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.

A Christian Response to News, Politics, and Current Events


paperboyIncreasingly, I believe too many Christians do not have a Christian response to most aspects of life. Instead of a true New Testament Kingdom of God mentality, we have firmly ensconced ourselves in an Old Testament judge mentality, despite the Old Covenant’s obsolescence and replacement and the demise of the national Israel of the Old Testament.

Compounding this error, American Christians have a desperate need to be seen as right on everything, regardless of who or what this tramples. To our amazement, we are now eating the fruit of that error and yet remain incredulous and oblivious to how this reversal of fortune came to be.

To sum it up, we’ve been doing it wrong and just can’t admit that we’re the ones who screwed up.

Of course, this does not excuse the world, as the world has screwed up just as badly or worse. But we Christians simply can no longer pretend that we are innocent bystanders to our own undoing.

I write all this because I continue to see rotten and ill-advised behavior by Christians in the public square. We can’t seem to learn our lessons.

This post is about getting ourselves back on course. Take it for what it is, a 50-something Christian attempting to inject some wisdom into the conversation.

How Christians Must Think and Act about the News & Current Events

The most important thing to understand about all news and about all conversations that spring from current events: Most likely, you and I were not there. For this reason, anything we hear in response is hearsay.

The Bible says this:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
—Matthew 5:33-37 NIV

Jesus is talking about oaths and vows here, but His point is that we not go in our speech where we cannot promise or understand. When we go beyond our understanding, we invite Satan into our words.

I believe this is critical for how we speak in the days ahead.

When we comment on news stories and current events, we rely on hearsay, information we cannot corroborate. Most of are old enough and wise enough to know that unbiased reporting is a myth and probably always has been. Human beings always bring their own perspectives and biases into all communications. Period.

If you and I were not there to witness and personally experience an event, commenting on motivations of individuals/groups/governments and speculations beyond what was personally seen with eyes and heard with ears are out of bounds for us. We simply cannot know.

The proper Christian response in that case is not to speculate, but to say instead, “What a tragic event!” or “How sad for those people.”

That is letting your yes be yes and your no no.

The Bible makes the truth of this even more clear:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
—Jeremiah 17:9 KJV

You cannot know another’s motivations. Heck, you cannot even know your own motivations, so how can you speculate on what people involved in crimes or tragic events were thinking or why they acted the way they did? Do you know that person personally? Do you know his or her story? Were you there with them when they did what they did?

No, you do not know and you likely were not there. So don’t speak as if you do know or were there.

In short, don’t add fuel to any fire about which you know nothing. And the fact is, you and I know nothing about most everything.

The only Christian response is to say as little as possible and to leave the speculation to speculators, of which you are not to be.

Instead be as still as possible. Yes yes, and no no.

How Christians Must Think and Act about Politics (I)

The only allegiance the Christian is to have is to the King, Jesus, and to his Kingdom. Jesus Himself said this. He takes precedence even over our families. He is #1, and everyone and everything else is a far distant #2. This is God’s wisdom for our own spiritual health.

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, we are to pursue it first and foremost. In all we do, we do it for the King and the Kingdom.

To this end, when we engage in politics, we are to engage it with a Kingdom perspective and as citizens of the Kingdom of God before considering any earthly Kingdoms:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
—Matthew 6:33 NLT

Therefore, when we consider candidates for political office, we should keep this in mind:

1. The candidates we endorse should pursue and promote the Kingdom of God as much as humanly possible within a system of government, as directed and empowered by God.
2. Candidates for political office who receive our vote must reflect the evidences of the Kingdom of God and its fruit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.
3. We should in no way endorse, promote, or vote for a candidate who does not reflect the two conditions above.

No excuses, Christian. Do not vote for or endorse candidates who cannot or will not reflect the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Vote for someone else. Write in a vote. But do not cast your vote for people who oppose the Kingdom of God and its evidences and fruit.

How Christians Must Think and Act about Politics (II)

If we want to talk about governments and the Bible and attempt to pry verses out of the Bible to endorse the American system of government, we will fail. I’ve looked, and I see no evidence for a democratic system of government in the Scriptures. Likewise, if we want to find a federalist system of government, we might find something similar, but that would be Rome—not the most positive example in most of Scripture. Read Revelation if you don’t believe me.

