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Ben Op in Colorado Springs

Greetings from Colorado Springs. I had a great time last night talking about Dante to a big group of folks at an event sponsored by the Anselm Society [1], a very cool organization based in Holy Trinity Anglican Church [2] and dedicated to the Christian imagination. Throughout the day on Friday, I met and talked with people connected to the Anselm Society, and involved in local churches. I was surprised and gratified to discover that people here have already been talking about the Benedict Option, and want to know more about it. (There’s a Saturday afternoon Ben Op meeting set for downtown COS [3]; I think it’s sold out, but in case not, more info is here).

Everybody I’ve talked to so far in COS is Evangelical. Interestingly, I’ve had far more interest in the Benedict Option from Evangelicals than from Catholics. Anyway, what I’m hearing is serious concern from these Evangelicals that their churches are failing the younger generation by

At a group discussion around a long table in a pub earlier last evening, I confessed to the others (all Evangelicals) that I don’t know the Evangelical world well, but I had always admired Evangelicals from a distance for doing a good job teaching the Bible. At that, lots of heads around the table shook, saying, No. Several people said that young Evangelicals today know very little about the Bible. An academic theologian at the table visiting from out of town said that in her profession (though not, as I mistakenly reported earlier, at her seminary), they’re starting to see students show up for M.Divs who have no religious faith at all. They are searching for God, and hoping to find him in graduate school.

I asked her if she had seen the NYT story about secular people entering divinity school. [4] She had, and said it was on target. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

Two factors are driving this surge. First, the proportion of nones in the United States has grown to about a third of all millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, according to the Pew Research Center [5]. Second, divinity school offers even atheists and spiritual seekers a language of moral discourse and training in congregational leadership. The traits appeal to nones who aspire to careers in activism, social work, chaplaincy or community organizing rather than taking to a pulpit.

“Nones are not entirely opposed to religious traditions, though they don’t attach to a specific one,” said Eboo Patel [6], the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, who has seen the trend while visiting campuses. “No small part of them are attracted to the search for social justice and for spiritual meaning. And they recognize those things as the fruits of religious tradition. So it makes sense to go to a place where you can study religious tradition.”

Within higher education, divinity programs often stand apart from the cult of relativism in the liberal arts and the utilitarian emphasis in professional schools focusing on business and law, for example.

“If you were simply looking for the skills, you might go to the Kennedy School of Government,” said the Rev. Dudley C. Rose, the associate dean for ministry studies at Harvard. “And philosophy and liberal-arts fields have given up on the project of finding a moral language, an articulation of values. That language isn’t found in many places. And when you find it, it’s not easy to abstract it. You have to connect it to a tradition.”

When I first read that piece, my first response was to think of it as silly. People wanting to get the fruits of religious belief without actually believing? Not going to work, friend. But after listening to the group yesterday, I rethought my response. I still believe it’s not going to work, and it’s silly to go to divinity school if you don’t believe in a divinity, but the conversation about the mess Evangelical young people have to deal with made me more sympathetic to the students in the NYT story.

Why? One of the folks at the table said, “The young are searching for ritual, for something more stable and deep than what we’ve given them.” Thinking about that point later, in light of the Times piece, I wondered how many young Evangelicals might be drifting away from the church because they think that there’s nothing to Christianity but a pep rally. I was reminded of my colleague Gracie Olmstead’s article two years ago in TAC [7]in which she interviewed several of her fellow Millennials about why they had left Evangelicalism for a more liturgical church, one rooted more deeply in Christian tradition. Excerpt:

Nelson believes a sacramental hunger lies at the heart of what many millennials feel. “We are highly wired to be experiential,” he says. In the midst of our consumer culture, young people “ache for sacramentality.”

