Call for unity

end of protestantismREVIEW BY NICK MATTISKE


Peter Leithart’s book The End of Protestantism is not a lament for the decline of Western Christianity or a pessimistic prediction, but Leithart’s hope for the dismantling of denominationalism and the unification of the global Christian church.

It is, as he admits, a rather utopian hope. In fact, the history of the past 500 years suggests that denominations aren’t going to disappear any time soon, any more than narcissistic American celebrities are about to disappear from our television screens.

He rightly states that division has lessened the church’s ability, especially in the US, to confront American injustice and military adventuring. In his effort to describe what a unified church will look like, he says that we must all learn from each other, from the expression of ideas that might be different from our own.

But then he falls back into what members of denominations often do, and what sects do in extreme – tell people what they must believe to be ‘in’. He has his own particular ideas about what defines Christianity.

According to the author, the meaning of the presence in the Lord’s Supper is negotiable, but sexual ethics are not. Even though Leithart calls the church to be more prophetic, apparently the more liberal churches have been wasting their time on environmental concerns. He thinks, alarmingly, we should all wear white robes in church (think of the dry cleaning bills!). The trouble is, as he states early in the book, it is hard for Christians to even agree on fundamentals when doctrine and morality is a focus instead of simply Christ-like service to others. In a global, unified church, who decides?

Leithart’s call for unity is worthy, and food-for-thought, endorsed by no less a theologian than Stanley Hauerwas, but it highlights the conflict inside an organisation propelled by the Spirit but populated by flawed human beings who constantly find ways to disagree with each other.

Nick Mattiske writes on books at

Available from Brazos Press: RRP: $21.99

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