The TCPR Takeaway: A Book Review of ‘Live Not By Lies’
by Andrea Hillman
In Rod Dreher’s newest book, “Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents” (Sentinel, 2020), we hear the shofar of a Biblical watchman. The call is not one of impending annihilation by ancient Philistines, nor a midnight cry similar to “The British are coming!” It is a spiritual trumpet sounding in the opaque darkness of a post-Christian society: Recognize the enemy of the Western Church is now standing at your door—and he little resembles the monster you imagined. This enemy is more akin to cozy, flannel sheets on a winter Sunday morning; the greatest danger is in becoming a willing captive.
Mr. Dreher, the bestselling author of “The Benedict Option” has traveled across continents to bring us first-hand accounts of Christian survivors of totalitarian regimes. Though this enemy is wearing a flattering, new outfit, they recognize him. The central concern, shared with Dreher by a doctor, was originally voiced by his ninety-year-old Czechoslovakian mother. She survived six years as a political prisoner for her part in the Catholic anti-communist resistance before immigrating to the USA and revealed current events in the USA were similar to events that occurred when communism arrived in her homeland. The son, a natural-born recipient of American Constitutional freedoms, did not overly concern himself…until recently. Dreher shares a few details of their initial conversation on pages x-xi of the Introduction to “Live Not By Lies”:
“It’s easy to laugh this kind of thing off. Many of us with aging parents are accustomed to having to talk them down from the ledge, so to speak, after a cable news program stoked their fear and anxiety about the world outside their front door. I assumed that this was probably the case with the elderly Czech woman.
But there was something about the tension in the doctor’s voice, and the fact that he felt compelled to reach out to a journalist he didn’t even know, telling me that it would be too dangerous for me to use his name if I wrote about him, that rattled me. His question became my question: What if the old Czech woman sees something the rest of us do not?”
These survivors have voiced their concerns as they witness the Western Church skipping blithely into the hands of a new, more insidious danger— “soft totalitarianism.” Dreher’s book is divided into two parts: The first part lays out his case with the thoughtfulness and weight of a C. S. Lewis work; the second part begins to answer the question, “What can we now do?” Whether one chooses to agree with Dreher’s conclusions or not, his attention to historical detail is compelling, and the witness testimonies are sobering.
I would have liked to see more suggestions geared toward our modern-day circumstances, as to how we can overcome this insidious enemy in concrete ways. The beauty of the first-hand accounts of the overcomers is that they give us hope as they help us identify the enemy. However, it seems much of the success of these past generations lay not only in their courage, but in their ability to work underground, resisting from the shadows. How will that resistance translate in the age of facial recognition, drones, traffic cameras, Ring cameras, Alexa’s, and cellphone tracking? Perhaps we can learn more from our Chinese brothers and sisters on this score?
It is more important than ever that we recognize the enemy, because it is less likely we will be able to work underground as our spiritual forebears did in the past: The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can build an effective resistance. The storm clouds of judgment are gathering, and God is no hypocrite: The storm will begin at His house. 1 Peter 4:17 (KJV) “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” In stark light of what lies ahead, let us open our eyes and purify ourselves in undivided devotion to our Master.
Brothers and sisters, let us be certain of what we believe; let us shout from the rooftops and keyboards our personal testimonies—for if we learn nothing else from “Live Not By Lies,” let us learn the immense power of our testimony to the love of Jesus Christ! For, we are called to be ready to “give an account” (1 Peter 3:15), and it will not be clever apologetics that win the hearts of the lost. The world will lure you to argue your facts against theirs all day to no avail, yet how can one argue with your personal experience—your first-hand testimony? This is where our power lies, and one of the main reasons last days martyrs will be killed: “…And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus, and because of the word of God…” Revelation 20:4 (KJV). Know your testimony and know your Bible: The enemy cannot destroy our witness or the Bible on earth without destroying all who have it hidden in their hearts.
“Live Not By Lies, A Manual For Christian Dissidents” gives the vigilant a lens to better see the dangers snaking across our spiritual, political, and cultural landscape, and helps us better articulate our concerns. It is for the courageous; for those who understand an effective spiritual soldier isn’t created in a day and we must begin our spiritual training now. Through Mr. Dreher’s efforts, we not only gain an understanding of “the gift of suffering,” but also acquire the gift of awareness.
You can read more of her work here.