Whose vision will prevail? A conversation between Douthat and Butler-Bass

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

This video of Diane Butler-Bass and Ross Douthat interacting over their respective books on the state of religion in contemporary America is worthy of your time and attention. Butler-Bass is a progressive episcopalian who researches and writes (largely) about renewal (not in the sense of becoming orthodox, but in the sense of flourishing) within mainline Christianity. Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times and a practicing Catholic.

In short, Douthat claims that Christianity in North America can be saved by rooting itself in the “little o” Orthodoxy of the Canonical Scriptures, Ecumenical councils, and the received tradition of interpretation (the deposit of faith) handed on by the church. Bass, on the other hand, argues that there are pocket of life and renewal (around 10% of mainline congregations) within the mainline churches–especially in congregations that have come to understand themselves as localized communities of practice.

The central disagreement between the two seems to be on the matter of dogma. For Douthat dogma informs and shapes the life of Christian communities and provides a center around which the community orients itself. For Butler-Bass dogma is the result of practice such that it is more accurate to say that Christians perform their faith before their live their faith (in an experiential sense). Douthat, of course, wouldn’t dispute the performance of one’s faith since the Roman Catholic tradition has a highly developed liturgical theology.

The interesting question this interview poses is whether and how “traditionalists” and “progressives” can co-exist in the same community? In some sense this interview suggests that such a shared existence is possible. YOu’ll note that the two agree on 90% of the topics of conversation. However, the 10% they disagree on is pretty essential stuff: the nature of dogma, etc.

What do you think? Can traditionalists and progressives coexist? Or, alternately, are we seeing the coexistence of neo-orthodox and post-liberals in most mainline traditions since most traditionalists have already left?

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