33 Under 33 at Christianity Today: A few quick thoughts

Christianity Today’s new cover story is a list of 33 “young believers who [they] think are leading today’s church in key ways—and who embody what it will look like in the years to come.”  Or, as my good friend Eric Teetsel humorously put it on Twitter, a list of 32 “incredible folks”….and me.

There are, indeed, some fantastic people on the list.  Eric himself has done incredible work taking up the mantle of a new social conservatism and Peter Blair has made Fare Forward  one of the best places in the conservative intellectual pantheon.  I had the good fortune of meeting Brannon McAllister recently, and walked away awed by both his work and his character. Trevin Wax is well known to readers of Mere-O, and Wesley Hill’s unquestionably one of the best writers and most astute theological minds of the younger crop of thinkers.

And those are just the people that I know. The rest seem to be similarly impressive.  You can read the whole thing here today for free.  After that, it goes behind the paywall.

Since I am (somehow) on the list, let me offer a few further thoughts about it.

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My photo:  Yes, that photo is taken in Oxford.  Yes, I am very lucky.  But what you can’t see on the website is that my shirt is untucked.

Like, one side is sticking out.  I’m serious.  I noticed it when I got home and uploaded the pictures and, frankly, find this particular detail amusing.  And maybe a metaphor for something.  I feel like you, the internets, need to know these things, especially when I show up on a list like this.

My heading:  Just to clarify things, I am not a historian by profession. I just happen to think that history matters and that a core part of my vocation is to function as something of a pointer toward those who not only came before me, but have more depths to offer than I do.  Like Oliver O’Donovan, who is thankfully still living but who models far better than I what a mind saturated in Scripture and tradition looks like.

Gratitude:  It’s neat to have my (mostly underserving) work recognized for this sort of thing.  I try not to put too much weight on these sorts of things, as youth is a fickle thing and the real meaning of my life will not be known until the end of it (and even then, it will only be known to those like my wife who know whether this kind of attention is truly deserved).  But it would be a disservice to those who have formed me if I did not extend the commendation where it properly belongs:  to my parents and family, to the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola who gave me such a great education and who continues to support me, to my many friends and interlocutors who I have learned so much from, and to all of you readers here at Mere-O for sharpening my thoughts along the way.  There’s a “we” that stands behind the “I,” which is never to blame but which invariably sets the conditions for success and so necessarily shares in the reward.

Other thoughts:  Is it too self-serving to commend my two books to you?  I still like ‘em.  I hope you do too.

Also, I got asked a few questions in preparation for the piece about Mere-O and my take on “millennials.”  So for the sake of posterity, here are the answers to those questions.

What’s the inspiration behind Mere Orthodoxy? What do you hope readers take away from the site?

I set up the site a decade ago to carry on in my own way the kind of cheerful, thoughtful, culturally astute observations that made both C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton such important figures in 20th century Christianity.  But I can’t escape a strong self-consciousness about the gap between us and them, which is why one of my main hopes is to always function as something of a signpost for other readers.  There aren’t many people among the living who can think and write with the depth that previous generations of Christians had, so if my only legacy is introducing a few people into that tradition then I’ll be a relatively happy man.

As a writer and a student of Christian ethics, you’re aware of the unique cultural setting today’s Christians find themselves in. What gives you hope about this generation and the future of our faith? 

The ground for hope that I have been able to stand on without hesitation is the promise that Christ will not depart from his church and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.  If we step beyond this to evaluate whether we should have hope based on a particular generation’s or society’s qualities, and stay there for too long, we will be prone to overinflate both our virtues and our vices.  If I am cheerful about the future of Christianity, it is only because I am aware that Christianity has been dying in every age….and being reborn in the same, even if not in the same spot.  We have a faith that takes the same shape as our Savior’s life:  It is new in every generation, yet still (and must be) the “same old thing.”  If I am hopeful for my own generation, I am so because the whole business is true–really, deeply, down-to-the-molecules-true, and whether in this lifetime or five hence the truth will always win out.  Many of my peers have demonstrated a heightened desire to inquire into that truth and understand it, and as long as we do so from within the community that has been authorized to proclaim it then our future will be secure.

