DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bad Religion

Written by: on April 10, 2015

Trends, politics, and economics all impact the way that society views Christianity. Ross Douthat, in his book Bad Religion, asserts that everyone is religious and this has been a driving influence in the churches ability to flourish across time and cultural shifts. While the church has flourished, it is this same climate that has introduced dangerous views surrounding Christianity.   It is the combination of outside influcences and an internal propusion towards a belief system that has created an environment where heresy thrives. Douthat describes America as being the most religious country in the world, but one in which “Jesus Christ is an obsession, God’s favor a birthright, and spiritual knowledge an all-consuming goal. But it’s also a place where traditional Christian teachings have been warped into justifications for solipsism and anti-intellectualism, jingoism and utopianism, selfishness and greed.”[1] His view of Christianity in America is bleak, but the reality is one that we must face. The case is made for Christian orthodoxy as a means through which one can save themselves. And, as we each individually seek to save ourselves, we can also save the country. The answer is simply seen in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Through our studies this past year, we have reviewed many theories related to culture and religion. The authors have all attempted, with a unique focus, to answer how Christianity has evolved, and why or how society has engaged with religion. Most of the ideas presented are rooted with well researched facts. Their arguments are broad and address complex issues, yet they all point back to the simple truth that mass change across society must start with individuals. When we step back and consider man’s relationship with God, since the time of Adam and Eve, the issues that we face today are just a more complex symptom of man’s separation from the Creator.

Morality is an issue that man has struggled with for centuries, as man rejects values that God has established for a healthy society. Heresy has been battled by the church for ages, and is easily seen in more recent history. The modern era, specifically the 1920-1940’s, were characterized by totalitarian regimes that rejected moral values such as loving one another and God was seen as outdated and irrelevant. He wasn’t seen as real. Society had a poor view of the church, and modern science and humanism influenced people’s beliefs. Humanism was a threat to Christianity, and became such a widespread heresy that the church was forced to take action. By the 1950s, Christianity was again on the rise and Biblical values were evident in American society. In the 1960’s social justice became a prevalent trend, although influence from the movements was seen differently across the various regions. Church attendance was up, but down again by the 1970’s throughout mainstream denominations. Non-denominational churches became more commonplace. People were more spiritually minded, sought out self-help books, etc.

The church’s response to heresy is often to accommodate or resist the changes taking place in society. Douthat suggest that “heresy sets out to be simpler and more appealing and more rational, but it often ends up being more extreme.”[2]

Today, the church is faced with ever increasing complexity in the battle to fight heresy. There is a constant tension between staying relevant to society and keeping integrity in the Gospel message presented. Too many times, the church failes to address real issues facing real people. The impact is felt as individual lives aren’t changed, and society views church as pointless. The churches efforts seem to be less effective today than in the past. hundreds of years. Douthat believes that “what’s changed today, though, is the weakness of the orthodox response.”[3]

According to Pew Research:[4]

  • 28% of American’s have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion.
  • 44% of Americans have switched religious affiliation or dropped connection with a particular religion.
  • 1 in 4 Americans between 18-29 say that they are not currently affiliated with any religion.

The trends today show that the efforts of the church (in general) aren’t making the same impact as seen historically. If change must start with individuals, then the best response that the church has to the heresy of the day is to teach and encourage people to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”

[1] Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 4). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
[2] Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 8). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
[3] Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 8). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
[4] http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

6 responses to “Bad Religion”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Good summary of many of our books this semester: “Their arguments are broad and address complex issues, yet they all point back to the simple truth that mass change across society must start with individuals.” What I am wondering about these days though is if many individuals begin to change, how do you foster that into a collective movement of goodness spreading through lives and society. I think many individuals make initial changes and choices but there is a lack of collective action or space to further and advance the goodness begun. So I am wondering how while yes mass societal change begins with the individual, it isn’t mass societal change until the masses of society are affected. I am looking forward to what we all find from our read for this week. James Davidson Hunter addresses “how to change the world” head on and is pretty interesting. Should be some good discussion ahead on this exact subject.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Phil, this is kind of a trend I’m curious about too. How many individuals does it take to make changes in their individual worlds before we begin to see a measurable change in a society on the whole? This is where frustration settles in. We don’t think we are really making a difference so why bother? Why not just take the easy way if our efforts toward change don’t really accomplish change on a grand scale?

      J

  2. mm Brian Yost says:

    Dawnel, Great post!
    You said, “If change must start with individuals, then the best response that the church has to the heresy of the day is to teach and encourage people to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…””
    Jesus ability to cut to the chase and identify the heart of the matter speaks to us as strongly today as it did 2,000 years ago. I am reminded that these words of Jesus were in the context of worrying about material things. In a world where material “needs” are a great focus for many christians and churches, we definitely need to refocus on seeking God’s kingdom.

  3. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    Complexity and constant tension – it seems that Christianity can be so confusing as well as requires the hard work of remaining faithful to God’s command of seeking first the Kingdom of God. Yet I wonder if that’s what keeps us on our knees, recognizing that God asks us to seek him with heart, mind, and soul – all in humility. You bring to mind some saddening statistics that ask not only the individual question but the social question – how can we together change the world? Perhaps that’s why Jason is having us read Hunter’s book next.

  4. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Dawnel:

    Wow its really amazing the statistics you posted. In my heart it gets really creepy and it really takes our faith today to keep going. I know at times its difficult in my life but i try to keep focused on my faith and thats what keeps me from fowling a lot of religious trends!

  5. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Dawnel…Good summary of the semester and the complex issues we are facing. I agree that it starts with individuals and I really agree with your quote, “Too many times, the church failes to address real issues facing real people. The impact is felt as individual lives aren’t changed, and society views church as pointless….” Too many churches have softened the call of the Gospel that society had deemed it pointless.

Leave a Reply to Nick Martineau Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *