Collin Hansen’s Top Theology Stories Over the Past Decade: 2008–2018

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Collin Hansen, editorial director for TGC, is my favorite theology journalist.

For the past ten years, at the end the year, he has been seeking to identify the top ten theology stories of the previous twelve months.

Last year he wrote:

When I began compiling these annual “top theology stories” lists a decade ago, the doctrines of salvation (soteriology) were frequently debated and often divisive within churches and even families. Every once in a while you heard of churches evicting pastors for teaching that regeneration precedes faith. Blog comments on limited atonement ran page after page.

A few years later ecclesiology took center stage. Young blog warriors stepped into the leadership of local churches, and some of their heroes even assumed major denominational posts. Books on church polity doesn’t often make bestseller lists. But if you’re suddenly thrust into leadership, you need a biblical rationale for how to make decisions and live out your faith together in the body of Christ.

Now, however, the emphasis of theological debate has shifted again. And it threatens once more to divide churches, families, and even networks and coalitions forged in previous generations. The topics that generate the most controversy now concern public theology—how we apply the Bible to contemporary ethics. How does our faith testify that it is genuine? How does it lead us to regard and love our neighbor? How does it shape our view of systems and patterns of behavior, deeply ingrained and often denied by people in power?

This debate will be the most tense of all, since it raises the question of why unbelievers sometimes seem to see problems of injustice more clearly than fellow believers do. What does that say about our theology, and theology in general, as a reliable guide to righteous living? How does our intellectual appropriation of theological propositions relate to our faith practices as we live out Paul’s command: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2)? We know we can never improve on the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ, the only hope for sinners. But how can we improve on our application of this glorious truth?

It’s a fascinating observation—perhaps one that could come from someone who has been systematically keeping track of the trends for year on end.

I thought it might be interesting to go back and reproduce each top story or development that Collin identified at the end of each year. I’ve reproduced them below.


2008

Publishers Make 2008 the “Year of the Study Bible”

“Zondervan issued a special study Bible to mark the 30th anniversary of the NIV translation. Then Tyndale, which has published a life application Bible for more than 10 years, followed with its first study Bible. Finally Crossway announced that it had sold 100,000 copies of its massive new ESV Study Bible before it even hit shelves in October. Perhaps publishers have noticed evangelicals’ need for improved biblical literacy.”

The other top stories:

  • The Shack enthralls readers, angers theologians.
  • Victory for traditional marriage carries a cost
  • Conservatives launch Anglican Church of North America
  • Peter Enns leaves Westminster Seminary
  • Critics respond to dialogue between evangelicals and Muslims
  • Leading evangelicals issue a “manifesto”
  • Evangelical Free Church of America revises its statement of faith
  • Roman Catholic bishops revisit inerrancy compromise reached at Vatican II
  • Northwestern College faculty and staff struggle over school’s direction

2009

Both NIV and TNIV Will Be Phased Out

“Being people of the Book, evangelicals are sensitive about their Bible translations. So the evangelical world reacted with shock when Zondervan and Biblica announced that the best-selling NIV and controversial TNIV would both be phased out to make way for a new translation in 2011. This story won’t disappear soon, as the translation committee headed by Doug Moo must decide whether to retain the gender-inclusive language that prevented many NIV readers from switching to the TNIV.”

The other top stories:

  • SBC seeks a Great Commission Resurgence
  • ELCA okays gay unions, pastors
  • Coral Ridge hires Tullian Tchividjian, critics break away
  • Manhattan Declaration prods culture, invites pushback
  • Adoption push gains steam
  • Rick Warren prays at Obama inauguration
  • Bell shapes gospel discussion
  • Split widens between U.S. Episcopalians and Anglican Communion
  • ‘Coming Evangelical Collapse’ predicted

2010

Francis Chan Steps Down from Cornerstone

“Chan’s conference addresses and bestselling books have made him increasingly influential among evangelicals. Young believers in particular resonate strongly with his earnest style and sensitive conscience. He doesn’t come across as telling you what to do, but his example compels many to follow. These followers, however, remain unsure where exactly he’s headed next after stepping down as pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, and traveling around Asia to escape the spotlight. Some pastors have publicly wondered about the wisdom of his decision, but Chan continues to pursue a vision of organic church growth in Los Angeles and beyond.”

