I thought that it would be fun to reflect on seven of my favorite links from the past year. These aren’t necessarily the most viewed or most popular, but it's seven links that I think are particularly important, upon reflection. Use this as an opportunity to see articles, podcasts, and videos that were particularly impactful this year, but you may have missed!
A new Christian consortium, dedicated to preserving religious liberty, is promoting its mission with militaristic imagery and language. The group’s website uses terms like “battle,” “fighters,” and “war.” It’s clear the founders of this organization see themselves as being on the front lines of the conflict for the soul of our nation. They’re proud participants in the ongoing culture war.
To some, this approach may seem legitimate. After all, in the struggle for dominance between polarized groups, only one side can emerge victoriously—and it isn’t the side that refuses to fight.
The question we must ask is this: Is a warlike posture the proper response to an increasingly anti-Christian society? Does such an approach represent the “wisdom that comes down from above,” or the wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, [and] demonic” (James 3:13–18)?
Strident, divisive partisanship is not political conviction alone, but something more rabid and acidic than that: an ethically bad and intellectually irresponsible ideology that both reflects and deepens cultural divides, contributes to gridlock, bolstering knee-jerk reactions to opposing views, reducing political discourse to resounding zingers, memorable mic drops, and pithy sound bites. But worse than its effects, there’s something inherently problematic about it, and this is where Mister Rogers comes in.
At its worst the spirit of party demonizes the opposition, emphasizing the downright inhumanity of ideological opponents and how worthy of disdain they are. This crosses a line that shouldn’t be crossed; dehumanizing opponents is intrinsically wrong. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner…. I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”
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On a Thursday morning a few months ago, I got a call from my doctor’s assistant telling me that I have Stage 4 cancer. The stomach cramps I was suffering from were not caused by a faulty gallbladder, but by a massive tumor.
I am 35. I did the things you might expect of someone whose world has suddenly become very small. I sank to my knees and cried. I called my husband at our home nearby. I waited until he arrived so we could wrap our arms around each other and say the things that must be said. I have loved you forever. I am so grateful for our life together. Please take care of our son. Then he walked me from my office to the hospital to start what was left of my new life.
But one of my first thoughts was also Oh, God, this is ironic. I recently wrote a book called “Blessed.”
From my comments on this link:
Professor Sean McDowell hosts Pastor Colby Martin on his channel to dialogue about their different views on scripture, affirming LGBT relationships, and more. I think that Sean asked well-formed questions and both parties did an outstanding job of modeling charitable Christian disagreement. Both men represented themselves well and did a good job of trying not to talk past each other.
Whichever end of the spectrum your beliefs are on, I believe you may learn something from this dialogue.
I first started following Kathy Kattenburg on Twitter after she showed kindness to me following an article about my sex abuse in the Washington Post, at a time when many of my supposedly like-minded conservatives had not. It seemed like a minor example of cross-the-aisle political civility. But it soon revealed itself to be a lesson in how elusive civility can be these days, especially online, in an age when we’re often told (or telling others) that we need more of it.
My “sharp elbows” approach had contributed to a no-holds-barred discourse that was hurting our nation.
I wanted to be better, but civility held no allure, like ordering salad at a steakhouse. Though it sounded reasonable and healthy, the feeling of missing out on something more satisfying was hard to shake. And the impersonal nature of much digital discourse only reinforces that dynamic.
In March 2020, at the height of the COVID lockdowns, Kathy Kattenburg tweeted that she had problems getting groceries. I considered reaching out but didn’t want to open my family up to more hate from her. I had an elderly friend who, when asked for a favor, would reply, “Sure, if it doesn’t cost me any time, effort, or money.” Was I willing to sacrifice any of those things for someone I knew solely as an online enemy?
One group within American evangelicalism believes our religious liberties have never been more firmly established; another that they have never been at greater risk. One group believes racism is still systemic in American society; another that the “systemic racism” push is a progressive program to redistribute wealth and power to angry radicals. One is more concerned with the insurrection at the Capitol; another with the riots that followed the killing of George Floyd. One believes the Trump presidency was generationally damaging to Christian witness; another that it was enormously beneficial. One believes the former president attempted a coup; another that the Democrats stole the election. One believes masks and vaccines are marks of Christian love; another that the rejection of the same is a mark of Christian courage.
There are countless groups in between, of course, but these examples illustrate the tension: We occupy the same reality but starkly different worlds. There is a real question whether these worlds can (or should) draw back together again. This is a critical moment for our movement.
