The Benedict Option, God’s Will, and Why Everyone Needs to Chillax


The Benedict OptionIn Christian circles, many have been talking about Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Fact is, people have been talking about it for about three years now, because that’s how long Dreher has been doling out bits of his major thesis about why Christians need to form their own remote, intentional communities. Given how much I’ve read of what Dreher has already written online, I will probably never read the book.

Nonetheless, here is my review of The Benedict Option. It’s one word:


Oddly enough, that’s my review of most Christian books advocating for widespread change or action from all Christians. At one point, I used to be keen to grasp and understand this idea of preserving Christian faith from the ravages of rapidly degrading culture. Like many Christians, I had concerns about this thing or that. I had worries. I’m sure you have or have had worries too.

But what I have come to realize in the last few years is that the reasons the Church in America is worried, or needs to worry, or doesn’t need to worry, are not really about what is happening outside the Church, but inside. You can say that’s always been the focus of Cerulean Sanctum: Church Heal Thyself.

But you read all these dystopian nonfiction books about the bad stuff arriving soon to hurt the Church, and what you finally realize is that all these books and warnings, and cautions, and handwringings are all brilliantly reasoned answers to the wrong questions.

We have this strange, self-absorbed idea in contemporary Western Christianity that the most pressing issue for the entirety of the world is that one thing that is most pressing to me. And we wonder how it is that people can be so blind so as not to see X bearing down on us like a runaway train. Why is it that you aren’t taking X seriously? Why aren’t you doing something about X? You must be in sin because X doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me.

And after a while, it all gets silly, this one-size-fits-all approach to discipleship and God’s working in the lives of His people.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Draw near to God.

Hear what God asks of me for my situation alone.

In response to that hearing, do what I can to achieve it with the unique resources God has provided to me.

Be at peace.

It sounds to me that God may be asking Rod Dreher to write a book about intentional communities that create a place of retreat. Maybe God is asking Rod Dreher to even start one.

That’s great for Rod Dreher.

And while it’s great for Rod Dreher, what it does not mean is that I must necessarily heed Rod Dreher’s call and follow the Benedict Option.

What is God asking of me in the situation in which He has placed me? What is God asking of you?

It seems to me that where we have gone astray in the modern church isn’t so much that we lost the culture wars and now must retreat to intentional communities but that we have made it mandatory to follow what some Christian leader, prognosticator, or pundit says. Sure we can listen, but we can also reject if that person’s message conflicts with what we know God is asking of you or of me in the situation you or I find before us.

Possessing no one-size-fits-all approach to life can be frightening. It means there isn’t a uniform plan. I think this scares us because listening to God to find our next steps can be hard. You can’t listen if you don’t draw near, and drawing near takes time and quiet. And we run the risk of getting the listening wrong.

This causes anxiety. Here is where we make our second mistake.

The Bible says this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
—Hebrews 12:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:8-10

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”
—Isaiah 45:9-10

Who founded the faith you have? God alone.

Who is perfecting the faith you have? God alone.

Who can force God’s hand on any of this? Not you. Not me. No one.

You and I are not in control. You and I did not start this, and we will not finish it. All that is on God.

So relax.

In fact, all God really asks of us is to show up. That’s it. And some days, we may not even do that. I think He understands that happens sometimes. What God really wants from us more than anything else is to draw near to Him and to talk with Him and listen.

It may be that in any given day, all I can do is go to the grocery store, buy some Pepto, and help a sick family member get over an upset stomach. Is that what God is asking of me? Perhaps it is. Perhaps that is the extent of today’s focus.

Perhaps that is what I am hearing from God when I draw near to Him today. And if that’s all there is, that’s OK. My eternal security does not rest on what I get done today but in whom I rest, the Lord.

It may be that God is calling some Christians to live radical lives on the fringes of civilization.

Or He may be calling some to care for the sick in hospitals or to build airplanes.

Or He may be saying to some to cease from their labors for the moment and just rest in Him.

Or He may be asking some to write a poem or a letter of encouragement to someone else.

