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Is the Benedict Option the Best Option for Today’s Church?


There is a new ‘cool’ book in town! It’s a New York Times bestseller, endorsed by Russell Moore, Archbishop Charles J.Chaput, and, the ultimate accolade, Carl R.Trueman!   How could I resist? Especially as it is subtitled “A strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation”. With such endorsements, and always wanting to stay up with what’s ‘cool’ in the Christian world – I rushed out to buy Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option.


And I was not disappointed. This is a superb book, well written, stimulating, insightful, and full of challenges and ideas for the church in the West today. I loved it. And yet… I think it is a book that in some areas is profoundly flawed, in such a way that it could be harmful to the church. There are so many excellent things in it, that I hesitate to critique it, and like Carl Trueman, it is the kind of book that I would give to thoughtful people in my own congregation – (by thoughtful I mean those who can exercise a degree of discernment because they are deeply grounded in Scripture). For new Christians, and those who don’t have such a deep grounding I think this book could actually be quite misleading.

In this review I intend to go through it chapter by chapter – identifying some of the key issues, great suggestions and major concerns – and using as much as possible Dreher’s own words.

In general I find that Drehers’s critique of the American church is spot on. It is perhaps best summed up in his quote in the introduction “We seemed content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be Christian” – p2. However this is also a major flaw in the book, because it is a critique of the American church, particularly the evangelicals, which seems to think that the American church is the default for the whole Western church. Whilst there is a great deal in Rod’s critique that does apply to the church in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, there is also much that is quite specific to the current American culture.

Chapter One – The Great Flood in which the author describes the decline of the church in the West.   He puts it bluntly. The culture war has been lost. The public square has been lost.

“ We in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognise it. Our scientists, our judges, or princes, our scholars, and our scribes – they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human. Our barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears of the past for designer suits and smart phones.” p.17.

He suggests that the flood has come in and it’s time for us to stop fighting the flood with sandbags, and instead to build an ark. “Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation”. This is a statement that to me in the context of Christianity in the United Kingdom doesn’t really make any sense. It is one of several Homer Simpson ‘doh’ moments in the book! It is the American evangelical church that was foolish enough to allow itself to be used as election fodder for one particular political party and philosophy – a folly of which the fruits are now being reaped.   I know of very few Christians in the United Kingdom who think that the way to bring the kingdom of God is through political action, unless they are uber liberals who don’t really care about the Bible, or the new globalised Christians who follow the televangelists on mostly American Christian television.

Dreher suggests a solution. Going back to the overthrow of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the sixth century, he refers to the foundation of the Benedictine order and its subsequent impact upon European culture, as a model for us today – hence the title of the book!   Benedict option Christians look to Scripture and Benedict’s rule for ways to cultivate practices and communities”. P.18

And that also said another small alarm bell for me – Scripture plus is always a dangerous model!

Chapter 2 – The Roots of the Crisis – in which the author describes the fragmentation of society as religion declines.  

This is an excellent big picture summary of how we have arrived at where we are at. At times I think it is over simplistic, but it can hardly be otherwise in seeking to survey Western history over hundreds of years in a few pages.   It is as handy a summary of the history of Western philosophy, especially since the enlightenment that you will come across. And it saves you having to read the whole of Charles Taylor!

“Freud’s answer was to replace religion with psychology. In his therapeutic vision, we should stop the fruitless searching for a non-existent source of meaning and instead seek self-fulfillment. The pursuit of happiness was not a quest for unity with God, or sacrificial dedication to a cause greater than oneself rather a search to satisfy the Self” p.41

Ch. 3 – A Rule for Living – in which the author describes the inspiration he received from visiting the Monastery of St Benedict in Italy –

“ Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that he had the power to destroy the church. “Your Majesty,” the Cardinal replied, “we, the clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.” p.49

“To use Paul Benedict’s phrase, which he repeated many times, the Western world today lives as though God does not exist,” he says. “I think that’s true. Fragmentation, fear, disorientation, drifting – those are widely diffused characteristics of our society.” Father Cassian. P.50





This chapter discusses the Rule of St Benedict – questions of order, prayer, work, asceticism, stability, community, hospitality and balance. There is much in here to learn from, to practice and to provoke thought:





“ In the first decade of my life as an adult Christian, I left church as soon as services were over. Getting involved with the people there was not interesting. Just Jesus and me was all I wanted and all I needed, or so I thought. We might say that I wasn’t interested in joining their pilgrimage, but I preferred to be a tourist at church – I was too spiritually immature to understand how harmful this was.” P. 68

However there are some red flags to be raised about this chapter.

