This sounds like an interesting book, but a very limited one. I'll accept it as a work of sociology; but it needs the context of church history to really be useful:
Yet Jones raises the possibility that Christianity can only function effectively as a religion in the absence of its dominance in culture, which is to say, as the underdog. Just as Southern evangelicals came to dominance as a response to the perceived diminishing of Christianity in the public sphere among the pluralistic tendencies of the 1950s, so too, Jones suggests, must any effective Christianity of today — one capable of firing up its members — respond against the dominant culture.
He cites several recent examples of thinkers who have advocated just that, from Rod Dreher’s “Benedict option” of focused seclusion to Baptist firebrand Russell Moore’s embrace of Christianity as counter-“cultural.” He writes, "As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of the gospel, which is what gives it its power in the first place.”
It is that paradox that lies at the heart of The End of White Christian America, and in discussions of Christianity and public life more generally. How can a religion often defined as a religion of outsiders — one whose sacred texts embrace the overturning of the money changers in the Jerusalem temple and celebrate those who leave their families behind to follow a wandering preacher — ever function in a dominant paradigm without losing its distinctive character?
It is that question that Jones’s book leaves us wondering: whether the death of White Christian America, as a cultural construct, is a good thing for Christianity, the religion. For a religion that was once subversive, Jones hints, being countercultural may just be the ideal way to be.
Modern-day ecclesiology has been focussed on that "paradox" for decades, now. The paradox is not at the heart of a sociological study; it's at the heart of church history. And the analysis discussed in the Vox article is limited to white Protestantism. If you want a critique of race and the white Protestant American church you can start with Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," because that was the thesis of that open letter to white Protestant churches. That the most segregated hour in America was Sunday morning starting at 11:00 a.m. (the Protestant worship hour) was true long before Tara Isabella Burton noticed white churches didn't really do that much in the civil rights movement of 50 years ago.
Christianity will have to become countercultural, even subversive, in order to remain one of the world's great religions. I really think that is beyond argument. The Catholic church was once the church of empire. In the New World, it was an arm of the Spanish king. The missions in Texas which are now national parks (and deservedly so) were not missionary efforts by Catholic orders; they were explicitly an effort of Spain to control land and people for the benefit of the crown. The Church may have been interested in souls, but it was the velvet glove around the iron fist of the King. And that's just an example from recent history, since all our knowledge of the Roman church and European politics tends to default to medieval times.
Never forget it was Lord Acton in the 19th century who warned the Pope, the leaders of Acton's church, that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. That the church should be in the world but not of the world, is hardly a new idea.
Nor do Protestants get off lightly in this. Calvin had his Zurich, and Luther his anti-semitism and his love of beer. They created churches around the cultures they knew, not from whole cloth and based on radical restructuring of human relationships. Many of the latter kind of experiments occurred in America after Protestantism had pretty well made America safe for Christianity (but not necessarily Roman Catholicism), but all those experiments soon fizzled. The Christian church has always been a creature of its culture, not a creator of culture. It is ideally a light in the world, but more commonly just another way for the world to justify itself. William Bradford wanted to create a Christian community when Europeans here were still colonists. When enough people had arrived to make Plymouth an outlier rather than the norm, his dream fell to reality. He had a chance to create a new culture; it didn't work. It never has.
Many would say Christianity did lose its "distinctive character," and is only now in a position to regain it. But that way lies arrogance and boundary drawing, leaving me "in" and you "out." That is not The Way, either. The great secret of Protestantism was that difference was allowed, and tolerated. There is not that much difference, in the end, between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, which is why the ecumenical movement flourished for as long as it did (Burton passes lightly over that, as if ecumenism were a weakness, not a strength. That may be her own view, or that of the book under review; I can't say. Whatever the source, it's wrong, if only because it presumes that evangelicals who have, as is noted in the review, seen their day (and a short day it was, too) were somehow more "successful". We have to wonder at a "success" that comes at the end of 500 years of Protestantism and is still only a minor portion of international Christianity, and already showing the limits of its power and appeal after a mere 30 years or so.). The way forward is not to start declaring a new "true church." The way forward is to do what Christians have done for millennia: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; fear God and obey God's commandments; do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God; clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the sick; entertain angels unaware.
The world will not count this as success. But the light will be in the world, even if the world knows it not.