I had the pleasure of reading the manuscript of Ross Douthat's new book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (The Free Press, 2012), slated to be released April 17 of this year. I am going to honor the publisher's request That I not quote or review until the book is published because it is still being edited. Nevertheless, I want to not not interact with Ross's basic ideas, because i think They are provocative and Because this is essential reading for all Christians seeking to understand Christianity's relationship to culture in the U.S.
Everyone That Has Become AGREES our culture far more secular and hostile to Christian faith over the past two generations, but what are the factors Causing Change That? Many in the evangelical and Reformed world see the decline starting in the early 20th century When Most of the mainline denominations and Their Affiliated Institutions and academic foundations fell into the hands of theological modernists and liberals. But it can not be as simply as that. In his first chapter Douthat looks at four figures-Reinhold Niebuhr for powerful mainline Protestantism, Billy Graham for rising Evangelicalism, Fulton Sheen popularly engaged for Catholicism, and Martin Luther King, Jr for the prophetic African-American Church of the Civil Rights era-who at mid-20th century and the institutional culture Showed strength of nearly all branches of Christianity. But by the beginning of the 21st century all four branches of Christianity are fragmented, declining, and in disarray, while the number of Americans who say no religious affiliation lot doing or even belief in God Steadily climbs. Robert Putnam nuances this a bit in American Grace Argues That When He Began the declining mainline church first, in the late 60s and 70s, while the Evangelical church Began doing so by the 90s. Catholics Have Been battered with a different set of problems and so has the African-American church, but Also They are definitely losing Influence and people.
In his second chapter, Douthat attributes the change to five major social catalysts have Gained That steam since the 1960s: 1) First, the political polarization has occurred That Left and Right Between the many churches drew into it (Toward the Left mainline Protestants, evangelicals Toward the Right). This has Greatly Weakened the church's credibility in the Broader culture, With many viewing churches as mere appendages and pawns of political parties. 2) Second, the sexual revolution That means the Biblical sex ethic unreasonable and perverse now looks to millions of people, making Christianity implausible Appear, unhealthy, and regressive. 3) Third, the era of decolonization and Third World empowerment, together With the dawn of globalization, You have the impression Given imperialistically That Christianity was "western" and supportive of European civilization's record of racism, colonialism, and anti-Semitism. 4) The fourth factor has-been the enormous growth in the kind of the Material prosperity and consumerism That always works against faith and undermines Christian community. 5) The fifth factor is-that all the other four factors had initial Their Greatest impact on the more educated and affluent classes, the main gatekeepers of the culture-shaping Institutions: such as the media, the academy, the arts, the main foundations , and much of the government and business world.
How does Ross Douthat's analysis Compare with some older thinkers? Lesslie Newbigin blames the marginalization of Christianity in the West on the outworking of the 18th century Enlightenment-which Promoted the sufficiency of human reason without faith in God-single for a great deal of the shift. In this've Understands historical patterns as being Caused by intellectual trends and ideas, working through Their Way out to society's Institutions. I see no reason why Newbigin's history-of-thought approach and Douthat's sociology-of-knowledge approach Both can not be right. A third kind of analysis Could easily find the faults Within the church itself. As H. Richard Niebuhr points out in his essay, "The Independence of the Church," the church weak and corrupt even Becomes Becomes Whenever it successful in a culture. This is an important factor to add. For example, why did the mainline and the evangelical church co-opted by American political parties get and lose credibility? Was not this due to a lack of robust, vital orthodoxy Within them? If All These Approaches are right and complementary, Christianity in the West has-been the victim of "a perfect storm" of trends, factors, and forces.