My Top Ten Theology and Church Stories from 2010

As the end of the year approaches, we eagerly look forward to 2011 and make resolutions. The challenges of 2010 fade as we dream of new possibilities next year. But it’s also worthwhile to reflect on what’s changed in the last 12 months. The discipline allows us to transcend the constant, daily internet noise and take stock. So I’ve compiled a list of the top ten theology and church stories from 2010 in the United States. This list includes many of the most-read and most-discussed stories on TGC’s site. But I’ve also applied subjective analysis of stories that have shaped evangelical life, thought, and mission. Before the calendar turns, let’s take one last look back on 2010.

10.) Crystal Cathedral Files for Bankruptcy

The famed Southern California church made headlines in recent years due to a messy transition between founding pastor Robert Schuller, his son, and then his daughter. Still, when church leaders announced in October that they had incurred $55 million in debt, media couldn’t resist pointing out the obvious failure of the church’s hallmark “Possibility Thinking.” Lest you be tempted to rejoice in Schuller’s downfall, consider that his ministry has already spawned a thousand Crystal Cathedrals small and large across the United States and around the world.

9.) BioLogos Stirs Debate Over Evolution

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins launched BioLogos in late 2007 with money from the John Templeton Foundation. This year BioLogos reignited the evolution debate among Christians in earnest. The controversy began last spring. Venerable Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke resigned from Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando after recording a video for BioLogos in which he said Christianity risked becoming a cult if the “data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution.” Then BioLogos picked a fight with Al Mohler, a young earth creationist. Neither side appears willing to retreat.

8.) Philip Ryken Becomes President of Wheaton College

Some stories flare hot for a day, a week, or even a month. But other developments bear the potential to simmer for decades. That’s the sort of influence beloved university presidents can wield with the support of their board of trustees. Ryken served his alma mater on its board before taking over as president in 2010. Students sported “I’m Likin’ Ryken” T-shirts to celebrate their president’s return to Wheaton. Ryken’s career change also left vacant the senior pastorate at one of the most prominent evangelical churches in the country, Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia.

7.) Liberty Removes Ergun Caner as Seminary President

Ergun Caner has developed a reputation as an outspoken, provocative educator, apologist, and speaker. He has captured attention with dramatic stories of his childhood and conversion. But it turns out those stories are filled with contradictions. Liberty University investigated the seminary president and demoted him this summer. But they retained him as a theology professor, leaving one major question unanswered: Was Dr. Caner raised in Turkey as a Muslim terrorist trained in jihad?

6.) Matt Chandler Fights Malignant Brain Tumor

Chandler suffered a seizure on Thanksgiving 2009 and learned his grave diagnosis later that year. His prognosis improved a great deal in 2010. He spoke candidly about his fears and doubts, but he consistently expressed faith and hope in the God who is sovereign over all things. Christians surrounded him with prayer, as at the Together for the Gospel conference in April. His model of suffering caught the attention of several major media outlets, giving Chandler an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and declare his dependence on God.

5.) Glenn Beck Grabs the Religious Right’s Megaphone

With so many leaders of the Religious Right dying or retiring in recent years, media have speculated that the movement is finished. As with every other mistaken projection of this durable coalition’s demise, the analysis proved to be wishful thinking. But no one could have predicted before last year that Glenn Beck, a Mormon, would grab the leadership mantle. His brash defense of God and country led many evangelicals to counsel that we preach Christ and him crucified, not political agendas, while others overlooked heretical Mormon doctrine for the sake of social co-belligerence.

4.) David Platt Pricks the Evangelical Conscience with ‘Radical’

Every year a few books aimed at evangelicals become bestsellers. But that doesn’t mean they shape our agenda. David Platt’s Radical, however, has propelled at least two major issues into the forefront of conversation and debate. First, Platt challenges evangelicals to consider whether they have been spiritually compromised by pursuing the American dream. Second, Platt’s book has helped expose a divide among Reformed evangelicals about the church’s obligation to alleviate suffering in the world. Even if Platt’s book sales eventually fade, these issues will always be with us.

3.) John Piper Takes Leave of Absence

Bethlehem Baptist Church has dealt with Piper’s writing sabbaticals and intense travel and speaking schedule for many years. But this year the Minneapolis congregation got an extended look at life after their famed preacher is gone. Piper stepped away from preaching and writing for much of 2010 while tending to personal issues. But that didn’t stop him for making headlines. He published another book, traveled to Cape Town to preach for Lausanne, and shocked many by inviting Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God national conference. His leave also provoked ongoing discussion about the strain of public ministry.

2.) Wright Clarifies Justification Views in ETS Debate

More than a month has passed since the much-anticipated discussion over justification at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting featuring N. T. Wright. Even now, many don’t know what to make of the showdown. Tom Schreiner and Frank Thielman offered many words of thanks to Wright, even while critiquing his views, while the former bishop of Durham sharply criticized his detractors. When it seemed to some that Wright had changed his view on one of the most controversial points—whether we’re justified “on the basis” of our works—he and others explained that the scholar merely wanted to clarify that he does not mean what his critics allege. So maybe the debate has progressed. Maybe not. Either way, this face-to-face dialogue was long overdue, and we may need 2011 for the full effects to become known.

1.) Francis Chan Steps Down from Cornerstone

Chan’s conference addresses and bestselling books have made him increasingly influential among evangelicals. Young believers in particular resonate strongly with his earnest style and sensitive conscience. He doesn’t come across as telling you what to do, but his example compels many to follow. These followers, however, remain unsure where exactly he’s headed next after stepping down as pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, and traveling around Asia to escape the spotlight. Some pastors have publicly wondered about the wisdom of his decision, but Chan continues to pursue a vision of organic church growth in Los Angeles and beyond.