The other top stories:

  • Wright clarifies justification views in ETS debate
  • John Piper takes leave of absence
  • David Platt pricks the evangelical conscience with ‘Radical’
  • Glenn Beck grabs the Religious Right’s megaphone
  • Matt Chandler fights malignant brain tumor
  • Liberty removes Ergun Caner as seminary president
  • Philip Ryken becomes president of Wheaton College
  • BioLogos stirs debate over evolution
  • Crystal Cathedral files for bankruptcy

2011

Rob Bell Wins

“By nearly every publishing standard Rob Bell’s Love Wins has succeeded beyond the wildest hopes. Controversy sells, and controversy abounded, aided in no small part by this website. Neither Bell nor his publisher, HarperOne, could have reasonably hoped for anything better. CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, and many other outlets looked in on the largely blog-based debate. Bell parlayed this phenomenal response into a television series. Probably only Rick Warren can now match Bell’s star power among Protestant teachers. So according to this standard, Love Wins has been grave disappointment to anyone who holds a traditional evangelical view on conscious, eternal punishment. Bell won. No amount of blogging, speaking, reviewing, and refuting can change that now.

“Yet this is not the only standard for evaluating these remarkable events. The breadth and volume of critical responses to Bell reveal surprisingly powerful resilience in the evangelical coalition, facing the powerful headwinds of pluralism. And it’s about time we confronted our problem with hell and universalism. Surveys reveal that whatever their teachers might say, many evangelicals believe salvation can be found outside Jesus Christ. Last decade we saw during The Da Vinci Code kerfuffle that few Christians knew the history of the early church and formation of the canon. Pastors and scholars responded by shoring up this weakness. We’ve already seen the same this year in response to Bell, a more worrisome example than Dan Brown because of his evangelical pedigree.

“Looking back on this distressing debate, we find both comfort and also concern in God’s promise to hold teachers to a higher standard (James 3:1). If we really worry that Bell has betrayed Jesus and the revealed Word, then we can be sure God will hold him accountable. Indeed, none of us will be exempted from this all-knowing evaluation.”

The other top stories:

  • Osama bin Laden killed by U.S. military
  • Arab Spring leads to winter of reckoning for Christians in the Middle East
  • John Stott dies
  • Tim Tebow comes back
  • Christians in Afghanistan and Iran stare down death sentences for apostasy
  • Harold Camping fails, again and again
  • Presbyterian Church in America warns against Muslim-idiom translations
  • ‘Celebrity’ pastors face backlash
  • Marriages need help

2012

President Obama Rides the Rising Tide of Gay Marriage

“Less than a decade ago, defenders of traditional marriage were credited with re-electing President Bush as they secured amendments barring gay marriage in several states. This year, President Obama’s evolution ended with his full support of gay rights, bolstered in November by the first states to ever approve gay marriage at the ballot box. Presidential backing exposed deep theological divisions in predominantly African American churches long united in the pursuit of civil rights. And you won’t get far in any conversation today about the claims of Christ before you must deal with what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

“Winning the public on homosexuality might seem like a long shot, but that’s mainly because we have collectively forsaken the spiritual virtue of self-denial for the vain pursuit of self-fulfillment. The cost of discipleship was perilously cheap in 2012. Yet in 2013 the steadfast love of the Lord will never cease; his mercies will never come to an end. They are new every year, even every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)”

The other top stories:

  • Christianity: relationship or religion?
  • Can we be safe?
  • Trinitarian theology responds to recent challenges
  • War on Women suffers major defeat
  • We dare defend our rights
  • Can American Christianity reverse its declining influence?
  • Christians in the Middle East weigh democracy and security.
  • Is Mormonism a cult or not?
  • Christian athlete superstars rise and fall