One of the problems is simply that what is presented almost as something new and innovative, at least to modern Western evangelicalism, is something that I have grown up with all my Christian life. Prayer, the Protestant work ethic, the need to deny oneself being rooted in the community of the church, showing hospitality and living a balanced life are not new – at least in Scottish Presbyterian evangelicalism! I’m not saying that we got it right, or that we always practice what we preach, but I’m not sure I need to go to a monastery in Italy to learn what the Bible clearly teaches!

“What we think does not matter as much as what we do – and how faithfully we do it.” – I think this quote is profoundly mistaken, not recognising the absolute direct connection between what we think and what we do. There is a danger that this attitude disconnects the mind from the body in a way that is spiritually unhealthy.

Likewise the following quote is theologically and spiritually unhelpful.

“Right belief (orthodoxy) is essential, but holding the correct doctrines in your mind as you little good if your heart – the seat of the will – remains unconverted. That requires putting those right beliefs into action through right practice (orthopraxy), which over time achieves the goal also for Timothy when he commanded him to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1Timothy 4:7).

Perhaps it is badly written, but what this suggests is that in order to be converted we need to do the right things. Surely Scripture teaches that we do the right things because we are converted, not in order to be converted?   Although I would fully endorse what Dreher says about spiritual discipline, it seems to me that he is one step away from a form of legalism which can do a great deal of harm.

Ch. 4 – A New Kind of Christian Politics – in which the author argues for a retreat from the kind of politics but many Christians in America have engaged with, replacing it with an anti-political politics.bn-rs534_atrump_m_20170120114616

“He (Donald Trump) – is not a solution to the problem of America’s cultural decline, but a symptom of it.” P.79

This chapter only makes sense in America – where the identification of the religious right with the Republican Party, and the secular left with the Democrats has created the culture wars that we hear so much about. Dreher notices that Trump really did not take on board the great issues for Conservative Christians – abortion and religious liberty. I’m not part of American culture and society but is it really the case that “holding the church together during the Trump years will pose a strong challenge to us all.” As American Christianity really that political, weak and fickle?

Dreher recognises that although the church must withdraw from its previous political role it cannot vacate the public square entirely and must continue to pray for, and prophesy to, political leaders. He argues for a localism, rather than engagement with national issues, other than the question of religious liberty.

“ Alexis de Tocqueville was convinced that democracy could not survive the loss of Christian faith. Self-government requires shared convictions about moral truths. Christian faith drew men outside themselves and taught them that laws must be firmly rooted in a moral order revealed and guaranteed by God.”P.89 

 He believes that we are heading for a new Dark Ages (although again I want to question whether the Dark Ages really were that dark?!)

“ In the waning decades of the Western Roman Empire, Augustine described society as preoccupied with pleasure seeking, selfishness, and living for the moment.”P.90

“ I personally think that a no less effective, exceptionally painful, and in the short-term practically irreparable way of eliminating the human race or individual nations would be a decline into barbarism, the abandonment of reason and learning, the loss of traditions and memory. The ruling regime – partly intentionally, partly thanks to its essential nihilistic nature – has done everything it can to achieve that goal. The aim of independent citizens movements that try to create a parallel polis must be precisely the opposite: we must not be discouraged by previous failures, and we must consider the area of schooling and education as one of our main priorities.” Vaclav Banda p.94

His suggestions as to how we do this anti-political politics?

