In Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat examines some of the most significant changes that have occurred in U.S. religious life since the 1950s. Douthat argues that the problem with contemporary American religion is not growing secularism or unrelenting religious fanaticism. Instead, Douthat contends that religious denominations and leaders have increasingly adopted heretical approaches to belief and practice in well-meaning efforts to reconcile faith with modern perspectives on some issues including science, sexuality, and politics (65-81). That is, in his view what has transpired is simply bad religion. Such shifts, Douthat argues, seek to make faith more palatable to the public by deemphasizing important tensions that exist in Scripture, doctrine, and tradition and by encouraging overly simplistic methods for dealing with dilemmas posed by social and cultural change (81). He suggests that such shifts ultimately rob Christianity of its power to influence society. In concluding Douthat suggests a way forward for Christianity in America. Orthodox faith must strive to be “political without being partisan,” ecumenical and confessional, moralistic and holistic, and “oriented toward sanctity and beauty” (284-293). Douthat seems to believe that an emphasis on these central tensions within Christian faith and practice might counteract the influence of the various heresies currently plaguing the church in America.
I must say I do not share the reviewer’s mood or less-than-hopeful conclusion of Douthat’s work. I found Douthat’s Roman Catholic faith and journalistic style, while not necessarily academic or especially theological, to be clear and helpful. His arguments, prognosis, and conclusion were encouraging and practical (a vast improvement over Vincent Miller’s Consuming Religion). I was startled how much I valued this source. While not playing a role in my research, I was unexpectedly affected by this assignment. I was captivated by Douthat’s construct that, “We have always been a nation of heretics, but heresy has never had the field to itself. Instead, the potency, creativity, and resilience of American faith have been a testament to both the boldness of our spiritual freelancers and the staying power of our religious establishments – “ Formerly I would have thought of heresy as demeaning and devaluing as well as dangerous and nefarious. Douthat has helped me to see this is why the alleged heretics of another day and time (Pentecostals and Third Wave Charismatics) were needed to do their part to move the Church forward. That is, what may be viewed as heretical at the moment may prove to be invaluable to the greater Church over time. However, my own particular “heretical” faith movement also needs (and deeply appreciates) the orthodox streams of the Church that predate us and are “other than” us. In so doing, we all form “the river of Christian orthodoxy.” The author promotes that this “spirit of paradox and mystery, of both/and rather than either/or, has made Christianity extraordinarily adaptable.” Douthat contends that the challenge of the Church in America for the twenty-first century is that orthodoxy does not slowly wither away and only leave heresies.
I think what so moved me about this construct, is that this affirms why after some forty years of ministry experience, I went back to seminary and eventually became part of this program and this cohort. We are not merely passive participants coming from different generations, genders, cultures, and streams of the Church who happened to end up in LGP9. We are all the river of Christian orthodoxy and are called to love, learn from each other, and grow to “recover Christianity.” in our lifetime, within our respective callings, in our assigned locales. Douthat left me optimistic that we can be political without being partisan, ecumenical but also confessional, moralistic but also holistic, and oriented towards sanctity and the arts. While I am sure I do not tell each of you enough, I deeply appreciate your perspectives, thought processes, and respective streams of Christian orthodoxy.
 Polson, Edward C. “Ross Douthat. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.” Christian Scholar’s Review 42, no. 2 (2013): 198.
 Douthat, Ross, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York, NY: Free Press, 2012) 6.
 Douthat, Bad Religion, 11.
 Douthat, Bad Religion, 284-291.