Book Review: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

The “benedict option” has been an influential idea in certain sectors of Christian culture for a while now, even before Rod Dreher made it into a book. So, despite my interest in how Christianity relates to the broader world and culture, it’s a little surprising that I only now got around to it.

For those unfamiliar, the basic concept behind The Benedict Option is that America culture is becoming less Christian. Additionally, some Christian beliefs, especially regarding marriage and sexuality, are becoming especially unpopular. The question for Dreher is this: How do we respond to this trend? How can Christians be faithful to Christ in an increasingly post-Christian country?

Dreher does not give a prescription for “getting back” to the old days when Christianity dominated the culture or the political landscape. He sees the election of Donald Trump, while possibly staying the tide of more formal animosity, as ultimately a symptom of bigger cultural problems. His answers are not political, at least not in the American political sense.

Instead, Dreher’s emphasis is on forming thick communities of faith which will be able to withstand the strong winds of secular culture. This means that the church will need to get back to a more faithful version of itself, to escape the hold of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and be the church.

Dreher begins with a history lesson: Where are we and how did we get here? He paints a bleak picture of a culture increasingly post-Christian and a church increasingly influenced by secularism. The time to act is now, if we can have eyes to see and the will to act.

He then moves onto the solution, starting with the St. Benedict. Benedict is the hero of this story because, as civilization was crumbling around him, he formed a community of monks who continued both the preservation of the faith and the fruits of Western civilization. The monks, and monastic life, are featured prominently in this book. Our homes, Dreher says, can become miniature monasteries with all the practices therein: order, prayer, work, and asceticism, hospitality, and balance. The rest of the book is an expansion on this theme.

Three chapters stood out to me: “Education and Christian Formation”, “Eros and the New Christian Counterculture”, and “Man and the Machine.” Each chapter, for a certain audience, is bound to be provocative.

In “Education and Christian Formation” he argues Christians should enroll their kids in Christian schools, specifically Classical Christian Schools, or to homeschool their kids while participating with some kind of Classical Christian school partnership. He arrives at this conclusion, first, because he sees education as central to Christian formation and central to the formation of the communities he envisions. He looks to minority religious Jews in this regard. Second, he notes that right after parents, peers are the most influential group in a young person’s life. Add onto that the fact that many American schools are overtly secular and Dreher arrives at the following provocative conclusion: “The rationale [that we have to keep our kids in public schools to be a witness] begins to sound like a rationalization. It brings to mind a father who tosses his child into a whitewater river in hopes that she’ll save another drowning child” (157). So, why Classical Christian schools? Classical education approaches education from a different perspective. It focuses not on just adding a Bible class, but on integrating all disciplines of education under Christ himself (plus it has an emphasis on Western civilization, which Dreher is a fan of).

In “Eros and the New Christian Counterculture” Dreher talks about how Christian communities can respond to the sexual revolution. First, he says we shouldn’t compromise just to try to “keep” the younger generation in church. Those who are accepting the secular view of sex aren’t becoming part of liberal churches, they are leaving church altogether. Second, we need to affirm a positive and wholistic view of sexuality. Third, we need to support unmarried people. Fourth, we need to fight pornography with everything we have.

Finally, “Man and the Machine” addresses the Christian community’s response to technology. Dreher, of course, notes the negative uses of technology – such as rampant pornography among younger and younger teenagers. But he goes further and addresses the technological mindset, the mindset that judges everything by whether we can do something rather than whether we should do it. To that end he argues that technology is not morally neutral, but has the power to reinforce a scattered and impulsive life. How should we respond: Go on regular digital fasts, work with your hands, take the smartphones away from your kids.

Dreher concludes with two images of floods. In one, Christian communities are little arks, weathering the storm of a crumbling culture. In the other, the flood waters are redemptive, sweeping away the old so that when the waters recede new life can spring up. He concludes with this more positive image of the church, retaining its life and saltiness so that it can once again bring life to the world.

Review

Agree or disagree with some of Dreher’s points above, his book is worth a read and his arguments are worth considering. I agree that one of our primary strategies during this time is the formation of Christian communities, to refocus our attention and energies on faithfully being the church. I’m not sure I share as bleak a picture of the world as Dreher, but time will yet tell who is right.