Most likely, whatever it it is He may be asking of you or me, it may be something small, something for this moment.

Our mistake is to criticize another Christian for what he or she may or may not be doing based upon what we think we should or should not be doing. Yes, the Bible does lay out a few clear boundaries, but within those boundaries reside entire worlds of conversation and opportunity. And the conversation you had with God and the opportunity it created is unique. I won’t criticize you about mine. Don’t criticize me about yours. When and if possible, let’s do what we can to help each other make each other’s possible.

So as a review of The Benedict Option, I say, whatever. Maybe it is God’s word to you about your next step. Or maybe it’s not. Whichever answer it becomes to you as you draw near to God and listen, God is thankfully in control.

YOU Feed Them


Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
—Luke 9:12-17

I’ve probably heard more sermons on the feeding of the 5,000 than just about any other miracle in the Bible. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on the aspect of it I’m going to write about today.

Some people will contend that I’m critical of the Church. Fact is, I love the Church. I want to see the Church be all she can be, because I know that when she walks in the fullness of her beauty, she takes on the transcendence of her Lover and the world around her transforms.

Which is why I am so crestfallen when I hear Christian people tell me how they are suffering in the midst of the plenty that is their own local church. Basket of breadI hear from people with basic needs that any person in the church could meet with a modicum of effort, yet that need goes unfulfilled.

Honestly, I can think of few things more crushing to the spiritual life of another than to sit in church on Sunday and hear a sermon on God’s bounty, surrounded by people who are abounding, but not being one of them.

Increasingly, there exists a Christian rhetoric that states, I don’t have to do anything to help you because God will help you on His own, if someone prays hard enough. The problem is that the more I read the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced that mentality is the exact opposite of what God is trying to tell us about the way He works.

In the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke, Jesus makes—what is to me, at least—one of the most startling statements in the New Testament. The disciples, sensitive to the growing need of the crowd for food, alert Jesus to the problem, but He responds that the disciples should feed them. Almost instantly, the excuses start.

How the rest of the miracle unfolds is also telling. It happened while the disciples finally did the work that Jesus requested. As they handed out the food from the baskets, the miracle progressed. It didn’t happen before the work. In other words, Jesus didn’t make extra baskets of food materialize at His feet before the dazzled onlookers. Only as the disciples walked from person to person handing out food did the true nature of the miracle unfold. Jesus asked them to feed the crowd, and they did.

We gloss over that the disciples were active participants in the work of meeting the needs of others. The disciples were partners in the miracle.

Paul writes:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
—Romans 10:14-15

In short, the Lord wants the Gospel to go out, and it goes out because a real person delivers it. No one will hear unless a flesh and blood human does the work.

Paul also writes this:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
—2 Corinthians 5:20a

The king empowers an ambassador to be his full representative. An ambassador can make decisions and perform actions as if the king himself were making or performing them. The king’s decree and charge make that power possible.

This comes by the Holy Spirit living in us. A couple verses before, Paul wrote this:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
—2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Note well that final phrase.

Paul also writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:18

The new birth and our transformation into Christ’s fullness make it possible for us to be ambassadors.

2 Corinthians 5 concludes with this amazing statement:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
—2 Corinthians 5:21

Christian, you are the righteousness of God! Wherever you go, you are His salt, His light, His full representative, His very image.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
—Philippians 2:13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10

Are we walking in those good works that God prepared beforehand?  Are we seeing the need and filling it because God has equipped us to meet needs because He Himself lives in us? Or are we reading the Bible just to fill our heads with more knowledge about work we aren’t doing?

This passage is telling:

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
—Acts 3:2-8

What is notably absent from that healing and the way Peter and John worked? I’ll let you think about that for a while.

God intends for us Spirit-filled believers to do the work. We’re already equipped. We’re already charged.

But Dan, what about these?

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
—John 15:5

But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
—Luke 18:27

Folks, these two verses are the poster children for misapplying Scripture and for making excuses for dumping all the responsibility back on God to make anything happen.

The truth is that God lives in you. He is always in you. Where you go, He is. You are the righteousness of God. Anything is possible because God is working through you.

