Strangers in an odd land

I promised you more under this title and here we are. I have now fully read and fully digested the two most important books that come from interviews with the host that I have known for a long time. The first interview was about “Live Not By Lies” by Rod Dreher and the other was about “The Gathering Storm” by Al Mohler. It is hard to imagine that two radically different books are on essentially the same subject. Both books deal with the obvious fact that Christianity is no longer at the center of our culture. Both books stand on the shoulders of giants and borrow their titles. Dreher borrows Solzhenitsyn and Mohler Churchill, and the selection of the giants shows the differences between the books.

Mohler sees the church as capable of ignoring the coming war, as England did when Nazi Germany sat down. Dreher sees us as a dissident church in the communist bloc, or if you want to keep the analogies of the Second World War as an underground in a France already occupied by the Nazis. Mohler’s book is a call to war; Dreher is a call to survival and dissent.

These books are important because, as I’ve been writing here for some time, we need to do more than just politics to really fix what’s wrong with this nation. The next President or Congress will not fix what ails us. The problem goes much deeper. Our culture and our society are now in a place where the kind of democracy we have built could become unmanageable. If we don’t care about culture and society, our democracy will fall. The church and the Christian worldview are fundamental to the culture and society that support our democracy. Democracy fluctuates because the church has not become this cultural and social foundation in recent decades.

That is the flaw in both books. Both deal with issues from their own point of view, but do not set out a grand strategy for returning to cultural stability. Even so, I have to comment that I think that the real position of the Church and Christianity in our present situation lies somewhere between the poles set out in these books. Theologians often refer to the kingdom of God as “already, not yet”. I am not going to delve too deep into the theological weeds, but this is an effort to describe a tension between two poles that people are prone to. And so it is with these two books – I think we live in a tension between the poles they represent. Sometimes, in some places, Dreher is totally insane. In other circumstances Mohler is exactly right. In most situations we are looking for a synthesis between the two or something entirely different. For this reason, I prefer the term I have used for the title of this post for previous posts and for posts that are meant to be “strangers in a strange land”. This describes the situation we find ourselves in without an agenda or value judgment. Sometimes we act like warriors, others like dissidents, and others just as something other than the prevailing ethos. What we need most is wisdom to know what to be when.

There is one other flaw in both books that I think needs to be mentioned early on. Both ignore the supernatural aspects of our beliefs. This is something I want to explore in detail later so that I don’t elaborate on the point. But we should all remember well that we worship a God who created our reality and is therefore different from it. God can act in and on our reality in ways that are beyond our comprehension, even when He uses us as an instrument to perform those acts. I’m not a Pentecostal, not even close, but I think ignoring the supernatural aspects of our beliefs is a big part of the reason we’re in this mess.

Both books have one simply outstanding chapter. In the Dreher book this is the tenth chapter – “The Gift of Suffering”. The church in general is just too comfortable. Suffering is, in a way, part of what it means to be a Christian. This is the example that Jesus gave us. We have to assert this, not deny it. In the Mohler book, the outstanding chapter is Chapter 7 – “The Gathering Storm of Generations”. In this chapter, Mohler offers insights into our youth, their point of view, and their culture that were both fascinating and frightening. While in fact I am no longer an elderly gentleman, I like staying in touch with young people as much as possible, but this chapter contained facts that my relationships with young people simply did not reveal, but which make perfect sense upon reflection . The insight that Mohler offers explains to a large extent the astonishing speed with which cultural change has gripped the nation over the past ten years.

There is much more to explore in these books. And I will try to do so when time and current events permit. Surely these outstanding chapters need to be examined in detail by everyone. Much more work has to be done comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing the amazingly different viewpoints of two Christian men on the same subject. Both books must be read. I strongly recommend doing this – back to back or side by side.

Related Articles