Scandalously Comprehensive Love and Judgment

Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012) examines post World War II American Christianity and its lamentable decline. In the chapter on the 1960s and ’70s hemorrhaging of mainline denominations (“accommodationists”), he explains some of their major faults. Interestingly, similar words could be written about much of today’s Christianity as well, as much of it is repackaged liberalism marketed as new and revolutionary. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun.

“Genuine mysticism ultimately depends on genuine belief, and it often seems that all of these efforts were just so much ‘play’ with little connection to actual conviction…The old foundations of Christianity were being undercut by the social revolutions of their era. Yet they had failed to identify any new foundation that could inspire real piety, real allegiance, real belief.

“Here their emulation of Jesus proved fatally incomplete. In their quest to be inclusive and tolerant and up-to-date, the accommodationists imitated his scandalously comprehensive love, while ignoring his scandalously comprehensive judgments. They used his friendship with prostitutes as an excuse to ignore his explicit condemnations of fornication and divorce. They turned his disdain for religious authorities of his day and his fondness for tax collectors and Roman soldiers into a thin excuse for privileging the secular realm over the sacred. While recognizing his willingness to dine with outcasts and converse with nonbelievers, they deemphasized the crucial fact that he had done so in order to heal them and convert them – ridding the leper of his sickness, telling the Samaritans that soon they would worship in spirit and truth, urging the woman taken in adultery to go, and from now on sin no more.

“Given the climate of the 1960s and ’70s, these choices were understandable. But the more the accommodationists emptied Christianity of anything that might offend the sensibilities of a changing country, the more they lost any sense that what they were engaged in really mattered, or was really, truly true.”

-Ross Douthat in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012), p 108 [emphasis his]


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