From the Alumni Board: Join YDS in debating heresy, the end of church, and the future of faith

Jeffrey Oak ’86 M.Div. ’96 Ph.D.
President, YDS Alumni Board

The French moralist Joseph Joubert once commented that “it is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”

Book CoverOn April 25 YDS will host “Future of Faith,” a conversation with NY Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat and author Diana Butler Bass. While not a debate per se, the conversation between Douthat and Bass promises to be both spirited and enlightening, as these authors articulate radically different answers to one of the most pressing questions facing us today: what should the future of Christian faith look like?

In his book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012) Douthat offers a searing critique of our current situation, where “traditional Christian teachings have been warped into justifications for solipsism and anti-intellectualism, jingoism and utopianism, selfishness and greed.” A principal cause of this warping, according to Douthat, is a “choose-your-own-Jesus mentality [which] encourages spiritual seekers to screen out discomfiting parts of the New Testament and focus only on whichever Christ they find most congenial.” 

Douthat’s vision for the future is to reverse the accommodationist tendencies of contemporary culture. If we were to apply H. Richard Niebuhr’s typology to Douthat’s critique, the “Christ of culture” seems to be his principal target. Toward this end, he maintains that the clues to a promising future can be found by looking to the past, through a reappropriation of Christian orthodoxy inspired by the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bass book coverDiana Butler Bass is an engaging writer, speaker and independent scholar who employs historical and sociological insights in her analysis of American religion and culture. In her recent book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne, 2012) Bass explores why Christianity in the US no longer seems to have the same cultural influence and numerical strength it once enjoyed. But whereas Douthat finds hope in the familiar past of Christian orthodoxy, Bass sees the answer in a yet unknown future, where ancient traditions are reformed, renewed and reimagined in ways that “make sense to contemporary people,” who are “questioning conventional patterns of faith and belief.” 

Bass maintains that religion seeks to answer three questions: What do I believe? What am I to do? Who am I and to whom do I belong? She says traditional Christianity moves from belief to behavior to belonging. For Bass’s “renewed Christianity” the movement is in the opposite direction: belonging to community results in changes to my behavior, which ultimately leads to authentic, trust-filled belief. It is this “post religious” faith that Bass believes is leading to a Fourth Great Awakening.

The conversation will be moderated by Bob Abernathy, host of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and Lillian Daniel, senior pastor of First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, IL and author of When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough (Jericho Books, 2013). Those who aren’t able to attend the lecture in person are invited to join the webcast live on Thursday, April 25, 3:00 – 5:30 pm EST through the following link: 

http://new.livestream.com/yaledivinityschool/FutureofFaith

Ross Douthat and Diana Butler Bass may not “settle the question” of the future of Christian faith, but their discussion and debate is sure to open your eyes and get you thinking in new ways. 


Date Posted: Monday, April 1, 2013 - 6:21pm