virility, man’s strength, the vigor of David’s own line. It arises from an act of the Holy Spirit, an act of the Holy Spirit giving a child to Mary who is betrothed to Joseph, not in order to . . . it’s not just to Mary by herself and Joseph just happens to be on the side. No, it’s given as a gift to Mary and Joseph and to Joseph as a descendant of David. So David is given a child not from his own body in the same way, but as a gift of God. Christ as it were, is a son adopted into the line of David.

    And as you go back through the story, we might think about the character of Shealtiel as another character who was probably adopted from another line. And so he’s made part of the line of Jeconiah. Jeconiah who was told that he’d be childless, but yet through God’s grace, he is given a son, an adopted son through which his line can continue. And so I think what we have here is something similar. A line that has no strength or hope of its own is given the child. Unto to us a son is born, unto to us a child is given. And that expectation of all the generations before is reached not through some power of the generation itself, some vigor of the family, but through an act of divine grace.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I mean when you said that, it was sort of like a little explosion in my brain because it made me think, all right, when we want children, one of the things that . . . I mean, obviously the desire for children is complicated, but one of the things that, especially in the Old Testament, it means, is the continuing on of your name. It’s a kind of immortality. And if we think of Jesus being given to Joseph as his son, as his eldest son, who’s going to carry on the family name, Jesus is given to Joseph as Joseph’s immortality. And in that sense, Jesus is given to all of us, not just as our brother, but also as our child in a way, as our immortality. And that blew my mind.

    Alastair Roberts: And that’s definitely a theme within the Old Testament and picked up in the New. We might think about the way that in Isaiah were told of “the root of Jesse” or “the stump of David.” This is the house of David cut down completely. It’s wiped out as it were, and it’s now down below the stump. You just have the root of Jesse, Jesse being David’s father. But out from that is going to arise this root out of dry ground where there was no hope previously. Something is growing up and that thing that’s growing up will be the righteous branch, the one who is the Messiah.

    And in the Psalm, David talks about his body not seeing corruption. And we might think, “OK, that’s David just talking about him being saved from some trial within his lifetime.”

    But when that is preached on the day of Pentecost, Peter sees in that declaration in the Psalm a promise that David’s line would be raised up in resurrection in that eternal life. And so we see that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in whom the seed of David has risen up and has been brought to sit at heavenly places and all peoples being blessed on account of this son of David.

    So what we see, I think in this story are all these intimations of the way that God acts within history, the way that he acts redemptively, the way that he brings people in, the way that there are acts of courageous faith by which the story has progressed. Think about the actions of Ruth particularly, and that gives us a sense of where this story is going. It’s going to tell something very similar brought about by the work of God in Christ.

    Peter Mommsen: There’s a bunch of things stepping back from what you’re saying, Alastair, and what you’ve written here, there’s one very sort of basic observation, but maybe worth making is that the New Testament and the Gospel of Matthew starts by connecting Jesus so strongly back to the story of the people of Israel, right? That this is kind of the opposite of this idea that the New Testament floats free from all that bad stuff in the Old Testament.

    Alastair Roberts: And it does that by reminding us of the story. So at the very end of the genealogy, you have Jacob the father of Joseph. Joseph then goes on to have these dreams and he leads his people into Egypt to protect them from a crisis. And then you have a king trying to kill baby boys. You have in chapter two, the statement of, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

    And then the statement to Joseph in a dream that Herod has died. Those who sought the child’s life are dead. It’s the same thing that we have in the story of Moses in chapter four of Exodus. So it’s reminding us of the story before, but there’s also a sense of redemption going on.

    So if you look back through the Old Testament, one of the tragic stories that has repercussions all the way through is the story of Rachel. There’s the occasion where they’re fleeing from Laban after they’re leaving Hebron and going back to the land of Canaan. And as they’re fleeing, he overtakes and he’s searching for his household gods, the teraphim that have been that have been taken, and he doesn’t know who has taken them. And he looks through all of the different tents and doesn’t find it. Finally, he goes into the tent of Rachel, and she’s sitting upon the camel, and beneath her in the saddle bag is the other teraphim. And she can’t get up, she says, because she’s on her period.

