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Recently, Ross Douthat wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. Douthat is Roman Catholic, and is a Times opinion columnist who writes particularly about politics, religion, moral values, and higher education. Now being a New York Times opinion writer, it is not difficult to guess where his political affiliations lie.
The piece that he recently wrote was entitled, Can Politics Save Christianity? (You can read it at: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/18/opinion/christianity-politics.html) In the article, I think he made some pretty good points, but at the same time he went in a direction with his opinion that caused his final conclusion to come out rather wonky.
As a bottom line conclusion, he expressed the opinion that, “No, politics cannot save Christianity.” He then went on to note the decline in the American Roman Catholic church that has gotten to the point where they don’t even have enough priests to cover all their churches, and are having to reorganize by consolidating churches and moving priests around. He notes, at this point, that many Catholics blame the Church’s descent on the religious decline in society at large. Then, based on his evaluation, he asserts that many conservative Catholics have begun hitching their wagon to conservative politics in hopes that by creating a more religion friendly environment, the situation will turn around.
From there, he goes on to say that on the progressive side of the equation, rather than trying to change society by engaging politics, this group has focused on progressive causes that align with the message of the gospel. And because of that, progressivism has been on the ascension in the Church. He then compares the growth of Progressivism within in the Church with how the Christian church grew in its early days – where by focusing on the message of the gospel, the church’s rapid spread finally influenced politics. His contention is, then, that progressive social justice beliefs, which he equates with the gospel message, will ultimately have a powerful effect by causing“Christian social justice” causes to take over society.
The place where he is right is in noting that political affiliations will not promote the spread of the gospel. The very purpose of the church is different from the purpose of politics, and the gospel will only be spread by the preaching of the message, not by promoting a political agenda.
But because Douthat began with a wrong premise, his conclusion ends up being just dead wrong. Progressive ideology is not the same as gospel beliefs. Social justice goals do not align with the teachings of the Bible.
In fact, in opposition to his contention, Progressivism is inherently political. It is an attempt to advance Marxist beliefs in society through a slow, step-by-step (progressive) approach. The ultimate goal is not to spread the message of the gospel, but to create utopia on earth using political means. It is thoroughly naturalistic in its foundational worldview beliefs, and ultimately has no place for the God of the Bible.
There is another thing that I also found interesting. Douthat also seems to be implying that by following the “biblical approach” (his grass roots progressivism), not only will it change society, but the church will experience revival, as well.
Actually, what on-the-ground experience shows us is that progressivism, far from causing revival in the church, destroys it. There are numerous examples of this on the protestant side of the ledger. In recent years, several major denominations have split because they have introduced progressive (liberal, woke, or whatever you want to call them) beliefs into their doctrine. As you look at the results of those splits, it is not the ones who went with progressive theology that are thriving, it is the conservative ones – the ones that stick with the teachings of the Bible. In fact, the progressive churches are slowly declining into oblivion.
Indeed, political activism will not cause the church to grow. But neither will the promotion of non-biblical beliefs. The only thing that will grow the church is to share the authentic gospel message with a world that is really messed up.
Now to be sure, there is a proper place for Christians to engage in political activity. But that is a subject for a different article.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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