I also think this book is worth balancing with another book which covers a similar set of topics: This is our Time by Trevin Wax. The thesis of Wax’s book is that we should get to know our cultures deepest desires and then show how those desires are fulfilled only in Christ. Take technology: We’re drawn to social media because we want to be known and liked. But social media only disappoints. We show ourselves, but only versions of ourselves. We are liked, but only superficially. But God knows us fully and loves us fully. Our desires – given expression in our use of technology – are only fulfilled in Christ. Wax, then, sees the same sorts of problems that Dreher does, though his book offers a more outward focused way of dealing with them.

That’s not to say these two books are mutually exclusive. Both have important things to say. There is a worthwhile balancing effect. Also, The Benedict Option is not insular. He does give a nod to the importance of hospitality and of welcoming others into the community. His emphasis, though, is primarily on preservation.

All in all, this is an important book. I hope you’ll read it and consider its arguments.
Book Recommendations
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel

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Introduction

I posted last Saturday that I just finished the rough draft for a new book I’ve been working on. To give you more of a flavor, here’s my initial draft of the introduction (though, the more I read it, I think the first part is more like a preface, and thus will need some revision.)

I don’t have a title for this book yet and am open to suggestions. Maybe the introduction will give someone an idea. If you have a good idea for a title, please let me know.

Introduction

 

I dedicate this book to the students of Attic After School. I have the privilege of volunteering at this program for 7th – 12th graders once a week. The goal of the program is to provide a safe place for students to experience the love of Christ. Every day we hang out, play games, talk about life, and have what we call a “talk time.” During these talk times one of the leaders shares a brief message from the Bible. I am honored with being the speaker on a regular basis. Through the interaction with the students during these talk times (and I love the interaction) and through our normal conversations I’ve discovered that students who attend this program come from a wide range of religious and spiritual backgrounds. Some know a lot about Christianity, but many only a little bit. Or, their knowledge is based on misinformation or misunderstandings. I have realized that I can’t assume these students have the same background that I had. This is good for me. It helps me to focus my efforts not only on giving spiritual knowledge, but on making it clear and understandable to a very mixed audience.

This year for my “talk times”, I decided to simply walk through the basics of the Christian faith, one step at a time. This book mirrors that project. I have written this as a sort of handbook for those who are coming to the Christian faith for the first time, for those who are interested in rediscovering it, and for those who are new believers. My goal is to lay down a foundation of knowledge that can be built on later. Though I was thinking most of the Attic After School students, this is not only for them. Its application is for adults as well as young people. Christianity is relevant for all ages, and the simple truths of the Bible need to be returned to again and again, even by the most mature.

There are other books of this sort, the most famous of which is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I highly recommend it. I would also commend to you Simply Christian by N.T. Wright and Basic Christianity by John Stott. This book has a similar aim – to present the basics of the Christian faith – but differs in some important ways, not least of which is the obvious fact that those books are far superior. I wouldn’t dare to declare that this book fills some hole where others lack. There is nothing unique, certainly nothing original, in this book. But instead of just suggesting those books above I have written this one. Why? As a pastoral effort, as an attempt to provide a resource to those whom I have the responsibility to teach and care for. My prayer is that it would also prove helpful to you, dear reader, whether I had you in mind or not. You can be the judge of that.

How this book fits together

The structure for this book was first conceived in yet another pastoral context, as I was preparing to lead a class for those interested in being baptized as believers. That class is structured into three sections: salvation, baptism, and church. In my Baptist tradition was see baptism as a symbol of salvation, and we see salvation as a pre-condition for baptism (If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it should be the end of the book). We also see baptism as deeply connected to church membership.

The first week we talk about what it means to be saved. Do we even need to be saved? What do we need to be saved from? How can we be saved? What must we do? The second week we talk about baptism as a symbol for salvation. The third week we try to show how both connect to church life.

This book has a similar structure, except that we replace a discussion of baptism with a discussion of the Christian life (baptism is now addressed briefly in Part 3). In Part 1 we talk about salvation. We talk about the Big Story of the Bible, about where we stand before God, about how we can be made right with God, and how we can be rescued.

In Part 2 we talk about the Christian life. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does the Christian life look like? Does the Christian life constrain or free us? If it frees us, in what sense does it make us free?

