Russ Douthat, conservative columnist for the New York Times, published an editorial that struck a nerve in much of the Christian blogosphere. Titled with a nice double meaning, “Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?”, it’s set off explosions among liberal Christians, drawn approving nods from conservative and inspired plaintive noises from the middle ground. James McGrath has a couple of round-ups of the reactions. Fred Clark has his own.
Douthat is playing the classic concern troll. He sets up the problem: falling numbers at mainline churches. He expresses sympathy: he likes the social justice focus of liberal Christianity. He offers the “solution”: liberals need to embrace a more conservative theology.In essence, it the same scheme seen on liberal blogs when a commenter shows up to explain why the democratic party has gotten too radical and needs to lean back to the right. He even quotes Gary Dorrien, the most prominent historian of liberal Christianity, in a way that appears to back him up. In doing so he ignores Dorrien’s arguments that Liberal Christianity is experiencing a “hidden renaissance” and that “American liberal theology quietly flourishes nearly a century after its high tide.” It’s like the conservative troll who says, “even the liberal New York Times agrees …”
There are a lot of problems with Douthat’s arguments, but an atheist blog probably isn’t the place to get into them. Suffice it to say that Douthat takes a single fact – the Sunday attendance at Episcopalian services has declined 23% in the last decade – and weaves together some dubious equivalences and some pure assertions to make a strangely pragmatic case against Liberal Christianity.
For now, I look at it the same way I looked at all the predictions of Evangelical collapse a few years ago: I’ll belive it when I see it.