There have been so many wonderful articles this year, it's hard to narrow the list down. I've found myself searching more than ever before this year for perspective. There is so much of our news media and journalism that is caught up in the moment. As a culture, we don't know our own history, and because of that we miss some of the most important strains of what's going on around us.
This list has perspective. These articles and these authors say things that I think will stand the test of time. As I reflect on the year, these are some of the many thoughts and perspectives I'll carry into 2021.
“A Biblical Critique of Social Justice and Critical Theory” - Tim Keller, The Gospel in Life
Tim Keller has been publishing a series on race and justice and it is phenomenal. This article supplements two others, “The Bible and Race” and “The Sin of Racism.” The third installment, “Justice in the Bible” is slated for September. If there’s a crisis in American Christian thinking right now, it’s the fact that we’ve ceded the definitions of biblical words like love, justice, race, and power to the pagan culture. The Bible defines these words. Theologians have been writing about them for centuries. Let’s rediscover how God views these concepts and what he calls us to do in society. Keller’s articles are a powerful and important call to see the world biblically. These are must-reads!
“The Scab and the Wound Beneath” - Victor Davis Hanson, The New Criterion
Pandemics have a history of prompting people to do and say things they never would otherwise. We’re experiencing that after almost two months of social distancing. This pandemic has changed a lot of things, but it has revealed pieces of human nature that lie just below the surface. Some of our leaders don’t know what to do. Some of them see it as an opportunity to blame their opponents. Some are rallying people to help each other and create a new world after Covid. What’s becoming clear is that the United States’ relationship with China will be one of the most important topics of concern in the aftermath of the virus, and new information about how various political factions and candidates have approached China are coming to light. On the domestic front, Davis’s point is very well made. There are a lot of factors in play that have influenced the way the virus has been handled. They cross both party and national lines. But they are not worth arguing over right now. The virus has revealed the deeper wound and dysfunctions in our country. Moving forward means we have to deal with those in addition to the virus.
“Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite” - Michael Lind, The Wall Street Journal
The deepest divide in America might not be between left and right. Michael Lind, a professor at the University of Texas who has advocated a more policy-based populism years before Trump, argues that the most significant divide in the U.S. runs along the line between urban professionals and the working class. The college-educated managerial class is largely drifting away from the Republican party, regardless of specific political views and the rural, suburban, and exurban working class is coalescing in Trump’s new Republican coalition. The draw to populism flows from the resentment between these two groups. The solution may lie less in welfare and ideological alignment and more in power sharing and mutual respect. Lind’s essay is powerfully explanatory. If you read one article this week, make it this one.
“Exit the Echo Chamber. It’s Time to Persuade” - Brett McCracken, The Gospel Coalition
“Whether on Twitter or in The New York Times newsroom, we are increasingly prone to want to shut down debate or silence ideas when they make us uncomfortable. This shift is a powerful dynamic in our post-truth trajectory, and one that Christians—who of all people should care about contending for and preserving truth—should be careful to navigate.” Cancel culture is taking over and Christians should not be part of it. Instead, McCracken argues, we should be on the front lines of persuasive dialogue. We still believe people can change their minds. We believe hearing other perspectives is a good thing. We believe we don’t need to be threatened by opposing views. In order to make any progress, we have to see through the power plays and remember that relationships and trust lead to persuasion.
“Riots in John Piper’s Neighborhood” - Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, The Gospel Coalition
No one would have blamed John Piper if we would have moved to the suburbs. After 40 years of ministry, best-selling books, speaking engagements across the world, and one of the most recognizable names in Evangelicalism, many would have comfortably retired. Not Piper. Even before the George Floyd protests, the Pipers were accustomed to gunshots, break-ins, and calling the police. When protests erupted near their house in Minneapolis, they did what they have always done: they looked for ways to love the people in their neighborhood. Forty years ago, when they moved to the city, John Piper and his wife Noel cast a vision for city engagement and renewal. Hundreds of families moved to the inner city and began to build relationships.