“If you ask me why kids are going high church, I’d say it’s because the single greatest threat to our generation and to young people nowadays is the deprivation of meaning in our lives,” Cone says. “In the liturgical space, everything becomes meaningful. In the offering up of the bread and wine, we see the offering up of the wheat and grain and fruits of the earth, and God gives them back in a sanctified form. … We’re so thirsty for meaning that goes deeper, that can speak to our entire lives, hearts, and wallets, that we’re really thirsty to be attached to the earth and to each other and to God. The liturgy is a historical way in which that happens.”

The millennial generation is seeking a holistic, honest, yet mysterious truth that their current churches cannot provide. Where they search will have large implications for the future of Christianity. Protestant churches that want to preserve their youth membership may have to develop a greater openness toward the treasures of the past. One thing seems certain: this “sacramental yearning” will not go away.

Hey, Evangelical readers, do you feel that way? One person I met today, a cradle Evangelical who now worships in an Anglican church (but one in the Evangelical tradition), told me that he was furious at Evangelicalism for years because he felt cheated by his childhood.

“I felt like the adults were supposed to teach me Christianity, this ancient faith that inspired so much in Western civilization, but they gave me only about five percent of what Christianity is about — and it wasn’t the best five percent,” he said.

Colorado Springs has a huge Evangelical population, and some pretty serious megachurches. A couple of people told me today that there’s fear among some megachurch leaders that the megachurch moment has passed, and congregations may drift away in search of something else.

But what else? In conversation later in the evening after the Dante talk, an Evangelical man told me that the standard Evangelical model of understanding religion was not holding the young anymore.

“Did you notice in your Dante talk ,” said the man, “when you said that the moment of accepting Jesus wasn’t the end of the journey, but only the beginning, that somebody in the audience said, ‘Preach it’? You find among Evangelicals these days frustration with the way we have typically approached the Christian life. For a lot of us, church is about going to a place to get information that you can go out and spread to other people, who will accept that information and make a mental decision based on it. It’s all about what happens in your head. People are finding that’s just not enough.”

In particular, I sensed a real loss of confidence in the concept of “children’s church.” That’s something I keep hearing from Evangelicals elsewhere too. The feeling seems to be that kids ought to be in church with the entire body of Christ, and besides, children’s church teaches them to think that church is something done to keep them entertained.

I had a couple of different conversations about suffering, and about how the church, like American culture, doesn’t know how to talk about suffering except as something to be avoided. The people I talked to seemed to want something much deeper and serious from the church on how to suffer as Christians.

Another man, a pastor, told me that he loves historian Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought [8], and has his copy all dog-eared and marked up. “Yes!” I told him. I read that book earlier this year, and it quickly became one of my favorites. I added that it was such a revelation to me to read that book and to realize that the early church Christianity I discovered in Wilken’s marvelous history was the same thing we got every week at our tiny Russian Orthodox mission in Starhill.  [9]

Back in the hotel room, trying to think through all I had learned today from the new friends I’d made, I found myself suddenly feeling very, very grateful to God for what he had given me in Orthodoxy, and especially in our mission parish. We are small, we are poor, and we are struggling, but a lot of these things dissatisfied Evangelicals long for, we have. If you’ve read the Dante book of mine, you have an idea about what a strong, faithful priest Father Matthew Harrington is. On my recent trip to DC and Charlottesville, I ended up spending more of my Ben Op talks citing different Orthodox practices to illustrate the way practices deepen faith and build community bonds. Some of the things people I meet tell me they want and hope for in the Ben Op, we pretty much have in our parish as a normal part of the Orthodox Christian life. Who knows? The Benedict Option might turn out to be a lot more Orthodox than I have thought. I have been careful about prescribing more liturgical practices when talking to Evangelical audiences, because I don’t know how they feel about that. All these conversations with Evangelicals yesterday made me wonder if I should re-think that. They might be a lot more open than I give them credit for.

