A Good Exhortation without Enough Focus

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian NationThe Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Generally speaking, I liked this book. But in full disclosure, I liked the book at the beginning a lot more than I did at the end.

The opening of this book is an examination of the current state of Christian life, especially in the United States, but also throughout the world. Mr. Dreher talks about the culture war and the sharp division between politics and religion, not because of a “wall of separation,” but because those two spheres are rapidly growing incompatible. This part of the book almost perfectly encapsulates my impression and understanding of the current political climate for morally conservative Christians.

From there, though, the rest of the book is a little scattershot. Don’t get me wrong; it’s full of very good advice. Almost everything he says about taking the Benedict option is on point. It both convicts and encourages us to do what we can–or what we must–to remain faithfully Christian in a nation that separates itself from us. But in many ways, the book came across lacking a driving focus.

First, a minor grammatical issue: almost as soon as Mr. Dreher promises to use little-O “orthodox” to refer to morally conservative Christians, he uses capital-O “Orthodox” to do so (e.g., pages 78 and 82). By context, it’s clear he does not mean Eastern Orthodox Christians, but simply orthodox Christians. Little things like this are distracting for me, but probably will go unnoticed for most.

Throughout the book, Mr. Dreher refers to his contemporaries by name; to be honest, I don’t follow politics, religious news, blogs, or commentary closely enough to know who any of them were. But for Mr. Dreher, a quick name-drop will do, leaving me to wonder who this person is (or was, in some cases) and why their opinion is relevant on this subject. Even when he introduces people well, he may refer to them again several chapters later with no introduction at all. It can be difficult to follow.

Mr. Dreher’s sense of ecumenism is appreciated, but ultimately a little stilted and awkward. He encourages camaraderie among Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians, as well as Jewish and Mormon faithful, for the sake of opposing an anti-religious political sphere–but he simultaneously points out the philosophical progression from nominalism to Protestantism to modernism to postmodernism and the nihilistic philosophies that drive a wedge between political and religious life in the US. He also glosses over his own conversion, first to Roman Catholicism and later to Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m not complaining that he seeks the truth while recognizing the need for working together, but as I mentioned above, in the book, his ecumenism seems stilted, like he was about to say more, but cut himself off.

Late in the book, there’s a chapter on sexual mores that seems completely out of left field. I think the point was to encourage us to teach our children about traditional marriage, but it seems completely out of context for the Benedict Option (who is reading this book with an eye toward cooperating in its plan but thinks they don’t need to raise their children in the faith?). It’s also an opportunity for Mr. Dreher to make some curious claims that he doesn’t justify (e.g., that the Church, or part of it, has been cruel and unjust in the way it opposes sexual sins).

There’s also a chapter on technology. In many ways, I agree with it–Mr. Dreher rightly calls out the problems in the (post-)modern approach to science and technology, i.e., that our society often pursues something because we can without ever stopping to ask whether we should. But Mr. Dreher conflates this with all technology, leading to an encouragement of a lifestyle that seems almost Amish in its denial of modernity. It’s true that technology poses significant risks to the devout Christian life, especially when it is abused–but much of technology is also useful for the faith.

I think this is a good book, but it misses a few marks that might have made it a great book. I think we should heed some of Mr. Dreher’s advice, and strengthen our communities of faith as the storm approaches–once it’s here in force, it may be too late to batten down the hatches.

