Resourceful Christianity: Alan Jacobs on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option

Alan Jacobs offers some helpful reflections on Christian traditions accessing a new way through dialogue with Rod Dreher’s recent post ahead of the release of his book The Benedict Option.

That’s it, I think. You have to get to the end of your rope, you have to come to the point where you can’t live any longer as everyone around you is living. If you come to that point, then every serious Christian tradition, from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy, has what it takes to nourish and support you. But none of those traditions can, in itself, bring you to that point. (I am not yet at that point myself: I am too caught up in the various rewards that this present age has to offer.)

Depending on where you live, you might look around you and find charismatics who are faithfully seeking to make their own countercultural way, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics — heck, even Anglicans. It depends on whether in a given place there is a critical mass of people whom the Holy Spirit has moved to say: Enough. Lord, now give us the living water.

[Read the whole post here.]

Q & A on Christianity and the Refugee Situation

In response to my article at the Journal Sentinel (“What would Jesus say about 65 million refugees?“), I had a few people ask me for more information related to the current refugee situation, what is really going on currently in our nation, and what the proposed ban on refugees is all about. Since more than one person asked me this, I wanted to pass along a few resources that are helpful to understanding the situation.

Q: Is refugee care an important biblical issue?

A: Yes, it is. In the Law, God instructed His people to care for the alien or stranger. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). This same idea is echoed in Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats, where He broadens the concept of care to all those in need: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Read more on this topic here: “What the Bible Says About Welcoming Refugees.” 

Q: What exactly is going on with President Trump’s executive order?

A: President Trump’s executive order bans all refugees from seven nations (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) from entering the country for a 90-day period, and also suspends the United States Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. There is an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. It reduces the commitment to refugee resettlement in 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000, with priority given to persecuted religious minorities. This article summarizes what is involved: “Trump’s Executive Order: Who does travel ban effect?” You can read the official document at the White House web-site here

Q: Is there a difference between illegal immigrants and refugees and how does this ban effect them?

A: Because of the countries listed, this ban does not apply to what we typically think of as illegal immigrants but does affect refugees. A ‘refugee’ is a technical category of person, very distinct from an immigrant or illegal immigrant. Refugees are those forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. You can read a very thorough technical definition, which also includes further clarification about displaced people, internally displaced people, and more at the UNHCR webs-site: “What is a refugee?” 

Q: What is the current refugee screening process for entry into the US? Is it safe enough presently?

A: President Trump often uses the phrase “extreme vetting” in relation to this executive order, linking it to the need for higher protection of our homeland and safety from terrorism. However, the current refugee screening process is already extremely thorough. You can read a thorough explanation of it at the White House web-site here: “Infographic: the screening process for refugee entry into the United States.” The New York Times succinctly summarized the process in a 20-step overview as well: “Refugee Vetting Process.” 

Q: Does this refugee ban actually make us safer?

A: Given the thorough vetting that is already taking place, the impact of the executive order is questionable. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, performed a recent (September 2016) study on terrorism-related violence on US soil and concluded that there is a 0.00003% of death, or 1 in 3,609,709 chance, from terrorist attacks on US soil.

Q: Who pays for refugees’ resettlement, education, etc.?

A: The costs associated with resettling refugees is covered in part by the US Government, in part from the UN, and in part by the refugees themselves as they pay back some of their resettlement costs eventually. You can find a pretty good article about that here: “8 Facts about the US program to resettle Syrian refugees.”

Q: Is this concern from Christians about refugees just part of the liberal influence on the church today? Why should I care?

A: As I mentioned above, the Bible is rich with God’s concern for the alien, stranger, or foreigner. This was because the people of God themselves understand their journey at the Exodus as one of refugees who found a home in God and by God’s grace. The church, centered on Jesus, is established as the community of love (Mark 12:30-31; 1 John 3:23), even as we live as “foreigners and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11).  While we know that this world is not our home and no human government is ever perfect, we must live as salt and light, calling people to the ways of God in the earth and living that out ourselves.

As you wrestle with what this means for you, let me encourage you to look at the work of World Relief, an evangelical relief and development group who has been engaged for decades with refugees:

What would Jesus say about 65 million refugees?

iraqi-refugeesThis week I wrote an Op Ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entitled “What would Jesus say about 65 million refugees.” Here is the beginning of the article:

At a time when the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis in recorded history with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes President Donald Trump recently announced a new policy that will dramatically reduce the number of refugees admitted to the United States. As an evangelical pastor, I respect the president’s authority and am committed to praying for him. But I am very concerned by this policy change, not only for keeping refugee families apart, but also for our own social fabric as a nation.

