Most of us debate poorly. There are a number of factors like not knowing what we believe as well as we should, presenting a caricature of an opposing position, and even if we don’t err with those two, we tend to get testy! My number one resource for making improvement is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. I wish every American would read and ponder this seminal book.
Scholars are rarely prophets and prophets are rarely scholars. I was reminded of this in reading the much debated, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.
Rod Dreher, journalist and outspoken Christian, is decidedly on the prophetic side of the scholar-prophet spectrum. This, however, does not mean that he is incapable of helping us better understand the far-reaching and practical ramifications of something as arcane as nominalism.
We must say right out of the blocks that Dreher’s book is not a jeremiad screed to head for the hills. Rather, Dreher advocates for “exile in place.” The preposition is key. We are to cultivate faithfulness with other like-minded folks not simply to hunker down in our religious enclaves. We should form these counter-cultural communities to strengthen our capacity to engage, not escape, our world. This is a clarion call by a gifted writer to let the church be the church.
I have my disagreements with some of Dreher’s analysis and antidotes. With respect to the former, Dreher is insufficiently aware of what the Protestant Reformers meant by sola Scriptura. As Keith Mathison memorably puts it, sola Scpritura does not mean solo Scriptura. Among other things, leaning on the thesis in Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation made for a potted history. Dreher would have been greatly helped if he had availed himself of the work of either Mathison or D.H. Williams, especially his Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: a Primer of Suspicious Protestants.
As to antidotes, I don’t share Dreher’s sweeping denunciation of public schools. For the record, our two sons attended Christian schools, had a few years of homeschooling, and went to public high schools. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Sure, public schools can be a mess. I saw incompetent teachers and weak administrators, but I also saw bogus rules, unprincipled administrators and mean teachers at the Christian school. My experience, it needs to be noted, was both as a parent and a part-time teacher.
Dreher is rightly concerned about the corrosive effects of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.” I share his concerns. I also share Dreher’s conviction that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” As many have said, the church seems the most vital (and prophetic) when it works from the margins of power. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, Dreher’s book is a good reminder of that reality.
I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here. I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!
American Christians are especially in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.
I trust several of you are wrestling with what Rod Dreher has dubbed The Benedict Option. Much needed conversation, with quite a bit of feisty debate is being spawned by Dreher’s book. I will be reviewing Dreher’s book and a few others which are being called “alarmist” by some, but for now let me direct your attention to a terrific essay by Alan Jacobs (my gratitude to Bill Bridgman for bringing this to my attention). If you don’t read the entire thing, then chew on this:
In 1974, when the great bishop-theologian Lesslie Newbigin retired from his decades of labor in the Church of South India, he and his wife decided to make their way back to their native England by whatever kind of transportation was locally available, taking their time, seeing parts of the world that most Europeans never think of: from Chennai to Birmingham by bus. Newbigin would later write in his autobiography, Unfinished Agenda, that everywhere they went, even in the most unlikely places, they found Christian communities—with one exception. “Cappadocia, once the nursery of Christian theology, was the only place in our whole trip where we had to have our Sunday worship by ourselves, for there was no other Christian to be found.”
If the complete destruction of a powerful and beautiful Christian culture could happen in Cappadocia, it can happen anywhere, and to acknowledge that possibility is mere realism, not a refusal of Christian hope. One refuses Christian hope by denying that Jesus Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, not by saying that Christianity can disappear from a particular place at a particular time.
As quoted in Alan Jacobs, “The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange,” First Things, March 20, 2017
Random reflection from one of my writing projects:
Our cultural healers (Oprah, Tony Robbins, et al.) have no concept of sin and so can offer no real sense of redemption. Unfortunately, many Christians mimic the same approach of our cultural healers. Too many self-proclaimed Christians offer a superficial remedy and are increasingly embarrassed by the “ancient paths where the good way is.” (Jer. 6:14-16)
Is it any wonder that many of us Christians have no problem consuming and being influenced by large amounts of popular culture?
“No other country houses so many gorgeous frauds and imbeciles as the United States, and in consequence no other country is so amusing. Thus my patriotism is impeccable, though perhaps not orthodox. I love my country as a small boy loves the circus.”
H.L. Mencken as Quoted in Writers to Read: Nine Names that Belong on Your Shelf by Douglas Wilson