An Intractable Amount of Intractable Issues


“Not easily governed, managed, or directed. Not easily relieved or cured.”[1] “It is a hard word, and one we wish wasn’t. Whenever we find ourselves needing that word, we are in a miserable place. Sometimes marriages seem like that, and we can see no way other than more sorrow. … Then sometimes the issues are more social and political, even global, ones that pit people against people, histories against histories, and hopes against hopes.”[2] In the era of the information age and late globalization, we are forced to face an intractable amount of intractable issues. This makes it exponentially harder to respond to the question, “Knowing what you know, what will you do?”[3]

What I know is that I know too much. Our society has access to a gluttony of information. While it initially seemed that the democratization of information was for the benefit of mankind, “most of daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.”[4] Not only is the amount of information leading us to inertia, but our habits shaped by the “info-glut culture” compounds this effect.[5] “When you’ve spent twelve, fourteen, or eighteen years in school, your habits form in a non-reflective way. And it isn’t school’s job to make us reflective. We need to learn information. We need to pass examinations and be able to read and retain. But most of us have never been taught to read and listen reflectively.”[6] Adding another layer to this dilemma is globalization. Our modern society has never had more access to information and the global society has never been more connected. Our societies have been able to engage with other cultures with increasing ease, thus inviting more people to this intractable amount of information adding even more to it along with even more issues. And every culture has its own issues and its own response. While cultures maintain a certain level of distinction today, one has to wonder how the narrative of cultural globalization will unfold.[7]

There are currently 193 “cultures” who have agreed upon the most pressing global issues.[8] Known as the Sustainable Development Goals, they represent 17 intractable issues such as ending poverty, gender equality, sanitation, climate action, and peace and justice to name a few.[9] The United Nations states that each goal “interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that [they] achieve each Goal and target by 2030.”[10] However, how does a society and or individual prioritize or discern which issue needs their attention? It seems that most Westerners have dialed down the “barometer of their hearts” due to the gluttony of information and issues.[11] Millennials frequently say, “it is what it is” and have resorted to a “culture of whatever.”[12]

It is not for a lack of capability to engage with these global issues, but rather the culture of whatever is faced with its own intractable issue of finding purpose and meaning. We are in “the battle of purpose in a world of confusion,” states Bruno Roche, Chief Economist of Mars Inc.[13] Professor Steven Garber phrases it, “The most interesting questions, the most important questions always are, ‘Who or what is our reason for being? Why do we do the things we do? What does it all mean?’”[14] Even acclaimed scientist and atheist Stephen Hawking acknowledges that people “have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from.”[15]

The challenge of this search for purpose and meaning is how many voices compete for everyone’s attention. And for better or worse, it is not economists, scholars, scientists, or pastors who are heard first, but rather it is culture.[16] Modern culture consists of the FAANG companies—i.e. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google—who dominate their respective fields and represent the future.[17] They embody the importance of the social network, technology, consumerism, entertainment, and information, respectively. And the harrowing condition of our time is the speed in which values change. In the late 20th century, the elite and wealthy were the first to own and display their newest gadgets, such as the first Apple Mac. However, “What we are seeing now is the luxurification of human engagement,” said Milton Pedraza, the chief executive of the Luxury Institute.[18] “Screens used to be for the elite. Now avoiding them is a status symbol.”[19] The use of screen time and the effects of digital technology is another intractable issue altogether and all this developed just within a couple decades. A brief analysis of social media reveals our most common interests, which consist of sports, music, TV personalities, and entertainment.[20] All this to say, despite the amount of power these technological companies have or the clout of social media influencers, neither are a rich source for discovering purpose and meaning. Once again, our society faces an intractable amount of information, including content for purpose and meaning, that is consumed with little to no reflection.

