Which form of contemporary Christianity is best suited to living out the time of exile that is fast approaching American Christians?
This is the question that my buddy Rod Dreher asks, in response to the Trueman article that I mentioned in my previous post. As you could probably guess if you read that post of mine, I’m not happy with the formation of the question, because it encourages the kind of braggadocio that I think Trueman manifests.
But also for another reason. When people describe a faith tradition that they admire, especially if they belong to it, they tend to describe it in its ideal form. But: Trueman’s list of Reformed virtues won’t be embodied fully by all Reformed congregations — indeed, many such congregations won’t consistently embody any of those virtues.
Now, if you point this out, you’re likely to be told that true Reformed (or Catholic, or evangelical, or Mennonite) congregations will indeed do all these good things, and that those that don’t aren’t truly Reformed ( or whatever) — see the “no true Scotsman” fallacy for how this line of argument works. But even if we were to accept the logic, it wouldn’t get us very far, because we wouldn’t know how likely it is that a given congregation in a given tradition will be “true.”
So in my judgment, there is no reliable or useful answer to Rod’s question. If indeed we are entering a time of exile — and again, I think that’s an open question — then what’s going to matter is not the ideal form of any given tradition, but how congregations are living out the Gospel in the places where they are planted. And the ones doing that most faithfully in my neighborhood might belong to very different traditions than the ones that are doing it most faithfully in your neighborhood.
So I would suggest a different approach: Look at the churches in your town that are flourishing, and by that I don’t mean in attendance numbers, but in living out the Gospel message. What are they doing right? How are they strengthening their own members and reaching out to people in the community who are in spiritual or material need? Let’s figure that out, and then compare notes. Then we might figure out what virtues and practices we need to survive a time of exile.