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Sixty years ago, Newton Minow, head of the Federal Communications Commission, memorably declared that television was a “vast wasteland.” (And that was before Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, or Jim and Tammy Faye.) At age 95, Newton Minow is still with us. If television was a vast wasteland, what’s his take on the internet? One can only imagine.
I thought of Newton Minow the other day when I watched a video of a guy cooking a steak in a coffeemaker. Why? Why not? To be accurate, I didn’t watch the whole thing (turned out it was 20 minutes long), but “COFFEE MAKER COOKS STEAK PERFECTLY” baited me into clicking. I couldn’t stop myself. And, of course, I then wondered if you can cook steaks in a coffee maker is the inverse true: can you make coffee on the grill? I googled it and found a video showing, “How to Smoke Roast Coffee on the Grill.” It helps to know there is balance in the interverse.
Ten years ago, the powers-that-were at Perspectives Journal had seen enough steak and coffeemaker videos to realize this was the future and we needed to dip our oar into those waters. They reached out to me, barely out of my adolescence in those days, and on October 31, 2011, I posted the first article on The Twelve: Do Calvinists Believe in Luck? Six or seven people read it. If I’d known then what I know now about internet marketing and clickbait, I would have called it “Calvinists Cook Steak Perfectly in a Coffeemaker—Luck or Divine Providence?” Oh well.
About 3650 posts (and a corresponding number of encouraging comments from Daniel Meeter) later, we’ve gained some momentum and figured some things out (I, for one, have figured out how to spell “Mathonnet-VanderWell”). The Twelve originally had 12 writers, with guests covering Sundays. Each regular covered a day every two weeks. Now our name ought to be something like The Seventeen, because there are several contributors and our posting rhythms aren’t as precise. Somehow, Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell (spelled it right, didn’t I?) wrangles all of this.
Although I was one of the originals, I took a break after four years and cannot claim the perseverance, consistency, and dedication of Steve MVW, Scott Hoezee, Debra Rienstra, or Jim Schaap. They’ve posted every other week for a decade. I salute them. And might I add, there were many great articles posted in our first few years before we had much of an audience. At the bottom of every new post, a few “related” articles show up. The editors don’t choose them, they come to us through the magic of computer algorithms. When you see something dated a while ago, say 2012 or 2013, click on it. It’s usually a previously ignored gem.
We are a quirky sort of community, a niche market. Most of the world doesn’t understand the soothing power of Wilhelmina Peppermints and they think The Psalter goes on the kitchen table. A dominie must be from that game with spotted pieces, and they don’t know the names Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, Bavinck, Smedes, or Wolterstorff. But you, dear reader, know.
We’ve broken out of our RCA-CRC world occasionally. Kate Kooyman’s article “I’m Sick of Appreciating Teachers” is still our most popular post, with over 511,000 views. (Yes, that title is clickbait.) We’ve had articles picked up by The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, The Los Angeles Times, and The Des Moines Register. While those moments are validating, I am more inspired by the daily wisdom and insight of the extraordinary “ordinary people” who write for us. I’ve learned much about the pastoral life from Laura de Jong and Brian Keepers, about the Great Plains from Jim Schaap, and about the climate crisis from Tim Van Deelen and Deb Rienstra. I could go on and name all 17 of The Twelve, but you get the idea. I appreciate and learn from all of them.
Here’s the thing about what Newton Minow said all those years ago: I do not agree. I’m no expert on the state of television in 1961, but through the decades television has enriched us through incredible characters and storytelling in shows like Mad Men, Seinfeld, Better Call Saul, and Ted Lasso. That’s no wasteland.
And the internet is no wasteland either. It’s like every other medium. You can find the best and you can find the worst. Humanity is on full display in all its depraved glory. There are worse things to behold than a guy cooking a steak in a coffeemaker—this is where conspiracy theories live, after all. But there are also lots of sincere and thoughtful people creating solid content. I’m proud The Twelve and The Reformed Journal are a part of that. I’m grateful our voice is out there.
I can guarantee that when I put up that first post on Reformation Day in 2011, I had no inkling we’d still be here a decade later, or that we’d build a faithful cadre of readers, or that a kind of virtual community would develop among us. What a gift this decade has been. Here’s to our next decade. Cheers, Amen, and Happy Reading.