 

 

 

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  • http://menliketreeswalking.blogspot.com/ Matthew Loftus

    I wonder if part of the idea behind the list was to (a) combat cynicism that older folks might have against us whippersnappers & (b) gently nudge Millenials to look to people that are building institutions as the exemplars of Culture Making(TM). [both of which I think are perfectly good things.]

    • Kate Shellnutt

      You got it, Matthew.

  • http://whatfoodisfor.wordpress.com/ RStarke

    Commended Earthen Vessels myself this week at TGCW to someone who’s working on a related project. And I was also “?” with the historian moniker; I think of you more as a “holistic Christian thinker”. Either way, glad your work is being recognized just as you’re able to come up for air after that little paper you were working on. :)

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Woohoo! Thanks, Rachael, for recommending the book. That means a lot to me! : )

      And thanks for the kind words. It’s very good to have that “little paper” behind me.

      Matt

  • http://www.theredemptiveangle.com/ Dave Strunk

    I’ll add my comments as one who is thankful for your work, Matt. Both of your books are in our church library and regularly recommended by me.

    I’d like to add a few more comments, though, perhaps of a more cynical nature. The good: Mr. Loftus’ comments as well as the original CT piece demonstrate that millenials are establishing institutions and embedded within them. We are no longer just raging against the machine, but creating it for longevity. That’s exciting, since what so often gets promoted in the “evangelical fame” circles are the book and conference circuit which trades in wares that won’t exist in 15 years. But institutions will.

    And yet, and yet, both your post and the original CT piece speak of these millenials as ones who “lead the church.” But, I noticed that only 3 out of the 33 on the list were actually pastors. I know a list like this must to some degree traffic in the who-are-people-that-you-might-know universalizing tendencies, but I want to be stubborn enough to say that it is really pastors and elders who lead the church. Nobody on this list is helping me deal with the American flag idolatry at my church, helping lead us into mission in Denver, or making that hospital visit for me.

    I just think our talk of “leading the church” should be more particularized, is all.

    • San Diego Dave

      Now that America is no longer a majority Christian nation (leading to a kind of “bunker” mentality where uniting against secularism is the highest good) and a “cult of celebrity” has taken hold in the evangelical sub culture, I think too many young evangelicals confuse the “cultural face” of Christianity with the church itself. A Roman Catholic who edits a conservative political journal in DC is in no way a “church leader” for me as a Presbyterian in California.

      At the same time, I’m very lenient on this point because I think it’s good for Protestants (of various denominations), Orthodox, and Roman Catholics to unite against the wider anti-Christian forces in our culture. And while I do not think it is wise to minimize historical, confessional distinctions between different churches in the name of this “culture war”, there is no doubt that a Roman Catholic political journal that articulately defends Mere Christian positions on abortion and same sex marriage will have a positive effect on my own church’s ability to stand for those issues in a local setting.

      • http://www.theredemptiveangle.com/ Dave Strunk

        These are good points, for sure. I’m certainly arguing by degree here, and not ruling out the language altogether. I just think I’d be helped if we spoke of “leaders of evangelicalism” or something like this. It’s much more amorphous, doesn’t really mean anything, and that’s why it’s better. If these folks are leaders of the church to the extent they help the actual leaders of the church lead, then that’d be ok. But given this list, I’ve only ever heard of one of the people on the list, and that’s Matt, because I’m a faithful Mere-O reader. ;)

  • James McClain

    “The ground for hope that I have been able to stand on without hesitation is the promise that Christ will not depart from his church and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. If we step beyond this to evaluate whether we should have hope based on a particular generation’s or society’s qualities, and stay there for too long, we will be prone to overinflate both our virtues and our vices.”

    Best thing I have read this week. Push ahead.

  • Victoria Van Vlear

    Congrats, Matt! An honor highly deserved.