There is NEVER a reason for a fellow believer to be in want. NEVER. If a local church contains people with plenty and people in want, there’s only one word for that church: Ichabod. The glory has departed.

This issue makes me angry. It makes me furious when the Church has been equipped, approved, and charged with the task by God, yet the people in the Church won’t do the work. They throw it back in God’s lap and ask Him to do the work for them instead. As I see it, that’s a complete dismissal of our identity in Christ and a rejection of the Holy Spirit in us.

How ironic that we abort our responsibility when confronted with people in need, yet what follows are the first things the newly Spirit-filled Church did:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:42-45

If God puts someone with a legitimate need before me, there’s nothing for me to pray about. I already know what to do. I’m to do the work and meet the need as best I can in light of all that Christ has given to me and done for me. And if the need is too great, then I pull the rest of the Church in and we meet the need. When we do the work because we have the faith and the equipping for it, then the miracle will progress through us because of what Christ has already done in us.

If we learn no other truth this year, that one will be enough.

Two Halves of the Whole Gospel


Goin' nowhere fastDo you sometimes feel like we’re not hearing the whole Gospel? Hang around the Godblogosphere long enough and you get the eerie feeling that no one truly knows what the whole Gospel entails.

And it’s not just the Godblogosphere. I suspect that many of our churches can’t articulate the entirety of the Gospel.

As I see it, we’ve made this mistake of viewing the whole Gospel as two halves. The mistake—one of typical human nature— is to wrap the entirety of our brains around the one half that resonates with us the most, then act as if the other half doesn’t exist.

If we must delineate the error of the two halves, it’s best to look at the one passage of Scripture that defines those halves. We find both in Ephesians 2:8-10.

Half A:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

Half B:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10

Those who cling to Half A are the folks I’ll call the Elect. They obsess about doctrine, detest even a whiff of works righteousness, and are enormously concerned with getting people saved. They got their marching orders at the Reformation and consider it the high point in modern history. And heaven help anyone who’s not in total agreement with them.

Those who adhere to Half B are the folks I’ll call the Fieldworkers. They obsess about  helping those in need, detest the hypocrisy of not walking the talk, and are enormously concerned with bettering the lives of everyone around them. They can’t point to any one point in time for their marching orders,  but earnestly believe that we need a new Reformation. And heaven help anyone who’s not in total agreement with them.

The problem with the Elect and the Fieldworkers is that they are so focused on their half of the whole Gospel, they simply can’t bring themselves to understand the other half. The blinders are on so tight that neither group  can even acknowledge the other side’s main propositions are just as Scriptural as theirs.

The Elect easily trash the loose theology of the Fieldworkers. The Fieldworkers quickly note the clean, uncalloused hands of the Elect. To the Elect, the Fieldworkers are false teachers and heretics. To the Fieldworkers, the Elect are uncaring, self-absorbed Pharisees. Both sides point to the other and claim, “You’re not living the Gospel. I doubt you’re truly saved!”

And you know what? On that claim, both sides may actually be right!

Worrying about how you come to Christ is great, but Elect, what are you supposed to do with the sixty or so years of discipleship you have staring you in the face afterwards? Worrying about the needy is great, but Fieldworkers, how do you receive the heart of God to do so if you can’t articulate how to know God at all?

The whole Gospel contains both the power to raise the dead in spirit to spiritual life in the name of Jesus AND the power to tenderize the human heart toward the service of others in the name of Jesus.

What baffles me is why this is so hard to understand.

Why do we slice the Gospel in half then whine about the half we don’t like? Why the venom between the Elect and the Fieldworkers? Why?

The whole Gospel is the whole Gospel. If we’re not concerned with seeing people saved through hearing the message of salvation, maintaining the integrity of our doctrine, and preaching that we can’t earn our way to heaven, then we’re blowing it. If we’re not concerned about taking care of those in need, living out the love of Christ in practical ways, and fighting for the betterment of everyone we meet, then we’re blowing it.

Please Church, it’s time to believe and live the whole Gospel!