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Romans 13

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on 31Prayers.com. For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1Let every life be placed underassigned to the powershere and throughout, authorities being overlit. rising above [it].some manuscripts: Be placed under every power being over [you].a For [there] is no powerlit. power is not if not from God, but the [powers] being(existing) have been marshaled(arrayed / drawn up [for battle]) by God;b 2inasmuch as the [one] setting [oneself] in battle against(opposition to) the power, the [one] having been appointed [on a particular occasion] by God, [he] has set [himself] against [iti.e., the power/authority in battle], but the [ones] having set [themselves] against [it] will receive a judgment(condemnation) for themselves. 3For the [ones] ruling are not a fear to the good work(deed) but to the bad.c But do [thou] wish not to dread(be frightened by) the power? Do the good [thing], and [thou] will have approval(praise) from it; 4for [it] is a servantHere and throughout, an English cognate term with this word is deacon. of God for thee unto the good [thing]. But if [thou] do the bad [thing], be afraid; for [it] does not carry the daggerThough not technically accurate, it was common to use this Greek word to refer to the gladius, the primary sword of the Roman soldier. in vain;(at random / without a plan) for [it] is a servant of God, a prosecutor(avenger) unto wrath to the [one] practicing the bad [thing].d 5Wherefore [there is] a compulsion to be placed under [it], not only on account of wrath, but also on account of knowledge.(conscience) 6For an account of this [thing you] perform(perfect) tributes,lit. payments for public servants of God are persisting obstinatelyThis is a circumlocution, using a participle instead of the normal form of the verb. This focuses especially on the state of behavior rather than the particular action. unto this same thing. 7Give back debts to all [people], the tribute to the [one to whom] tribute [is due],e the dutylit. outcome, end to the [one to whom] the duty [is due], fear to the [one to whom] fear [is due], honor to the [one to whom] honor [is due].

8Oweὀφείλετε can take a direct object, meaning to owe something, or an infinitive, meaning that you ought to do something. Both are used here, but English loses some of the commandment of the latter (i.e., we ought to love each other). nothing to anyone, except to love each other; for the [one] loving another has fulfilled [the] law.f 9For the [thing], [thou] will notThe verb forms here could almost be imperatives, but the word for negation is οὐ, not μή, which means it must be a future indicative, not an imperative. commit adultery, [thou] will not murder, [thou] will not covet,(desire); lit. set one’s heart uponsome manuscripts end after murder, others add [thou] will not give false witness there; some do bothg and if [there is] any other commandment, in this word [it] is summed up, {in this:} [thou] will love thy nearby [person(neighbor) as] thyself.h 10Love does not work [at] a bad [thing] for the [one] nearby;This is the adverbial form, not an adjective. love, therefore, [is the] fulfilmentlit. complement of [the] law.i

11And knowing this [is] the time, that the hour already [has come] to wake(rouse) yousome manuscripts: us; others omit out of sleepj for now our salvation [is] nearer than when [we] believed [on a particular occasion]. 12The night advanced(made progress / progressed) [on a particular occasion], but the day has approached.k Let [us] therefore put awaysome manuscripts: throw off [on a particular occasion] the works of darkness,l {and} let [us] put onhere and in verse 14, (don) the armor of light. 13Let [us] walk gracefully as in [the] day, not with revelries and strong drinks,m not with beds and licentiousness, not with strife and jealousy; 14but put on the lord Jesus Christ,n and do not make providencelit. foreknowledge, foresight forlit. of the flesh unto [its] desires.(covets); the same root as the command in verse 9


Cross-references:
a Let every life…rising above [it]: cf. Titus 3:1
b For [there] is…marshaled by God: cf. Proverbs 8:15; John 19:11
c For the [ones]…to the bad: cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14; 3:13
d a prosecutor unto…the bad [thing]: cf. Romans 12:19
e Give back debts…tribute [is due]: cf. Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25
f for the [one]…fulfilled [the] law: cf. Galatians 5:14; 1 Timothy 1:5
g [thou] will not…one’s heart upon: cf. Exodus 20:13-15, 17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19, 21; Matthew 19:18
h [thou] will love…[person as] thyself: cf. Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8
i love, therefore, [is…of [the] law: cf. Matthew 22:40
j knowing this [is]…out of sleep: cf. Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7
k The night advanced…day has approached: cf. 1 John 2:8
l Let [us] therefore…works of darkness: cf. Ephesians 5:11
m Let [us] walk…and strong drinks: cf. Luke 21:34; Ephesians 5:18
n put on the…lord Jesus Christ: cf. Galatians 3:27

