I’ve certainly enjoyed The Benedict Option, but the brutal clarity of the Egyptian Coptic church bombings on Palm Sunday drives home the reality that Christianity in many parts of the world has run out of options. The faith is in a process of being “cleansed” from many countries in the Middle East.
Away with such notions of “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. It’s a nice statement quoted by comfortable Western Christians looking on from safe vantage points. Spill enough blood and the church will have the life crushed out of it, that’s what the lesson seems to in North Africa and large parts of the Middle East.
Which all makes options a moot point for most of the world’s Christians. There’s no sense in vast swathes of the world that Christians should be girding for a tough future. They’ve had a tough past, are having a tough present, and no doubt the years to come will be even tougher. For them a world in which the Benedict Option may be on the table seems like a pipe dream.
That’s not to diminish our own confronting futures as Christians. Late secular modernity is no dream run either. And the blatant disregard of many secular progressives for the fate of Christian minorities is proof that the ABC culture (Anything But Christianity) in the West has caught Eastern believers in its wake, rendering them collateral damage in a culture war they have had no part of.
Let’s put our travails into perspective. What we’re witnessing across the globe is not discomfort, but destruction of the bloodiest sort.
Iraq is being emptied of Christians. Syrian Christians are in mortal danger. Now Egypt. Even refugee camps are not safe for many Christians for there is an ongoing hostility towards minority groups, especially Christians.
And it’s naive to think that somehow those fleeing persecution all suddenly see themselves as the same stripe; a “we’re all in this together” kind of bon-homie that puts differences aside for the sake of survival.
The stories coming out of refugee camps says otherwise. That sentiment is foolish thinking that only a-religious Westerners, who have no understanding of how ancient faiths have operated, think. Westerners who look at a refugee merely as “a refugee” betray their religious ignorance. Sadly, most religious refugees don’t see others “merely” as refugees in the way the secular West does.
There’s a good chance that should hostilities cease in places such as Syria that many displaced persons will return home. But I wonder if the vacuum left by the Christians will ever be refilled by those self-same Christian groups? It’s hard to imagine how that can be.
It certainly makes a mockery of any progressive notion among Christian groups that somehow we are going to build the kingdom right here along with Jesus, especially when hate-filled people are destroying it quicker than you can build it. Sorry, but if you think that’s the way forward, go do it in Egypt today. If you can’t universalise your theology it’s not biblical. And that’s true whether you’re Prosperity gospel or Progressive gospel.
So what are the Egyptian Christians clinging to? Not “Your best life now” or “a new kind of Christian”, or even a “Benedict option”, but the hope of the imminent arrival of King Jesus himself, who will – as 2Thessalonians promises – overthrow the lawless one with the breath of his mouth and the splendour of his coming.
When you’ve run out of options, that’s the time you cry out with all the anguished longing inside you: “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!” And Western Christians are a ways away from that at the moment.