Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Losing Orthodoxy

Written by: on April 8, 2015

          The Church seems to be loosing its voice. The message of Christ and the Church appear to be lacking relevance in much of today’s Western culture. As Ross Douthat describes the American spiritual climate in his book, Bad Religion, “… both the populists and the intellectuals … share the same basic understanding of our national predicament. Their America is a nation in which religious faith has been steadily marginalized.[1] To stand for morale absolutes is socially ostracizing. To hold a belief in one meta-narrative for all is culturally offensive. To hold fast to a hope in a loving God who has created the world and everything in it and is reconciling it back to himself through the Church — is a message considered ideologically naïve and extraneous.

In his article entitled, How Should Christians Engage in Politics, Michael Wear demonstrates the growing silence of the Church. Statistically 70% of Americans claim they are people of faith. But only 40% say their religious beliefs matter on a daily basis. Wear writes, “The public is now evenly divided on the question of whether churches and other houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions.”[2] Wear reports only 49% of Americans believe faith-based views should be voiced in politics with 48% percent believing the Church should remain silent. “Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) now say that religion is losing influence in American life, the highest share to hold this view in Pew Research surveys going back to 2001.”[3]

Faith and religious beliefs are the core convictions on all matters of life and death and everything in between. Douthat writes, “every human culture is religious – defined by what its inhabitants believe about some ultimate reality, and what they think that realty demands of them.[4] It should seem preposterous to suggest that one’s faith would remain silent when thinking, speaking, discussing, relating, debating, writing, and acting publicly on the matters most affecting the world and the shaping of daily life. Yet in Western culture today there is a gag order emerging that is disconnecting faith and religious beliefs from the public square and the shaping of the world.

What I enjoyed most about Bad Religion, however, is how Douthat didn’t put the major blame of the gag order on cultural issues outside the Church but rather the greatest influences on the silencing of the Church have been its lack of orthodoxy or rather its abundance of heresy. In a review of Bad Religion by Frank Roberts, Roberts summarizes the major heresies Douthat describes having taken over American Christianity as follows:

            First, the Dan Brown school of Gnostic Christianity, an  outgrowth of the new historical approaches and new apocryphal materials that came to light in the 20th Century. Second is the “God Within” heresy, the Gospel that is more therapeutic than salvational, and which usually claims to be “spiritual but not religious.” Next is the Prosperity Gospel, and Joel Osteen is the epitome of this heresy. Finally,   the most pernicious heresy, and in my mind the most widespread (and for me the    most personally alluring), is the gospel of American Nationalism.[5]

It would be these errors that Douthat believes have not so much silenced the Church but rather have caused it to lose its orthodoxy and in turn lose its voice. The days ahead will be very interesting for the Church in our world and from Douthat’s perspective the greatest challenge will be our ability to regain our orthodoxy; regain our voice.

[1] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2013), 2.

[2] Michael Wear and Peter Court, “Modern American Politics and the Christian Life Court,” Q Ideas, accessed March 29, 2015, http://qideas.org/articles/modern-american-politics-and-the-christian-life/.

[3] Ibid., Wear and Court.

      [4] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2013), 4.

[5] Frank Roberts, review of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Goodreads, August 14, 2012, 1, accessed April 4, 2015, http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/308835940?book_show_action=true&page=1.


About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

13 responses to “Losing Orthodoxy”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil, I’d like to know how Douthat would define orthodoxy. I understand that by very definition orthodoxy is generally accepted but I really wonder if we have a generally accepted orthodoxy anymore. I really enjoyed Douthat’s book and agreed with most his thoughts but I kept hoping he’d define orthodoxy or us.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Phil, I think that gag order only applies to the institutional church though. I think those churches that wade into the conversations in the community centers, pubs and agoras of our communities are well received…

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Jon, I would agree but those moments, spaces, and lives that our following Christ in such a way seem so wildly limited while at the sometime, I do believe they are the real hope of our way forward.

  3. Dave Young says:

    How would you suggest we regain our voice? It’s frustrating because when the religious right gets engaged in public debate they come across as discriminating, intolerant or just closed minded. Jesus is none of those things. We weigh in on secondary things, however important they may seem at the moment and we get marginalized. Then we have either forfeited our opportunity to voice whats primary or the never really get the chance to weigh in on what’s of greatest significance because people stopped listening.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, I think it is going to have to be an upside-down subversive Kingdom thing. Christianity has been marginalized but it is from the margins we can make a difference in being a model of that which the Church is to be. My greatest struggle with this however is how out of our hands and timelines this takes place. Life long commitments to simple virtues wins. The things with big splashes never last and only get people wet. I think this is so frustrating because of so much of our culture and even Church today is quick return, bang for buck measured and evaluated for meaning that we are not willing to do the real, holy, quiet, work God calls us to while he moves in the lives and the world we so desperately want to see reached. It seems in our post this time there is greater angst building in all of us. I need Hong Kong to come soon. 🙂

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    “Real, holy, quiet work God calls us to…..” You used it in your response to a response. And it got me thinking. Whether it’s the answer offered by Michael Wear, Ross Douthat, or others, is not the desire by God for our world to “bring Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done?” Meaning, the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom happens in the integration of our hearts/souls/mind as well as this world for God’s purposes. And if we’re honest, that’s never very splashy…it’s just the way it’s always supposed to be, but got all messed up.
    What a journey this has been for all of us!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      You’re right Mary, it’s notnsplashy and yet somehow, the splashy ones are the ones that continue to hold power, money and control. It’s enough to drive us all into selling out just to stay in the game!

  6. Brian Yost says:

    “Statistically 70% of Americans claim they are people of faith. But only 40% say their religious beliefs matter on a daily basis.”
    That about sums it up. As a nation, we have adhered to a faith that makes no difference in our daily lives; a “faith” that requires no faith.
    The good news is that those who live by faith cannot go unnoticed!

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Brian, I know right. How is that possible? We are so good at making Jesus into who we need him to be to fit the lives we want to lead. So sad. So tragic.

  7. Travis Biglow says:


    Thats what get me though and that Western society and its propagation of the gospel from a North American view. Our churches have become so institutionalized with denominatins that to me we dont look like the 1 Century church. I know we should have evolved but i think we should get back to Acts and see what that would look like in the 21st Century. The genuine care of brothers and sisters in Christ is not like it was in the book of Acts. And the church is getting a way from a lot of things we know that the bible is against just because its not popular to main culture. wow!!!!

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      I am with you Travis. The Acts 2 church, even though it wasn’t pretty, it was right. The right stuff was being fought for and lives were truly staking their lives on the gospel and being people of the Way, back in the day. We definitely need a resurgence of that!!!

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