In terms of sheer reader interest, nothing on The Gospel Coalition website in 2012 compared to the discussion surrounding Jefferson Bethke’s spoken word video: “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”
The end of the year brings lists galore recounting the best books and top news stories. But I’ve never seen anyone else attempt to count down the top theology stories from the last calendar year. After doing this several years now, I know why. It’s subjective, presumptuous, and guaranteed to infuriate almost all of you. So why do I continue this dubious tradition?
Before we flip the calendar to the new year, it’s sometimes encouraging and always instructive to take stock of the last 12 months. We can see God at work. We can see our sins on full display. And when we look back in the archives of human history (see my lists from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011), we’re sobered to realize that our priorities and concerns often diverge from God’s. The internet tempts us to live in the moment, but “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
So consider my list an admittedly foolhardy attempt—written from the vantage point of an American who subscribes to The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement—to discern the most important theology stories 0f 2012. Consider it a challenge to generate your own list and pray that God might bless his church with the faith and vision to see the world as he does. Credit goes to fellow TGC editors John Starke and Joe Carter for their help in debating this list. Of course, all anger should be directed solely at me.
10. Christian athlete superstars rise and fall.
Linsanity peaked in February when New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin stepped into a void created by injury and vastly exceeded all expectations. He attracted long-due attention to the growing number and influence of Asian American evangelicals. Early in January, Tebowmania peaked with an improbable, game-winning playoff touchdown pass from the most famous Christian in America, Tim Tebow. We’ve never seen anything in sports like these outspoken role models disproving their critics and winning millions of fervent fans, not all of them Christians.
So what makes this a theology story? Unfortunately, 2012 didn’t end with the same excitement. Tebow wasted away on the New York Jets bench behind an inept starter after the Broncos traded him and prospered under the precision passing of Peyton Manning. Lin also left his team when the Knicks declined to mach an offer from the Houston Rockets, where’s he’s played reasonably well. Why would God not want these men to succeed and spread the gospel through a growing platform in the nation’s largest city? How can they testify to Christ in failure and disappointment? Too few have explored these questions with the same fervency that greeted their ascendance to international celebrity.
9. Is Mormonism a cult or not?
This might have been the Mormon Moment. Unfamiliar Christians studied Mormon beliefs with new urgency and worried about broadened appeal. But Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney fell well short (much to the surprise of many enthusiastic evangelical supporters) in his bid to unseat President Barack Obama. Still, the hard-fought campaign exposed divisions over whether the term of “cult” can be accurately applied to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association answered “no” with a curiously timed change to their website.
Theologically speaking, you can’t deny that Mormons have departed from orthodox Christianity. But others have raised questions about whether associating Mormons with cults does any good in the cause of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with these neighbors.
8. Christians in the Middle East weigh democracy and security.
7. Can American Christianity reverse its declining influence?
6. We dare defend our rights.
5. War on Women suffers major defeat.
4. Trinitarian theology responds to recent challenges.
3. Can we be safe?