Please go back and read this entry I did about sociologist Paul Connerton and his book How Societies Remember.  [10]Re-reading it just now in light of what I’m hearing from Evangelical folks in COS is enlightening. Connerton, writing from a secular academic perspective, tells us that the societies that are most able to remember, collectively, their stories in an age of mass forgetting are those who embody them in sacred ritual, in particular rituals that involve the body. If that’s the case, I wonder if this hunger among Millennials for a ritual that embodies meaning is an instinctive reaction against the constant de-ritualization of daily life in modernity. Are they searching for a sense of meaning that cannot be accessed by a book or a sermon?

I’m really looking forward to the meeting this afternoon, and learning from the church leaders who will gather and share their views, their hopes, and their concerns. When I tell you that the Benedict Option is something we’re going to have to work out together, I mean it. You’d better believe I will be listening this afternoon, and taking notes for the book. I’ll update this post later, after the meeting, and tell you what I found out. With any luck, I’ll be updating it from Agia Sophia Coffee Shop, [11] an Orthodox-run coffee shop and bookstore in Colorado Springs. The ancient faith, with its ancient rituals and living conversation with the Fathers of the Church and the early Christian tradition, is not only here in COS, but it has a coffee shop and bookstore too!

UPDATE.2: “Schmendrick,” who identifies himself/herself, as a None who is in divinity school, but who doesn’t believe in Christianity or Christian metaphysics, says:

If you want to re-sanctify the culture, the biggest hurdle is squaring the idea that the human spirit is fundamentally not of this world with the history of the past two hundred years, which rather decisively show that the human spirit is actually fantastically good at relating to and mastering this world.

To which I say:

shutterstock_238058794 [12]

And:

UPDATE.3: The Benedictine prior Father Peter Funk has some very wise words about the pitfalls of people from non-liturgical traditions moving into them unawares. You can’t just walk into a tradition and mimic its rituals and think you’ve got it. He writes in the comment thread:

Rod, I’ve been meaning to mention this to you for a while: I humbly recommend that you read some of the work of Mary Douglas as you think about what is required of a Benedict Option community. The mention of Evangelicals and Olmstead’s article reminded me of this. Much as there is a hunger more a greater ‘liturgical’ even ‘mystical’ experience of faith and worship, there is a danger that it is all so much woo if there is no clear, underpinning social organization to the group making use of ritual symbol. Millman brought this up in his critique several months ago, but my concern is deeper, that for symbols to communicate, they must be reinforced by real disciplines and–most importantly–certain types of social structures. To me, this is the biggest hurdle to clear in founding genuine BenOp communities.

This became an urgent matter because we have had several men enter our monastery who are converts from various points on the Evangelical spectrum. I watched as they wanted badly to make sense of the very dense liturgy that one finds in a traditional monastery, but until they were able to connect the symbolic language to specific behaviors and clear lines of authority (and clear articulation of the common good), they found themselves frustrated. Douglas’s *Natural Symbols* is the text we use the most to address this problem, but she has many books that are helpful in this regard, including very challenging commentaries on Leviticus and Numbers.

One of the factors that led her to specific ideas in Natural Symbols was the widespread abandonment of ritual by her fellow Catholics in the late 60’s. She recognized that her fellow academics poured scorn on ritual, and she noted that this is not because they were more advanced intellectually than others, but because of the social structure of academic life and its pressures (another theme of your recent posts). So she set out to vindicate ritual and symbol, and from her training in anthropology, she was able to demonstrate how certain social arrangements (such as, I believe, American democracy) render inhabits deaf and blind toward symbols.

And he writes on his blog: [15]

In a Catholic monastery, we say that we believe in the Mystery of the Incarnation. This implies that Christ is incarnate in the men with whom we live, and therefore regulate the ways in which brothers relate to one another. As the Prior, I am understood to hold the place of Christ (properly speaking) in the community. This means that brothers don’t refer to me as “Pete,” or sit in my place at table, in choir, or in chapter. Brothers act out, in their own bodies, symbols of the Incarnation. Thus we all genuflect when we enter the church, recognizing Christ’s Real Presence in the tabernacle. We bow to one another to acknowledge Christ in each brother. We discipline our bodies in accord with the social demands that communicate a system of belief.