Throughout the Bible, God commands his people over and over again to welcome, love, and seek justice for the poor, for the widow and the orphan, and for refugees and other foreigners. Words taken from the law-filled book of Leviticus bring this into sharp focus in relation to that last category: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:33-34). The call to care for the foreigner — the refugee, the immigrant, the alien — is dramatically linked with God’s identity here, God’s grace to his people in the exodus from slavery, and a reminder to put faith into practice.

[Read the rest of the article here.]

Post-Election Letter to My Church

votedWhen the elections happened last Tuesday I was in Rwanda with a mission team (I did vote by absentee ballot ahead of time). As things played out during the week my staff asked me to consider writing a letter that they could read in church while I was away. Since my return from Rwanda yesterday, a number of people asked me if I could share the letter with them in print form so here it is.


Dear Eastbrook family,

I want to thank all of you who are praying for me and the team here in Rwanda as we minister to men and pastors here. We have felt your support and prayer throughout the week, and as you read this we will be concluding our time and boarding flights back home. Thank you for being a church who I know will truly pray for us while we are away.

It has been a very interesting experience to be here, watching the presidential election results displayed on the BBC while surrounded by brothers and sisters from another nation. It has reminded me that our God is bigger than any nation and that our family is bigger than any ethnicity, language, or people group. Earlier today, one of the pastors here in Kigali, Rwanda, prayed for us, for our churches, and for revival in the United States. It was not that different from our moment together last weekend in services at Eastbrook.

For some, the presidential election is a victory while for others it is a defeat. Some of us are encouraged today and some of us are discouraged. While we all still consider what this means for our country, I am reminded of two truths from the Scripture. The first comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel when the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar was rebuked for his pride and sinful ways: “the Most High is sovereign over all the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Daniel 4:32). Daniel remained faithful to God as an exile through the reigns of many kings who came and went. God reigns over all the nations, and he gives and takes power from human beings. Sometimes God gives us the leaders we desire or, perhaps worse, deserve. The second truth is from Paul’s letter to the young pastor Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). No matter whether we live in a first century empire or a twenty-first century democracy, we are called to pray for leaders. We must live by these truths.

In light of the deep divides in our country, the demeaning rhetoric that abounds, the sense that some people are not valued as highly as others, and the overall lack of moral integrity in leadership, we must walk in a different way as the family of God at Eastbrook. We want to be a snapshot of the Revelation 7:9-10 church. This means we will live primarily as citizens of the kingdom of God and as exiles in this land. This means we will walk together and not let the divisions of this world pull us apart. This means that we will speak with truth and love, and not stoop to name-calling of one another or others. This means we will be a voice for the voiceless, care for those in need, and welcome with hospitality the foreigners in our midst. This means that we will carry each other’s burdens and seek for all people to experience the full dignity of being made in God’s image and entering into the joy of the gospel.

So, let me say that I cannot wait to see you again soon, Eastbrook family. Your brothers and sisters in Rwanda send their greetings and prayers your way. I believe we can learn a lot from their experience of God’s grace through hardship, God’s healing from wounds, God’s reconciliation amidst conflict, and God’s beauty from ashes. God is our shepherd and we always come back to the words of Psalm 20:7 – “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”


Where Are We?

Is the terrifying trend in American politics a slim chance to recover our souls? Will the alarming rhetoric and substanceless rampaging open the eyes of our people to reality, meaning, and consequences, or have we teetered over the edge of sanity into the purgatorial spiral of steady cultural decay?

Will the remnant stand up, speak out, or help stave off decay’s burn within the holy community of the kingdom? Which pathway is the best way forward for these days?

Still the Cross is the crossroads of history, the epicenter of life, and the intersection of present-time with eternity. The sacred feast is still the place where we are with Him, look back in our union with Him in His death, and look forward to the anticipated union in eternal light with Him. There is no other gateway of God’s grace than that found Jesus Messiah. There is no emperor to save us for now we see clearly that all the emperors have lost their clothes. Their naked power is revealed for what it is: the belly-rolled fat of shameful excess, the heaving one-upmanship of sexual aggression, and the pale skin of lifeless hearts never exposed to the Light. The emperors, we find, are just like us: powerless before greater powers and lifeless without life.

Now, like children lost in the pounding waves, wee gasp for air and strive to rise above the surging powers we have unwittingly set in motion. Even so, those powers…they are not God.