“Here’s how to get started with the anti-political politics of the Benedict option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbours. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good. Start a church, or a group within your church. Open a classical Christian school, or join and strengthen and one that exists. Plant a garden, and participate in a local farmers market. Teach kids how to play music, and start a band. Join the volunteer fire department. The point is not that we should stop voting or being active in conventional politics. The point, rather, is that this is no longer enough.” P.98

Again I don’t find much to disagree with here. But it is another one of those Homer Simpson moments – when was it any different? Did the American church ever really think that voting and being active in conventional politics was enough? If that is true, (and my limited experience of American Christians suggests that it is not), then it’s little wonder that the church is in such trouble.   I do think however that the emphasis on education it is absolutely key, and to that we will return.

Chapter 5 – A Church for All Seasons – in which the author argues that only a renewal of the church through the Benedict option will bring about a renewal of Christian culture.

“ But you cannot give what you do not possess. Too many of our churches function as secular entertainment centres with religious morals slapped on top, when they should be functioning as the living, breathing body of Christ.  Too many churches have succumbed to modernity, rejecting the wisdom of past ages, treating worship as a consumer activity, and allowing parishioners to function as unaccountable, atomised members. The sad truth is, when the world sees us, it often fails to see anything different from non-believers. Christians often talk about “reaching the culture” without realising that, having no distinct culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelise.” p.102

His analysis of the weakness of much of the modern church is spot on – as the above quote shows. But his solution leaves a lot to be desired.

“  If today’s churches are to survive the new Dark Age, they must stop “being normal”. We will need to commit ourselves more deeply to our faith, and we will need to do that in ways that seem odd to contemporary eyes. By rediscovering the past, recovering liturgical worship and asceticism, centering our lives on the church community, and tightening church discipline, we will, by God’s grace, again become the peculiar people we should always have been.” p.102

The trouble is what does he mean by this? And what about what he misses out? What is liturgical worship? In one sense surely all worship is liturgical in some form or other? He is really arguing for a specific type of liturgy – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, formal, highly sensual, mysterious, dark. It is indeed the case that liturgy should be about what God has to say to us. And that is why in biblical churches the reading; singing, praying and especially the preaching of the Word are central. As that is what is missing – the glaring omission in the list above is the preaching of the Word. His description of Evangelicalism as being based on revivalism may be true in much of the American context, but it is not true for much of the rest of the world.   I agree entirely that how we worship God it is vital but I find it more than a little ironic that what the puritans were so derided for, is now back in vogue. Why must the liturgy be assumed to be that which the reformers were so concerned to reform?

“The aroma of incense, the sound of church bells, the glow from candles, and the vivid hues of icons – all these make a powerful pre-rational impression on the mind and prepare us for communion with the Lord in word and sacrament.”  I’m afraid that this kind of talk sends shivers down my spine. Is it not the case that people have as often being led away from Christ by such religious liturgies, as have been led to him?   In some said I don’t think that what he is suggesting is radical enough. Actually the world loves this kind of liturgy. It’s what they think religion is, and should be. They like our religion to be mysterious, for the initiated, cultic. But I prefer the words of a lady who visited our church in Brora for the first time and went home declaring to her family “I’m going back. These people could worship God in a field.”

The emphasis on church discipline is excellent – but again, and I hope that this doesn’t sound too pompous, this is not new. In the reformed tradition Church discipline has always been regarded as one of the marks of the church and we do try to practice it in a biblical manner.

I also love the emphasis on evangelism with goodness and beauty.

“ Art and the saints are the greatest apologetic for our faith”  – Pope Benedict – p.117

It is indeed true that everything we do is in a sense evangelism. But again I think he swings the pendulum too far. Of course we are to be involved in mercy ministries, and demonstrating beauty and creativity through the arts, but at the end of the day it is through the foolishness of the preaching of the cross that people are converted. In one sense I would argue that mercy ministries, beauty and creativity are the fruit of the preaching of the cross, not the other way round.


Chapter 6 – The Idea of a Christian Village – in which the author argues for the Christian home to be a domestic Monastery, for church members to live close to one another and for relearning the lost art of community.

 Recognising the problem of identifying Christianity with a particular political party, Dreher turned to the idea of the Christian family as central. He argues for regular family prayer, faithful commitment to church, not conforming to the surrounding culture, watching over your children’s friends, not idolising the family, living closer to your church family, building community across denominations, avoiding perfectionism and getting involved in education.   Apart from the familiar refrain, that none of this is really new, one just simply says Amen.

