Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviewed Ross Douthat in the latest issue of Christianity Today. Douthat, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and a practicing Catholic, is the author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. While Douthat’s title is spicy and sure to provoke, his interview with Bailey was articulate, thoughtful, and at times – very helpful. After several questions diagnosing America’s evangelical and political posture, Bailey asked Douthat, “How can we begin to address a nation of heretics?” Douthat’s reply is worth noting:
There has been much healthy Catholic and Protestant dialogue and cooperation during the past 30 years. But ultimately the success of U.S. Christianity depends on individual churches and confessions, not on ecumenism for ecumenism’s sake. Protestants and Catholics need to recognize everything we have in common and then say we’re also going to focus on building separate effective churches.
For evangelicals, it means thinking more seriously about ecclesiology and what it will take to sustain Christianity across generations. Promise Keepers, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other parachurch groups have been important to evangelicalism. But “parachurch” makes sense over the long term in the context of a church. The danger for evangelicalism is becoming too parachurch without enough church. Some megachurches seem to function like parachurches rather than churches, as though everything else that’s going on is more important than the central life of the community of worship. It might be important for evangelicals to think of themselves as Presbyterians, Baptists, and so on, and recover the virtues of confessionalism, because it’s confessions, not just superstar pastors, that sustain Christianity over the long haul.
While I don’t agree that confessionalism alone will save the day, I believe Douthat’s observation and emphasis on the local church’s vitality and health is fantastic. Douthat closes the interview by emphasizing the same truth:
Finally, it’s very important for contemporary Christians to be ecumenical and to see the best in one another’s congregations, but not at the expense of having a robust, resilient internal culture within their own churches. Lewis compares his “Mere Christianity” to a hallway with doors opening into various rooms, which are the actual Christian churches. You can’t spend all your time in the hallway. You can go out into the hallway to talk, but you have to go back in the rooms to worship.