Reaction to “The Benedict Option”: Convicted Yet Cautious

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Reviews of The Benedict Option began even before the book was released in March this year and haven’t let up. Clearly, it’s touched a nerve. Rod Dreher recommends that American Christians plan a strategic withdrawal from American culture. He compares his option to the Benedictine monasteries that were established during the barbarian takeover of the Christianized Roman Empire. Dreher says that just as these monasteries preserved faithful Christianity so it would exist to flourish again at a later time, American Christians need to do the same. American culture has become so toxic that any efforts to regain a position by which we could save it is futile. Our best option, then, is to find ways to preserve faithful Christianity within the new Dark Ages.

My reaction: convicted yet cautious.

His observations about how deeply-compromised American Christianity has become will resonate with biblically-faithful Christians. His advice about forming robust faith is sound, as well as his warnings about the coming negative consequences to vocational ambitions and income among those who try to maintain that robust faith.

Yet I’m cautious about this book. I’m concerned it will accelerate a bunker mentality that’s already prevalent in conservative Christian circles. Congregations can either see themselves as beachheads or bunkers. Beachheads are offensive positions from which to advance into the world; bunkers are defensive positions in which to retreat from the world. Those who want their churches to be bunkers will find comfort in this book. In interviews since the release of the book, Dreher expresses frustration at those who raise this objection to his book. It’s certainly true that throughout his book he insists that the Benedict Option is no call to hide away from the world. But when the futility of effecting any change to our barbarian-dominated culture is as loudly proclaimed as it is in this book, it’s hard to actually hear his few simple caveats that the Benedict Option is not, by the by, about withdrawal.

I think Tom Gilson’s observations about the book are helpful: 

I wish he hadn’t kept describing Christians as “exiles in place.” “Exiles” is the wrong word. We’re much more like expatriates. Exiles’ eyes remain turned toward their homelands, where they hope to return as quickly as possible. Often they make it their mission from a distance to accomplish social and political reform back home. We have no such distant home in need of reforming. Our mission is right where we are. Indeed, there’s another word for Christian expatriate: missionary. Missionaries go out on purpose, sent by God to love the people of their new homelands, and to discover how best to live and share the way of Christ in that cultural context. We don’t need to adopt the self-pitying language of exile. Instead we can embrace the joyful privilege of being missionaries in place. It isn’t just a more positive approach—it’s why God has us here. The Benedict Option needs an Expatriate Alternative.


“Those drops of fellowship were not—had never been—his to withhold”

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Did he still want to live?

Yes, yes, oh, God, yes, please.

Because, okay, the thing was—he saw it now, was starting to see it—if some guy, at the end, fell apart, and said or did bad things, or had to be helped, helped to quite a considerable extent? So what? What of it? Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting? Why should the sh– not run down his legs? Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could still be many—many drops of goodness, is how it came to him—many drops of happy—of good fellowship—ahead, and those drops of fellowship were not—had never been—his to withheld.

Withhold.

Don Eber, a character with a terminal diagnosis who had decided to end it all, and then changed his mind. From George Saunders’ “Tenth of December.” Get his short story collection here or read the one short story free here). Probably the best argument against euthanasia I’ve read, and in a literary context.


“They display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life”

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“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.”

From an unknown “disciple of the apostles” to Diognetus in the second century


When Watching “Silence,” Pay Attention to Four Things

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If you missed Silence in theaters, it begins streaming March 14 and is available on DVD March 28. Silence is Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the 1965 Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo about the persecution of Japanese Christians in the 17th century.

The film is not an easy one to sit through, in part because of the intense scenes of Christian persecution, but also because the main character who carries the story line fails. If you decide to watch the film or read the book, here are four things to pay attention to:

First, pay attention to the heroes at the periphery. The story is told through the experiences of Rodrigues, but his companion, Garupe, takes a very different route. Again, the Japanese church leaders make the noble choice to die rather than give up their priests to the Magistrate.

Second, pay attention to the arrogant ambition that led to failure. Rodrigues’ self-centered ambition led to his failure. He knew there would be personal glory in finding his mentor Ferreira, and glory if he nobly endured persecution. His ambition is masterfully exploited by the Magistrate. His ambition for personal glory left him woefully unprepared for his trials.

Third, pay attention to the re-definition of divine silence. Endo, the author of the popular novel, didn’t want to call it Silence. He was afraid readers would misinterpret the point of the novel and assume it was about God’s indifferent unresponsiveness to human suffering. I’ve read a few reviews of Scorsese’s film that make this assumption. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be sure, in faithfulness to the novel even the cinematography and the soundtrack of the film make silence a prominent feature. But God is hardly silent, even in the silence.

Fourth, pay attention to the repeated return to God’s mercy—and the permission to do so. The despicable/pitiful Kichijiro makes repeated commitments to Christ and his people, only to fail again and again. But each time, he pleads forgiveness and hopes for a new start. Rodrigues, too, can only lean into the same hope for absolution that he offers as a priest to Kichijiro. In fact, by the end the only character who stands outside God’s mercy is Ferreira, and only because the failed priest insists he has no need to seek something he no longer believes in. Kichijiro (whom Endo said he most closely identified with), is often understood as the Judas character, but I’d say Ferreira deserves that assignation more.

If you pay attention to these four things, I think you’ll appreciate this unexpected treasure.


Your Witness: Don’t Leave Home Without It

We go on vacation to get away from it all and “just be ourselves.” Believe me, the very last thing we should do on vacation is be ourselves–our impatient selves, our selfish selves, our undisciplined selves, our unkind selves. Here are six ways you can be a faithful witness as you travel.

Lifeway’s HomeLife magazine published this article back in 2001 when I was serving as pastor in the Cayman Islands, a popular vacation spot. You can find it here:

(Click the little box with an arrow and you’ll get a large enough image to read the print)


About Tom

ANCHOR COURSE LOGO Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.