The following is a response to David Skeel’s editorial “Now Isn’t the Time to Flee the Public Square,” Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2015. It was not published, so I thought I would share it in a slightly modified form.

David Skeel’s thoughtful reflection on the “Benedict Option” (popularized recently by Rob Dreher, based on the idea of Catholic philosopher Alasdair Macintyre) encourages a shift to what should always be the norm for the Christian church, namely, a focus on the strengthening of the community of faith through the Word, prayer, and sacraments. The church must first be the new humanity that Christ died and rose to form; it must be the church. Only then can it be an effective witness to the realities of the gospel in the midst of the world. As the church awaits its perfection at the end of history, it is called to be an example to the world around it. But church members can hardly disengage from involvement in the many arenas, including politics, of the world in which God has placed us. A kind of Protestant ecclesiastical monasticism is not an option.

Since, as the Apostle Peter says, the church exists in exile, it is called to win people to this new order of humanity that Christ initiated and presides over. The prophet Jeremiah laid out a program for Israel in Babylonian exile that is the perfect agenda for the church in the United States and elsewhere: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). So, the New Testament mandate (like the Old Testament one from Jeremiah) is not a call to retreat, but to be a positive witness in the culture. We are not called to take monastic vows of separation, but to take an active role as mature Christians in all of the activities of the culture in which God has called us to be ambassadors. We are called to demonstrate care and respect for those who do not share our faith and show them that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only true hope of a lost humanity.

Skeel ends on a note that needs serious attention by conservative Christians. Rather than condemning the world, Christians should be examples of Christian virtue, i.e., what the new humanity transformed by God’s grace looks like. Skeel does not mention that exercising love, forgiveness, and explaining the sufficiency of God’s grace in Christ to redeem sinners are at the heart of that example. Virtue without grace is not much help to a world alienated from God. As Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

As a pastor I recommend, instead of the Benedict Option, the Jeremiah 29 Option.

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Ordained Servant: October 2015

The Marrow

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A Righteousness Apart from the Law That Is Not against the Law: The Story and Message of The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga: A Review Article

Talking with Catholics about the Gospel by Chris Castaldo

The Song of Songs by Iain M. Duguid: A Review Article

Do We Need a Better Country Now More Than Ever? A Review Article

The Convert

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