Ross Douthat in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, explores the major changes that have occurred in U.S. religious life since the 1950s. Douthat is similar to David Bebbington and Karl Polanyni. Bebbington in his work, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, deals with the historical board period that provides rich insights into the rise and spread of this movement throughout Britain. Polanyni’s, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, similar, while tracing the historical roots of the modern day economic system known as the free market, is not producing a historical work but sets out discover the trends within human institutions that enabled the self-regulating free market system to come into existence. Douthat like these two authors mentioned does a fantastic job of weaving together scientific and historical data that paints a convincing picture of how the Church came to a crossroads with its faith in the modern age.
Edward C. Polson of Messiah College writes, “rather than simply writing another book documenting the decline of institutional religion,… Douthat’s primary concern here is diagnosing the conditions that have contributed to the current state of affairs.”Going against the favorite track of understanding that secularism has overtaken the American Church, Douthat believes the major problem is internal rather than external. Out of all the issues facing the church the internal battle or lack thereof, in relating to unchecked heresy among ordinary religious citizens, is what Douthat argues is the most significant challenge.
Grenz and Olson asked the question in the form of their book, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God and the answer is everyone. Douthat’s work proves this answer right again and with more convincing truths. In response to the change in culture, the church takes one of two roads, cultural accommodation or cultural resistance according to Douthat. He believes neither is the right answer but a getting back to orthodoxy.
As a “Spirit-filled” church that battled and still battles the “Prosperity Gospel,” chapter 6 on the health and wealth Gospel hit close to home. I know that there are some who are now reshaping that message and helping to bring people back to center on it. I was reminded while working through this book, that leadership demands that you hold yourself in the tension of moving forward while being anchored back as well as the people you are leading. As a leader in the church, we should always be anchored to the faith once delivered, even while we try and contextualize it in the present.
I do agree with Douthat that the internal struggles have caused much angst to the church, but so have the external ones. In Meet Gen Z, James Emery White talks about the impact of secularization. He states,
“Secularization is the process by which something becomes secular. It is the cultural current making things secular” he continues and says, “famed sociologist Peter Berger defined secularization as the process by which “sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols”, this simply means that the church is losing its influence as a shaper of life and thought in the wider social order, and Christianity is losing its place as the dominant worldview.”
While the stats continue to tell us the church is losing ground in the present and future, my prayer is that God is raising leaders that understand the times and know what to do, like the Issachar tribe of the past.
Polson, Edward C. 2013. “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. “Christian Scholar’s Review 42, no. 2: 198, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/1281848632?accountid=11085.
 Douthat, Ross Gregory. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. New York: Free Press, 2013, 3.
Ibid., see chapters 3 and 4.
 White, James Emery. Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (p. 28). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.