Romans 12

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on 31Prayers.com. For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1Therefore [I] exhorthere and in verse 8, (summon); lit. call to you, brothers, through the mercies(pities, compassions) of God, to place(set) your bodies aside [as] a sacrifice, living, holy, acceptable to God, your intellectual service. 2The imperatives in this verse are in the present tense, giving them imperfective aspect. This means that the command is habitual, over time, or continuing long-term.And do not be corrected(remodeled) to this period of existence,(age, lifetime, era) but be transformed by the renewal of the mind,(thought)a in order that you may test(prove, approve) what [is] the will of God, the good and acceptableb and perfect.(complete)c

3For [I] say, through the grace having been given [on a particular occasion] to me, to every [one] being among you not to be proudlit. to over-think about what [it] is necessary to think, but to think in order to think soundly,lit. safe-think for each [one] just as God distributed(divided) [on a particular occasion] a measure of faith.(belief)d 4For exactly as in one body [we] have many limbs, on the other hand all the limbs do not have the same job,(business, action, function)e 5thus [we] many are one body in Christ, but on the other hand, individuallylit. according to the one [we are] limbs of each other.f 6But having different graces(favors, charisms) according to grace having been given [on a particular occasion] to us, either prophecy according to the proportion of faith, 7or service in service, or the [one] teaching in [his] teaching, 8or the [one] exhorting in [his] exhortation, the [one] sharing in [his] simplicity,(liberality); lit. singlenessh the [one] being set over in [his] haste,here and in verse 11, (zeal, earnestness) the [one] showing mercy in [his] cheerfulness.An English word derived from this Greek word is hilarity.g

9Love [is] undramatic.(without dissimulation)i AbhorHere and every imperative marked with a blue asterisk through the end of the chapter, this is a participle with attendant circumstance, indicating an imperative sense. the worthless(knaving, toilsome) [thing], glue* [yourselves] to the good [thing];j 10[be] affectionate in brotherly love unto each other,k lead* each other to honor,(worship)l 11do not shrink* from(be timid toward) haste, boil* with respect to [your] spirit,m be a slave* to the lord,some manuscripts: to time; others omit this clause 12rejoice* with respect to hope, remain* [in] pressure,(affliction) persist obstinately(adhere firmly, remain faithful)* in prayer,n 13have a share*(take part in) in the needs of the saints, pursue* hospitality.o 14Blesshere and in the next clause, (praise) the [ones] pursuing {you},some manuscripts omit “you,” others omit this whole clause bless and do not curse.p 15RejoiceThis imperative and the next one is a command using the infinitve; this construction has a solemn or formal force beyond the norm for imperatives. with the [ones] rejoicing, wail(lament) with [ones] wailing.(lamenting)q 16Think* the same [thing] unto each other,r do not think* lofty(proud) [things] but be led away(be arrested)* with the lowly [ones]. Do not become sensible(wise) beside yourselves.(in your own opinion)s 17No longer return* a bad [thing] against a bad [thing];t foresee*(look for) beautiful [things] face-to-face with all men;here and in the next verse, (people)u 18if possible,lit. powerful [insofar as] the [matter is] out of you, live peaceably* with all men;v 19do not avenge* yourselves,w beloved [ones], but give a place to wrath,x for [it] has been written,y “To me [is] vengeance, I will repay, says [the] lord.” 20But if thy enemylit. hated or hateful [one] hunger, feedIn a literal sense, by putting small pieces of food in his mouth by hand. him; if [he] thirst, give [something] to him to drink; for, doing [this], [thou] will heap coals of fire upon his head.z 21Do not be conquered by the bad [one], but conquer the bad [thing] in the good [one/thing].


