God Will Triumph: A Response to Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option
The future for American Christians may not be as bleak as The Benedict Option suggests.
Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, has much to commend it. Arguing that the culture war is lost, Dreher’s goal is “not to make nuns and monks of modern Christians” or develop “a bunker (whether literal or figurative) from which to establish merely an updated version of the fundamentalist separatism of yore.”
To the contrary, the Benedict Option calls Christians “to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. (Dreher is) not looking to create heaven on earth” but is “simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing.”
In his book’s introduction, Dreher contends that the ascendancy of the homosexual Left and its champions has marked a turning point in American life. As evidenced by the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to overturn more than 30 state laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman and instead to invent a constitutional “right” for same-sex couples to marry, “Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.”
He concludes that the “upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”
A Hopeful Outlook on Christians’ Political and Social Influence
Dreher could well be right. Christians in the United States could be in the early stage of outright persecution or, at the least, the compulsory privatization of our faith. This could mean severe fines or even jail time for a baker unwilling to prepare a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage, the loss of tax exempt status for Christian charities and even churches, Christian colleges being required to change their standards on such things as homosexual conduct and admission to transgenders or lose accreditation, and the general social ostracism of faithful followers of Jesus.
There is no doubt that a new spirit of fascism is abroad in the land. There are colleges where conservative speakers are prevented from giving their talks by screaming mobs of students. Accusations of bigotry and hate when a Christian publicly affirms Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality. Endless litigation until the Left gets its way in federal court. A general insistence that conservatives in general but believing Christians in particular acquiesce to the Left’s agenda or, in the breach of such surrender, their compulsory silence.
Dreher is omitting three facts that must be included in any clear-eyed estimate of our cultural crisis.
And yet: It strikes me that Dreher is omitting three facts that must be included in any clear-eyed estimate our cultural crisis.
(1) Christian Action Could Bear Fruit
First, according to Galatians 3, law is a guardian, a guide, a tender. It instructs and superintends. If over the next four or eight years (or longer) conservatives enact laws and restore the federal judiciary that reflect scriptural teachings, such as the reality that unborn children are persons who merit a right to life distinct from the will of their mothers, public attitudes might begin to change. As people begin to recognize the benefits of welcoming the unborn into life, the consensus perspective on abortion-on-demand might veer increasingly toward life.
Similarly, as Christians produce ever-higher quality films and even television programs that celebrate, thoughtfully and often subtly, biblical virtues and the blessings of family, their leavening influence could begin to alter the zeitgeist in ways favorable to ordered liberty and the values that inform it.
Doing these things through law and active participation in political life and social enterprise — grounding them in the conscience, reason, science, and sound data — might sway public opinion from the realm of emotion-based whim to settled judgment.
(2) God Could Bring a Revival
Second, what about revival in the household of faith? What if God does a work in the American body of Christ such that believers begin to live in new fidelity to their Savior? What if Christians begin to love one another and love their neighbors, visibly and tangibly, to a degree unknown for generations? What if the sweet scent of the Gospel fills the lungs of the nation so that few can dispute its appeal and life-giving breath?
Many observers and pollsters paint a dire picture of the church in America. The surveys shows declining theological knowledge and increased skepticism among professing Christians. The stream of articles decrying the superficiality of our worship, the vapidity of our preaching, and the anesthetizing culture of comfort in which the American church is enmeshed is relentless.
If more and more of God’s people begin to bear Jesus’s cross without shirking, who knows what He might yet do across our land?
These analyses show both the state and direction of certain aspects of American Christianity. However, these are snapshots, not comprehensive portraits. Much in the church today is good and vibrant. A new generation of thoughtful young pastors and theologians is emerging, and many are more rigorously orthodox than their forebears. There are many men and women now in office whose solid faith is the bedrock and compass of their lives. Arts are being invaded by a generation of Christian filmmakers, directors, and writers. Christian scholars, equipped with terminal degrees from respected secular institutions, are starting to season academia in growing numbers.
Does any of this mean that cultural triumph is inevitable or likely? No. The collapse Dreher envisions could well be coming, its juggernaut too gathered and potent as to be stopped.
But we don’t know that. Outcomes are, as always, in God’s hands. If more and more of God’s people begin to bear Jesus’s cross without shirking, becoming the ever more self-sacrificing servants He calls us to be, who knows what He might yet do across our land?
(3) What if Americans Repent?
Finally, what if unbelieving America is captured by widespread repentance? What if the bitter fruit of sexual promiscuity and distortion, shattered families, the deadly seduction of drugs and alcohol, the gruesome entertainment, and the emptiness of materialism reach such a head that the beauty, truth, and goodness of the Lord Jesus draws more and more to Himself?
Dreher could be right. Or we could be in for a profound national movement of the Triune God.
What if, in new and untold numbers, vast swaths of our fellow citizens find new life in Christ. What if they find the wisdom and power of God and “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are … transformed into the same image (of Christ) from one degree of glory to another”? (II Corinthians 3:18) And “who knows (but that) God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger” from our country? (Jonah 3:9)
I don’t know if any of these things will happen. Neither does Rod Dreher or anyone else. His diagnosis might be fully accurate. The tide may have turned irrevocably. American followers of Jesus could be in for a time of great sifting in which wheat and chaff are separated. This could result in a smaller but purer and much more spiritually powerful church, even if such purity and power are the result of being oppressed, even persecuted.
Or we could be in for a profound movement of the Triune God, Whose control of men and nations is complete, whose purposes are unstoppable, and Whose ultimate victory is surer than the rotation of the earth. To Him be glory forever and ever.