Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Episcopal Church on the ropes (continued)

The Episcopal blogosphere is buzzing with news of two recent newspaper articles about the decline of the mainline denominations, timed as usual for the just-ended triennial Episcopal General Convention. The article in The Wall Street Journal is best ignored, since it has a nasty tone (typical Rupert Murdoch) and many errors of fact. Several bishops have already written rebuttals.

The New York Times article, as noted in a previous Rumination, is another matter. Ross Douthat may have been a right-wing flamethrower at one time, but is so no longer. He has taken care to be as fair and balanced as possible while still maintaining a strong, forthright commitment to the Great Tradition of Christian doctrine. His op-ed column, which ran at the top of the high-profile page with a conspicuous photo of choristers and stained glass, is called "Can Liberal Christianity Survive?" There is no question about where his heart is, but he is not by any means one of the contrarians found on (for instance) Virtue Online. On the contrary, he writes this:
The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.
What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence.... the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic [i.e. doctrinally based--FR] than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God ... the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”
These ideas are only a suggestion of the sophisticated arguments in Douthat's recent book Bad Religion. I can't recommend it too highly. I don't agree with every single thing in it, and he makes a few mistakes (not many!) but anyone who thinks Douthat can be dismissed as if he were out in right field somewhere is as deep in denial as the current leadership of The Episcopal Church. I am far from being the only person to call attention to this stance of denial--typified by the common practice of describing the merging of churches (i.e. the closing of a church) as a step forward.

As the apostle Paul so forcefully declares in Romans 13, it's time to wake up from sleep,