I have been writing for First Things since 2013. The intervening years have been an interesting time in our culture and politics. We have seen the advent of gay marriage; the rise of Donald Trump; unexpected challenges to traditional freedoms; and the adoption of “cultural Marxism” and “Christian nationalism” as casual terms of abuse by the Christian right and left, respectively. Intellectually, we have seen the sudden popularity, in the form of critical race theory, of ideas many of us thought to be dead-ends way back in the 1980s. And then there has been the inexorable rise of “woke” social morality, whose merciless march through the institutions is already destroying many of its own children.
Yet perhaps what is most depressing in all this has been the capitulation of so many Christian media outlets to these developments. Over the last year, for example, many of the magazines and websites of the big evangelical brands have trended toward packaging the conventional wisdom of the cultural mainstream in a Christian idiom and selling it as if it were courageous and prophetic. That has always been the liberal Protestant strategy—whether the virulent anti-communism of the early twentieth century or the militant LGBTQ+ activism of more recent days. That many elites of conservative and evangelical Protestantism have now adopted this strategy is disturbing, as is the equal and opposite reaction among many of the rank and file.
The polarization of American society finds its analogue in the polarization of the American church. And there is consequently too little constructive argument and too much carefully policed rhetoric in Christian circles. This is detrimental to the health of the church and the good of the faith. Speculative character assassination has come to be the order of the day in a world where Twitter and Instagram seem to determine what does and does not count as truth. And for today's young people, growing up in a world in which cheap Tweets are considered compelling arguments, the future will become increasingly fragmented, bleak, and (not to put too fine a point on the matter) stupid.
That is where First Things plays an important role, and one that is likely to become more and more important in the future. It eschews the cheap rhetoric and sound bites encouraged by social media and rejects the woke creep affecting so many Christian media outlets and institutions. Instead, it seeks to offer thoughtful commentary on the world around us and to do so trenchantly. First Things is not mortgaged to the need to be marketable in the wider world. Will everyone agree with all of the articles? Of course not. But when someone takes issue with a First Things article they are at least disagreeing with an argument, not a Tweet. Such publications are increasingly rare today.
That is why I write for First Things and why I encourage readers to support First Things. To do so is to strike a blow against the trivialization currently afflicting our society.
Carl R. Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College.