Cross-references:
a be transformed by…of the mind: cf. Ephesians 4:23
b in order that…good and acceptable: cf. Romans 6:11, 13; 1 Peter 2:5
c to place your…acceptable and perfect: cf. Ephesians 5:10, 17
d for each [one]…measure of faith: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7
e verse 4: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12
f verse 5: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:5
g 6But having different…in [his] cheerfulness: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11
h the [one] sharing…simplicity cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7
i Love [is] undramatic: cf. 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22
j Abhor the worthless…the good [thing]: cf. Amos 5:15
k [be] affectionate in…unto each other: cf. 2 Peter 1:7
l lead each other to honor: cf. Philippians 2:3
m boil with respect…to [your] spirit: cf. Acts 18:25; Revelation 3:15
n persist obstinately in prayer: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
o pursue hospitality: cf. Hebrews 13:2
p verse 14: cf. Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 4:12
q wail with [ones] wailing: cf. Psalm 35:13
r Think the same…unto each other: cf. Romans 15:5
s Do not become…sensible beside yourselves: cf. Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 5:21; Romans 11:20
t No longer return…a bad [thing]: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:15
u foresee beautiful [things]…with all men: cf. Proverbs 3:4 (LXX)
v verse 18: cf. Mark 9:50; Hebrews 12:14
w do not avenge yourselves: cf. Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:39
x but give a…place to wrath: cf. Romans 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7
y written: Deuteronomy 32:35; cf. Hebrews 10:30
z verse 20: cf. Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:44

Romans 11

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on 31Prayers.com. For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1[I] say therefore, God did not push away his people,some manuscripts: inheritance [did he]? Would that it not come to be; for also I am an Israelite, out of [the seed] of Abraham, of [the] tribe of Benjamin.a 2God did not push away his people,b whom [he] foreknew. Or do [you] not know in Elijah, what the writing says, how [he] meets with God against(concerning) Israel? 3“Lord, [they] killed your prophets, [they] razedThe etymology of this word evokes an image of tearing something to the ground and then digging up its foundation. your altars, and I alone was left remaining and [they] seek my life.”c 4But what does the decree(oracle / negotiation) say to him? [I]or [they] left seven thousand men for myself, whoever did not bend [the] knee to Baal.”d 5Therefore thus also in the now-time(present) a remnant has come about according to a choice of grace;e 6but if by grace,Because no verb is supplied, one must be assumed; we may think ἐκλογέω (choose, from ἐκλογὴν in v5) or καταλιμπάνω (leave behind, from κατέλιπον in v4); in either case, the usage is probably the instrumental dative (the dative of means), specifically as a standard of judgment. no longer out of works, for otherwise grace becomes grace no longer.some manuscripts add: for otherwise the work is no longer a work; others: but if out of works, [it] is no longer grace, for otherwise the work is no longer a workf 7What therefore? What Israel was seeking, [she] did not attain,here and elsewhere, (reach) but the choiceHere and in verses 5, 28, not those chosen, but the act of choosing attained [it];g but the remaining [ones] were petrified,(hardened) 8just as [it] has been written, “God gave to them a spirit of bewilderment, eyes not to see,here and in the next clause, as well as in verse 10, are articular infinitives of negative purpose ears not to hear, until the today-day.”h 9And David says, “Let their table become [on a particular occasion] a trap and a hunt and a snare(scandal) and a repayment to them, 10let their eyes be made dark not to seei and their back [be made] bent [down] through everything.”j

11[I] say therefore, [they] did not stumble in order to fall,ἵνα + subjunctive purpose clause [did they]? Would that it not come to be; but the salvation for their blunder [was given] to the peopleshere and throughout, (nations)k in order to provoke them to jealousy.articular infinitive of purpose with εἰςl 12But if their blunder [is the] wealth of [the] cosmos and their loss [is the] wealth of [the] peoples, how much more their fulfilment [is wealth].