Even after the recent rounds of protests and riots, Piper says he would do it all again, “I really believe that preaching the whole counsel of God decade after decade in a way that grows a life-giving church—mingled with regular calls to do crazy things for Jesus, undergirded with big-God theology, and an example of urban presence—makes a big difference.” It’s stunning and encouraging to read about this kind of missional living. Over the years, I’ve been more and more impressed with the genuine faithfulness of John Piper; this story added another layer to my respect for him.
“Learning Latin” - Joseph Epstein, First Things
You’d have a hard time finding a more thoughtful essayist than Joseph Epstein; even when the subject isn’t immediately appealing, he has a way of bringing it around to surprise you. That may be how the title strikes you on this essay but it’s worth the time to read. Albeit, I agree at face value, more people should learn Latin and read the classics in their original languages, there’s a richer point to what he’s saying. Why would an 81-year-old take up something like learning a dead language? It’s important to find new things to try, things to learn, areas in our lives to challenge ourselves, to play, or to stretch our capacities. Epstein puts this really well, “Will I, in the unknown amount of time left to me on the planet, ever master Latin? Perhaps strangely, I find I do not much care. I simply enjoy working—or is it playing?—with the language, testing my memory, puzzling out complex sentences, marveling at its orderly richness.” We all need to find something like this.
“The ‘Good Censors’” - Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg
What should be done about social media, big tech, and section 230? We’ll hear a lot of proposals in the coming weeks, but it would be hard to beat Ferguson on force or lucidity. He frames the issue, not as a matter of whether or not the New York Post story will turn out to be true, but as to the power tech companies exert on our public dialogue and the legal catch-22s they exploit to do so. If they don’t like the content, they can delete it. If others don’t like the content, they plead immunity. Contra Josh Hawley, the problem isn’t that Facebook and Twitter have monopolies, but that they have become the public sphere and arbitrarily violate their own rules. As Ferguson argued in a 2018 white paper, section 230 should be rewritten to force media companies to comply with the 1st amendment, so that “the platforms will finally discover that there are risks to being a publisher and responsibilities that come with near-universal usage.” This is a sharp primer for the hearings this week and the conversations to follow.
“Why Is Wokeness Winning?” - Andrew Sullivan, The Weekly Dish
“A question I’ve wrestled with this past year or so is a pretty basic one: if critical race/gender/queer theory is unfalsifiable postmodern claptrap, as I have long contended, how has it conquered so many institutions so swiftly?” This is a crucial question. For many of us, the extremes of “woke” ideology seem so far-fetched, illogical, and radical that it’s hard to believe anyone actually thinks that way. We’re watching our country undergo a tectonic shift around the issues of race, merit, language, identity, and history. One reason, Sullivan mentions, is emotional. There are some good and healthy sources of empathy and compassion driving everyone to think more critically about race. Second, it’s simplistic. Third, it’s ruthless. But most importantly, we’ve been duped into thinking it’s not debatable. The game has been set up in such a way that arguing against CRT only serves to prove your own inherent bias. It’s important to understand why and how these shifts are happening. Sullivan takes you under the hood in a way few other writers have the clout and the intellect to pull off.
“Cheerful Allegiance to Truth” - Roger Kimball, The American Conservative
Here’s a great definition of conservatism: cheerful allegiance to the truth. Clear-eyed realism, accompanied by enjoyment and a good sense of humor should be the marks of “liberal society,” that is by the kind of conservatism the country was founded on and certainly the outlook we have as Christians. Some of this derives from political realism; “Being soberly realistic about mankind’s susceptibility to improvement, they are as suspicious of utopian schemes as they are appreciative of present blessings” Much of it comes from keeping a steady grasp of human nature with both feet planted firmly on the ground. In times like these, it’s important to remember that worldviews come with dispositions. Every now it’s important to ask, what does my disposition say about how I’m viewing the world?
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak.