The term “gospel-centered” is certainly overused, but I contend that it still has great value, at least as a concept. And that is because of the rampant presence of distortions to the central Christian message–“God saves sinners”–that exist in America, and within the American church. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics chronicles these “heresies”, from the “Pray and Grow Rich” gospel of the likes of Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, to “The God Within” message of Elizabeth Gilbert, Deepak Chopra, and a generation of Moralist Therapeutic Deists, to “The City on a Hill” nationalism and co-opting of God for the purposes of both the Right and the Left. I highly recommend this book. Here a few gems to whet your appetite:

On the non-orthodox varieties of American Christianity: “…America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place.”

On the church’s relation to politics: “The present danger to our democracy (is) that the heresy of nationalism’s co-option of Christian faith has left the faith too weak to play the kind of positive role it has often played in our public life. In our nation’s better moments, Christianity has been intimately involved in American politics while standing somewhat apart from partisanship, summoning the country to reform without falling victim to the conceit that political reform is religion’s only purpose.”

On the proponents of “The God Within”: “For all their claims to ancient wisdom, there’s nothing remotely countercultural about the Tolles and Winfreys and Chopras. They’re telling an affluent, appetitive society exactly what it wants to hear: that all of its deepest desires are really God’s desires, and that He wouldn’t dream of judging. This message encourages us to justify our sins by spiritualizing them…”

On the attractiveness of heresy: “Many of the overlapping crises in American life, from our foreign policy disasters to the housing bubble to the rate of out-of-wedlock births, can be traced to the impulse to emphasize one particular element of traditional Christianity—one insight, one doctrine, one teaching or tradition—at the expense of all the others. The goal is always progress: a belief system that’s simpler or more reasonable, more authentic or more up-to-date. Yet the results often vindicate the older Christian synthesis. Heresy sets out to be simpler and more appealing and more rational, but it often ends up being more extreme.”

On the empty promises of therapeutic religion: “The result is a nation where gurus and therapists have filled the roles once occupied by spouses and friends, and where professional caregivers minister, like seraphim around the throne, to the needs of people taught from infancy to look inside themselves for God. Therapeutic religion promises contentment, but in many cases it seems to deliver a sort of isolation that’s at once comfortable and terrible—leaving us alone with the universe, alone with the God Within.”