Friday’s Influence Online Articles

Today, over at

  • Chris Railey writes about two key components of strong ministry marriages: “Setting goals together and making decisions together are two powerful components of any strong marriage. And they will help you become a better leader, too. But all of this presupposes that you are praying for and with your spouse. No amount of counseling, reading, self-help or peer advice can match the power of a praying spouse. Praying together makes setting goals and making decisions together that much easier. But it also sets your hearts on what is most important: your relationship with the Father above.”
  • Phil Steiger reviews The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: “I believe there is a lot of value for a pastor in The Benedict Option. Dreher forces us to pay attention to some of the significant and seismic changes in culture, but more than that, he produces some tangible suggestions. And I agree with him that we can’t just do business as usual and expect better results.”
  • George O. Wood–aka, “Dad”–talks about one of his favorite pastoral prayers: “Lord, help them to lay foundations that are strong enough to bear the weight You will later place on them.”

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Review of ‘How Dante Can Save Your Life’ by Rod Dreher

How-Dante-Can-Save-Your-Life Rod Dreher, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem (New York: Regan Arts, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

When his sister Ruthie died, Rod Dreher found himself drawn back to his hometown of Starhill, Lousiana. He appreciated Ruthie’s “little way”—her life of close-knit family, down-home neighbors, and ordinary kindness that, though not garnering headlines, was nevertheless rich in love. While happily married with children, Dreher felt that Ruthie’s “little way” supplied was lacking in his and his family’s urban existence; so, they moved to Starhill.

The problem was that Dreher had left Starhill for a reason: The inability of his family—especially his father, but even Ruthie herself—to understand any way that wasn’t their way. The family had stayed put; Dreher had traveled abroad. They were Methodist; he was Methodist-turned-agnostic-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox. They did stuff; he read books and wrote articles.

Ruthie’s death didn’t resolve the conflicts that arose from their mutual incomprehension; it only exacerbated them. Soon after returning home, Dreher was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, one of the leading symptoms of which is stress-induced fatigue. In Starhill, Dreher was constantly stressed and chronically fatigued. “Well,” his rheumatologist told him, “you have a choice. Leave Lousiana, or resign yourself to destroying your health.”

Dreher felt that wasn’t a choice. There must be a way to stay put and find inner peace. While browsing a book store not long after the conversation with his doctor, Dreher chanced upon Dante’s Inferno, the first of three volumes in The Divine Comedy. How Dante Can Save Your Life is the story of how Dante saved his.

The Divine Comedy—if you remember—is the story of how Dante makes a pilgrimage through Hell and Purgatory until he reaches Heaven. But as Dreher points out, “To read Dante literally is to misunderstand him.” Dante is not writing a travelogue of the afterlife; he is drawing a map of the inner life. “The Commedia is written as an allegory of the soul’s journey through life,” Dreher points out; it is “about avoiding hell and gaining heaven.” He continues: “To be saved is not to be saved from the consequences of sin but to be freed from the desire to sin—that is, from the desire for our own will over God’s.”

This desire for self-will over God’s loving will, Dreher realized, was the cause of his family’s estrangement and the source of his own sickness. Dreher the Orthodox Christian did not agree with all the details of Dante the Catholic poet’s theology—nor do I the Pentecostal reader, but that disagreement doesn’t mean discounting Dante’s brilliant spiritual insights into “the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.” And in finding that godly love, Dreher found himself whole.

Those looking for an introduction or running commentary on The Divine Comedy should look elsewhere than this book. It’s not for them. Those looking for a self-help book that doesn’t rely on the structure and reasoning of a 700-year-old poem also should look elsewhere. But those who believe that great books have therapeutic value if read insightfully and personally will be delighted by Dreher’s testimony and the gentle nudge he presses on readers to follow in Dante’s path.

If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rod Dreher writes, “This poor old world, weary of words and endless strife, religious and otherwise, doesn’t need more theological books, sermons, doctrinal discourses and debates. It needs more saints. And more storytellers.”

Defending the Constitution, and the Right to Be a Jerk. It’s about Terry Jones, natch.

Why conservative Christians shouldn’t give Ayn Rand a pass.

How should we talk about God online. Advice from James. (And contrary to this op-ed writer’s uncertainty, James wrote James.)

James Nuechterlein: “It is the assurance of the gospel that should free Christians from the compulsion to grasp for the illusory assurances that ideologies put on offer. It is not wrong for us to attempt to discern, according to our best lights, that set of beliefs about human flourishing that most adequately approximates, however provisionally and imperfectly, the God-given ends of justice in a fallen world. That is what in any case people do by nature. But even as we are well advised to put not our faith in princes, so also does it make equivalent sense not to place on our schemes of human betterment more moral weight than they can bear.”

Evidently, it’s okay to defend accused terrorists but not to defend the law of the land. For the record, I disagree with Jennifer Rubin’s assessment of the Defense of Marriage Act.)

In case you were wondering (which I’m not): Why (Evangelicals) Love Amish Romances.

This past Sunday, my wife and I watched this very interesting 60 Minutes report on Mount Athos, the heart of Greek Orthodox monasticism. As a Protestant, though, I think these guys might become more like Christ if they left Mount Athos and got involved with the hurly-burly of life.

Do Christianity and capitalism clash? A plurality of Americans thinks they do. My guess is that we’d see different answers if the economy were doing better.

Marshall Shelley reflects on the medium and message of worship: “When entertainment is perhaps the most prevalent form of communication, what does that mean for preachers, disciplers, worship leaders, and others in positions of Christian influence? Do we become entertainers ourselves? Do we refuse to become entertainers? Or do we land somewhere in between?”

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