A Recent History of God’s Blessing on American Reformer
As we enter a new year it is our joy and duty to look back on 2023 and how American Reformer has been richly blessed by God’s favor and providence. Following Cotton Mather, in his 1689 Thanksgiving sermon recently republished at our journal, we note that “Since excellent Things are done by God” we must “sing the Praises of God” and “spread the Praises of God.” Truly, God has done excellent things this past year at American Reformer; we are compelled to recount them.
The year marked growth in our ranks, readership, and reach.
June of this past year marked my appointment as editor-in-chief. I eagerly accepted the offer; a couple years of government legal practice was taking its toll. Boredom had thoroughly set in. Maintaining a full litigation schedule and moonlighting as a writer—much of it for American Reformer—was unsustainable long term. More pressing, a sense of wanting to be in the fight, so to speak, full time was growing. All that to say, when Josh Abbotoy told me that founding editor, Ben Dunson, was returning to more full-time academic research and teaching, but would be staying on staff as a writer and to continue providing editorial input, I was sold. Ben truly built something venerable and unique during his tenure at the helm, a solid foundation to build on. I am confident we have and will continue to do just that going into the third year of the journal’s life.
Not only has readership grown exponentially over the past year, so has production. We have now steadily published daily for the past six months, a real milestone considering that most of our pieces are longform which require significant time and effort from our writers. But I would be remiss if I did not highlight the tireless efforts of our new managing editor, Terry Gant, who made my transition into editor-in-chief seamless, at least from my perspective. We would not have reached daily content consistently without him. We also added a couple distinct sections to the journal this year.
Our Forum section features responsive commentary, so to speak. There the editors and other invitees react to ongoing debates and news items and offer notes on resources from the Protestant tradition, especially those pertaining to political thought. In late 2021, before I had ever written an article for American Reformer, Nate Fischer contacted me. He had seen some of my writing and Twitter posts on colonial election sermons. He wanted to know how we could get these documents back into American Protestant hands. We both agreed the sermons in view were unfairly neglected and their content urgently needed. Nearly two years later, we finally launched the Resources section of the website. It is dedicated to monthly—sometimes more frequent—republication of lightly edited versions of American Protestant sermons, speeches, and essays. Since September, we have republished ten sermons from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England. All are lengthy but infinitely more valuable than the lion’s share of pontifications coming from evangelical pulpits today.
This is a long-term—maybe endless, given the volume of material—labor of love, one that we hope will serve to reinvigorate the American Protestant political mind which, as Mike Sabo aptly observed this year, is a prerequisite for renewal of the American mind more broadly.
Editing a journal is easy when you have great writers, something American Reformer has been blessed with from the beginning. A few articles, in particular, are representative. In both popularity and quality, the following pieces were the best of the past year. Each one is evergreen in its own right but also exhibit the topical emphases of the journal over the past year. They remain worth your time and attention.
By a significant margin, our top article for 2023 was Megan Basham’s “Mr. Smith Goes to the Convention.” Megan is a formidable journalist and one of the few who writes from an evangelical perspective and for an evangelical perspective. This piece was, true to form, a report ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention on the then emergent issue of female pastors and pastor Mike Law’s efforts—largely ignored by SBC leadership—to raise awareness about compromised congregations. The combination of Megan’s report and subsequent American Reformer efforts to highlight Law’s proposed amendment resulted in the denomination holding to Biblical and confessional fidelity, ultimately reaffirming male-only eldership and disfellowshipping Rick Warren’s Saddleback.
While we’re on the topic, Kevin McClure, provided American Reformer with essential data on female pastors in SBC congregations, demonstrating that contrary to the claims of J.D. Greear and others who downplayed the issue, Rick Warren’s numbers were closer to the truth—it’s just that Warren was excited about the “progress” and McClure, representing the rank-in-file SBC member and SBC’s official position, rightly sounded the alarm on this doctrinal-ecclesial regress.
Joe Rigney’s response to Kevin DeYoung’s critique of the “Moscow Mood” is a model of, dare I say, winsome but rigorous and thoughtful engagement. “Satire, Moods, and What We’re Known For” offered the best engagement with DeYoung’s concerns and modeled American Reformer’s aspiration for good-faith, in-house evangelical debates.