In Part 3 we talk about the church. What is the church? What does it mean to be a part of a church? Is the church important? Here, if anywhere in the book, I am trying to offer a brief correction to the direction Christianity has taken in our culture. Our culture is individualistic and consumerist and, sadly, so is our approach to church. We see church primarily as one method among many to reach a sense of individual spiritual fulfillment. I hope to convince you that this is not a healthy way to view church. Instead, I hope that you will see that participation in church life is a natural and necessary outcome of salvation, and a core component to Christian living.

Because this book is so short I had to leave out a lot of material, including some some core truths. This book doesn’t address all the core topics, and some of the topics it does address it does so only in a very limited way. I see this book more as a place to jump off  from than as a place to land. Still, I hope that you will see it as a cohesive whole. If there’s one dominant theme in this book it is this: God is a rescuing God. He sent His Son to rescue you. You can receive that rescue through faith. This rescue includes your eternal salvation, freedom to live a life for God, and inclusion into the people of God.


 

Announcement: Proof readers and editors wanted!

Over the past month or so I’ve been working on a handbook for new believers, or those considering the basics of the Christian faith. As I was writing I was primarily thinking of the teenagers who are involved in our After School program. Many of them have very little knowledge of Christianity. Or, what they know about it is confused or distorted. I wrote this book for them.

To that end I made it short and simple. I tried to make very few assumptions about what these kids already know. I did my best to start at the very beginning, to lay out just the basics, to avoid religious language – or to define the language I used as I went.

The book has three sections. Part one: What does it mean to be saved? Part two: What does is the Christian life? Part three: What is the church? (Aside: There are a ton of much better books that talk about part 1 and part 2, but not many that I have found that really talk about part 3 at all. I’m hoping to rectify an overly individualistic view of Christianity a little in this book.)

15 minutes ago I finished the first rough draft. Over the next week I’m going to make some edits. After that, though, I want to run it past more people. I need more eyes on this book, or on portions of this book, to see what I might have missed, or what could be improved. (The book is 26 “word” pages long). If you would be interested in proofreading or editing this book or one of its parts please let me know. I don’t know the final form it will end up taking, but if you help me out I’ll give you a copy of whatever form it takes.

If you’re interested, please send me an email or a comment.

Thanks!

Book Review: The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse

Book Recommendation

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance

Summary

I’ve been admiring Senator Ben Sasse for about a year now. He’s one of the few Senators who speaks with substance about broad principles. He’s consistently conservative, but isn’t very partisan. He doesn’t just buy the into the party line – and that’s earned him a number of enemies within his own party, but also a lot of respect in my eyes. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to read this book.

The library I got this book from categorized it as “politics”, but it’s not a policy book (and he explains why in the postscript). It’s closer to a parenting book, actually, and all the chapters in Part 2 give practical suggestions to parents. If you want to classify it as a “political” book, you should define “politics” more broadly to mean “public life”, or maybe even “culture.” Sasse sees culture as upstream from policy and partisanship and it’s the broader context of culture and shared public life that Sasse addresses.

The Problem

Sasse is specifically concerned about the “vanishing American adult.” He’s concerned that we’re failing to teach our younger generations how to be grown-ups, that we’re consigning them to perpetual adolescence. Part 1 of his book gives a more detailed account of the problem and how we got here. Part 2 provides suggestions for specific remedies. For the purposes of this summary and review I’ll focus on Part 2.

“An Active Program” 

How do we remedy the problem. The Vanishing American Adult outlines six solutions. 1) Avoid age segregation. 2) Teach hard work. 3) Embrace production over consumption. 4) Travel. 5) Read good books. 6) Embrace America as an idea.

Avoid Age Segregation: We live in a highly age-segregated culture with precious few opportunities to learn from our elders. If we only interact with people our own age we get a truncated view of life. Most importantly, we miss out on learning about the most fundamental questions that comes to us at the end of life, but that we should ask sooner: What is a life well lived? What truly matters? How can I cope with the reality and immanence of my own death and the deaths of those I love? To that end, Sasse encourages providing young people opportunities to interact with and learn from people of all generations.

Teach Hard Work: Sasse believes that, as a result of our unprecedented national wealth, we’re becoming softer and more averse to hard work. Hard work builds character and a healthy sense of self-worth. His advise? Figure out how to develop a sold work ethic in your children.

Embrace Production over Consumption: Consumption (beyond the necessities, of course) doesn’t bring us happiness, even though the marketing world would have us believe it does. Production – and knowing that our work is meaningful – does. To that end, Sasse encourages us to produce more and consume less.

