Well, it’s that time of year. The winding up time of the year for lists etc. Strava kilometres runs, books read (or claimed to have been read), calories burned, Facebook activities liked, angry emojis given in lieu of actual passive aggressive comments, stuff like that.
So here are the top five articles read on stephenmcalpine.com this past year. And not surprisingly, number one is a story.
The reaction to this story about the amazing way God worked in my mum’s life through a time of deep hurt was way more than I expected. But perhaps I should have expected it. A story of God’s amazing grace has the habit of melting hearts. I fielded so many responses from this, and heard some great stories of how God is working at mending relationships. It’s probably one the most emotional – and hardest – pieces I have ever written.
Two non-Christian fine-arts uni students came to church the other day, with zero background in the faith, other than the great bloke they’d met at uni who happens to come to our church. The topic of Jordan Peterson came up with one of them. Turns out he loves him, is devouring his books (not that book yet, but getting there), and he’s buying tickets to his tour of Australia in February. Why did he like him? Two words: convictions and bravery. He stood for something! Peterson’s famous interview with Cathy Peterson scythed its way through her flabby non sequitur arguments, and showed that in the public square the secular, self-righteous progressive narrative is just that, a narrative, and one that is so thin it needs constant propping up. Christians could learn a thing or two about how to engage in the public square from Peterson (hint: it’s not simply about being docile enough to get invited back).
Here’s some advice: It’s not because your church is hip and funky and urban. And it’s especially not because you’ve caved in to the Sexular Culture, despite request for churches to do so by mainstream media writers who never darken the door of churches but are pretty sure why they’re emptying. This was an encouragement to keep doing the deep things, the things with gospel substance, and ensure that there’s enough stuff going on that’s counter-intuitive to the prevailing narratives. Cut down the busy, thicken up the liturgy, steep yourself in cultural situational awareness without giving up the foundations of the faith. Oh, and preach the Bible well, clearly and applicably.
Jewish kids don’t have peanut allergies because they’re exposed to peanuts from an early age, building up an immunity. It’s a metaphor people! For Christians in a world increasingly filled with peanuts, perhaps the best method to ensure our children survive – and indeed thrive – is to expose them to safe levels of “peanuttery” rather than hide them away. This is about resilience in the face of an increasingly hostile culture, a confidence that we can build “anti-fragility” into our faith in a world of safe-spaces, trigger warnings and no-platforming. As I like to put it, let the hard secularists be known as the book burners, our confidence is in God.
Jordan Peterson was the Beatles of blog posts this year, two entries in the top five. And I suspect this was the same for a lot of blogs and other media formats. He had (is still having) a cultural moment. Peterson upends the form guide. “People won’t listen to anything longer than 15 minutes!” is the cry. His podcasts go for more than an hour. “There’s no place for intellectual pursuit, just tell us stories!” is the confident call. Peterson references Jung, Nietzsche, and the Old Testament. Everywhere he went he confounded the sniffy critics. Including the sniffy Christian critics who, I suspect, were a teensy, weensy bit jealous of his sudden ability to cut through the cultural fog in a way that many preachers are patently unable, or unwilling to. Of course he doesn’t love or know Jesus, so he doesn’t preach the gospel, deflating the claims many Christians made about his so called “heretical” ways. And just watch how the eyes of many a young man light up, when you say you’ve read or watched his stuff.
So there’s the top five. I’m sometimes criticised for writing too much about topics that are angular or pitched towards a panicky take on where our culture is headed. But I’m confident that I’m tapping into a wider concern, a wider narrative that needs to be addressed. And I’m heartened too by my number one post for the year, which was only written a couple of weeks ago; a story of amazing grace in hard places, and a reminder at Christmas – if we ever needed it – that God’s light shine brightly in the dark.