At American Reformer, we are unafraid of engaging with so-called edgy right-wing discourse. We ran several pieces in 2023 providing serious commentary on Bronze Age Pervert and the discussion surrounding his positions. The most read among them was from John Ehrett, a brilliant and always engaging writer. Whether you love, hate, are intrigued by or unfamiliar with BAP world, John’s critical assessment is worth your time: “The Impossible Bronze Age Mindset.” Also, don’t miss Christian Winter’s response, “Toward a Christian Vitalism.” John’s article, “Tradition and Antisemitism” was also widely read this year.
One of our primary focuses in our quest for the revitalization of Protestant leadership in America is higher education. We cannot lead tomorrow if we are not producing leaders of Biblical and confessional integrity today. Scott Yenor surveyed the field of evangelical colleges helpfully noting which ones had compromised and, conversely, which ones are holding the line when it comes to LGBTQ and DEI presence on campus—a useful resource for parents and students, to be sure. See also, Yenor’s “Higher Ed Reform in Red States” for a way forward. Clifford Humphrey began a debate with Carl Trueman at First Things and finished it at American Reformer. The question was whether a merely Christian, that is, non-sectarian, institution possesses a sufficiently robust ethos to endure the negative world. And this brings us to the back-and-forth between Colin Redemer, Matthew Freeman, Clifford Humphrey, and Jeremy Tate in a similar vein to the Christian colleges debate but applied to Christian classical education and the new Classical Learning Test.
Taking a higher-level view, P. Jesse Rine provided a tripartite framework (i.e., coercive, mimetic, and normative isomorphism) for assessing institutional mission drift within Christian higher education. That is, an explanation of why Christian colleges, over time, start acting like their secular counterparts. The answer: external market forces, cultural influences, and professionalization pressures, if not actively resisted, result in homogenization across institutions regardless of the spiritual or academic intent of their respective founding.
Of course, we are not singularly concerned with higher education reform. The mother of our faith, the church, and its dismal state in many denominations, also demands much of our attention, as our SBC work demonstrates. But nor does the SBC only interest us. Chase Davis, a pastor in Boulder formerly of Acts 29, wrote up an insider’s account of the rise and fall of the network. It is a harrowing and cautionary tale that, unfortunately, represents much of evangelicalism. Chase’s piece rightly garnered much attention.
As we recently summarized in a Twitter thread, American Reformer has often walked where others fear to tread. The Christian nationalism debate exemplifies this ethos of our journal. Beginning with our symposium, followed by many other contributions from myriad perspectives, American Reformer has done what no other outlet has been willing to do, namely, engage ideas deemed off-limits by some in a thoughtful, good faith, and fearless way. Stephen Wolfe has clarified and developed many of his own ideas here. For the uninitiated and layman, Josh Daws gave us a fantastic primer on the debate as it stands. (He discussed it with our friends at Founders on the Sword and the Trowel as well.) If you want to get up to speed and read a dispassionate and thoughtful summary, read Josh’s article. To round out your familiarity with Christian nationalism and adjacent questions, read the several brilliant, historically conscious contributions from Ben Crenshaw.
So many more of our talented authors could be promoted here. For their work and support we offer our sincere gratitude and hope they will continue to employ their pens for the sake of American Protestant social and political renewal in our pages over the coming year. Thank you all!
In 2023, American Reformer also, to put it crudely, got some press. Here are the highlights.
Executive Director, Josh Abbotoy, was quoted in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and elsewhere about this past summer’s goings on in the Southern Baptist Convention concerning the ordination and preaching of women, and the eventual disfellowshipping of Rich Warren’s Saddleback Church.
Much was made also of Josh’s now (in)famous tweet about “Protestant Franco.” David Walsh at The History Network, James Patterson at Law & Liberty, and Mark Tooley at Providence, among others, were breathless. The Guardian joined in the hysteria.
Josh was able to expound and expand on his take at First Things making clear that the quip referred to predictive political analysis in the vein of the founders of this country and was not rooted in a longing for autocratic dictatorship. Whether the aforementioned breathless commentators were comforted by this analysis remains an open question.
Josh was also quoted by Christian Today, the U.K. affiliate of Christian Post, on the Pope’s recently announced blessings for same-sex couples.
