Recipe for Renewed Christianity

April 10, 2015 at 6:35 pm

church-692722_1280          Ross Douthat is the youngest op-ed writer ever hired by the New York Times. More impressive than his age is the fact that he is also a Christian. As a Harvard graduate with a brilliant mind, Douthat is able to synthesize and critique some of the most intricate and complex subjects facing our culture and then present his findings to mere mortals (like myself) in easy-to-digest doses. His book Bad Religion is exhibit A. From Niebuhr to Osteen and the Pope to Oprah, Douthat traces the spiritual decline and institutional collapse of the church in the United States throughout the last century.

          It would be impossible within the constraints of a single article to summarize the sheer number of important insights, conclusions, explanations and warnings crammed into this single volume. I am still digesting most of the contents myself. What I do offer instead is a small sample of Douthat’s thinking in the area of renewal. My hope is that it will whet your appetite for more and inspire you to read the book in full.

          Below is a summary of his four-fold prescription for a renewed Christianity in our times. While these are certainly not intended to be comprehensive, Douthat’s hope is that they constitute a beginning framework for the church to focus once again on the centrality of it’s Kingdom call to holiness, justice, and the faithful sharing of the gospel in word and deed. Towards this end Douthat exhorts the community of Christ to embrace the following distinctives:

I. Political without being Partisan

“The fact that there is no single model for a Christian politics, no uniquely godly leaders or nations or parties, doesn’t absolve Christian citizens of the obligation to bring their faith to bear on debates about justice and the common good. Instead, it sharpens all Christians’ obligation to be a model unto themselves— to make it clear, in words and deeds, how their faith informs their voting and their activism, and to constantly test their ideological convictions against their theological worldview.”

II. Ecumenical but also Confessional

“What unites Christians is more important than the issues that divide them. This vision must not be abandoned. But neither can ecumenism become the source and summit of the Christian life. ‘Parachurch’ efforts and ’emergent’ communities cannot replace institutional churches. The common ground of a ‘mere Christianity’ cannot be allowed to become a lowest common denominator. The political causes that often unite believers from different churches cannot be allowed to become more important than the gospel itself.”

III. Moralistic but also Holistic

“There are seven deadly sins, not just one…a Christianity that cannot use the language of Basil— and of Jesus— to attack the cult of Mammon will inevitably be less persuasive when the time comes to attack the cult of Dionysus.”

IV. Oriented toward Sanctity and Beauty.

“Few Americans think of religion as a great wellspring of aesthetic achievement anymore, and the Christian message is vastly weaker for it.”

“Christian witness needs to be public and evangelistic as well as intimate and personal. Only sanctity can justify Christianity’s existence; only sanctity can make the case for faith; only sanctity, or the hope thereof, can ultimately redeem the world.”