I have been writing for First Things since 2013. The following years have been an interesting time for our culture and politics. We have seen the advent of same-sex marriage; the rise of Donald Trump; unexpected challenges to traditional freedoms; and the adoption of “cultural Marxism” and “Christian nationalism” as occasional terms of abuse by the Christian right and left, respectively. Intellectually, we saw the sudden popularity, in the form of a critical race theory, of ideas that many of us saw as dead ends in the 1980s. And then there was the relentless rise of the “awakened” social morality, whose ruthless march through institutions is already destroying many of its own children.
Yet perhaps most depressing of all of this has been the surrender of so many Christian media to these developments. Over the past year, for example, many major evangelical brand magazines and websites have tended to present the conventional wisdom of the cultural mainstream in a Christian idiom and sell it as brave and prophetic. This has always been the liberal Protestant strategy, whether it is the virulent anti-communism of the turn of the 20th century or the militant LGBTQ + activism of recent days. The fact that many elites of conservative and evangelical Protestantism have now adopted this strategy is disturbing, as is the equal and opposite reaction from many grassroots members.
The polarization of American society finds its analogue in the polarization of the American church. And there is therefore too little constructive argument and too much carefully controlled rhetoric in Christian circles. This is detrimental to the health of the church and to the good of the faith. Speculative murder has become the order of the day in a world where Twitter and Instagram seem to determine what matters and what doesn’t as truth. And for today’s young people, who are growing up in a world where cheap Tweets are seen as convincing arguments, the future will become increasingly fragmented, bleak and (not to overemphasize) dumb. .
This is where First Things plays an important role, and one which is likely to become more and more important in the future. It eschews cheap rhetoric and sound bites encouraged by social media and rejects the awakened creep affecting so many Christian media and institutions. Instead, he seeks to offer thoughtful commentary on the world around us and to do so in an incisive manner. First Things is not mortgaged by the need to be marketable around the world. Will everyone agree with all the articles? Of course not. But when someone disputes a First Things post, they at least disagree with an argument, not a Tweet. Such publications are increasingly rare today.
This is why I write for First Things and why I encourage readers to support First Things. To do so is to strike a blow at the trivialization that currently afflicts our society.
Carl R. Trueman is Professor of Bible and Religious Studies at Grove City College.