But what if we happen to enter the monastery as part of an unlucky group that is “less sensitive” or even “deaf or blind,” to symbolic expressions like places of honor, genuflections, pectoral crosses, bows….even habits, tonsures, icons, candles, holy water, etc? I could go on and on. The point is that monastic life as suchis as life that is based upon a belief system that is strongly tied to an intricately detailed set of symbolic observances. What if we enter such a life lacking the faculty to see and interpret the symbols?

… In my experience, young men entering a traditional monastic life such as our is reputed to be are looking for the structure that ritual and discipline provide. But I have also observed that for many of these same men, the real meaning of these rituals can be easily misunderstood. I will attempt to explain what I think is actually going on in a later post. Here, since I must wrap up, let me just point out that an effort to put her ideas into effect in our monastery has had surprising consequences (good ones, so far). And Professor Douglas’s concerns turn out to have a lot in common with the diagnoses of Alasdair MacIntyre, Rene Girard, Fr. Henri de Lubac, George Steiner, Pope Benedict XVI, and others writing from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. Those who are interested in the so-called “Benedict Option” would do well to pay close attention to Mary Douglas, if they really wish to avoid becoming sectarian pariahs. More than that, Douglas helps to explain why MacIntyre and de Lubac seem to be often misunderstood even by their own strongest supporters. Changing my belief requires me to change my social experience and to change the way I use and experience my body. Without social structure and asceticism (the disciplining of the body), philosophical and theological ideas will, in our world, tend to float free and remain largely inconsequential beyond the tempest-in-teapot-blog-combox skirmishes. I hope to show why this is the case in the coming weeks.

UPDATE.4: Just returned from a fantastic breakfast discussion with four Christian women — one a Catholic revert, one an Orthodox convert, two Anglicans who worship in an Evangelical tradition — who are highly engaged in the Christian public life here in COS (well, the Orthodox was visiting from Fort Collins). To be engaged in Christian life in COS means to be immersed in some way with Evangelicalism. I wish I had been taking notes; they were so full of rich insights and questions about the Ben Op. I’ll blog on it here, from memory. Please feel free to contest anything I write below (or anywhere on this thread); I’m simply reporting what I learned in the conversation.

The main thing I took away from the conversation is that there is a massive hunger among Millennial Evangelicals for the kind of things the Ben Op calls for: depth, liturgy/ritual, community, a more profound sense of prayer, and stability (that is in part a sense that this is not all going to go away when the next big thing comes along).

Some of the women said that they see among the Millennial men a craving for fatherhood. I repeated a funny line that a female friend of mine, an ex-Evangelical, said to me once: that she generally cannot stand young Evangelical men, because they come across as so simpering and “nice”. There was agreement around the table. One woman said that Evangelical culture trains men to be middle-class “nice”. This, said another woman, is why that Wild At Heart stuff was so popular years ago. The problem, I said, is that you don’t combat that by embracing an artificial Christian He-Man sense. They agreed, and one woman said that she can see by observing her husband that there is a natural drive in men to go and do things. It occurred to me that this a drive that at its best gets channeled into good works (soup kitchens, service work, etc.), but in church gets frustrated because the experience of worship is so cerebral, is so tied to making sure you are thinking the right thoughts.

One of the things that I find so compelling about Orthodox Christianity, I told the women, is that it’s so masculine. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t seem feminized and soft, and therapeutic in the “let’s make this comfortable for you” sense. Orthodoxy is demanding. It demands that you struggle with yourself. It demands that you do things like fast regularly, which is hard, but which involves integrating your spirituality with physicality. It demands that you pray in such a way (I’m thinking about the Jesus Prayer and the prayer rope) that gets you out of your head (though maybe that is not a specifically masculine thing).