“ In the years to come, Christians will face mounting pressure to withdraw their children from public schools. Secular private schools may offer a better education, but their moral and spiritual ethos will likely be scarcely better. And established Christian schools may not be sufficiently orthodox, academically challenging, or morally sound. A tight communal network generates the social capital needed to launch a school or to reform and revive an existing one.” – p.143


Which leads us on to:

Chapter 7 – Education as Christian Formation – in which the author argues the classical Christian education is the key.

“ To compartmentalise education, separating it from the life of the church, is to create a false distinction.” P.148

“ The best way to create a generation of aimless know-nothings who feel no sense of obligation beyond themselves is to deprive them of a past.” P.154

I found this chapter particularly helpful, as I have been wrestling through this issue myself. John Knox taught that where you had a church there you should also have a school. The education system in Scotland, from primary school to university was thoroughly Christian. But those days sadly are long gone, and to many of us have just acquiesced I’m gone along with the poison that is been poured into our culture and our children. I was especially interested in his commendation of classical Christian schools that has certainly prompted me to investigate them. In this area I think his challenge as one that is directly applicable to us in Scotland.

Chapter 8 – Preparing for Hard Labour – in which the author argues for a different Christian understanding of work, employment and wealth.

“Given how much Americans have come to rely on middle-class comfort, freedom and stability, Christians will be sorely tempted to say or do anything asked of us to hold on to what we have.” P.193

We need to grasp what work is for – and especially re-discover the dignity of physical work.   We need to move away from the 24-hour shopping society.   And realize that our Christian principles will cost us jobs although we also need to be prudent as well as faithful and bold. We should be entrepreneurial, buy Christian even if it costs more and build Christian employment networks. We should expect to be poorer and more marginalized.

Most of the above is fairly straightforward sanctified common sense – although I’m not convinced that it is a good idea to always ‘buy Christian’ or have Christian employment networks. And in this country it would probably be illegal!   But again this is a useful chapter and again there is nothing new here. This is in effect the Protestant work ethic on which the prosperity of Northern Europe and the USA was built!

Chapter 9 – Eros and the New Christian Counterculture – in which the author argues that the Sexual Revolution is far more important than many Christians realize and that it can never be reconciled with orthodox Christianity.

 This chapter alone is worth the price of the book! It has a good understanding of what is going on in the wider culture and some great help on how to respond as the church.   He argues for a biblical perspective which is not moralistic and which does not rely on the State to educate our children in sex and sexuality.   He talks about how we help those who are single, including those who are same sex attracted, to be part of the community of the church and he ends by urging us to fight pornography with everything we’ve got. Superb.

“ For a Christian, there is only one right way to use the gift of sex: within marriage between one man and one woman. This is heresy to the modern world, and a hard saying upon which hearts, friendships, families, and even churches have been broken. There is no core teaching of the Christian faith that is less popular today, and perhaps none more important to obey.” P.196

“ Pornography literally rewires the brain, making it very difficult for long-time users to be aroused by actual human beings” p.215

Chapter 10 – Man and the Machine – in which the author warns that the technological revolution can be as dangerous as the sexual, and suggests some practical remedies.

Again this is an insightful and helpful blend of analysis and practical advice.   Technology is not morally neutral. The Internet is the floodgate of liquid modernity because it accelerates the process of change and the confusion of knowledge.

“ There is a simple matter of individuals not being able to manage their smartphone use, using online access to watch pornography, or flopping onto a basement couch and playing video games all day instead of getting on with the business of life. But it’s deeper than that. Online technology, in its various forms, is a phenomenon that by its very nature fragments and scatters our attention nothing else, radically compromising our ability to make sense of the world, physiologically rewiring our brains and rendering us increasingly helpless against our impulses.” p. 219



We need digitally fast as an ascetic practice, take smartphones away from kids, keep social media out of worship, do things with our hands and question ‘Progress’.


“It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines” Wendell Berry – p236


Conclusion: The Benedict Decision – in which the author summarises his case.