Travel: Sasse makes a distinction between travel and tourism. Tourism, while it has it’s place, is just a different form of consumption. Travel, on the other hand, is about gaining wisdom, experience, and a broader perspective of the world. Sasse is after adventure. He believes that good travel doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive – or even far away – so long as it embraces that attitude of exploration. He recalls several of his own trips as a young man.

These reminded me of my own 10-day road trip I undertook with a couple of classmates immediately after high school. We took a loop through Canada and then to the East Coast, sleeping in our Jeep Wrangler, or at a friend’s house, or on a park bench in Boston Commons when we didn’t get back to the parking garage on time. This is the kind of travel Sasse is talking about, and I agree that this trip was an important “coming of age” step for me.

Read good books: Amen.

Embrace America as an Idea: The American idea is that of self-rule as opposed to external rule. Before America, the dominant idea was that governments ruled over their subjects, conferring a few limited rights to its people. The American idea flipped that around. In America, the people would rule and the government’s job would be to protect our unalienable rights. This idea has proven successful and transformed the world. But, this idea only makes sense if the people are able to self-govern. Children, though, lack that capacity. This is why it’s so critical to avoid being trapped in perpetual adolescence. America works only if it’s citizens are adults, are self-reliant, are self-governing. Without a self-governing public, we will try to hold back the chaos by ceding more and more control to the government – the path to eventual tyranny.

(Exhibit A in this discussion is the alarming trend of young people seeing the First Amendment as a dangerous thing. This most fundamental of American principles is under attack on college campuses and elsewhere. Why? Because we’re afraid of hurting people’s feelings. We’ve lost the adult ability to argue about great ideas. We’ve adopted instead the childish path of shutting down discussion, much to our detriment. Just before writing this review I read an article about BLM protesters shutting down a speech from the ACLU about free speech. Ironic. And sad.)

Review

I read this book primarily as a citizen and a parent. I’m worried both about the direction of our country, and my own ability to raise adults. I recognized, at various points, my own failure to “toughen up” my kids. I need to recapture simple tasks, like making my kids do chores before they watch TV. I also read this as a pastor – how do we encourage multi-generational interaction in the church? How do move kids in our children and youth ministries toward spiritual adulthood? How do we avoid perceptual spiritual adolescence?

I recommend this book to, well, just about anybody, but especially those who are more politically inclined, or parents who are concerned about raising self-governing adults.

Automation, The future of work, and the soul

Last Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press ran a story on pilot programs in the United States and elsewhere to provide every citizen with a “universal basic income.” This “income” isn’t tied to any actual work, just a lump sum provided to each household to provide for basic needs. What’s driving this movement? The automation revolution.

This topic is an intersection of three topics which interest me: faith, engineering, and politics: faith, because work is a component of our spiritual lives, engineering because technology drives automation, and politics, because we’ll need to decide collectively on what to do about this revolution.

The Increasing Trend Toward Automation

In my (first/second/other) career I’m an engineer. My specialty has been primarily in testing and verification, though my primary job right now is as a project manager. One of my primary goals in testing has been to increase the amount of automation that we do. Automation reduces costs, allows us to perform testing more frequently (which could increase quality), and reduces the number of human errors leading to rework. From a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense. But the consequence of this automation is that if you have a machine to do the work, you don’t need an employee to do that work. In a perfect world, this frees those engineers up for more interesting and productive work. But, we don’t live in a perfect world.

The trend toward automation has been going for a while, primarily in manufacturing. But it’s very prevalent in engineering as well, and plenty of other fields. It’s not just manual labor that’s being automated, but mental work as well (like the kind that I work on) and service jobs as well. (I’ve even read articles on “empathetic” machines which could take over certain caring professions!) Most economists that I’ve read on this topic see workforce automation increasing at an accelerated pace. We’re truly in the middle of a revolution.

There’s a long history of technology transforming labor and economy. Each time it seems to spell widespread unemployment, but after an adjustment period, people find work in a new field. There are inevitably winners and losers, but on the whole wealth increases. It’s hard to tell what the future would bring, and I would be skeptical of anyone who says they know what will happen. Yet, it’s worth considering some possibilities.

Two Dystopias

I see two possible dystopias. In one, the extreme capitalist version, the “owners” control all the production without the need for workers. Workers, having been completely displaced, find no way to make any money. This leads to extreme wealth inequality, and thus probably to violence.

