My Top Ten Theology Stories of 2009
Theology is not a discipline perfectly suited for annual evaluation. New insights and challenges may bounce around theological journals and conferences for decades before breaking into popular discourse. But unexpected events often intrude on these discussions and bring certain doctrines to the forefront. My criteria for compiling such a top ten list are admittedly subjective, based on another year of tracking evangelical life, thought, and mission for Theology in the News.
1.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.
2.SBC Seeks a Great Commission Resurgence Old rifts were healed. New vows were made. There was a lot to cheer when the Southern Baptist Convention created a task force that would explore how to faithfully fulfill the Great Commission. Other denominations will be watching to see how the task force streamlines mission agencies that have been cutting back due to the economic downturn. The GCR Declaration drafted by Johnny Hunt and Danny Akin deserves a wide reading among evangelicals.
3.ELCA Okays Gay Unions, Pastors Few observers were shocked when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved same-sex unions and decided gays and lesbians living in partnered relationships could serve as pastors. We've seen this story unfold in other denominations, and now we await the exodus of conservative churches. But natural events and questions about their supernatural origins turned this story into a hot topic when John Piper weighed in.
4.Coral Ridge Hires Tullian Tchividjian, Critics Break Away Succession is rarely smooth. How do you replace a revered, internationally known pastor when he is the only shepherd a congregation has ever known? Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church tapped Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, to succeed D. James Kennedy and merged with nearby New City Church. Tchividjian talked often of carrying on Kennedy's theological vision, but his leadership didn't accord with some Kennedy loyalists. Tchividjian survived a vote to oust him, but several leading critics left Coral Ridge to start their own congregation.
5.Manhattan Declaration Prods Culture, Invites Pushback Despite disconcerting cultural trends, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox leaders united around a statement declaring their fidelity to biblical morality. But the Manhattan Declaration produced an unintended consequence by pitting allies against one another and reigniting a fierce debate over whether evangelicals should engage in ecumenical dialogue and joint social activism.
6.Adoption Push Gains Steam Adoption is a practical, sacrificial way that Christians live out their pro-life convictions. It also happens to be one of the most important Christian doctrines. We "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23; cf. Gal. 1:5; Eph. 4:5; Rom. 8:15). Conferences and books that connect the doctrine with the action have equipped Christians to embody their beliefs. A high-profile example hit the big screen with The Blind Side.
7.Rick Warren Prays at Obama Inauguration Evangelicals have grown accustomed to seeing Billy or Franklin Graham asking God to bless American upon the occasion of the presidential inauguration. But more than a few were surprised when President Barack Obama angered many of his supporters by inviting Rick Warren to offer an explicitly Christian prayer. The appeal of an evangelical-tinged civil religion endures in the Obama era.
8.Bell Shapes Gospel Discussion Rob Bell sparked two furious discussions about the essence of the gospel in 2009 interviews. Bell made one lengthy attempt to explain the gospel for the Twitter age before confessing, "You can't really Tweet the gospel." Later, he gave it a shot: "The gospel is the counterintuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us." He also offered a new twist on the definition of evangelical when talking with The Boston Globe.
9.Split Widens Between U.S. Episcopalians and Anglican Communion Readers can be excused for tuning out the latest drama in the Anglican Communion. But it remains noteworthy that a global denomination that has weathered so many theological disputes continues to head toward a split over biblical authority and sexual ethics. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori raised the stakes with her attack on the "heresy" of individualism. Inviting a split, Episcopalians also repealed an earlier moratorium on consecrating practicing homosexuals as bishops.
10.'Coming Evangelical Collapse' Predicted A fixture of evangelical discourse, the jeremiad issues from a prophet who warns of judgment unless true believers repent of their sins and turn to God. Michael Spencer rejected the prophet label and professed doubt that he would be correct. But his posts on "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" nevertheless spawned a new round of soul-searching for a movement that appears to be splintering in several competing directions.
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When the Pastor Suffers | Matt Chandler comforts an anxious church following his Thanksgiving seizure. (Dec. 14, 2009)
'All Israel Will Be Saved' | God's 'first love' awaits Jesus' second advent. (November 30, 2009)
Christ-Centered Cautions | How do we be good, be disciplined, and be like Jesus? (November 16, 2009)