    Now, as we read through that story, we see that there’s a tragic thing that takes place because there’s a death sentence as it were, cast by Jacob over the person in whose possession it is found. And as we go on through the story, there are ways in which that is echoed, and there’s a sense of the tragedy of Rachel. She dies in childbirth, giving birth to her youngest son, Benjamin. Her oldest son, Joseph, is taken down into Egypt, and he’s taken down by camels coming from Gilead. That’s where . . . Gilead is where Laban had caught up with them, and a camel was what Rachel had been sitting upon. And there’s a sense in which this is a callback to that tragic story, her son being taken down into the death of exile. Then later on, we have something similar. There is the pursuit for the instrument of divination, the cup of divination that’s stolen, seemingly.

    They searched through all of the different sons of Jacob, and eventually it’s found in the possession of the youngest, the youngest, and seemingly the only remaining son of Rachel, Benjamin. And at that point, Judah intervenes and intercedes for Benjamin. But there’s something very similar going on, and there’s a sense that there’s this tragedy in Rachel that she loses her children.

    Then there’s this awful verse in Jeremiah that speaks just of Rachel’s horror and weeping, and her sense of being distraught at the loss of her children. She’s weeping because they’re going into exile, they’re being destroyed in the rout of Jerusalem. And yet, there’s this promise that her children will return, that there will be redemption for her children. Then there are other allusions that we find to the story of Rachel in places like the Book of Micah, in chapters four and five. And in Matthew chapter two, both of those stories are recalled.

    So we have Micah chapter four and five being recalled in the reference to Micah chapter five, verse two, “And you, oh Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people to Israel.” All of that looks back to the story of Rachel. She had died in childbirth on the road to Bethlehem, but had not reached Bethlehem. So she’s buried on the way to Bethlehem. We have a similar story calling back to Bethlehem and Rachel in the story of the Levite and his concubine, in Judges chapter 19, one of the most tragic and horrific, just terrible stories of the Old Testament. So there’s this great tragedy as it were, that has not been resolved. And in chapter two verse 16, we have another allusion back to that great verse in Jeremiah, the verse of Rachel’s lament and sorrow.

    “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children. She refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” Then after that, Herod dies, and Christ returns from the land of Egypt and enters back. And he’s going to be the child that’s going to raise up this dead family, this family that has lost its children to exile, this family that has had tragedy hanging over it, and he’s going to be the one that’s going to redeem his people. That story then of the Old Testament, summed up in this very allusive genealogy, is setting the scene for this act that God is going to do. In Christ, he’s going to raise up a dead people. He’s going to fulfill his promises to the house of David, and he’s going to establish them as a blessing to the nations, and the restoration of all the breaches in that family itself. And through that, we see something of the healing of a family.

    Now, I think this is something we also should recognize as we’re reading through something like the Book of Genesis. The story of Genesis is not different episodes that happened to these people way back when. It’s not just even episodes in the life of these great men of faith. It’s stories of the intergenerational patterns and tragedies and redemption of a family. It’s the family of Abraham over a number of different generations, and seeing how the actions of one generation, the sins of one generation, the faithfulness of one generation has repercussions for the next. And as we go through the story, we see great acts of redemption that overcome some of the sins of the forefathers, overcome some of the breaches within the family, overcome some events of loss.

    You can think about the story of Joseph as a story of death and resurrection. Joseph, the son that seemed to be dead, is actually restored to his family once more, and his family is saved from death. The whole story of Genesis is a story of resurrection that ends with the promise from Joseph that when they arise from Egypt, they will take his bones with them, and bring his bones back to the land where at the very end of the book of Joshua, they are buried in the place of Shechem, which is where he was sent by his father, and the place from which eventually he went to Dothan and then was taken down into Egypt. So this whole story is one of redemption, and what we see in the Old Testament setting the scene, setting the patterns of God’s behavior, is seen in its fullest expression and its climactic expression in the work of Christ, ending in the event of resurrection in the story of Matthew.

    Section IV: On God’s Work in Families

    Peter Mommsen: Wow. Well, I’m probably not alone among our listeners in having to confess that I often have skipped the first seventeen verses of the Gospel of Matthew. I hope after listening to this episode, I know I’ll be reading those verses in a different way. I would like to step back from this, though. In a way . . . OK. Alastair, I know you’re a biblical scholar, and we want to be a little irresponsible now. Because this is obviously a special genealogy, it’s the family of Abraham, of David, culminating in Jesus Christ. So it is something special, but you do say at the end of your piece that the overcoming of tragedy and the gift of fulfillment exemplified in David’s line, accomplished by the son of Abraham, perhaps might be worked out in our family lines too.

