Back on April 2, 2020, I ventured five predictions for the COVID-19 aftermath. (That’s almost as foolish as writing an annual list of the top 10 theology stories.) My third prediction, at least, continues to reverberate in 2022: “We’ll gain global perspective with national protections.”
Several of this year’s top theology stories negotiate that difference between citizenship in a nation versus responsibility to the world. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to destabilize many nations, most obviously China, whose authoritarian crackdowns finally provoked protesters who watched maskless global throngs at the World Cup. Russia has appealed to national interests, including the protection of its Orthodox Church, when unleashing global chaos with the largest land war in Europe since World War II. The death of Queen Elizabeth II marks both the passing of a global empire and an uncertain future for her national church. And in the United States, it’s no coincidence that debates over “Christian nationalism” erupted as Americans suffered from a pandemic that originated with a global rival.
The internet doesn’t allow us to retreat behind national lines, even the Great Firewall of China. But the economic system may need to nationalize. Otherwise, we face the looming catastrophe of a Taiwan invasion that would devastate our global market, which depends on semiconductors. The poor will still benefit most from trade, however, not only in jobs but also in the price of goods. And global stability is not a given—as we know from a history of nationalism gone wrong.
Though we can only observe from our corner of the world, we see most clearly when we look for what God’s doing in the other corners.
Christians have a command to love our neighbors (Lev. 19:18), and we have a commission to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19). We can do both, because take our citizenship from heaven (Phil. 3:20). We’re uniquely positioned, then, to help our neighbors near and far to navigate global perspective with national protections. We love our countries, we love our world, and we love the Creator most of all. These loves do not compete when they flow from God.
As always, when I attempt to discern the top theology stories of the year, I write from the vantage point of an American who subscribes to The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement. Though we can only observe from our corner of the world, we see most clearly when we look for what God’s doing in the other corners.
10. What’s next after liberalism?
Who would’ve thought drag queens could bring about the end of the liberal political order? Trans momentum seemed to slow this year as the moral foundations shifted on fairness (with women’s sports threatened) and harm (with women endangered by biological men in prisons and domestic violence shelters). Even so, given how trans arguments threaten the building blocks of life, it’s no coincidence that political debates now challenge the assumption that liberalism preserves social stability. If society can no longer distinguish male from female, how can we reorient public life toward truth?
9. No slack seen in onslaught of mass shootings.
Nowhere in the United States is safe. You could be watching a popular parade on the Fourth of July. Or walking with your friend to church. Or eating with your friends while welcoming a stranger. Or, of course, just sitting in school. But you better prepare your church for how to respond to an active shooter. And talk to your kids about mass shootings. So far Christians haven’t mustered any unified response to the epidemic of violence. Debates over gun control may help, but the spiritual problems seem to run deeper than the American political system can reach.
8. SBC report reveals top-level abuse cover-up.
It’s bad news when top church leaders spent nearly two decades covering up reports of child molesters and other abusers. It’s better that we know about the cover-up because other leaders and scores of other Christians demanded accountability. Anyone can profess to believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. The truest test is obeying the commands in that Word from the Lord.
7. Queen Elizabeth II dies.
While Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, grief may grow later this month when she’s not available to deliver the customary Christmas message. True to her character as monarch since 1952, Queen Elizabeth II offered calm, clear testimony to the miracle of the incarnation. The absence of her leadership reminds us of the weakening of Christianity in the United Kingdom and affiliated nations in the last 70 years. Her pious example didn’t arrest that decline, of course. We’ve yet to discover the breakthrough for reaching the post-Christian world that emerged during her lifetime.
6. Pastors blamed in the ongoing reckoning for 2020.
Two years later we’re still sifting through the political, racial, and scientific wreckage of 2020. Among Christians, pastors are taking more than their fair share of the blame from politically motivated pundits. It doesn’t help that too many high-profile pastors earned that disrepute with their spiritual abuse. We know how to train pastors in exegesis and systematic theology. We need to ensure they know how to lead with conviction amid opposition and shepherd their flocks without domineering.
5. Two Christian colleges abandon biblical ethics.
Calvin University and Eastern University didn’t surprise many when they decided in late 2022 to abandon biblical ethics in favor of sexual revolution. Some faculty and alumni at these schools have worked for years to undermine historic, orthodox teaching. Some political pundits and church leaders will continue to make peace with the newly ascendant progressive powers. The story at Calvin, at least, might not be finished, as younger leaders in the Christian Reformed Church reaffirmed biblical ethics this summer. The United Methodist Church’s sluggish splintering offers a warning case of waiting too long to reform the schools.
4. Dobbs decision allows abortion bans for first time in nearly 50 years.
Regardless of the political backlash, the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade deserves to be celebrated. It’s a day that many doubted would ever come. In response to the shocking but just decision, several states with the most abortions have doubled down on their murderous intentions. Crisis pregnancy centers have been firebombed with little effort from unsympathetic authorities to apprehend the perpetrators. The question now is whether pro-life activists will negotiate political compromises that ban some or even many abortions or if they’ll go for everything and end up with nothing outside a few conservative states. Especially in states that ban most surgical abortions, churches will have many opportunities to put their theology of life to work. Early reports show a 6 percent decrease in abortions nationwide.
3. Iran erupts in revolution.
The world’s most populous theocracy is no stranger to revolution. Perhaps, like in earlier revolts, the Islamic government will prevail over protestors demanding freedom. But today’s Iran has changed in one significant way: no evangelical movement has been growing faster in recent years. Even though these Christians don’t know whether they should join the protests, they pray for justice and better government. We probably won’t know until 2023 or beyond whether the church in Iran will enjoy greater religious freedom. Regardless, God hasn’t been hindered thus far by even this repressive regime.
2. China reverts to authoritarianism on brink of war with Taiwan.
The Beijing Winter Olympics gave us an ominous preview of the year ahead when Russia’s Vladimir Putin watched the opening ceremonies on February 4 with China’s Xi Jinping. Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine may have tempered China’s ambitions in neighboring Taiwan. Regardless, China’s Zero-COVID policy has already strengthened an authoritarian government determined to rule every aspect of life. Recent protests indicate, however, that the government may have finally overreached. While the Chinese church has grown and matured, Xi’s regime has taken a heavy toll. Xi’s further consolidation of power, on display at October’s Communist Party Congress, suggests we’ll continue to learn from Chinese pastors and their theology of suffering.
1. Russia invades Ukraine in first major land war in Europe since World War II.
Theological implications emerged immediately when Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24. Seminary presidents in other post-Soviet states joined their Ukrainian brothers in denouncing the Russian attack. Some church leaders who stayed to serve paid the highest price. Russian President Vladimir Putin justified the invasion in part by appealing to the supposed destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. But that church body has since disaffiliated from Moscow after Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill blessed the war. Western support for Ukraine so far has been strong, wavering only somewhat as energy-driven inflation imperils the global economy. As is so often the case in Eastern Europe, winter will be a war of wills.
Previous Top 10 Theology Stories:
2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021.