Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher. New York: Sentinel, 2020, 240 pages, $27.00.

Those who benefited from the bestselling book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, have no doubt heard of his new volume, Live Not by Lies. The subtitle of this 2020 publication, “A Manual for Christian Dissidents,” reveals the author's perspective that we are in for some difficult years ahead in a culture that has become more openly hostile to historic Christianity.

Dreher has a varied spiritual background. Once an evangelical Protestant, and then a Roman Catholic, he is now following the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Given his current spiritual home, he is particularly aware of the struggles of Christians and churches from Eastern Europe during the years of Soviet totalitarianism. Beginning in 2015 he began to hear from people that had firsthand experience with persecution in that setting. They were noticing developments in Western countries reminiscent of the early stages of oppression that they lived through decades earlier.

Dreher believes that we are currently living in a “pre-totalitarian culture” (21). His easy-to-read book is not an invitation to panic, but a diagnosis of our societal condition and a plan for survival and even flourishing in these challenging days. In particular, Dreher encourages sincere believers to “value nothing more than truth” (97). This is not only a prescription for the theological mind but an invitation to a life lived well in the midst of a hostile world.

The author gives us the tested advice of people who suffered through the darkest years of communism in countries like Romania and Czechoslovakia. He shows a deep regard for divinely ordained community in both the family and the church, emphasizing role models who were able to face their trials with courage and joy. He recommends practices that enable interested neighbors and younger family members to learn truth and to value the heritage that they receive from those who have come before them.

Quoting from one of the heroes of the twentieth century Christian resistance, Dreher makes the case that we are facing something more than the trials of living under powerful demagogues. “Dictatorship can make life hard for you, but they don’t want to devour your soul. Totalitarian regimes are seeking your souls” (136). This distinction ends up being important for those of us who understand our duties as guardians of sacred truth. Our needs may change to some degree when the church knows the real possibility that we might be unjustly detained for our faith. We devote ourselves to memorizing Scripture, not only because it is helpful for our sanctification, but because it provides a “strong basis for prison life” (154).

For those of us who serve as officers in churches of less than 150 souls, we can resonate with the author’s appreciation for “the importance of small communities” of faith (169). In such environments we learn to love God with the people we actually know. It is in the small church that we may readily find ways to “join our grief with the grief of others,” helping us to bear heavy burdens together (178).

Live Not by Lies is not a depressing book, but I found it useful to combine it with another account of how evangelical churches are working together for good in places where any kind of connection with the broader community might seem implausible. This second book, Unlikely by Kevin Palau, tells the amazing story of how churches in Portland, Oregon found practical opportunities for holy service that led to new relationships and solid evangelistic fruit. Reading both books at the same time gave me what I hope was a balanced perspective concerning how we might work together with other churches who hold to historic Christian doctrine, ethics, and experience. The Palau book teaches us to ask those who live around us, “How can I help?” and then to follow through with deeds of love. Live Not by Lies prepares us to be ready for the arrival of that day when we must finally say, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right for us to obey God or you.”

Stephen Magee is the pastor of Exeter Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Exeter, New Hampshire. Ordained Servant Online, May 2021.

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Ordained Servant: May 2021

The Importance of Elders

Also in this issue

Democracy and the Denigration of Office[1]

Ordained Servants: The Importance of the Office of Ruling Elder[1]

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapters 16–17

The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1, “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” (1945)

The Idea of Office: A Review Article

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin, David Charles and Rob Ventura, eds.

Ode to Duty

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