Ross Douthat writes in an op-ed style as he addresses the decline of orthodox Christianity in America. He explains his position in the introduction:
“America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christians in its place.”
Douthat goes on to explain the problems he sees with left-leaning Christianity as self-centered spirituality and right-leaning Christianity as wealth-obsessed evangelicalism. The reader takes a ride through history as Douthat takes issue with the church that has been in “near terminal decline” since the 1960s. He is a harsh critic, accusing the Christian church of abandoning traditional theology “in favor of religions that stroke egos and indulge or even celebrate their worst impulses.” He does conclude the book with a reminder that “the story of Christianity has always featured unexpected resurrections,” and challenges Christian believers to live out their faith as an end unto itself. However, by the time I reached his conclusion, I was struggling to see light through my frustration.
Clearly, Douthat’s Bad Religion was a difficult read for me. Although I can sympathize with his frustrations of the church moving further from orthodoxy; he makes it sound as if no good has come since the 1960s. He seems to imply that we all must pick an evil (right or left) and do our best to live out a lonely Christian pilgrimage back to the days when all was right with the church. He forgets to mention that many of the heresies he mentions have been rejected by leaders and groups all along the way. I appreciate what John Wilson wrote in his response to Douthat in Christianity Today:
“We are not a nation of heretics. We are a nation of sinners; we’ve been that from the beginning.”
The church has always been comprised of broken people living in a broken world as witnesses of renewal. Heresy has existed from the beginning. Douthat’s highlight of these heresies has exposed how easily we accept them into our assumed “orthodoxy,” but they have always been there nonetheless. He is right when he says our life in Christ is the only real answer to church transformation. This book has made me more keenly aware of my need for daily renewal.
Even though Douthat offers a path forward at the close of his book, my response reflects a growing weariness. I understand the value of critique. However, we are living in a world that seems to be ready to lend a critical eye and offer harsh feedback at every turn. The church can do no right. In a different atmosphere, I may have more appreciation for Douthat’s observations. Today, it seems to be another voice to add to the litany of those who are eager to see the failures of the Christian faith community.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (NKJV)
 Ross Gregory Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, 2013., 3
 Ibid., 4
 Ibid., 277
 John Wilson, “Bad Religion,” Books and Culture, accessed March 21, 2019, https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2012/april/badreligion.html.