Acton Institute Powerblog

Food for Thought: Andrew Sullivan and Retrofitted Christianity

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The Hugh Hewitt/Andrew Sullivan kerfuffle has been mentioned a few times on the PowerBlog (here and here, for example), and while the dust has largely settled from that event, the issues that it raised continue to be addressed in various corners of the blogosphere. The most interesting (and extensive) commentary that I’ve read on Sullivan and his new book is by the Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts, who serves as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California. Roberts’ critique is well worth a read in full, but here’s a sample to get you going:

I find Sullivan’s thoughts about Christianity fascinating for several reasons. One is that he epitomizes something I’d call “Retrofitted Christianity.” What do I mean by this? If you look up “retrofit” in the dictionary, one definition reads: “To provide with parts, devices, or equipment not in existence or available at the time of original manufacture.” If you retrofit a classic car, for example, you might give it a new engine that wasn’t available when the car was first built. So retrofitted Christianity is a version of classic faith that includes new parts that weren’t there at first. Some people, like Andrew Sullivan, think this is a better or even more authentic version of the faith. Others, like me, for example, are concerned that the retrofitted version of Christianity exemplified by Sullivan lacks some essential parts, even though it gets some things right.

Marc Vander Maas


  • Thanks for pointing out Mark D. Roberts’ post. Was just reading it this a.m., and completely agree. MDR has strong counterpoints to many issues relative to Christianity in modern times (gnosticism, the diety of Christ, etc). Hard to beat MDR for making theology easy to grasp.

    His summary paragraph is also worth reading:

    “Andrew Sullivan emphasizes the experience of being with God and imitating the loving praxis of Jesus. Surely these are both central to the Christian life. But Sullivan tends to ignore or to deny the way in which relationship with God is also an experience of “sitting at the feet of Jesus,” if you will. Jesus does indeed teach us to put love at the top of our priorities, but He does not command us to ignore everything else. Rather, when we spend time with Jesus, He gives us truths to believe and actions to do. In fact, He said that the wise person is one who “hears and acts” on His words (Matthew 7:24). Therefore, authentic Christianity isn’t just a matter of being with Jesus and imitating Him. It’s also a matter of believing Him and obeying Him.”

    Indeed. Conservatives tend to be truth oriented, and Progressives grace oriented. These orientations tend to drive our actions and our politics.

    Being full of both grace and truth, Jesus doesn’t give us the option of ignoring one in favor of the other. Being fully God and fully Man, he also doesn’t give us the option of merely having our feet on the ground and being heavenly minded. This means our theology, our philosophy, our economics, our politics, our ecology, and our philanthropy will be incomplete even if we’re managing to balance these (sacred/secular; left/right) 50-50.

    There is a huge difference between plurality and completeness for the Christian, and that difference is Christ In Us.