2013

Pope Francis Makes Fast Friends

“With Billy Graham nearing the end of his life, only one church leader can compel the world’s attention. Pope Francis assumed leadership of the Roman Catholic Church under peculiar circumstances, and he has captivated attention ever since. It may not be surprising that Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s person of the year when you consider that his competition included the aforementioned Bashar Assad and Miley Cyrus. But when you learn The Advocate, a gay magazine, also awarded him the same recognition, you start to wonder what the world sees in him. When he says ‘I am a sinner,’ do they see humble confession or tolerant surrender? When he says ‘proselytism is solemn nonsense,’ do they see careful differentiation between forced conversions and the gospel call to repentance and faith, or do they see an ally in the effort to privatize religion? When Time first congratulated Pope Francis as person of the year, the editors credited him for his ‘rejection of church dogma.’ But they failed to point to one church teaching he had rejected. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

“The world will see what they want in the church, whether for good or ill. And evangelicals will rightly reject Pope Francis’s claim to the keys, but we can’t help watch how the world responds to him for lessons we can learn and implement. May the Lord give us compassionate, humble spirits and open a door for us to proclaim good news of salvation that comes by faith alone.”

The other top stories:

  • Strange Fire book, conference force evangelicals to pick sides
  • Wrath of God does not satisfy Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
  • Culture warriors shift from offense to defense
  • Popular TV finds faith
  • ‘Gay’ Christians speak out
  • Should American foreign policy privilege Christians?
  • Purity and modesty provoke backlash in a sex-saturated culture
  • Black and white, we’re closer than ever—and just as far apart as always

2014

Ebola Draws Out the Best and Worst of Us

“No other news comes close to Ebola in terms of reader interest in 2014. So what makes this my top theology story of the year? Criticism of the Western doctors treating Ebola offered stark contrast between the Christian worldview and human instincts to self-preservation. The gospel of Jesus may not compel all of us to head to Africa and assist in containing this deadly disease, but it certainly provides more than enough motivation for the brave doctors and nurses who do so. Time magazine recognized Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse and other Christian medical personnel as their Person of the Year. Brantly, Nancy Writebol of SIM, and others follow in a long line of heroic Christians who have put their lives on the lineby serving in harm’s way as many others fled. At the same time, more than 1.4 million readers who read Dr. Miguel Núñez’s article on Ebola for TGC reveal the anxiety spread by this disease when it crossed the Atlantic. So we give thanks to God for Brantly and many more who sacrificed their health for neighbors across the globe even as we ponder why disease stokes such great fear of our neighbors across the street.”

The other top stories:

  • Deaths of Garner and Brown re-ignite racial tensions
  • Gay marriage debate moves inside evangelical churches
  • Conservatives win big battle but continue losing ground on religious liberty
  • Christians split on value of faith flicks
  • ISIS deals fatal, final blow to Christians in Iraq
  • Mars Hill ‘brand’ collapses
  • Debate over justification and sanctification reaches breaking point
  • Digital age reveals prevalence of sexual abuse in church
  • Mental illness plagues celebrities and their families but remains taboo inside churches

2015

U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide

“The 5-4 decision itself might have been expected, but the reaction opened deep divides inside and outside the church that won’t soon close. Many Christians had questions for their friends with evangelical backgrounds waving rainbow flags on social media. The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities lost members after declining to expel schools that moved to accept faculty and staff in same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, as leaders who had been prominent in the evangelical movement advocate for same-sex marriage, the debate focuses on younger generations. The Bible hasn’t changed. But what does the future hold for evangelicals on the ‘wrong side of history’?”

The other top stories:

  • Terrorist attacks are the new global normal.
  • Pope Francis gets the rock star treatment in U.S. visit amid crisis in the Roman Catholic Church
  • Protest movement over police shootings contributes to widespread campus unrest over race
  • Planned Parenthood videos reveal the truth underneath the hospital gown
  • Mass murder at historic Charleston church raises questions about forgiveness, identity, history
  • Islamic State beheads 21 Christians from Egypt among other atrocities
  • Caitlyn Jenner introduces the next step in the sexual revolution
  • Benedict Option gains momentum
  • Pastor? Theologian? New resources explore the intersection between these complementary callings

2016

Why Did Donald Trump Win?