13But [I] say to you, to the peoples: therefore, for as much as I am an apostle of peoples, [I] magnify my service, 14if in some way [I] shall provoke my flesh to jealousy, [I] will also save some oflit. out of them. 15For if their rejection [is the] reconciliation of the cosmos, what [is their] acquisition if not life out of [the] dead [ones]? 16And if the firstling [is] holy, also the [whole] mixture [is];m and if the root [is] holy, also the branches [are].

17But if some of the branches were completely broken off [on a particular occasion], but thou, being a wild olive, were graftedhere and throughout, lit. pricked / stuck in among them and, partaking of the root of the fattinesssome manuscripts: of the root; others: of the fattiness; others: of the root and of the fattiness [thou] came to beThis verb could go with any of the genitives (of-phrases) in this verse, just as “partaking” can; though I have rendered it the most sensible way in English, it can mean that by partaking of all these things, you become of them all. of the olive tree,n 18do not boast over the branches; but if [thou] boast, thou do not lift up the root, but the root [lifts] thee [up].o 19Therefore [thou] will say, “Branches were completely broken off in order that I may be grafted in.” 20Wonderful; [they] were completely broken off by [their] disbelief,here and throughout, (lack of faith) but thou have stood by [thy] belief.(faith) Do not be high-minded,lit. think high [things]p but fear;(be afraid) 21for if God did not spare the [ones who were] branches according to their nature,here and throughout, lit. origin neither will [he] spare thee, {not in any way}.some manuscripts omit these words; their presence is still disputed 22Behold, therefore, [the] goodnesshere and throughout, (kindness) and severity of God; on the one hand, severity upon the [ones] having fallen [on a particular occasion], but on the other, [the] goodness of God upon thee, if [thou] remain in the goodness;r otherwise thou also will be cut out.q 23But also those [men], if [they] do not remain in disbelief, [they] will be grafted in; for God is ablelit. powerful to graft them in again. 24For if thou were cut out of the wild olive, [the one] according to [thy] nature, and [thou] were grafted against [thy] nature into the garden olive, by how much more will these, the [ones] according to [their] nature, be grafted in the same olive tree.some manuscripts end this verse as a question

25For [I] do not wish you to miss,(be ignorant of / not perceive) brothers, this mystery, in order that [you] may not be wise {among}some manuscripts use a different word to mean the same thing; others: with respect to yourselves,s because hardness from heritage comes about for Israel to the uttermost where the fulfilment of the peoples came int 26and thus all Israel will be saved,u just as [it] has been written, “The [one] rescuing will have come out of Zion, [he] will turn back impieties from Jacob. 27And this [is] the covenant from me for them, v that [I] take away their errors.”w 28On the one hand, according to the gospel [they are] hated throughhere and in the next clause, (because of) you, but on the other hand, according to the choice [they are] beloved through the fathers; 29for the graces and the calling of God [are] not to be repented of.(repentant) 30For just as you were disobedient to God then, but now [you] have been shown mercy for the disobedience of these [men], 31thus also these [men] now were disobedient for your mercy, in order that [they] themselves also may {now}some manuscripts: afterward; others omit; the presence of this word is disputed be shown mercy. 32For God enclosed all [men] into disobedience in order that [he] might show mercy to all [men].x

33O [the] depth of wealth of both wisdom and knowledge of God; how unexaminable [are] his judgments and inscrutable [are] his ways.y 34“For who knew [the] mind of [the] lord? Or who became his counselor?z 35Or who has prepaid him and will be repaid by him?”aa 36Because out of him and thorugh him and unto him [are] all [things];ab to him [be] the glory unto the ages, amen.