The Orthodox woman at the table said, “I’ve heard people say that Orthodoxy is the Marine Corps of Christianity.” Yes, I said, I can see that. Orthodoxy is not trying to help you be you. It tells you, Life in Christ is joyful, but it is a struggle. It is nothing less than the Cross. If you want theosis, if you want to lose yourself and find yourself in Christ, here is the path that Christians have been following since virtually the beginning. To me, as a man, this really was liberating after hearing years of greeting-card Moralistic Therapeutic Deistic sermons challenging me to do little more than be nice to others, as my Best Friend Jesus wants me to do.

One woman, who serves as a spiritual director, said that beyond the fatherhood issue, she sees a deep hunger for spiritual mothers and fathers. I asked her what she meant by that. What is the difference between a spiritual mother and father, versus a spiritual life coach? I wish I had written down her precise answer, because it was very good. As I recall, no doubt incompletely, she said it had to do with a more organic relationship, with the idea that mothers and fathers are invested in the spiritual growth of their children. Young Christians need to understand that the Church is not simply a place to go to get good advice on how to live, but is rather more like a family, where people relate to each other in that way. The older members of the community take a fatherly, motherly role in the lives of the younger ones. Put that way, the experience of church is not transactional (= I go to church to get something out of it in exchange for my presence), but communal.

We talked about how difficult it is to find stability in a culture like America’s, where we think of everything instrumentally — that is, in terms of how we can use it. As Paul Connerton writes in How Societies Fail, this is what it means to live in modernity — and capitalism is a core expression of modernity. It depends for its success on creating desires, and in training us to see things that we have used up as objects, or practices, to be discarded in favor of the new thing. Fr. Peter Funk, in talking about Mary Douglas’s book, writes:

Before Vatican II, the Church in general was governed by massive amounts of rule-bound behaviors that were intended to communicate a certain theology. Strong social disciplines regulated what bishops, priests, religious, and laity could and could not do. When the reforms of the Council began to take hold, huge percentages of Western Catholics quickly gave up all kinds of symbolic behaviors and social disciplines without any apparent grief (for others, obviously, these changes were devastating; Mary Douglas is very sensitive to their suffering, and in some ways this book is an anthropologist’s effort to help redress the wrongs that were just unfolding in 1970 when Natural Symbols was published). This suggests that there were large portions of the Catholic Church for whom, in 1960, the symbols and disciplines already were more or less meaningless, that their importance had been forgotten, despite the fact that everyone continued to engage in them.

This is a serious problem, the experience of ritual as empty. What’s interesting is that instead of thinking of ways to reinvigorate the Tradition, the Catholic reformers of the 1960s and 1970s, like good moderns, cast aside many of the rituals and traditions as useless, and tried to supplant them with new ones that were more “relevant”. It did not work. The thing we Christians today have to understand is that the basic idea that we have the right to change traditional ritual and practices because they don’t “work” for us is deadly poison.

This is not to say that ritual and practice can never change, but rather that we should be very, very careful about doing so. It is never sufficient to say it doesn’t work for us anymore, therefore we should quit doing it. How do you know that the problem is you? It could be that you aren’t working for it. If this tradition has been around for so long, maybe the people before you who kept it know something that you do not. You are not the End of History; the tradition was not made to please you.

In Orthodoxy, for example, nobody is going to listen to you if you start complaining that this or that part of traditional worship “doesn’t work” for you. They will tell you to stick with it, to give yourself over to it, to allow it to shape you instead of expecting it to conform to your own expectations. According to my priest, one-third of Orthodox converts fall away. I can easily imagine American converts coming to it, finding out that a tradition so symbolically dense is not easy to understand all at once, and giving up. If you stick with it, though, and submit to it, you will find over time that the practices and rituals do what they are supposed to do: form you in ways you couldn’t have imagined before. They de-center you.

