This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

Just before Christmas, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat responded in his newsletter to the continuing controversy about the Francis papacy in a surprising way.

What was surprising here is not that Douthat, a convert to Catholicism, would write about the church’s stormy politics; he does so all the time. Also not surprising is his almost-despair about the Francis papacy; he is almost surely the most widely read Roman Catholic critic of the pope.

Surprising, though, was his conclusion: that there’s never been a better time to be a Roman Catholic. Over the past year, I’ve come to a similar conclusion: that there’s never been a better time to be an evangelical Christian.

Douthat gets to his conclusion the long way around. He writes about his own conversion into a church led by Pope John Paul II and then Benedict XVI, when the Catholic future seemed to be trending toward even more of the kind of conservative Catholicism that drew Douthat in the first place.

He had come to the Times expecting to be a defender of the church—but then the terrifying scope of the sexual abuse crisis became clear. Then the pope resigned, followed by all of the ambiguity as to where the church would now be headed on matters such as marriage, family, sexuality, and even the authority of the papacy itself.

Douthat poses the anguished question, “Who would choose to be a Catholic at a time like this?”

In this, Douthat argues that conservative Catholics such as himself are perhaps sympathetic to the plight of the more liberalizing Catholics during the John Paul II era, who were often asked, If you don’t like the direction of the church, why not just become an Episcopalian?

Whatever the current tumult of the church, Douthat argues, these progressive Catholics truly believed that the reform they sought was God’s will and that they would be vindicated in the long run. The same impulse is present, he writes, in those dismayed by the confusing state of the church now.

Douthat argues that what’s evaporated is not a Catholic view of history or of its own authority but the flawed-from-the-first assumption that Rome would be a “safe harbor” from modernity or a “fortress against the struggles of the age.”

“When I meet people who are becoming Catholic now, at a time like this, the fact that those struggles are present inside the church does not seem to especially bother them,” Douthat writes. “They’re used to struggle and uncertainty, they don’t expect a simple refuge, and they recognize that any space of real spiritual power—which the Catholic Church still is, I promise—will inevitably be a zone of contestation as well.” Douthat argues that this has always been the state of the church “from the beginning, from failed and feckless popes all the way back to failed and even treacherous disciples.”

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The real question, he writes, is whether the Christian story is true. If it is, then the church will emerge intact from this crisis as it has all of those before, Douthat concludes. “And whether you’re a liberal, a conservative or just a believer trying to stay out of the crossfire, you should feel confident that what happens inside Roman Catholic Christianity will show some of those ways through.”

Far be it from me as a low-church Protestant to give counsel to Catholics about their struggles. As Pope Francis would say, “Who am I to judge?” But nor can I, being what Douthat calls the “stringent sort of conservative Protestant,” see in any of it “simple vindication for Calvin or Luther or their contemporary heirs.”

For an evangelical—especially an American evangelical—to show any sort of triumphalism in light of some other group’s identity crisis would be, at best, an inability to read the room, and, at worst, the kind of blindness that Jesus told us can only come for those who insist they can see (John 9:41). When it comes to the crises of evangelical Protestantism, though, I am in a very similar place to Douthat. I truly believe there is no better time to be born again. Here’s why.

Though not Roman, all of us profess to be “catholic,” in that we believe the church will ultimately endure through any “dangers, toils, and snares”—not to mention the abominations that make desolate—that the gates of hell (or the judgment of God) might muster. And, in addition to that, there are certain emphases that evangelicalism has brought to the broader body of Christ that should cause us to expect, and to endure, times like these.

The word evangelical is contested, of course, but sometimes we act as though this is a recent revelation. Evangelical is, quite intentionally, not an institution or an ideology. It describes instead a renewal movement that emphasizes and underscores certain aspects of universal Christianity—aspects that are maybe best described as the personal .

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Jesus told us, “You must be born again,” and revival movements have warned that implicit faith in a church—much less national, ethnic, or political identity—is not enough. The question “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” might sound clichéd and might carry the baggage of a certain hyper-programmed sort of salesmanship, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

At its best, evangelical Christianity reminds the world and the church that the Good Shepherd doesn’t just see the flock but the one sheep lost in the woods. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) is an important truth. So is “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). But we also need to hear and believe that Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, emphasis added).

Even our view of biblical authority—often derided as naive and literalistic—is an emphasis on the personal. The issue isn’t just the objective truthfulness of the Scriptures (although that’s a necessary condition), but the question of actually personally reading, hearing, and living the Word of God. Under that is a confidence that God—as in the days of Josiah—can speak with the voice that creates life and new creation, even when the structures and institutions have fallen away.

In fact, that’s what’s happened again and again. The Wesleys never “won” a battle for the Church of England. But even in the coldness of that Laodicean time, hearts were “strangely warmed” and a revival emerged, a revival that, as is often the case, wasn’t a comeback of institutions but a bypassing of them to reach people—one sinner at a time.

Whether in an established church or outside of it, evangelicalism at its best has reiterated that a government or a culture can neither establish nor impede the gospel.

That’s really relevant today, a time when some secular leftists think they can nudge religion out of existence. And on the Right, what is Christian nationalism but an attempt at an established religion—just established by the angers of populist mobs rather than by the traditions of parliaments or kings?

That doesn’t happen with a strategy or a blueprint. Indeed, personal renewal and church revival—what we might say evangelicalism at its best has aspired to conserve—nearly always start with despair and perplexity.

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Can these bones live?How can a man be born when he is old? The answers seem both obvious and daunting. That’s why Jesus said, “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8). Much of evangelical Christianity, at least in America, is beclowned and bewildered, deceiving and being deceived. That’s true—and should not, at least for evangelical Christians, be at all surprising.

But even when we are taken by surprise, and even when so many churches and institutions stumble in the dark—in the absence of a lampstand they don’t even remember to miss—Jesus still says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev. 3:20).

In fact, evangelical Christianity ought to be made of the people reminding everyone else that trends do not define the future. The trend of an individual life is always bad, after all. The gospel does not improve the trend—it interrupts it: “I once was lost, but now am found, / was blind, but now I see.”

All kinds of imbalances can happen. Evangelicalism can devolve into individualism and pragmatism, but the reason evangelicalism—whatever it calls itself—bursts out so often in the history of the church is that it speaks to those who’ve lost faith in their own effort or in the efforts of some institution they trusted.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “It is wholesome therefore for the Church to stand under the stinging rebuke ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham,’ a rebuke in the form of a statement of fact which history has validated again and again.” In fact, the Bible tells us, that very rebuke is good news (Luke 3:18) because those “stones,” over and over again, are the tax collectors and sinners everyone else has given up on, who have given up on themselves.

Revival tents can collapse. Cathedrals can fall. But if the tomb in that garden is really empty, if those women weren’t lying, there will still be a church—even if every other hope gives way. And in that church, there will still be people saying, “Jesus loves me, this I know / for the Bible tells me so.” Maybe the deadest, most cynical, most hostile person you can imagine—maybe even you?—might be the one leading that cry.

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In a time of justice-seeking without forgiveness, of self-actualization without new creation, people are longing for something many of them don’t even know to call “grace.” When they find it, they will be amazed. So should we.

We are born again at the right time. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2, ESV) might just be another way of saying this: There’s never been a better time to be an evangelical Christian.

Russell Moore is the editor in chief at Christianity Today and leads its Public Theology Project.