Cross-references:
a I am an…tribe of Benjamin: cf. Philippians 3:5
b God did not…away his people: cf. I Samuel 12:22; Psalm 94:14
c verse 3: 1 Kings 19:10, 14
d [I] left seven…knee to Baal: 1 Kings 19:18
e verse 5: cf. Romans 9:27
f verse 6: cf. Galatians 3:18
g What Israel was…choice attained [it]: cf. Romans 9:31
h God gave to…until the today-day: Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10
i Let their table…not to see: cf. Psalm 69:22-23
j their back [be…[down] through everything: cf. Psalm 35:8
k the salvation for…to the peoples: cf. Acts 13:46
l in order to…them to jealousy: cf. Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19
m And if the…[whole] mixture [is]: cf. Numbers 15:17-21; Nehemiah 10:37; Ezekiel 44:30
n verse 17: cf. Ephesians 2:11-19
o thou do not…[lifts] thee [up]: cf. John 4:22
p Do not be high-minded: cf. Romans 12:16
q verse 22: cf. John 15:2, 4
r if [thou] remain…in the goodness: cf. Hebrews 3:14
s in order that…wise {among} yourselves: cf. Romans 12:16
t the fulfilment of…peoples came in: cf. Luke 21:24; John 10:16
u all Israel will be saved: cf. Matthew 23:39
v The one rescuing…me for them: Isaiah 59:20-21; cf. Psalm 14:7
w that [I] take…away their errors: cf. Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34
x verse 32: cf. Galatians 3:22; I Timothy 2:4
y inscrutable [are] his ways: cf. Isaiah 45:15; 55:8
z verse 34: cf. Isaiah 40:13 (LXX); Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18; I Corinthians 2:16
aa verse 35: cf. Job 41:3
ab out of him…[are] all [things]: cf. I Corinthians 8:6

Swimming the Tiber 40: The End?

When I started this series, my goal was simple: I wanted to explain myself. That is, I wanted to detail the changes my faith underwent over the years, to justify how I started my adult life as a Southern Baptist and am now a Roman Catholic. I haven’t addressed every possible issue (at some point, I want to talk about the beginning and end of the universe), nor have I talked about every aspect of Catholic theology that I like (I want to write another short series on prayer), but I’ve certainly hit the highlights. Almost every post in this 40-part series covers some aspect of theology or interpretation that is integral to my faith as a Catholic. (Not all of these aspects involved changes; such exceptions include original sin, abortion, and marriage, although certainly my understanding of each was clarified significantly.)

In that sense, this series is definitely an apology, but it was never meant to be a work of apologetics. I didn’t set out to convince anyone of the Catholic faith–only to explain my own. I think I’ve done that. If, by some chance, this discourse has piqued your interest in the Catholic Church, I want to encourage you to consider it further. Far better folk than I have made an earnest defense of the faith, from the second century to the fifth to the seventeenth to the twentieth and even into the twenty-first. Catholicism has been around for just shy of two thousand years now; the answers to your questions about it are out there, but you need to be willing to go to the source.

In case you have not caught on, this post concludes my Swimming the Tiber series. As I mentioned above, I do want to continue posting about my faith, but I will no longer strive to keep this rigorous pace (and I think my family shall thank me!). I will also endeavor to work again on things I have let go–the sequel to my first novel, 31 Prayers books, my translation of the New Testament (still in Romans). I might even find time to read again (perhaps once I’m done with graduate classes at the end of this year).

Of course, I’m happy to try to answer any questions you have for me, whether about my own faith life or about the Church. If nothing else, I hope you have learned something through my journey. If you’re not Catholic, I do hope you’ll keep your heart open to the Church. Not everyone who stands by her is perfect, and you will no doubt meet plenty of people who disagree with her doctrines; her authority has been abused in the past, but she has never taught error. Her primary purpose is to save your soul, and to do that, she points in every possible way to Christ. Becoming Catholic isn’t about choosing the right church, which makes you the final arbiter of faith; rather, it’s about becoming obedient to Christ and embracing the unity he desired for us by joining the Church he instituted.

So I guess I kind of took ten months to say this: I didn’t choose the Church. The Church clings to the Truth, the Λόγος. I had a professor once who explained how the Church holds the Truth: Scripture is the written Word; Tradition is the spoken Word; the sacraments are the enacted Word; and Jesus Christ, who comes to us in his whole Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, is the living Word.

I will never settle for anything less than the whole Truth.

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