    So I’d like to get into that question of our family lines. What can they tell us about blood kinship, about genealogy, dissent, how we think about our ancestors, the sins of our ancestors, pride in our ancestors in perhaps a different way? And let me set it up this way. I lived for some time after our marriage in Dresden in Germany, and there’s a famous wall on the castle of the former kings of Saxony there. It’s a mural that shows the genealogy of the House of Wettin, the royal house of Saxony, going all the way back.

    It’s in a way very similar. It’s telling this story of a royal line, but in a different way, because it’s a story of this royal line’s increasing power, up until the early twentieth century, when the mural was made. Of course, not long after, in 1918, they were overthrown, and the monarchy in Saxony was abolished. But at the time the mural was made, this was a piece of propaganda showing the glory of this house and its expanding power and prestige, with an increase in its titles, up to attaining kingship in the last couple of centuries. And here, the story, the genealogy in Matthew, as you pointed out, is this story of fall and redemption over and over again. It’s a very different tone and tenor and different way of thinking about how one relates to one’s ancestors, one’s imperfect ancestors. Am I hitting the mark at all?

    Alastair Roberts: Yeah, I think so. As we read the story of the Old Testament, it’s not a hagiography. It’s not a story that is airbrushing the lives of the people it describes. It’s one of the questions that people often have when they’re reading something like the Book of Samuel from a non-Christian perspective. OK, what party is this supposed to be serving? Obviously, some party within Judah wrote this in order to serve their particular party’s propagandistic interests. Who could it be? Is it the Davidic party? And then you get to the story of David and Bathsheba, and just how horrific that is, and how it leads to an unraveling of David’s efficacy as a leader and opening up of old wounds. And you realize, well, maybe it’s not the Davidic party, maybe it’s an anti-Davidic party. But then there’s so much good about David within it. How does it fit?

    And it seems to me that this is a clue to the distinctive character of biblical history, over against the sorts of histories that we often tell about our peoples and nations, which can be the airbrushed hagiographies, the stories that don’t tell about the bad parts, that don’t honestly wrestle with the skeletons in the closet. But in the story of scripture, we’re constantly reading about the people’s sins. We’re constantly reading about what happens to them on account of their own unfaithfulness going into the land of Babylon, for instance, or the destruction of Jerusalem on various occasions. What we’re seeing is an indication that this is a people whose significance is not found in themselves. It’s not found in their own power or it’s not found in their own virility. It’s not found in the sort of extent of this nation. They’re not chosen, as Moses says, because they are larger or greater or more powerful than any other people.

    Indeed, they’re one of the weakest of peoples. And yet, God chose this wandering Aramaean to be the one from whom He would raise up a people more numerous than the stars in the heavens and the stand sand on the seashore, and this people would be a blessing to all nations. And it’s a strange thing. Again, we tend to think about the destiny of peoples very much being for themselves. But yet, this is a people who’s a people not just for themselves, but also for all the nations. Their destiny is found in large part through bringing in and blessing all these peoples. And we have that at the very beginning, in the references to the gentile women that are brought in, the characters like Rahab or Tamar or Ruth. In each of these cases, we see someone who would not be part of the people of God, were it not for this marriage.

    And in the case of the people of God more generally, so many of us are gentile. We’ve been brought into a people that we do not by nature belong to. Paul talks about the natural branches, and then those that are grafted in against nature. And we are those, for the most part, those branches that have been grafted in against nature. We’re not necessarily people who would be part of this in the same way, otherwise. So this story is one of, in large part, adoption. It’s a story whereby we who have no natural stake are made by grace to have one. And that way of telling the story is very different from our ways of telling our national or our family stories, which tend to be so much about what sets our family apart. What is it about our family that makes it greater than other families, in and of itself? And yet, this is a family whose greatness is found in what God has done for them, in the history of God’s redemption.

