Christianity Today's editors have already compiled their list of the top ten news stories of 2008. Only a few of them have theological overtones, so I decided to take a stab at the top ten theology stories from the past year. My criteria, borrowed from the news list, are admittedly subjective. What theological events, books, and debates shaped evangelical life, thought, or mission in 2008? You might recognize a few of the stories from previous Theology in the News coverage.
1. 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.
Aided by an enthusiastic endorsement from Eugene Peterson, the buzz about William Young's bestselling novel began with its 2007 publication. Then concerned pastors and theologians began reading it, raising loud voices of opposition in 2008. Young re-envisioned the Trinity with God the Father as a black woman and the Spirit as an Asian woman. Readers who connected with Young's story of pain mostly ignored theologians' concerns that Young had dabbled in the ancient heresy of modalism.
The success of California's Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, surprised even many social conservatives. Their opponents responded by denouncing or dismissing the biblical case for traditional marriage. Newsweek joined the fray with an aggressive pro-gay cover story, which CT editors called "mostly an attempt to marginalize the opposition."
The moment conservative Anglicans had anticipated for years finally arrived in 2008. The ecclesiological issues have hardly been sorted out, but conservatives agreed the time was right to seek recognition for a rival province to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The nuances of Enns's argument about inerrancy and the incarnation will escape most evangelical laypeople. But that doesn't make the story any less important. Westminster Seminary was founded as a bulwark against Presbyterian liberalism. Enns's departure, following a suspension by school trustees, angered students who appreciated the popular professor. Yet his case confirmed that Westminster remains concerned to guard against all efforts, however subtle, that it perceives undermine biblical authority.
A select group of evangelical leaders signed a November 2007 response to the Muslims who wrote "A Common Word Between Us and You." But the debate really heated up in 2008 with critical analysis from Al Mohler and John Piper, among others. In February, Wheaton College president Duane Litfin and two other school administrators withdrew their signatures. When he reread the statement, Litfin said it was not "carefully enough crafted to avoid encouraging that basic premise of civil religion, i.e., that we are all worshiping the same God, climbing the same mountain, just taking different paths."
Election-year statements about evangelical identity and political engagement are sure to attract attention. "An Evangelical Manifesto," spearheaded by Os Guinness, takes a stab at defining evangelicalism before lamenting how Americans have come to see these conservative Christians primarily in political terms. Mainstream media apparently didn't understand the intent, as they scoured the document for political implications.
This relatively small denomination remains unknown to many Americans. But it extends its reach through an influential seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. New professors must sign a revised statement of faith, which introduced language to clarify the denomination's positions on a number of hot debates, including the atonement, open theism, justification, and inerrancy.
Evangelicals tuned in to see what Pope Benedict XVI and the Synod of Bishops would say about "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." The synod's recommendations echoed the pope's concern to rein in biblical criticism that assumes a "secularist, positivist" hermeneutic. But the pope reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's view that the Bible should be interpreted alongside Church tradition.
Some well-respected faculty members and former trustees allege that President Alan Cureton and other leaders are steering the St. Paul school away from its theological heritage. "Our 'key' concerns … are simply not complementarianism and premillennialism, but the centrality of biblical truth and doctrinal integrity," said Paul Helseth, associate professor of Christian thought. Debates at this conservative school echo the recent struggles over postmodernism among faculty at Cedarville University.
Collin Hansen is a CT editor at large and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.
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