Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation has caused no small stir among believers concerned with the eclipse of Christianity’s influence in the United States. Dreher provides a description of where believers are and how they might move forward in a post-Christian society. While his book has much to teach us, especially its emphasis on investing in education, I am unable to affirm his vision completely. Nevertheless, he should be commended for recognizing our post-Christian context and attempting to provide leadership regarding how God’s people might live in the days ahead.
In the spirit of Dreher, I highlight below where we are as believers in the United States, followed by several suggestions for moving forward. Even if you disagree with Dreher or me, you should think seriously about these matters. We don’t live in the America of our parents, and our children will not live in the America we are currently experiencing. Believers should thus think strategically regarding faithful living in the days ahead.
Where We Are
Our age is characterized not only by the decline of Christianity’s influence but also by an open hostility (at least in some places) toward the faith. A decline in Christianity’s influence may be seen in society’s turn to “science,” the secular academy and government for answers to its problems rather than to Christianity or the church. Furthermore, the marginalization of Christianity can be heard when people say things such as “Faith is a private matter” or make contrasts between “people of science vs. people of faith” (i.e., people who believe what is actually true vs. people who affirm a subjective, religious idea).
Our culture’s open hostility toward Christianity may be seen in the following anti-Christian ideas often promoted by the left and secularists:
— Christianity (or perhaps elements of it) is socially regressive. “Progress” comes only by abandoning the biblical worldview (e.g., belief in a creator God);
— Christianity (or perhaps elements of it) is harmful to society (e.g., the biblical teaching that people are sinners or that people should feel guilty for their sin);
— Christianity is an anti-intellectual religion, and no real educated person would affirm its teachings;
— Christianity is morality restrictive. One should free himself from the Bible’s morality;
— A person’s “rights” trump Christianity’s outdated teachings.
How We Should Move Forward
It is wise to reflect on how believers should respond to their current circumstances. In my suggestions below, I focus on two institutions, the church and Christian schools (colleges, seminaries). I recognize that other areas also need to be addressed (e.g., family).
(1) First and foremost, trust what Scripture teaches about the future.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen . . .” (Heb 11:1). The type of faith referenced here looks beyond what our human eyes can see. This faith trusts what God has promised to do in his word. What does Scripture promise God will do? Jesus will return in his glory (Rev 19:11-21; 1 Thess 4:13-18). God will defeat and judge his enemies (Rev 20:7-15). He will establish his eternal kingdom on the earth and his people will abide with him forever (Rev 21:1-22:5). Though we struggle now, one day God will establish his kingdom in its fullness, and loud voices in heaven will declare: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)
(2) Understand that the world has changed and is changing. Life for believers will not be the same in the future.
What might the future hold? Quite frankly, I don’t know, but here are some possibilities, particularly for the church and the Christian academy:
— Churches could lose their tax-exempt status;
— Churches and Christian colleges and seminaries could face litigation;
— There could be a loss of accreditation for selected disciplines (e.g., Education, Nursing) at Christian colleges;
— Ministry will likely be characterized by a bi-vocational approach and less “full-time” staff;
— Churches will need to re-Christianize their post-Christian culture;
— Christians will need to define, articulate and defend Scripture’s teaching in regard to basic doctrines no longer affirmed in society (e.g., sin, marriage, family, sex, Christian life/discipleship, love, repentance);
— Professors who affirm heresy at Christian colleges will influence campuses in a negative manner;
— Many doctrines (e.g., sin, marriage, family, sex, Christian life, discipleship, love, repentance) will be distorted, even by “Christian” pastors and educators;
— Seminaries could shrink (on-site enrollment) and expand (online enrollment);
— More churches will provide theological training (some already are);
(3) Reject messages that do not agree with Scripture or the biblical worldview, especially those we mention above.
Instead, the church should affirm the following truths:
— The current agenda of the left is not “progress”;
— Christianity is indeed an intellectual religion;
— Christianity is not harmful to society. Rather, believers have established institutions, such as hospitals, schools and adoption agencies, that have greatly benefited society;
— The church will not be overcome or conquered (Matt 16:18);
— God’s people must overcome by remaining faithful to him. Faithfulness = victory (so many texts in Rev);
— God’s Holy Spirit will abide with his people. He is God’s empowering presence within us (John 16:7);
— God will preserve his church.
(4) Set priorities and articulate visions, making sure that they are biblical (e.g., evangelism/missions, teaching, worship fellowship, serving).
(5) Recognize that past seasons of renewal have come when the church emphasized missions and theological education.
(6) Establish and maintain gospel-related partnerships. Work together (e.g., theological education, discipleship training, evangelism). Encourage one another.
(7) Seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.
(8) Seek to renew yourself intellectually. That is, go back to school or seek to grow in your knowledge and practice of the Christian life (e.g., take online classes).
(9) If you cannot seek renewal formally at a Christian school, seek renewal informally by reading quality books.
Biographies of godly believers (e.g., Augustine, Luther), as well as church histories, are particularly encouraging. Here are some recommendations:
Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Meridian, 1995)
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (University of California Press, 2000)
Bruce Gordon, John Calvin (Yale University Press, 2011)
George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003)
Alister McGrath, Christian History: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)
Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain English, 4th ed. (Thomas Nelson, 2012)
We don’t live in the America of our parents, and our children will not live in the America we are currently experiencing. However, these facts should not cause us to despair. Rather, we should put our faith in the Lord and strive to follow him in love and obedience.