In the other one, the means of production moves to the government, which provides a “universal basic income.” Nobody has to work, but still has all of their needs provided for them. Maybe this sounds like a utopia to you, but it doesn’t to me. First, there’s the fairly obvious issue of the government having essentially complete control over people’s lives. They don’t like your behavior? They cut off your “universal” basic income and you have no recourse. I don’t trust the government to act fairly or virtuously, especially one with this much power. Do you?

Built To Work

Just as profoundly, though, is the question of what effect not having to work would do to us, as persons. We’re built to work. We’re built to produce. God gave us dominion over nature, to work the Garden, and to build culture and civilization. The curse wasn’t the start of the working man, but his corruption. Work became toil after the Fall, but there was still work before it.

What happens if we don’t have to work? What happens if we cease to be producers? What happens if we’re nothing but consumers? I don’t think it’s a pretty picture. That’s why I call this vision a dystopia.

Heaven on Earth? 

Could it be a utopia? On the New Heaven and the New Earth (literal utopia), I suspect that we’ll have work without toil. No one will need to work, and yet the process of culture and civilization will continue. Nobody will be driven by greed or fear (major drivers of our current economic system), yet we’ll all be producers. Can we bring “heaven on earth” now by automating all our labor?

The problem with this line of logic is that it ignores the sin nature. The genius of the capitalist system (with all its flaws) is that it’s able to harness our self-interest and turn it into wealth. And, in a free system, it’s able to provide opportunity for wealth building for all. Other systems have assumed better of our natures, and failed miserably.

What if we find ourselves there? 

I really have no idea if either of these possibilities is in our future. But, if it were, how should Christians respond? Here’s the main thing: Even if work isn’t necessary, Christians should still endeavor to work. Why? First, work is core to our “personness.” God has made us to be creators and producers, not just consumers. Second, work is service. Even if you’re not in the “service” industry, your work is useful to somebody (your paycheck is proof of that). Continuing to work would mean continuing to serve. It’s a tangible way we love our neighbors.

I don’t know what will happen, or when. But we can begin now embracing work as service and as calling, not just as a means to a paycheck.

Recommended for Further Reading

The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs

Related blog: How do I Choose a Job? 

Work: The Meaning of Your Life: A Christian Perspective

Siddhartha: Buddhist Solomon

The book of Ecclesiastes records Solomon’s search for meaning. That path leads Solomon down many wrong paths and at the end of each path he finds meaninglessness. His path leads him to seek wisdom, pleasure, and accomplishment, and finally leads him back to simple and faithful obedience to God: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Ecclesiastes 12:13

Siddhartha, my most recent companion on my commute, reminded me a lot of Ecclesiastes. It’s the story of Siddhartha’s search for meaning. Unlike Ecclesiastes, it is told from a Buddhist perspective and has a Buddhist conclusion.

Ritual, asceticism, learning, and pleasure

Siddhartha starts as a religious devotee. He had mastered all the religious rites and prayers and was on his way to becoming a successful Brahman. He was admired by his parents, his peers, and his friend Govinda. But Siddhartha was not satisfied with sacrifice to the gods. He wants to discover the divine oneness that lies within himself.

As he is praying one day and speaking the “ohm” he sees some traveling ascetics, Buddhist monks called Sramanas. He convinces his father to let him become an ascetic and he and Govinda follow that path. As a Sramana he tries to completely empty himself of himself, to lose himself, through fasting, meditation, and deprivation. His goal is enlightenment. However, he learns that he can always only lose himself for a time, after which he is always, once again, himself. This, he decides, is no better than a person who loses himself in strong drink or momentary pleasures.

He begins to make up his mind to leave the Sramanas and finds his opportunity when the Buddha Gautama arrives. He and Govinda go to hear the Buddha. Both admit that the Buddha’s teaching is very wise and clear and Govinda decides to become his disciple. But Siddhartha believes now that teaching does not provide the path to enlightenment. He believes that the Buddha really has become perfected, but that it only came through a private experience, not by learning. Siddhartha, disillusioned once again, decides to pursue his path elsewhere.

Through a private insight, he now plunges himself into the realm of personal experience. He meets a beautiful woman and learns love from her. He becomes a merchant. He even takes up gambling. For a while he experiences this with a sort of personal disconnectedness. It’s a game for him. It’s a set of goals which he is able to accomplish, but all the while he has a sort of mocking attitude towards it.