This is a good book. There is much to learn and much to consider. Its overall analysis of Western society and the American church is superb.   What prevents it being a great book is the fact that it is culturally quite limited and specific. It really doesn’t make that much sense outside of the USA.   It is also lacking in my view in its biblical perspective. I have no desire to exchange the Bible for the Rule of Benedict. I know that Dreher is not saying that we should. He is most certainly not a bible minus guy. But he does come across as a bible plus guy. Yes we need the Bible but we also need the Benedict option.

I don’t agree. I don’t think we need any program. Ironically the programatisation of the Christian church is one of the fruits of modernity and post-modernity that I think we could do without. I know it’s a truism but the Word of God is enough. That is not to say that we ignore tradition, or centuries of Christian thought and reflection – precisely the opposite.   But it is to say that I did not need to go to an Italian monastery to learn that it is good to pray, live in community, work hard, observe the Lord’s Day, be salt and light in the culture, keep myself from being unspotted by the world, look after the widows and orphans in their distress, make music to the glory of God, be prepared for persecution, teach our children in the faith, love other believers, and not to trust in ‘princes’ or put my faith in political systems.

Drehers book is perhaps a necessary corrective to the aberrant political dumbed down theology which has taken hold of much of the US church (and thus influenced the rest of the evangelical world), but in my view it is an over corrective which should be read through the eyes of the early Church Fathers, the Reformers and the Puritans.    I’m not sure I could fit John Knox’s heartfelt cry ‘Give me Scotland or I die’, or Abraham Kuypers ‘’There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!’ with the Benedict Option.

I hope this doesn’t sound too superspiritual or over pious but all I need is to know Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Give me Christ. Give me his Word. Give me His Spirit. Give me His people. Give me the Father. That’s my strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.   And with Christ I also get all things – so I really don’t see the need to retreat into a monastery. My inclination is more to go out to battle as long as I remember that our fight is not against flesh and blood and we do not use the weapons of this world.   I need to be in the world, but not of it.  I need to live with people who are dead in sins and trespasses.  I need to live, eat, work and share with those who are the enemies of God.  The only thing I must not do is worship with them, ignore them or hate them.

Despite these reservations I thank God for this book. It is one I will read again (and on the third reading may find that I was wrong!) and there are parts of it that will stimulate to action. Thanks Rod.

Footnote:  As it happens I am half way through reading Vishal Mangalwadis ‘Truth and Transformation.  So far it is I think a better option for the Church in the 21st Century….I will write a full review when I am finished.






















  1. Sounds like a version of works theology to me. Instead of ‘more action by us’, hows about more trusting in God?

  2. Thank you David , for this analysis . A great deal of reading and a lot of thought in writing . I just wish I were more obedient in practice to John Ch13 v 34 ,35. Then the world really would take note !

    “The aroma of incense, the sound of church bells, the glow from candles, and the vivid hues of icons – all these make a powerful pre-rational impression on the mind and prepare us for communion with the Lord in word and sacrament ”

    I have no wish to be critical but I don’t think that I would have read any further !

  3. The Church has always faced a time of change… Here is a short essay I wrote on this very subject a few weeks ago from a chapter in Introduction to Christian Theology by Alister E McGrath.

    Alister E McGrath more considers Ecclesiology to mean The Doctrine Of The Church and after a brief introduction of how the institution of the church itself, he raises many questions which are important to anyone involved in pastoral ministry, McGrath begins to break it down, and the rest of the chapter becomes a rather in depth history of the church.

    Firstly, he considers Biblical models for the church, in the Old Testament there were three phases;

    1st no particular church,

    2nd Governed by a monarchy, with Temples and priests providing leadership, there were also sages and prophets.

    3rd After the exodus when the children of Israel returned to Jerusalem, they sought bolster their links with the past and strengthen their identity against Greek & Roman civilizations. Many texts were written at this time

    In the New Testament McGrath comments on the continuity between Israel and the Christian church. It is important (for Paul) that the link back to Abraham is maintained, the importance of this link is maintained throughout the following too thousand years covered in this chapter. Salvation and missionary work comes in, to spread the word. Paul also brings in the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, individual faith is still important but it is the church that brings together a corporate body of people, but also a servant of the people. It is also important that The Holy Spirit is active in the church.

