Liberal Christians, Yes. Liberal Churches, No.
Ross Douthat demolishes theologian Diana Butler Bass’s case that liberal Christianity, despite its current travails, is the wave of the future. She’s right that young adults are searching for a spiritual path, but they social science data show that they’re definitely not searching for a church. Excerpt:
As I tried to argue in my own book, this individualism has consequences that liberal Christians as well more traditional believers should find more worrying than cheering: Consequences for local community (because it’s harder to care for your neighbor when you don’t have a congregation around you to provide resources and support), consequences for society as a whole (because the declining institutional churches leaves a void that our insolvent government is unlikely to effectively fill, no matter how many elections the Democratic Party wins), and consequences for private morality (because an individualistic faith is more likely to encourage solipsism and narcissism, in which the voice of the ego is mistaken for the voice of the divine). Like many religious progressives, Bass has great hopes for Christianity after organized religion, Christianity after the institutional church. But I feel like we already know what that Christianity looks like: It’s the self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith that Christian Smith and others have encountered when they survey today’s teenagers and young adults, which conceives of God as part divine butler, part cosmic therapist, and which jettisons the more challenging aspects of Christianity that the traditional churches and denominations, for all their many sins and follies, at least tried to hand down to us intact.
Did you buy Ross’s recent book, “Bad Religion”? You really should, if you care at all about these sorts of questions. There’s something in it to afflict the comfortable of the religious left and the religious right both.