But the more he plunges himself into pleasure the more it begins to take hold of it. It begins to empty out his soul. He becomes obsessed by his possessions. He gambles heavily and wildly. And, finally, he reaches his breaking point. Metaphorically he ate until he was stuffed, then sick, and now it was time for him to vomit it all out.

He left all his possessions behind, along with his lover, and began once again to travel. He came upon a river and was about to commit suicide by plunging himself into its depths. But as he was about to do it he spoke the word “ohm” and was saved. He fell asleep and awoke refreshed.

He then became the companion of a humble ferryman and from the ferryman he learned to listen to the river’s wisdom. In this he found a life of contentment, at least for a time.

Eventually, the Buddha Gautama became ill and many of his followers flocked to see him before he died. One of those followers was Siddhartha’s past lover, now with Siddhartha’s son, who he did not know he had. They came across Siddhartha, but she died shortly after their meeting. Siddhartha loved his son and attempted to raise him, but his son did not love him, and eventually completely spurned his father and ran away.

And here Siddhartha bore his final pain, his final wound. For a long time, he could not get over the loss of his son. But in time, Siddhartha learned a final lesson from the river. He heard in the river all the voices of life together – cries of joy and pain and battle. He learned from the river that it is always moving and always progressing and yet it is at once always at its source and always at its destination.

From this he concluded that time was an allusion and that all was ultimately one. He was at once Siddhartha the religious, Siddhartha the ascetic, Siddhartha the indulgent, Siddhartha the suffering, and Siddhartha the perfected one. That he was on a journey to perfection was only an allusion since in the oneness of time and being he had already attained his goal. He also saw, then, that his son needed to go on his own journey, with all its different twists and turns, and that all those twists and turns were both necessary and caught up in the divine oneness of being. Here Siddhartha found peace.

The Search and the Destination

How does Siddhartha’s searching, and conclusion, line up with Solomon’s and the rest of the Bible’s vision?

The source of enlightenment: For Siddhartha, “One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking — a detour, an error.” Contrast this with Scripture, where we see that knowledge and fulfillment come from outside the Self, from God. God grants us knowledge of Himself within us – to all men through a sense that He exists – and in believers through the Holy Spirit. But both of these inner senses exist ultimately to point us away from ourselves to a fundamental reality apart from our selves.

The role of teaching and learning: For Siddhartha, “Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” Solomon would acknowledge the limits of learning: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). Knowledge can lead us to wisdom, it doesn’t necessarily make us wise.

But, Siddhartha’s critique is harsher than Solomon’s. His problem with teaching is that the teacher must make distinctions, must distinguish between real and illusion, between Nirvana and suffering, between good and evil. Siddhartha believes the world cannot be divided as such, since all things are fundamentally intertwined and interconnected. Teaching necessarily obscures the truth. The Biblical worldview disagrees. It’s sees knowledge, learned through teaching, as a necessary step towards the truth. Teaching has its limits. It cannot transform the heart. But it enlightens reality, it does not obscure it.

On time and distinction: Siddhartha finally rejects time, and with it, distinction. A stone is at once a stone and soil and a person and a god. It is not potentially those things, it is not that such a transformation will happen, but that it is simultaneously those things. Siddhartha acknowledges that such a teaching sounds ridiculous, but as noted above, this is a case where teaching obscures, not clarifies, reality.

Again, Solomon would disagree. While “there is a time for all things” under the sun, those things are distinct. There is “a time to be born and a time to die” but those are fundamentally different realities, taking place in the reality of time.

On the goal of life: What is the goal of life? For Siddhartha it is simply to ascent to what is and to the fundamental oneness of reality, it is to agree with the ever flowing river of life in all its manifestations. This means agreement with the good and the evil, the joy and the suffering, the wisdom and the foolishness. And, in that agreement, to find peace. Siddhartha’s journey is complete when he finds individual perfection, understood as an inner state of tranquility.

Solomon’s story seems to end with simple resignation, “This is the duty of man.” But the breadth of Scripture leads us beyond this. The goal of life extends beyond the inner self. For Christians, it’s also about our relation to other people and, most importantly, to God.

Consider, for instance, the ethical implications of Siddhartha’s elimination of distinctions. What happens if we begin to view good and evil, justice and injustice, joy and suffering, as all necessary and natural to the divine “ohm” of reality, distinct only in their particular manifestations?

