A general consensus exists among Americans, including church-going Americans, that the “church” in America is in serious decline. The mainline Protestant denominations are a shadow of what they once were; the Catholic Church is beset by both declining attendance and the clergy scandals. Evangelical churches seem to be holding their own, but there’s little growth.
In society at large, civility is dying. The federal government lurches from budget crisis to budget crisis because of deep and widening political divisions. Supreme Court nominations have become occasions for grotesque political theater. Society seems drowning in opioid addiction. Movies and popular television drown us in profanity, gratuitous sex, and political correctness. The news media has forgotten how to report news and instead offers up political opinion barely masquerading as news.
The two developments – the decline in the church and the decline in society – are connected.Jake Meador, editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy and vice president of the Davenant Institute, points to the failure of modern liberalism as the cause. It’s certainly true for the decline of society and it’s at least a significant factor in the decline of the church as well. So what do we do?
In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World is Meador’s answer to that question. He doesn’t advocate throwing our hands up in surrender and hiding out in our various bubbles. Instead, he looks at how the Christian community might respond, and that’s whom he’s talking to here.
He looks first at the problem – the decline of the church and common life in America. He considers what problems for achieving community exist with the loss of meaning, wonder, and good work. He shifts to a look at what community practices might have application to the problem – the Sabbath (and the chief end of man; look at your Westminster Catechism); community; and work. And then he projects the promise, including how all this might work with political doctrine and civil virtue.
Meador has made a reasoned, considered argument, and he’s largely right (although non-Christians might object to that). I have two minor quibbles. First, in any discussion on this topic, too much of a reliance upon news media reports and opinion columnists can undercut an argument. The media have become a serious part of the problem of America’s decline. Second, and this is really minor, quoting an anthropologist about what jobs could disappear that no one would mind losing may be a case of “Sir, you might look in the mirror first.”
Still, these are minor issues. Meador makes a good argument. He presents good ideas and possibilities. And he’s made an important contribution to the discussion that’s just not getting underway among Christians. In Search of the Common Good is well worth our time to read, ponder, and determine what we might do to reinvent and restore community.
Top photograph by Mario Purisic via Unsplash. Used with permission.