Aaron Renn, Co-Founder and Senior Fellow at American Reformer, was featured multiple times in the media this past year and on various topics. In September, he was quoted in the New York Times on the need for “homegrown elites.” The same month, Aaron was quoted in an article at Time Magazine asking “Why Don’t More Women Propose?” There he discussed the asymmetry in male-female relationships and how men traditionally shoulder the risk of rejection in those encounters. Also in September, Aaron wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “What Jordan Peterson Can Teach Church Leaders” considering the attractiveness of the Canadian psychologist for disaffected young men in a hostile age.
Of course, Aaron’s “Three Worlds of Evangelicalism” has remained the talk of the town. His new book drawn from the original article will release January 30, 2024. Among other podcast appearances discussing the three worlds framework, Aaron recently joined Kevin DeYoung’s Life, Books, and Everything to talk about the idea and why evangelicals don’t produce culture-shaping elites.
Executive Director of the Center for Academic Faithfulness & Flourishing, P. Jesse Rine, talked with Ministry Watch about emergent enrollment trends at Christian colleges, observing that where other colleges are experiencing lulls, those colleges that have unapologetically “embraced and emphasized their Christian identity” are expecting record enrollment. Jesse was also interviewed by The Stream on similar themes, noting that parents and, by extension, enrollment numbers have responded positively to evangelical institutions that have “doubled down” on their Christian convictions. “Non-Christian families did as well. While not sharing all the college’s values, they knew that their students would get a good education in a healthy environment. Enrollment grew as a result.” What’s more, Christian colleges that are doctrinally stable enjoy continued support from churches.
Earlier this year, Jesse was name Editor-in-Chief of Christian Higher Education: An International Journal of Research, Theory, and Practice. You can read his first editorial, “Against the Baptized Facsimile: A Call to Christian Self-Determination,” here.
Editor-in-Chief, Timon Cline, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for a December article, alongside Al Mohler, Karen Swallow Prior, Ryan Burge, and Kristen Du Mez about evangelical support of Donald Trump ahead of the 2024 election. Back in March, Timon’s work was quoted in The Federalist. He continues to write opinion columns at World and participated in a symposium on Christian nationalism hosted by the Claremont Institute’s American Mind this year. Timon also holds the 2023-2024 academic year lectureship at New Saint Andrew’s College. You can watch the first lecture from September here.
To quote from a recent newsletter to our supporters from Josh Abbotoy, given that 2024 is sure to be, by nearly all accounts, a volatile year in our country, “we think it is more important than ever that Protestant Americans anchor themselves to the truths of scripture and our rich Protestant political tradition so that we can hold fast – and build for the future! – in uncertain times.” In the past few election cycles, American Protestants have been ill-served by media and commentary that ostensibly serves their interests.
Andrew Walker, sometime contributor to American Reformer, put it best in a recent op-ed at National Review, few prominent evangelical writers employ their pens and platforms to defend evangelicals from criticism or represent their convictions to the public. Participating in the cottage industry of bashing the 81 percent, the so-called fundamentalist deplorables, is much more lucrative and popular. Moreover, what we might call legacy evangelical media has repeatedly failed to offer guidance to their purported constituencies during volatile and confusing times in recent history. Instead of bringing Scripture, the Protestant tradition, and Christian prudence to bear on emergent challenges—polarization, immigration, domestic unrest, historic demographic shifts, et cetera—they have offered baptized liberal truisms, many of which are perpetuated even as they demonstrably disserve evangelical interests. They have, in short, abdicated true leadership, the price of admission to a seat at the table. This is not just bad for American Protestantism; it is boring and uncompelling. American Reformer aims to counter and disrupt this aged status quo in 2024 by tapping into our rich theological and political inheritance, not to induce despair and discontent, but to exhort evangelicals to leadership and to inspire a new positive vision of our national future.
This new year, American Reformer is more dedicated than ever to American renewal by retrieving and applying our rich heritage of Protestantism for contemporary social and political challenges. May God bless us in our endeavors as he so abundantly has over the past two years.
Soli Deo Gloria!
-Timon Cline, Editor-in-Chief
Image Credit: An illustration of a 17th-century printing press. Universal Images Group/Getty Images