Not What You See on TV

Why we have hope for the church in a rapidly changing culture.

A few years ago, at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, I had the chance to interview Marilynne Robinson. The novelist had recently ascended to national prominence for her novel Gilead and for winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature. What had she learned, I asked, from her sudden celebrity—the packed lecture halls, the awards and celebrations?

She replied, “America is much better than what you see on TV.”

Robinson went on to describe how she had met Americans in every town who were committed to civil engagement and brought to it intelligence and heart. You could watch a lot of television and not know this America exists, she said. But fame, at least her particular kind of fame, had showed her that it is still alive and well.

I have a similar feeling about the church in America—although in addition to TV, I am tempted to say, “The church is better than what you see on social media.” I would be depressed indeed if I relied on the mediated versions of Christians I encounter across the country—all too often fragile, fearful, and fractious, represented by leaders who seem to specialize in bombast and self-promotion.

But something better is going on in the church than our fast-twitch reactions show. Everywhere I go, I am privileged to encounter uncommon honesty, creativity, and curiosity in Christian communities. And very often, these communities model qualities that are deeper and more important, like holiness, faith, and love. Even more encouraging, I encounter them not just in one generation, denomination, or racial or ethnic community, but in expressions of the church across all those lines.

As Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner observe in the cover story—and as ...

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