    To be honest, most of us could agree with all of this but as we shall see, there then followed over the next two millennia, considerable development in ecclesiology.

    Initially, McGrath notes that there was no particular interest in developing a church doctrine, but as Christianity spread and rival doctrines developed, ecclesiology had to be considered in order to develop a structure for the church. It is likely that it was Roman society that allowed or caused the Church to develop its hierarchical and institutional structure and Bishops, priests and deacons were appointed and the Bishop of Rome became known as Pope from 1073.

    McGrath notes that change in the church only happens as a result of controversy. Firstly Donatism from North Africa, which Augustine of Hippo had to deal with (Wheat & Chaff) but there were many schisms to follow (personal note – particularly here in Scotland)

    Protestantism & Martin Luther, sought to re-engage with faith alone as the article by which the church stands. John Calvin made sure that the Protestant church would not return to Rome – The true Church is the one where the word of God should be preached and the Sacraments should be rightly administered. God is your Father and the Church is your Mother.

    The next section of the chapter involves Councils of Rome and Ecumenism and there is considerable detail regarding various ecclesiological ideas. It surprised me that it was not until recently that Christ

    is present in the church through the Holy Spirit in addition to the preaching of the Word of God and the administering of the sacraments. McGrath also includes a small piece in the “Charismatic” church within, particularly, The Roman Catholic Church and how this form of worship should also be included.

    Next, McGrath discusses the phrase in the creed “The one holy catholic and apostolic church” considering each part in turn. One church (in unity). Holy, McGrath here gives us a different meaning as “separate” from the Hebrew Kadad rather than the colloquial “chrchy” meaning. Catholic, καθολικός meaning general, universal, and whole. Apostolic – in Christianity meaning relating to the apostles but also from Greek meaning Απόστολος those who are commissioned and sent out to proclaim the Word.

    Finally, McGrath discusses the officers of the church – again tracing through from the early Church at the time of the Apostoles, who might well have been merely hosting families – this bit made me think about Friday Night Dinner in Jewish households and at the same time the modern House-group styles of Church – from there through the various incarnations of hierarchy in the Church – Bishops, priests, elders, presbyters, deacons… – and we are all a Royal Priesthood – but McGrath admits there are so many denominational variants that he cannot cover the full range of possibilities for every church.


    Given the paradox of “change in the church only happens as a result of controversy” which often leads to schism, is there a danger of the Rock of the church being fractured into sand? If so, how much should we embrace ecumenism?

    1. You use the word ‘unity’ but that is incredibly dangerous undefined . The only unity required for a Christian individual or for a Christian body, and that is unity in and with Christ Jesus. Any demand for any other kind of unity is to pharisaically place requirements that the Word of God does not ask for. Ergo, ecumenism in the modern sense is not merely unnecessary but extremely unhelpful.

  4. I’m with Dominic and Gylen.

    From your review and the Gospel Coalition’s (GC) there seems to be little or nothing of substance that is new. I already have too many books and I’d prefer to re-read some. I’m far too uncool and in contemporary management parlance, a “laggard” in many spheres. It may be a generational thing.

    For one, the late David Watson wrote well and strongly on “discipleship” and Christian community living, (It’s decades since I read his book.) David Wells is far more recent with his writings on contemporary culture.

    I must be too shallow as well as the title alone would have put me off. In fact it did put me off reading the GC review until after reading yours.

    How about the “Amish Option” for our US brothers and sisters?

    1. If you think that the Amish option is anything remotely similar to Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option you are sadly misinformed abnout the Benedict Option. And probably sadly misinformed about the original Benedict’s ideas.

    2. I’d have more time for the Amish than for a man who happily called himself the ‘Vicar of Christ’ (translate vicar from Latin into Greek if you don’t understand what I’m on about).

  5. Is the author a Roman Catholic or similar?
    It looks like a variation of a theme increasingly espoused – people are not coming into the church so we go out to them. That is fair enough, but nothing new.