Perhaps from a personal perspective we will then be able to make peace with all of them and find inner tranquility, but we won’t be able to fight for one side of the reality over and against the other. From an ethical perspective, if we want to fight for what is good, we first need to be able to make a distinction between good and evil. Such distinctions are essential to the Christian worldview and fit naturally with the idea that our chief end is beyond the self.

Many in our time, even if they are not Buddhists, take the same path as Siddhartha. Even secular materialists also must ultimately do away with the distinctions between good and evil, justice and injustice. The world simply exists and cannot be judged by any outside standard. All is one, all is transformation, all is cycle. The Christian worldview is fundamentally different, and, therefore, so is our ultimate goal.

Book Recommendations:

Programming note: I am going to start adding book recommendations at the end of each post. The first reason for this is purely self-seeking. My blog has reached the point where it gets about 500-1000 views per month, mostly from search results, and I’ve decided to become an Amazon Affiliate to try to turn those views into a bit of extra money (nothing so far). The second reason is that I think reading good books is really important. Each of these books is a book that I’ve either read, or has been recommended to me by a friend. Each will also relate to the post. If you want to buy the book and you do it from the below link, hey, I get a little cut. But that’s of secondary importance.

The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edition

Book Review: Miracles by Eric Metaxas

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
Story:

Here’s an interesting coincidence, especially given that I was reading this book: It took me about 5 weeks to finish the audio version of this book. I listened to it on my commute to and from work. I finished the book on September 12th. On September 11th, I thought about listening to sports radio since I’m a football fan and there’s always interesting sports talk on the radio on Mondays. I decided to listen to this book instead. And what miracle story would I hear on my commute but a story of how a woman escaped from the twin towers on September 11th! I don’t know what to make of this. Was it coincidence? Was it something more? Either way, it’s an interesting story.

Overview:

 

 

There are three major sections to this book aside from the introduction and the conclusion.

The first part deals with the miracle of creation, the fact that there’s something rather than nothing. Metaxas holds to an “old earth” view of the world but that doesn’t stop him from being amazed at creation or calling it anything short of miraculous. The chances of life existing apart from some Divine intervention is impossibly small and Metaxas’s description of this is really well done.

The second part deals with miracles found in the Bible. Here he focuses on God’s purposes in giving miracles: As a sign pointing to Himself.

The third part is a list of modern miracle stories. These stories include conversion miracles, healing miracles, visions of angels, and other stories. Metaxas limited the stories shared to ones that were clearly supernatural (not mere coincidences), were from people he personally knew or got to know, and were from people that he trusted to be telling the truth. The miracle stories were truly compelling stuff.

On credibility

But were the miracle stories true? Metaxas quotes G.K. Chesterton extensively at the start of the book from Orthodoxy. Chesterton argues that it is atheists who don’t take the evidence seriously when it comes to miracle stories. These stories, on their face value, have a ring of truth unless you by faith say that miracles can’t happen. You must either believe that the people telling the stories are either lying or crazy if you want to disbelieve their stories. Certainly, there are those who lie about or imagine such things, but I don’t think it makes sense to discount them all. Furthermore, many of these stories happened in public view and could easily be corroborated. In general, then, I’m inclined to believe them.

I still found myself to be skeptical. Why?

On my own presuppositions

First, I found myself disagreeing quite strongly with Metaxas’s political positions during the 2016 election. Some of his views made me question his judgment and/or honesty. Ultimately, I know that this reasoning is mostly illogical, though. The book should be judged on its own merits.

Second, many of the miracles happened to those of a charismatic and Pentecostal theological persuasion. Maybe I’m skeptical because I’ve seen some of their positions misused. Or maybe I’m skeptical because God’s working specifically in that community could undermine some of my own assumptions. (However, the miracle stories covered happened to charismatics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans alike.)

Third, one of the healing stories happened at a Benny Hinn crusade. This made me cringe. When I shared this with my Sunday night bible study group they helpfully reminded me that God has shown that he can work even through a donkey.

Conclusion

I believe in miracles, especially those miracles found in Scripture. I also believe that God continues to be active in the world today. The stories included in this book are incredible – and credible. The longer-term effect of this book, I believe, is to open my eyes once again to their possibility. Like many Christians, even I can get caught in a materialistic mindset and miss out on the active work of God. This was a good reminded of his continued work, as the one Outside creation, breaking into creation to point humanity back to him.