Knowing what we know—or what we may think we know—can we still believe in a gospel which claims to be true, in a society and world with an intractable amount of intractable issues?[21] Can we hear the gospel amidst all the noise? In light of what has been discussed thus far regarding information gluttony, it would only be appropriate that there would be multiple voices proclaiming various emphases of the gospel and in respect to globalization, the conversation only gets more complicated when examining theology in the context of world Christianity.[22] For those who have been “evangelized by truncated versions of the biblical gospel,” the dire effect is that they “have little interest in the world, the public square, God’s plan for society and the nations, and even less understanding of God’s intention for creation itself.”[23]

Regent College, an innovative graduate school of theology, seeks to combat this grave danger by equipping students with the full biblical gospel narrative. The global mission of Regent College is to “cultivate intelligent, vigorous, and joyful commitment to Jesus Christ, His church, and His world,” and in doing so, “preparing students to engage with their culture as thoughtful and prayerful Christians, sharing in Christ’s creative and redemptive mission to the world.” [24] The challenge for Regent College and perhaps most other academic institutions is the amount of issues discussed and the amount of information disseminated. Some of the issues and topics may overlap with those of culture, however, many are matters relevant to a select few. The reality of our day is most students who step into academic institutions have already been shaped and formed by the aforementioned info-glut culture, non-reflective primary education, and pluralistic society, that when discussing issues with others, it seems we once again run into that intractable amount of now relativistic, intractable issues. This becomes even more problematic when the language of scholars is so far removed from the language understood by the majority of culture.

It is hopeful that most teachers, by the words of Simone Weil, “teach what it means to know,” and in a school of theology, hopefully to know God, not just know about God.[25] “The problem of the academy in every generation,” is the tension of “getting all A’s and flunking life.”[26] It is this tension Regent College seeks to address, preparing students to tackle “the perennial challenge of the gospel and culture—in but not of.”[27]

So now we have the difficult task of primarily determining what is the gospel and second if this gospel which claims to be true, is true to the intractable amount of issues expressed in various global cultures, including the culture of whatever. This is certainly no easy task and while the temptation may be to say, “it is what it is,” we are the “first generation who will not be able to say, ‘I didn’t know.’”[28]

It may seem daunting to truly pay attention to the intractable amount of intractable issues. It is difficult to determine what is the purest, most authentic form of the gospel. And it is equally challenging to have a firm handle on an elusive, evolving culture. However, if we hold to the proposition that “the household is the basic unit of culture and society, where persons are formed and loved,” perhaps then we may have a universal starting point to engage gospel and culture.[29] It is certainly not a sexy solution in comparison to innovative companies making a global impact, but perhaps it is one that will make substantial, incremental change.[30] It is a way to “sing songs shaped by the truest truths of the universe in a language the whole world can understand.”[31]

While many search for their purpose or “calling” in regards to their profession or occupation, few seriously consider the “calling of marriage.”[32] If one is called to marriage, perhaps this is one of the best examples of “living proximately.” “To have good lives, we cannot spend much of life talking about utopian fantasies, about ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ worlds. In the end they are fictitious, false fictions, and therefore have very disappointing ends.”[33] It is easier to turn down the barometer of one’s heart regarding work or peripheral concerns, but it is much more difficult to do that to someone whom you love, without having an issue quickly become an intractable one. “‘Nurturing trust and commitment is a hell of a lot more hard work, but what choice do we have?’”[34]

When we take our vocation of marriage and household seriously, or what I call a vocational dishwasher,[35] can we then clearly demonstrate the truths of the gospel, directly engaging with the existing culture and possibly shaping it into a better one. The marriage between a husband and wife is the only comparison to the mystery of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church.[36] If we are called to marriage and take that vocation seriously, perhaps that will be enough to shine the light of Jesus Christ in a “globalizing, pluralizing, and secularizing world.”[37] Within a vocational household, the best formation and demonstration of love can take place. There is no textbook on hamartiology that can convict me to the core about sin than when my full self is revealed in the heat of what seems like an intractable fight. There is also no other tangible demonstration of grace than when my wife forgives me and accepts me despite knowing all of me. A vocational marriage speaks into gender issues without having to politicize the topic. It is easy to talk about heated issues that arise in news or other avenues, but much more difficult to step into a countercultural reality where a wife becomes the primary breadwinner. To live into that reality joyfully and peacefully speaks so much more into cultures without adding further polarization. As technology paradoxically aids and threatens much of society and culture, each vocational household can address this issue by limiting the use of screens allowing for rich engagement between couples and with children. Although it seems much easier to quiet a child by distracting him or her with a tablet, perhaps parents can live proximately into a child’s life so that the grip of technology may loosen over time. Creation care is another hot issue in the global culture and it is easy to get lost in the sea of plastic. While it is more convenient for a family with a seemingly busy life to disregard issues concerning recycling, composting, and reducing trash production, by being responsible stewards of the planet, each household can contribute to this global cause without leaving the matters to an abstract corporate entity.