We Christians in America have it difficult, because in America, the system of government is by the people and for the people. Finding direct Bible verses that speak to how such a form of government would operate and how Christians within it should operate it is like finding a needle in a haystack—except there is no haystack.Monarchies rule in Scripture. Even the Kingdom of God is a monarchy.

This poses a problem for Christians who attempt to pry verses out of the Bible to endorse how our American government is to act.

Christians are given direction on how they are supposed to function as members of the Church, but not so much on how they are to govern on immigration issues, for instance. We are to be kind to all aliens, but would closing down immigration into our country for a set number of years become an unkindness? We don’t have a Bible verse for that.

The problem is, we err sometimes when we attempt to force a verse to say something about government immigration policy when it’s not meant to be used that way.

Part of the problem for the American Christian is that we will NOT find verses that tell us how we should handle gun control, or immigration, or welfare, or any of a number of other topics intended at a governmental level. We are sometimes told what we should do in our churches, but the government is not the Church, nor vice versa, and too many Christians try to meld the two, resulting in an unholy abomination that works neither as a Church nor as a responsible government.

Again, we must go back to the Kingdom of God.

What does the American government look like when American Christians act out their responsibilities as citizens within a representative government of the people and for the people WHILE also promoting their primary responsibility, the advancement of the Kingdom of God?

I find this question is not asked by most Christians, nor even most Christian politicians. Instead, we make futile attempts to make the Bible say things about governance in a federal republic that aren’t there in the Book.

What this means is that Christians in America need to rely on the source of wisdom we perpetually think we can do without: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the mouthpiece and “town cryer” of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Church.

Keep in place the underlying Scriptures that speak to Christian character and practice on a 1:1 level , but govern in such a way that we Christians listen to and operate from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, which we then carry over into our government.

Sadly, most Christians today have no idea how to make that happen, because too many of us are plugged into our gadgets and distractions and not plugged into hearing the voice of God through the Spirit.

Want a godly government? Christian, put the Kingdom first and listen to the voice of the King. We may not have a verse to cover a particular issue, but we will be covered by the voice of the Spirit, who can speak to any situation we face.

Experience and the Authority of Scripture


A Facebook conversation yesterday discussed the problem of experiences in the Christian life and how those experiences must be made to conform to Scriptural authority. In other words, Scripture must determine our understanding of experiences.

Now I’m going to write something controversial: That previous sentence is not entirely accurate.

Certainly, Scripture must be a bedrock for understanding experiences, but there’s a weakness inherent in that fact: Us. Because we are human, our understanding is not always complete. While we may think we understand the depths of a Scriptural injunction, it may only be through experience that we can understand it more completely. And in understanding it more completely, our understanding may flip 180 degrees.

An example of how one apostle got his understanding of Scripture altered by experience:

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
—Acts 10:9-20 ESV

'Peter's Vision' by Doug JaquesPeter knew the Scriptures and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then he experienced this vision.

Notice how Peter answers, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” He was responding using the Scriptures as he understood them and practiced them.

Notice too how God makes it clear that there is a deeper meaning to the Scriptures that Peter must understand. God uses an experience to alter and expand Peter’s understanding.

This led to a problem:

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
—Acts 11:1-3 ESV

The circumcision party had the same understanding of the Scriptures that Peter had. They accused Peter based on that understanding.

Peter explained his experience of the vision and replied:

And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
—Acts 11:11-17 ESV

Peter experienced a vision.

Peter experienced the Holy Spirit speaking to Him.

Peter experienced that same Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles.

Peter had his understanding of the Scriptures altered by those experiences.

And so did others:

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
—Acts 11:18 ESV

Sometimes, experience expands our understanding of the Scriptures and alters everything.

Anyone who has had a loved one die will tell you the experience of death alters their understanding of the Scriptures. In fact, it is almost impossible for it not to.

Anyone who has been taught the Bible has had an experience in that very act of teaching and learning that will alter understanding. Raise your hand if you were instructed in a Scriptural truth that altered how you understood it. Does everyone have a hand up? You should.

Every day, our experiences modify our understanding of  the Scriptures. And sometimes those modifications flip everything.

And while those flips may be the work of God in our lives to deepen our understanding of Him and this wild life we live, sometimes the flips aren’t of God. Sometimes, we go off the path.

This is why we must also learn to live by the Spirit.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
—1 Corinthians 2:7-14 ESV

If we live by the Spirit with the Scriptures as our counsel, we will not fall into error. Indeed, our experiences will only serve to help us grow deeper in both.