    My quibble (based on your review) is that it all seems Christ-independent. You could replace the word “Christian” with “Muslim” or “Sikh” and you then have a working plan for them to expand their reach too. What is uniquely Christ-centred about this? What does the author think Christ is going to do about it? Does he advocate urgent prayer meetings for revival (as we read of in the past)?

    Personally, I think God is going to cut through all this and deliver a shock to the system that will make people sit up and shake them out of their torpidity. It will probably be very unpleasant and expose the “gods” of this age in all their weakness. Of course, i would rather just see revival come without a prior judgement as that allows us to keep our cars, holidays and smartphones whilst seeing swelling churches. But I don’t think God is obliged to do this.

  6. Hi David,

    Thanks for this thorough review. Now I don’t feel bad about not having time to read it because of your excellent summary!

    I read Doug Wilson’s ‘Recovering the lost tools of learning’ on classical education which I thought was very good. Again I wonder if we need an authentically British approach and if classical education is ‘conservative’/looking to the past for the sake of it. But it had some really challenging ideas in it about taking responsibility for our children’s education.

    Love the references to Knox. A couple of years ago I saw a documentary on Knox produced by a Scot working with Trinity Digital Media. Super stuff. His summary of Knox’s message to his seminary students was:

    Know God
    Be faithful
    Bless Scotland

    Happy Easter


  7. David,

    Also check out “Strangers in a strange land” by Archbishop Chaput. whom you mention. Its about being a Christian in a post-Christian society. Even secular sources have praised it. Its obviously written from a Catholic perspective but should also resonate beyond Catholics.

    Re the Benedict Option, it is notable how Christians are starting to return to the concepts and themes of Catholicism at this time when the mainstream protestant denominations are beginning to pass into history. (I hear today that the Kirk is making its first moves towards hosting same-sex marriages, a desperate idea from a doomed denomination. Doomed from the start, of course).

    You are right to be wary of what sources you imbibe, but I don’t agree that “Scripture plus is always a dangerous model”.

    The first Christians didn’t have the bible and so obviously there must be “something else” – and this is, of course, tradition.

    1. “I don’t agree that “Scripture plus is always a dangerous model”.”


      Revelation 22:18 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,” –

      This ONLY allows for one interpretation, unless you deny Scripture as God’s Word, in which case what is there one which you can reliably base your faith? I’ll answer that for you, NOTHING.

      1. Revelation 22:18 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,” –
        Absolutely. But what did St John mean by ‘this book’? (What could anyone mean by ‘a book’ in the first century AD?) ‘This book’ can only refer to Revelation, the ‘book’ he was writing. It cannot refer to the whole Bible as there was no agreement at that time as to what constituted what is now called the New Testament. That agreement did not come about for several more centuries.
        Futhermore, it also depends on what is meant by ‘Scripture plus’, even for those holding to the doctrine of Scripture alone. There is for example, ‘Scripture plus my preaching’. No Protestant minister argues that his preaching IS Scripture. He may say it is based on Scripture but he doesn’t argue that it IS Scripture. But neither does any Protestant minister say, “Don’t come and listen to my preaching because my preaching is ‘Scripture plus’.

      2. I seem unable to reply to the comment below. So here it is.

        God knew full well that Revelation would be the last Book of the Bible – that being so my quotation remains valid as an answer.

        Further, I know NO Protestant minister who says their preaching is a necessary addition to the completed works of Christ ( for salvation) – and to make that accusation is a rather unpleasant slur on tens of thousands of faithful Christian preachers around the world.

  8. Thanks David for summary. I agree with others; it seems to be saying nothing that new. At points it seems to get it wildly wrong. I applaud your point,

    ‘The aroma of incense, the sound of church bells, the glow from candles, and the vivid hues of icons – all these make a powerful pre-rational impression on the mind and prepare us for communion with the Lord in word and sacrament.” I’m afraid that this kind of talk sends shivers down my spine. Is it not the case that people have as often being led away from Christ by such religious liturgies, as have been led to him? In some said I don’t think that what he is suggesting is radical enough. Actually the world loves this kind of liturgy. It’s what they think religion is, and should be.’