By focusing on one calling, one vocation, can we then take meaningful action on a multitude of now seemingly intractable issues. Two short caveats are warranted here. This is not to disregard some of the more complicated, systemic issues. It is also easy to turn any good thing into an idol, including family, and there has been ample warning in the biblical narrative. However, it seems the pendulum has swung the other way and the time has come that more wholesome and winsome marriages and families are evermore needed today.

An intractable amount of intractable issues is the conundrum of the globalized, pluralized, secularized world. In the beginning, I quoted that sometimes marriages may seem intractable. Perhaps this is the most important issue of all to address first. If we considered mankind as our primary business, demonstrating “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence,” then we would see that the “dealings of [our] trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of [our] business!”[38] Identifying, analyzing, and addressing the intractable amount of intractable issues was the easy part, simply adding more information to the existing conversations. Now the more difficult task is to sing the song that I wrote, beginning with and to my beloved wife.

[1] “Definition of INTRACTABLE,” accessed April 14, 2019,

[2] Steven Garber, “A Terrible Beauty,” The Washington Institute, March 11, 2017,

[3] Steven Garber, “In but Not of—The Perennial Challenge of the Gospel and Culture” (lecture, January 15, 2019).

[4] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 68.

[5] Steven Garber, “The Responsibility of Knowledge” (lecture, April 2, 2019).

[6] Eugene Peterson, “Having Ears, Do You Not Hear?,” Christianity Today, quoted in Steven Garber, “Learning & Life in the Information Age” (lecture, February 26, 2019).

[7] “Cultural Globalization | Anthropology,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed April 14, 2019, Cultural globalization “reflects a standardization of cultural expressions” and a “trend toward homogeneity.” While outside the scope of this paper, we cannot ignore the possibility of this phenomenon while discussing this topic.

[8] United Nations, “Overview,” accessed April 14, 2019.

[9] “About the Sustainable Development Goals,” United Nations Sustainable Development, accessed April 14, 2019,

[10] Ibid.

[11] Steven Garber, “The Great Conundrum” (lecture, January 29, 2019).

[12] Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2014), 69.

[13] Economics of Mutuality, Bruno Roche ZAOJIU Talk in China, accessed April 15, 2019,

[14] Steven Garber, “Words That Matter,” The Washington Institute, February 4, 2016,

[15] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1988), 13.

[16] Steven Garber, “Making Culture Matters,” The Washington Institute, November 22, 2016,

[17] Will Kenton, “What Are FAANG Stocks?,” Investopedia, accessed April 14, 2019,

[18] Nellie Bowles, “Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good,” The New York Times, March 29, 2019,

[19] Ibid.

[20] Based on personal research of top influencers in Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

[21] Adapted from a quote by Lesslie Newbigin, found in Garber, “In but Not Of.”

[22] For an excellent discussion on this topic, see Timothy C. Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

[23] Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2010), Loc 5250, Kindle.

[24] “Mission and Values,” Regent College, accessed April 14, 2019,

[25] Garber, “The Responsibility of Knowledge.”

[26] Ibid.

[27] Garber, “In but Not Of.”

[28] Economics of Mutuality, Bruno Roche.

[29] “Rebuilding the Household: Family & Church in the Technological Age,” Regent College, accessed April 15, 2019,

[30] Economics of Mutuality, Bruno Roche.

[31] Quote in, Garber, “Making Culture Matters.”

[32] Video interview with Kate Harris in Steven Garber, “Love in the Ruins” (lecture, March 5, 2019).

[33] Garber, Visions of Vocation, 220.

[34] Harry Stein, “The Big A: If You Want Frustration, Guilt, and Anxiety, Try Adultery,” quote in Steven Garber, “The Truth About Love,” The Washington Institute, February 27, 2013,

[35] See Robert Lee, Theological Reflection of a Vocational Dishwasher (essay, March 1, 2019).

[36] Eph 5:32 (NIV)

[37] Quote by Steven Garber, Gospel and Culture class.

[38] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Stories (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Association, 1988), 33.