The rate at which divergent views have been revealed has created jarring relational dissonance. People in the pews are left questioning the extent to which their unity is based on the Apostles or Nicene creeds or other political, cultural, and socioeconomic matters. They are left questioning where churches, ministries, or organizations land on these things.
The tectonic plates are shifting underfoot. This fracturing will likely be irrevocable not because our Gospel essentials are not unifying enough but because the divergence of ethical priorities, cultural engagement, racial attitudes, political visions/illusions, and their implications for philosophy of ministry mean that unity is fundamentally no longer tenable.
I strongly recommend reading all of my comments at Issue #23, which brings together comments on multiple articles stemming from this one.
Honorable Mentions 🏆
Discipleship is fundamentally about knowing and following Jesus in all of life. The Christian life is meant to be lived out truthfully and lovingly, with boldness, in our world. This is how faith in Christ works: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 5:19; cf. Gal. 5:6). The earliest disciples understood that discipleship had an eye toward the needy and was never meant to be restricted to the inner affections or the cognitive realm — as any reader of 1 John or James can see. This understanding of discipleship resonates with the character of our Redeemer, the ethics of Exodus, the proclamations of the prophets, the good news for the poor in the Gospels, the very thing Paul was eager to do (Gal. 2:10), and the hope of the new earth. When the project of discipleship focuses on inner spirituality to the exclusion of our social responsibilities — or vice versa — it becomes “thin.” Thin discipleship focuses on one aspect to the neglect of others. “Thick” discipleship, on the other hand, is discipleship with dimension.
What do the POPE, TODD WHITE, AND HANK HANAGRAPH all have in common? They all know Francis Chan. Francis is a riddle wrapped in an enigma that has caught the attention of the conservative evangelical movement. As a graduate of Masters seminary and a pastor of a thriving megachurch, Francis Chan was a rising star in the conservative evangelical movement. He was a regular guest to the Passion conference, Desiring God, and IHOP's One thing, Francis was one of the most popular names on the conference circuit and amongst publishers.
That is until he started making decisions that were "self-sabotaging" in the eyes of western evangelicalism. Francis left his megachurch to start a network of house churches that were centered around authentic discipleship. Only to leave his now thriving home churches to do missions in China. All the while Francis begins to share stages with those on the evangelical blacklist. Who is Francis and what is driving his consciousness into the spotlight of controversy?
This teaching explores Jesus' call to a radical way of life in following him. It's based on Luke Chapter 14, which includes some very challenging sayings of Jesus about counting the cost of following him. We will consider the balance between Jesus’s generous grace as he invites everyone into his community, as well as his stiff challenge about the great cost and sacrifice that is going to be required.
From my comments on the original issue:
I still remember when I realized that the Mosaic Law was flawed and that that’s okay. It broke my brain to think that God would have created an imperfect law! Some Christians disagree with me on this, but while the Mosaic Law was revolutionary for its time and place, it also was not perfect.
It was designed with concessions to deeply flawed human beings, but it was also designed to move them forward to be better than their neighbors. If God had tried to make a perfect law for Israel to follow, they would have failed or rebelled (sooner than they did anyway). That doesn’t mean that we can or should question every aspect of the Mosaic Law, but there’s a reason that Jesus abolished or strengthened many parts of it during his ministry.
This video from Michael Jones works in the other direction. It shows just how revolutionary it was for its time. He works through the Mosaic Law and other laws and codes of its time to show that the Mosaic Law truly was more in line with God’s moral character.
Book of the Year 📖
From my comments:
This Tolkien-esque fiction book by Helena Sorenson is short but wonderful. I highly recommend it. If you are not used to reading fantasy, the first few chapters will be tough because Sorenson doesn’t explain her terms. Slowly you will come to understand the world and the people in it, and this foreign place of despair and blooming hope will open up to you.
From the book description:
When the Bloodmoon rose, death came rushing into the world. Now the water is bitter, blight consumes everything, and the Crone haunts the hills.
While the Druid of Blackthorn searches desperately for hope, the Ovate returns from the underworld bringing omens of despair. But Idris, the young bard, Keeper of the Sacred Word, will walk through fire and iron to uncover a question no one has ever dared to ask--a question that carries a world of answers on its back, a question that can change everything.
But his time is short. The land is dying. And the Bloodmoon is rising again.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.
— Matthew 6:14–15 (ESV)