It’s become something of a trend, in op-eds and in more private conversations, to christen our current moment as “dark days” or even “the new Dark Ages” for the church. I confess the designation has a certain allure. At times it’s hard to see more than drifting mores, a growing pile of fallen leaders, or a gathering mob of critics cheering the church’s demise. When night falls, you do get tired.

I’m not much for dwelling in that land of shadows, though. I’d rather look for the dawning light.

Early in my career I worked as a photojournalist. On one project I was documenting coal miners in Eastern Kentucky—or trying to—but finding no leads. I called my wife one evening, exhausted and feeling the specter of failure closing around me. I told her I was quitting, heading home. She counseled me to give it one more day.

The next day wasn’t much more fruitful, but I did make a contact who invited me to his mom-and-pop mining operation. So the following morning I parked my aging Toyota Corolla at the mine entrance while it was still dark and watched the Appalachian dawn diffuse through the night. Flat blackness fading to smoke-blue mists. Tipples strung with haloed mercury-vapor lights. Head lamps floating from the mouth of the mine like fireflies after a long night. Nothing in the landscape—no structure, tree, or shaded spot—went untouched by the soft, spreading light.

As biblical metaphors go, light is hard to beat for its versatility and timelessness. I’m not scholarly enough to understand the complex interplay between its more than 250 mentions in Scripture. But at least a few simple truths are clear: The light has already dawned, it will fall ...

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