Categorizing the Benedict Options: A Reformation Day Reflection

Today marks the 499th anniversary of the day that would come to be seen as the spark that ignited a movement that purified the church in northern and western Europe and gave new energy to an already strong movement to return to the classical sources of Christian wisdom. I am referring, of course, to Reformation Day and to October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed (we think) his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

It’s a notable day in the church calendar and yet it is also one that arouses no small bit of controversy. The late medieval church had been marked by corruption, scandal, and abuse for several hundred years by the time Luther rose to prominence, but what Christians still to this day cannot agree on is what should have been done to deal with the decadence of the European church and particularly the hierarchy of the dominant ecclesial institution in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholics, The Radicals, and the Magisterial Reformers

What is interesting is not simply that we are still having these debates today, but that the three sides involved in the debates have not even changed all that much. In this post I want to draw out the enduring relevance of the Reformation and the debates that marked the first 50 years after Luther’s emergence by identifying three separate movements within the western church. All three are variations on Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option as all three are, much like their 16th century variants, trying to wrestle with difficult, complex questions in the aftermath of widespread failure on the part of the church.

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Are Religious Liberty Restrictions God’s Judgment on Racism?

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.

– Amos 4:6

I did a number of medical school rotations in a Catholic hospital, which meant morning and evening prayers were offered over the hospital intercom every day. While “morning” prayer often came after I had already been at work for a few hours, it was still often a relief to have God’s mercy invoked on behalf of my patients and my colleagues. Continue reading

3 Ecclesiology Questions Protestant Evangelicals Must Answer

After publishing nearly 13,000 words on ecclesiology this month (plus some spirited debate in the comments on Dr. Leeman’s response), I wanted to draw together what seem to me to be the three main strands of the debate between Minich and Dr. Leeman.

Other posts in the series:

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Reviewing Jonathan Leeman’s “Political Church” Pt. 2

Other posts in the series:

Here is part two of Joseph Minich’s review of Political Church by Jonathan Leeman. I will not say any more lest multiple friends mock me again for writing over-long introductions to already-long blog posts. (ahem)

You can download a full PDF of the review by clicking this link: Full Review PDF

The Failures of Leeman’s Map

Most basically, while Leeman’s map might provide guidance in the context of certain discussions, it nevertheless frequently fails to accurately chart reality at its most stubborn edges  – and will therefore mislead in some very important areas. That this is the most basic objection reflects a particular theological orientation. If one’s interpretation of the Bible appears to distort the way in which reality is carved up right in front of one’s face, then there is some question about whether the word of God (which illuminates our work and our world) has been properly understood. Reasoning in such a manner is both as natural as human nature (Leeman does it too) – and indeed it is reflected in Scripture itself. When the Psalmist writes, for instance, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13), it is assumed that the normal experience of fatherhood illuminates divine fatherhood. The prophetic and Pauline critique of idolatry similarly assume the “obviousness” of their contentions. And in this tradition, it is to reality that we must go to judge Leeman’s map – for icebergs exist in reality whether or not they are accounted for in our imagination. Continue reading

Reviewing Jonathan Leeman’s “Political Church” Pt 1

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A few months ago I asked my friend Joseph Minich if he’d be kind enough to review Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church for us. He said he would. And then wrote 9000 words about it. We’re going to run his review in its entirety, but we’re doing it over two days. Today’s first part is simply going to be a summary of Leeman’s argument. On Wednesday, Minich will turn to making a critical assessment of Leeman’s work.

Before handing things off to Joe, I wanted to take one paragraph to explain why we’re running a review of such length. The answer is simple: I expect ecclesiology to be one of the defining debates of our generation in the western church.

We’re at something of a turning point in the west. The old mainline denominations are failing. In one sense we all ought to say “good riddance” as nearly all of them have long since become apostate. In another sense, however, their loss is still devastating. These institutions are the oldest Protestant institutions in North America and they are collapsing before our eyes. Rome appears headed a similar route for the most part, although I expect there will be a few regions that remain more orthodox, thanks largely to the influence of orthodox bishops. (This isn’t intended as a slur against Rome; rather it’s simply an assessment of the fact that Francis appears to be pushing the church in a more episcopalian direction not only theologically, but in terms of its polity.)

What we are left with is evangelicalism—and evangelicalism is comprised chiefly of relatively new institutions that do not know their tradition’s history, do not have discernible mechanisms for learning their history, and do not have solid answers for questions of ordinary parish ministry, church life, and church governance. If the American church has a future, it will be because God is faithful to us and aids us in finding solid answers to the vexing problems of church life and governance.

Therefore, taking the time to think about these questions and to address them faithfully is important. So yes, we’re running a 9000 word book review. But we’re doing it because, first, we need to faithfully depict Leeman’s actual argument and, second, we need to interact with it critically. Whatever one might think of Leeman’s book, one must recognize the value of Leeman’s contribution to the evangelical conversation about the church. His book will, I hope, encourage many more  people to reflect on these questions carefully and deeply. I also hope that this review by Joe will help further that work. (NOTE: If it would be helpful to you, I will be uploading a PDF of the review that will be available when we publish the full review on Wednesday. So if you would rather read a print out than read 9,000 words on a backlit screen, we’ll have that for you on Wednesday.) On that note, I’ll pass it on to Joe.

Introduction

Daniel Rodgers has called our era an “age of fracture.” This expression captures the identity crises which exist among all institutions seeking to navigate their way through what is often termed “liquid modernity.” The “evangelical” community is no exception to this identity crisis. The diversity of its many self-professed adherents as well as the speed at which independent influences randomly and variously come together (or apart)  leads many to think that orthodox American evangelicalism is fundamentally ungrounded. Continue reading

Purity, Ecclesiology, and the Benedict Option

It took longer than I expected it would, but we now have our first article calling for a specifically Baptist take on Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. The piece, by Union University’s Nathan Finn, argues that a uniquely Baptist twist on the BenOp is needed in today’s increasingly anti-Christian cultural moment. (I will be calling this a “Baptist twist on the BenOp” rather than the Paleo Baptist option because, as my former boss would put it, “mercy hot monkeys!”, we have enough options already. And yes, he really would say that.) Continue reading

Of Jayber Crow and Donald Trump

In his novel Jayber Crow Wendell Berry raises the question of how a person can love and give themselves to something that is dying. Throughout the novel, Crow, the book’s protagonist, reflects on his life in Port William, a small Kentucky town that is dying. At one point he likens the town, which is suffering the same fate as so many other small American towns, to a person on the side of an icy slope—no matter how much they try to stay put, they can’t help slipping. Jayber Crow is the story of how one man tries to keep faith with a place that is dying. It is, thus, the story of how one man dies alongside the thing he loves. Continue reading

On Loving and Hating Places

There are a few more things that need to be said as we wrap up this week’s Crump-related fun. (And no, I did not watch last night’s debate so do not ask me about it. I was busy playing Football Manager and reading Anthony Esolen.)

There is a way of opposing the political establishment that really is nihilistic and conservatives have been very good at it in recent years. Indeed, there is almost certainly a strong link between the success of the professional malcontents on the right like Rush Limbaugh and the ascent of candidates like Crump. That is what we need to avoid now. Continue reading