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The Former Pentecostal, Now Catholic, Is a Little Bit Rockstar

Written by: on March 21, 2018

Ross Douthat is a little bit of a Rockstar. The Magna Cum Laude Harvard grad, to name a few of his appearances, has been on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, Colbert Report, and Bill Maher Show (Thanks Kyle for posting this one).  I have viewed interviews of Douthat by NPR, CNN, and FOX, etc. He has contributed to GQ Magazine and Wall Street Journal. Currently, he serves as a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, their youngest staffer [1], and obviously their conservative poster child. He has definitely written much that has reached our masses, including a controversial recent book about Pope Francis and changing the modern church. [2]

Supposedly a former Pentecostal, baptized an Episcopalian, now a converted Catholic [3], he is obviously brilliant and quite popular on various media outlets. A little bit of a Rockstar…

All this to say, my critical thinking skills (from 1st Semester with Paul and Elder) make me question whether he is full of substance or full of B.S. (Big Stories in Christianese) while speaking to the multiple cameras. I wonder how someone who is always in the spotlight can stay on a Biblical message while craving popularity with the crowds? Perhaps in an attempt to sell more newspapers and books, me thinks, he must add gasoline repeatedly to the fires so that he can stay relevant and admired. I don’t know many folks who can stay on healthy message while remaining hip. The temptation is to water down the words and compromise the message, and Douthat seems to be walking this fine line.

Having said that, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics is an interesting read. One artist, Randall Ballmer, reviewed the book and included this thought provoking painting:

[4]

Perhaps, using the word “heretic” in the tagline of our book title is half-baked. In fact, I don’t know a single Christian who has set out to be heretical, and heresy is difficult to define in a context without using actual Scriptural references, which I noticed this book had very few. Therefore, I assert a better word than heretic for me in understanding Douthat is, “HYPOCRITE” and I will use a quote of his to back up my statement,

“…the Christian case for fidelity and chastity will inevitably seem partial and hypocritical if it trains most of its attention on the minority of cases–on homosexual wedlock and the slippery slope to polygamy beyond.  It is the heterosexual divorce rate, the heterosexual retreat from marriage, and the heterosexual out-of-wedlock birthrate that should  command the most attention from Christian moralists…asking gays alone to conform their lives to a hard teaching will inevitably seem like a form of bigotry.” [5]

We certainly are a body full of hypocrites! Furthermore, Douthat writes about us hypocrites,

“A choose-your-own-Jesus mentality encourages spiritual seekers to screen out discomfiting parts of the New Testament and focus only on whichever Christ they find most congenial.” [6]

Sounds like the consumerism we have been recently reading by Cavanaugh, or as I said in our Zoom meeting this week, our churches are full “salad bar” consumer Christians. Us hypocrites are really good at twisting things to our own liking, or as Scripture says, listening to things our itching ears want to hear!

I for one rejoiced when I heard our author calling Protestants and Catholics to work together, asking all Orthodox Christians to live out their Christianity authentically, like a Wesley, Wilberforce, Francis, Bonhoeffer or Solzhenitsyn. [7] I love the fact that our fellow Cohort member Mark is Catholic, but I want him to know I don’t see him as that. He is Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.  Mark, we are Brothers. And to all of my Elite LGP8 colleagues, I say we are family–the family of God. For that I am thankful!

Perhaps, this review from Mark Oppenheimer best sums my feelings about Bad Religion, 

“Ross Douthat has the hair of an older man—thinning on top, a trim beard below—and the air of one. He’s had only one girlfriend since college, and they are now married. He’s astonishingly well read but in conversation lacks the brashness of a precocious DC wonk. He gets just as animated about the Red Sox, action movies, fantasy novels, and television as he does about policy. And even when his passions—for G.K. Chesterton, the novelist Anthony Powell, and conservative Catholicism—seem more appropriate to a desiccated English squire, they are born of a childhood that, more than most, shaped the man.” [8]

My only regret with reading our most recent books is that I have not been able to successfully connect them to my dissertation topic of Stewardship. Hopefully I will do better with that in our future readings.

 

[1] Op, Ed. “Ross Dothan Biography: Politics, Religion, Moral Values and Higher Education.” The New York Times. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/.

[2] Douthat, Ross Gregory. To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

[3]  Lamb, Brian (May 6, 2009). Q & A with Ross Douthat. C-Span Archives. Retrieved October 20, 2009. C-Span.com.

[4] Ballmer, Randall. “Sunday Book Review: Bad Religion by Ross Douthat.” April 27, 2012. The New York Times. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/.

[5] Douthat, Ross Gregory. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. New York: Free Press, 2013. p. 290.

[6]  Ibid., p. 178.

[7]  Ibid., p. 292.

[8]  Oppenheimer, Mark. Ross Douthat’s Fantasy World.  Mother Jones: January/February 2010. Assessed March 21, 2018. https://motherjones.com/.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

6 responses to “The Former Pentecostal, Now Catholic, Is a Little Bit Rockstar”

  1. Excellent post brother Jay, and I too am grateful to be in the family of God with you. I also have to say I cracked up over your Christian definition of B.S. 🙂 Thanks for the background info on the author, that was helpful for me and I agree with you that him being in the spotlight I think has made him a little crass and rough around the edges and his writing does not seem all that conservative in the way he treated the people he wrote about. By the way, don’t worry about your post not always connecting to your topic…not always possible or practical. Press on my friend.

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,
    Thanks for your comments to my post! I agree, the prosperity gospel deceives many in our country. I was able to witness it first hand in Botswana and Zambia. The prosperity churches would give their congregants special uniforms to wear, with bright bold colors, all matching of course, and then make them give their money, do their good works, with the promises of prosperity for them and their families. Throw in a little ancestor worship, and witch doctor threats into the mix, and you have a very interesting host of evil forces from dark spiritual places.
    I think you can use link the prosperity gospel them to connect with your dissertation. I have sensed some of your Financial Peace University types might touch the fringes of that hypocritical or maybe heretical notion.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. Jay, I love your heart. Thanks for the shout-out and encouragement. With Jake, I also cracked up with your definition of BS. We aren’t so polite up here in Canada. 😉

    I think there is a difference between hypocrisy and heresy. My understanding of the book was that Douthat was exploring where various streams of Christianity were trending towards heresy, and falling away from the ancient core of what has been historic faith. I would view hypocrisy as holding to the historic tenets, but then living as though they didn’t matter.

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    I think you are correct in your assessment that it must be very difficult to remain in the spotlight as Douthat clearly is and maintain objectivity and clarity. Yet, would that not be true for all the authors we have read this semester? They are all very intelligent, write superbly, believe they are able to see things objectively and feel compelled to communicate that to whoever is willing to listen.

    Douthat did mention Larry Burkett in the text and I wonder if there is any correlation between his ‘heresy’ and that of Ramsey? Perhaps there is something there for you to chew on after all.

    Enjoy the week!

  5. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Jay good job. I too have been struggling with connecting all of these to my dissertation topics, although these books and dialogue have certainly been edifying.

    great background on our author. you are always great at that.

    and I too love our catholic representative. 🙂

  6. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jay, I wondered if you would write about Larry Burkett and do any comparative to Dave Ramsey. Did you find his content in Douthat’s text? Have you seen any difference/similarities between the two? I am interested to hear where you are going with your project as it pertains to finance and stewardship. I also wonder if you have had any conversation with Mark as he does so much with benevolence which inevitably crosses into stewardship as well.

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