    Now, how does this relate to our families? Well, it seems when we tell our stories, we can often tell our stories . . . for instance, I grew up in a Baptist context, where we would often tell our testimonies. And when you tell your testimony, you usually tell about your experience growing up, you tell about the time of your conversion and how that changed your life in various ways, and then give some sense of how things went on from then. But when we tell our testimonies, often what we fail to do is consider the way that the Lord has been working in the lives of our families or the lives of people around us. And He does not just work in the lives of individuals by themselves.

    He works with people through other people. He works through networks of people. He works with some people upon other people, and there’s this sense of the baggage that a family can have being dealt with in various places. So we can think about the story of Genesis, or we can think about the story of David as well, where David is often a character that is described as like Jacob. And yet, he’s like Jacob in good and bad ways. So at certain points, he takes on the tragedy of Jacob who lost his sons, who lost Judah, who went down from his brothers. He lost Ruben, as Ruben was unfaithful and slept with his concubine. He lost Joseph, of course, as Joseph seemed to die, being killed by this wild beast. And in that story of David, we have something very similar happening in the story of Absalom, where Absalom is like Simeon and Levi, who kill or seem to kill, in the case of Absalom, all the sons of the king.

    We have Absalom, like Judah, who goes away from his brothers and goes into exile. We have Judah, like Joseph, who seemed to be dead. Joseph seemed to be dead, Absalom dies, and David mourns bitterly for him. He’s never the same man after that. And in all of these callbacks, we see that David bears the hallmarks of his forefather. He’s like Judah and he’s like Jacob. And in the same way, we bear hallmarks of those who have come before us. Something of them lives on in us, and something of us will live on in the people that come after us, as our children and descendants. And the Lord works not just with us as individuals, but He works through families. And there’s, I think, very good reason to pray for our children, to pray for those who have come before us, to pray for our parents and grandparents, to pray for the network of our families, that they would know something of God’s grace and redemption as we have experienced it.

    We have become channels by which God’s grace might work, not just in individual lives, but within the network of family relationships, where there might be breaches, where there might be tensions, where there might be antagonisms or grudges and things that go back maybe many generations, and the Lord can work in those sorts of things. And if we just focus upon individual stories, we can miss how much of the Old Testament is given to these intergenerational crises and intergenerational wounds that are dealt with as God’s redemption heals. Not just with detached people, but with the larger story of a family that has gone wrong in so many ways, and yet experiences the redemption of God.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I think . . . one of the things that makes me think of is just sort of, man, this really feels like a sermon application moment, but I don’t mean it that way.

    Peter Mommsen: Go for it.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Well, I guess two things. One is that asking yourself what is the story that God is telling with your family, and what’s the role that you’re supposed to play in that story? That’s actually something that I think about a lot. As Alastair has said, I do have a large family with many stories and many lobsters. And thinking about what some of the stories that God has been telling through that family in the generations that came before me, and how the work and life that I have now is a carrying out of some of those stories. It very much is. I could go into this. Alastair knows all this, but I won’t. It’s something to sort of think about.

    Then the other thing is, if you don’t have one of these big storied families, one thing to think about is just the incredible sort of . . . “it could have been otherwise-ness” of everyone’s birth. With every generation, whether or not you know the story of the generations that came before you, with every generation God had His hand on each generation, so that the next person who was born would eventually, through the generations, become your parents. Whoever you are is the result of God’s intentionality with really messy people, just as much as it was in the Old Testament. And boy, this really does feel like sermon application, but I think that there’s something to be drawn from that as well.

    Peter Mommsen: Well, that’s an incredibly hopeful note to end on, that we are not standing alone unconnected to human history. But the good Lord works through the long scope of it, and we’re just part of it. Thank you so much for joining us, Alastair, and this has been a wonderful conversation.

    Alastair Roberts: God bless.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Thanks for listening, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met, and share with your friends! For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $36/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to to learn more.

    Peter Mommsen: On our next episode, we’ll be talking with writers Phil Christman and Joey Keegin about effective altruism, and with Dhananjay Jagannathan of Columbia University about academic genealogies.

    Contributed By Carl Trueman Carl Trueman

    Carl Trueman has served as a professor at Grove City College in the Calderwood School of Arts and Humanities since 2018.

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    Contributed By portrait of Alistair Roberts Alastair Roberts

    Alastair Roberts received his PhD from Durham University, and teaches for both the Theopolis Institute and the Davenant Institute.

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    Contributed By portrait of Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

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