Elements for for Church Renewal

G.K. Chesterton said so many things cleverly that Douthat’s quotation of Chesterton is worth quoting all over again, in part because the line expresses what Douthat, in his book Bad Religion, hopes for renewal: Often it has been thought that “the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs” but eac time it “was the dog that died.” Douthat hopes the dog heresies will die, including the historical Jesus quest, the prosperity gospel, the God Within and Americanism as religion.

I’ve avoided critique of Douthat’s book and instead tried to pass on his vision — but let me say that I don’t accept his golden era view of Christian orthodoxy in the 1950s running the American Christian scene; he doesn’t always get his facts straight in details about people and places; he’s got an idealistic view of the Catholic Church; his own conservative politics shape some of his own critique of accommodationism; he’s got too simplistic of a good guy vs. bad guy approach…  but he’s got some things to say about trends at work in the Christian culture.

Do you think America is filled with “bad religion,” which is the thesis of Douthat’s book? And of the four sources of renewal, which is the most promising and why?  What do you think of his characteristics of this renewal Christianity?

Douthat sees four sources of possible renewal:

1. Postmodern opportunity: “the very trends that have seemingly undone institutional Christianity could ultimately renew it” (278).

2. The Benedict option: “an extended period of withdrawal, consolidation, and purification” (280). He sees this as the mustard seed strategy (he doesn’t perhaps know of Tom Sine). He finds this in some Latin Mass Catholics, in the neo-Anabaptists, home-schooling — separatistic movements. He finds their danger in “paranoia, crankishness, and all the other pathologies of the religious ghetto” (281).

3. Next Christendom, or Global Christianity, fueled by migrations, and the growth of Christianity in other parts of the world and their influences in the USA.

4. Age of diminished expectations might lead Americans to see that “bad theology and bad religion have helped us bring us to our present pass” (283).

To which Douthat proposes the following characteristics of what this renewal ought to look like:

1. Political without partisan.

2. Ecumenical but also confessional.

3. Moralistic but also holistic.

4. Oriented toward sanctity and beauty.

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  • My favorite part of his Conclusion is when he said the book was wrtten from a pessimistic standpoint. It seemed to me he didn’t think there were any valid solutions, but the ones you listed were our best shot. I think his “solutions” were short and forced and admittedly not going to work, as if his editor told him “every Christian book presents solutions, so make up some.”

  • Larry Barber

    For what the renewal looks like I’ll take 1, 3 and 4. We’ve had more than enough moralism, and I sincerely hope that the church outgrows it. (There is a difference between morality and moralism.)

  • barb

    I finished this book yesterday. Yes I believe that America is full of bad religion as he defines it. This morning we read an article at a news site that stated that “marriage for life” was definitely an outmoded idea. That people who didn’t find happiness owed it to themselves to get divorced regardless of what anyone else wanted. I we t back and read parts of the “god within” chapter. We can see this everywhere. As for the 4 possible sources of renewal- I think the actual answer lies in other books–especially Some of Scot’s. I think that churches need to make sure that they know and proclaim the gospel. Maybe books like this that point out problems should not try to tack on solution chapters but guide readers to other sources instead.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It almost goes without saying that religion won’t work, if by religion we mean human attempts to find, please, explain, understand, placate or use God for our own ends. That’s why Torrance goes on about how we should look to revelation instead of religion.

    A young Canadian preacher/author with a funny name has written a great book on this subject (Canadians with funny names tend to get ignored south of the boarder, hence my mentioning it)  🙂

    His name is Bruxy Cavey and the book is “The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus”. On the back cover we encounter a better title “Sick of Religion? So was Jesus”. And, the publisher (Navpress) writes there, “In ‘The End of Religion’ Cavey contends that the Jesus described in the Bible never intended to found a new religion: instead he hoped to break down the very idea of religion as a way to God. With a fresh perspective on biblical stories, Cavey paints a picture of the world God originally intended and still desires: a world without religion.”

    I recommend this book because I think you all will really enjoy it.

  • greg metzger

    Nice explanation of Douthat’s project. I especially like the “eumenical but also confessional” and would say it is the most important of the 4 if forced to rank them.