    I think there is a real drift in evangelical circles from the invisible to the visible. The aesthetic is confused with the spiritual. Much that belongs to Orthodoxy is essentially a return to Judaism. It happens when the risen Christ of faith is lost. Hebrews and Colossians 2/3 need to be pondered and preached.

    And so I amen,

    ‘… all I need is to know Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Give me Christ. Give me his Word. Give me His Spirit. Give me His people. Give me the Father. That’s my strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation’.

  9. If I were intent on doing the Devil’s work, I’d see my task as making sure that Christians do anything other than reading their Bibles and acting upon what they read there in their daily lives. So I’d use a bit of the time-honoured subtlety for which he is famous.

    What better way to achieve this than by making sure they spend all their time reading and talking about books by other Christians instead? In one fell swoop I’d be filling up their time with endless words rather than useful deeds, confusing them with interminable quantities of half-baked or downright misleading notions, endlessly examining their Christian navels, and of course convincing them that their Bibles don’t contain the full answer for today’s Christian living.

    As for monasteries, bring it on: they’re tailor-made for every temptation under the sun.

    1. I would suggest that getting Christians to read books by Christians is not the devil’s best way to stop Christian work! A little over exaggeration perhaps?!

      1. Yes, I did over hype it a bit!

        But a) It was to make a point, b) I was talking about ‘spending all their time’ on unhelpful reading rather than suggesting that we should read no Christian books at all. At the last judgement, what we have actually done (how we have behaved) will be tested rather than how many books we have read – proportion rather than prohibition.

      2. Thanks – but in that case your point was unnecessary and not relevant to the discussion as no one was arguing that anyone should spend all their time reading Christian books…

      3. Replying to Don – we will NOT be tested on what we have “done” at the last Judgement, but rather in whom we have placed our faith. If our faith is truly in Jesus Christ, then like the ‘Good Thief’ we will have salvation. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about them.

      4. Perhaps I’ve unwittingly touched on a nerve here. Surely the context of reviewing a Christian book is not an unreasonable one in which to raise a Perhaps I’ve unwittingly touched on a nerve here. Surely the context of reviewing a Christian book is not an unreasonable one in which to raise a general point about reading Christian books. It’s simply bad luck for TheWeeFlee (and probably me) that I landed on this excellent review to voice a comment which has been bubbling up for a while lately: the danger of too much talk and not enough action.

        Yet surely we must all agree that talk and chatter and books of themselves will achieve nothing. Only when they affect what we actually understand and do once the talk and the reading is done can they be of benefit. And so what Christian books we read and how many we read must be worthy of our consideration. If this is an ‘unnecessary’ point for some of us, it presumably at least does no harm; if it should be necessary for some, it might even do some good

        Regarding your comment, Dominic; we should have a care for the whole thrust of what the Bible says on an issue. I am totally signed up to salvation through faith alone, but Matthew 25.13-46 tells us that what we do with our time and talents tells God who we really are and whether our professed faith is one that lives. Faith without works turns out to be a dead faith: James 2.14-26.

  10. “These people could worship God in a field.” Fortunately, the good lady did not say, “Only these people could worship God in a field.” That would have displayed amazing ignorance. Where did Catholics attend Mass when it was illegal to say Mass and Catholic priests did so at danger of their lives? Not in churches, that’s for sure. Where did the Catholic soldiers worship in the First World War? Did they leave their positions in the trenches and march off to the nearest undamaged, sumptuously-decorated Gothic cathedral? I don’t think the Generals would have approved of that. And in the Second World War many a Jeep bonnet served as an altar. I don’t think that photographs can be included in comments so here is a link to a photograph of Mass being celebrated on Omaha beach.
    And in in Bavaria and Austria it is common to celebrate Mass at the top of a mountain. Here’s a link to a photograph.

  11. Replying to Dominic Stockford April 24 2018, 8.29AM
    Matthew 25:31-46 New International Version (NIV)
    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    John 5:28 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out – the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.

    Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 2
    1* Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4* Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6* For he will render to every man according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honour and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

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