Reformed theologian Carl Trueman has pretty much come out as a supporter of the Benedict Option. He came to hear my speech in Baltimore the other night, and says it answered some of the questions he had about the Benedict Option. Excerpt:
The talk on Friday night made all of that clear. And it offered an outline of the assumptions of the Ben Op, which might be summarized as follows:
- Conventional politics will not save us. Nota bene: This is not the same as saying that political engagement must cease. It is simply a claim about the limited expectations we should have regarding political engagement, particularly at the national level.
- The church is not the world. As Rod merely agrees with Jesus on this point, it should not be too controversial.
- Christians must retrieve their own traditions as the fundamental sources of their identities. Again, with the Apostle Paul on his side here, Rod is hardly breaking dangerous new ground.
- Christians must prioritize the local community as their sphere of action. Once more, nota bene: This is not, repeat not, the same as saying that Christians should head for the hills. It is simply to say that they should be far more concerned for what is happening in their neighborhood than on Capitol Hill.
- What we face is not a struggle within a culture but, strictly speaking, a clash of alternative cultures. This is where the language of the end of the culture war needs to be understood correctly. It is not that we are to surrender to the dominant culture. It is rather that we are to model an alternative culture. And we are to do so first in our local communities.
Erroneous readings of the above points are what have led to the most heated criticism of the Ben Op proposal as alarmist and defeatist. Some criticisms are rooted in generational differences. Those who grew up in an era when homosexuality was the love that dared not speak its name seem blind to how completely the politics of sexual identity has transformed the cultural, political, and legal landscape. What can one say to such other than “Open your eyes!” or “For pity’s sake, talk to your teenage grandchildren!”? Other criticisms are perhaps the result of Christians’ being so in thrall to the tropes and conventions of Western politics, and so convinced of their own social importance, that they hear any call to break with that culture as a call for unconditional surrender. But Rod is not calling for surrender. He is calling for new terms of engagement.
That’s right. Read the whole thing. There’s a lot more. Thanks, Carl! I was listening yesterday to this excellent BBC Radio 4 show about the Rule of St. Benedict, the link having been sent to me by reader CatherineNY. In the 30-minute program, one of the guests says that it’s hard to overstate how much the West owes to the Benedictine order. One of the guests, a medieval historian, said:
Monasteries provided a space for culture to survive at a time when it was really in danger. But monasteries also provided schools, hospitals, and large numbers of the poor are fed at monastery doors each day.
Yes, this. How can we live out something like this as lay Christians, serving the world even as we provide a space for Christian culture to survive at a when when it is really in danger?