“There won’t be much debate about the biggest, most surprising news of 2016: the electoral victory of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. Since November theologians and church leaders have hardly stopped debating why. Perhaps Trump was raised up by God to bring relief from a string of destructive Supreme Court decisions. Perhaps Trump was bolstered by white evangelicals who failed to reckon with our complilcity in racial injustice. Whatever the reason, Trump dominated the 2016 headlines from beginning to end, starting when he boasted at a Reformed college that not even murder would dissuade his supporters, and when he prompted some Reformed students to protest his visit to an evangelical school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He also prompted debates on consequentialism and more than a few comparisons to biblical figures, pagan and Jewish alike. The same man who bragged that he’s never needed to ask God for forgiveness did more than anyone else in 2016 to reveal evangelical beliefs and divisions.”

The other top stories:

  • Popular women teachers challenge church teaching
  • Public violence makes victims of us all
  • New culture war front opens in public bathrooms
  • What good is church authority if you can’t enforce it?
  • Christian education weathers threat—for now
  • Assisted suicide grows in availability and popularity
  • Trinity debate erupts in battle of blogs
  • God will not be mocked—but you will be
  • High-profile attrition reveals crisis in pastoral vocation

2017

Reformation’s 500th Anniversary Highlights Need for Revival Today

“You don’t get to celebrate a 500-year anniversary very often, so this year was filled with commemorations of the revival that broke out after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This year also provided many occasions to consider the need for further revival around the world today. The weakened church in Germany offers a sober warning against losing the primacy of the gospel that Luther recovered. Pope Francis’s ‘crisis of conscience’ reminds us why Luther challenged Rome: What if the pope really isn’t Catholic? Even as it grows around the world, Christianity has been portrayed as captive to white culture. But vibrant churches of every nationality and ethnicity show that the same gospel saves today, if it’s no mere veneer for personal prosperity.

“This is no time for complacency. If the ‘five solas’ of the Reformation will continue to echo in generations to come, we’ll need to return to the time-tested practice of catechesis. We must never let the church assume—and thereby eventually forget—the only gospel that lifts our hearts and voices in praise of God, now and forever.”

The other top stories:

  • #MeToo reveals the everyday scandal of sexual abuse
  • Is it time to give up on the multi-ethnic church?
  • Sexual revolution marches on from homosexuality to transgenderism
  • Natural disasters provoke blame against each other more than God
  • Watch your life and smartphone usage closely
  • Does anyone hear our thoughts and prayers?
  • Alt-right pushes for mainstream recognition and provokes church rebuke
  • How much does God care about small towns and rural areas?
  • Benedict Option frames disagreement over how Christians engage with culture

2018

#MeToo Claims Major Christian Leaders and Elevates Theologically Rigorous Advocate

“The fierce denials of Bill Hybels only temporarily deluded other Willow Creek leaders and ultimately worsened the epic decline of his famous church. The moral compromise of Hybels, so long an advocate of women in ministry even as he seduced some of them, led many to say it’s time to reckon with celebrity power. The willingness of the most popular and powerful female voices in the SBC forced a reckoning in America’s largest Protestant denomination that disgraced one of its longtime conservative leaders. From this wreckage emerged one of the most rigorous theological voices on a national stage in recent memory, as Rachel Denhollander brought a biblical account of justice to bear on maybe the biggest scandal in the history of amateur American athletics.”

The other top stories:

  • Popular pastor wants Christians to unhitch from the Old Testament
  • Social justice strikes some as necessary implication and others as dangerous perversion of the gospel
  • Tough talk in the self-help genre attracts big crowds
  • Catholic abuse scandal worsens as conservative critique of Pope Francis intensifies
  • Tribalism wants to claim every square inch of American culture
  • Gay Christianity forces everyone to choose sides
  • Book publishing catches up with shift in apologetic concerns
  • Unprecedented year of transition opens door for next generation of evangelical leadership
  • Missionary martyr leaves behind debate over methods, theology of evangelism

You can read the full list for each year here: 2008200920102011201220132014201520162017, 2018.

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