  • truthmatters

    Robert Schuller handed the reigns over to his daughter just before going bankrupt—Nice going Dad!

    • Mark Applegate

      Don’t say he didn’t leave a legacy… Ugggh. Pray for their repentance…

  • Jason D.

    “Was Dr. Caner raised in Turkey as a Muslim terrorist trained in jihad?”

    THere is so much proof that Caner lied I am still in shock at the cover up… perhaps the news headline should be “The Great Evangelical Cover Up of 2010″

    Shouldn’t we CHristians be known for telling the truth rather than trying to cover up our lies?

  • David

    Yeah, I’m kinda surprised that Ergun Caner’s scandalous false claims to having been raised overseas as a jihad warrior would’ve made this list. I know it’s just one list…but it seems like the cover-up has worked and people just sort of glaze over the black eye the American church has suffered from this repetition of documented lies.

  • Phil Vander Ploeg

    Thanks for putting this together. No doubt that a number of these stories have significant theological impact.

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  • Glenn

    Praise God for men like Albert Mohler who stand on the truth of His word and refuse to bow before the compromising of groups like Biologos

  • Michael Jensen

    Thanks be to God for the intelligence and bravery of groups like Biologos who stand up to scandal of creation ‘science’.

    On another note: did NOTHING happen outside the USA in 2010?

    • Collin Hansen

      You may notice, Michael, that I specified this list relates to events in the United States. You’re free to suggest any stories any stories from Australia or elsewhere that would contribute to a global list. It just felt presumptuous of me, an American, to speak to global issues that I don’t follow on a day-to-day basis.

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  • Danny Adkins

    I think that some of the things in this list boarder on promoting a nice bit of Gossip to be peddled around and covered up as “great topics of Theological discussion.” I know it probably was not meant to be that way, but Robert Schuller’s church bankruptcy and Caner’s lies are probably not something that we as Christians should be gawking over, no matter who they are or what they did.

    • David

      Agreed…we should not gawk. But we SHOULD be calling for repentance and extending the forgiveness of sins, which is, after all, the message we as Christians have been given to proclaim to the world-at-large, and to those in our midst that we call Brothers (Luke 24:47).

    • John

      Agree that we should not gawk, but disagree that these do not have theological impact, even a big one. Schuller’s brand of theology has been big for 20+ years and now we see the fruit of it: failure.

      Caner has been a huge voice among evangelicalism against Islam and Calvinism alike. The fact that the truthfulness of his testimony was so fraught with falsehood that he was removed from his position at Liberty means that the situation should be considered a word of caution and a call to prayer for the church.

      • Danny Adkins

        I think that there is great theological impact in both the cases of Schuller and Caner. However, I do not see the benefit of putting up a list of failures in which they are to be measured with Chandler battling brain tumors or Piper putting his marriage before ministry. These are two different things entirely and only provide fodder for gossip as was exemplified above. The media and the secularists are going to do all they can to bash and play out the failings of people like Schuller and Caner, as the Church we do call to repentance but we don’t create top ten lists like David Letterman doing a top ten on Brittany Spears or Tiger Woods. We must do better, with God’s grace we can do better.

  • Mark Applegate

    A related top story could be the rise of the secular-minded Tea Party and the corresponding term CINO (Christian In Name Only), that, unfortunately, many of the candidates appeared to represent. Gone are the days of the Moral Majority, for better or worse.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    Platt’s book has helped expose a divide among Reformed evangelicals about the church’s obligation to alleviate suffering in the world.

    I must nitpick the wording here just a little bit, I hope in grace. :-) What no Christian, Reformed or otherwise, should question is the church’s obligation to help the poor — especially in the Church — for that is clear in Scripture as a fruit of the Gospel.

    But do we only help the poor by overt Ministry and “radical” giving, whether that is actually “selling all you have” or else going into full-time, “official” Ministry?

    Not at all, but Platt in his haste (and potential myopia for a limited audience) skipped past all the ways Christians do, and should, help the poor in non-overtly “radical” ways: going to college, getting a career as a God-glorifying engineer, teacher, stay-at-home mom, accountant, any other Biblically permissible occupation that enables one to earn enough (with the risk of financial greed, yes) to either send other direct missionaries on your dole, or work yourself — even in “secular” fields — to help the suffering in America, Africa or anywhere.

    Platt’s definition of “radical,” in his teaching and anecdotes throughout the book, ends up much too limited, not so much by what he says but by what he doesn’t say. As both DeYoung and World magazine columnist Anthony Bradley remarked, being “radical” to help the poor involves more than simply selling all you have and throwing money or Ministry at the problems. Yes, God will call many to serve Him in that way, but we must not even incidentally disparage (as some kind of new strain of Keswick teaching) those Christians who work in politics, business or other fields to help, say, build conditions in a struggling country that would over time help the poor even more.

    I feel Platt’s book could have benefited from some more wisdom in that area, not instead of questioning “American-dream” Christianity, but in addition to it. God has different “things” for different Christians. If we’re following His revealed Word, no one should condemn a Christian for having a ministry “thing” that happens not to be your preferred “ministry.” Holiness, delight and peace in God is what we’re called to, not simply going “radical for Jesus.” The same Bible that encourages radical sacrifice, whatever that means for each person, also encourages wisdom, stewardship and labor (such as in the book of Proverbs).

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  • James S

    Yeah, Biologos really have shown their true colors. I especially enjoyed Phil Johnson’s blog post of June 21st on biologos this year over at pyromaniacs.

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  • Joseph

    I hope this list is not in order of “importance” because the NT Wright story seems to be a bit more important than Chan stepping down. Also, is john Piper taking a vacation really that big of a deal?

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