The Catholic revert at the table said that she struggled for a long time with certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but finally understood that her problem was that she was trying to judge the entire tradition by the standards and felt needs of a 21st century Millennial American woman. “I finally realized that I needed to submit to something greater than myself,” she said, explaining that there are still things she wrestles with in Catholicism, but that submission was the right thing to do.

“I was looking for the perfect church, and it just doesn’t exist,” she said, adding that the problem, as she saw it, was that she was not judging her own religious life in light of tradition, but presumed to put tradition under her personal judgment.

We talked about the problem of Authority, which, to my mind, is the most difficult one for the Benedict Option to grapple with. One of the women at the table had grown up fundamentalist Baptist, and was scarred by it. She said that the community was very rigorous and intolerant, and highly literalistic. Questions were not allowed. One of the results of this — and this, she said, is something she sees in working with disaffected Evangelical young people in COS — is that people get this false dualism in their heads. That is, they think that if the Bible is not literally true, then everything must be up for grabs. That is not how historic Christianity has interpreted the Bible, of course, but within fundamentalism, this is not accepted or understood. So you have young people leaving Christianity without ever having had a genuine understanding of the breadth and depth of Christian tradition.

She also said that one of the things that drove her from that faith was the way it was all in your head. It was all about holding the correct belief. They learned lots of Scripture, for which she’s grateful, but he said that it ended up being a matter of worshiping the Bible, and a literal interpretation of it.

She continued that this kind of Christianity leaves young people vulnerable to the broader culture. Even the “it’s just me and Jesus and my Bible and my cup of coffee” form of Evangelicalism does this, because it trains people to look at the Bible as a divine rule book. “When it comes to something like homosexuality,” she said, “they see a culture that celebrates it uncritically, and the only thing they see in the church that opposes it is a few verses from the Bible.”

The gist of what she was saying is that Bibliolatry is a weak stance against the force of post-Christian culture.

“I see what you’re saying,” I said. “The argument you would hear from Catholics and Orthodox against homosexual practice goes much deeper than those Bible verses, even though those verses are important. It has to do with a Christian anthropology derived from Scripture, and philosophizing in a Christian sense. You can’t proof-text your way to that.”

This led to a discussion about the absence of a historical sense of the Church among Evangelicals (and they might have said younger Catholics too, and probably many cradle Orthodox). One of the women said that it’s very, very common among Evangelicals to operate from this sense that Christian history jumps from Acts to the Reformation. They ignore 1,500 years of Christian history. Thus, their own sense of what it means to be a Christian is entirely conditioned by modernity, a historical and cultural period that was defined as a cutting-off from the past, a denial that the past has a hold on us at all — this, because only by doing so can the freedom of the individual be realized. This is not what the Reformers intended, but it’s what happened, especially after the Enlightenment.

Along these lines, the secular philosopher Matthew B. Crawford [16] says:

According to the prevailing notion, freedom manifests as “preference-satisfying behavior.” About the preferences themselves we are to maintain a principled silence, out of deference to the autonomy of the individual. They are said to express the authentic core of the self, and are for that reason unavailable for rational scrutiny. But this logic would seem to break down when our preferences are the object of massive social engineering, conducted not by government “nudgers” but by those who want to monetize our attention. My point in that passage is that liberal/libertarian agnosticism about the human good disarms the critical faculties we need even just to see certain developments in the culture and economy. Any substantive notion of what a good life requires will be contestable. But such a contest is ruled out if we dogmatically insist that even to raise questions about the good life is to identify oneself as a would-be theocrat. … Subjectivism — the idea that what makes something good is how I feel about it — was pushed most aggressively by Thomas Hobbes, as a remedy for civil and religious war: Everyone should chill the hell out. Live and let live. It made sense at the time. This required discrediting all those who claim to know what is best. But Hobbes went further, denying the very possibility of having a better or worse understanding of such things as virtue and vice. In our time, this same posture of value skepticism lays the public square bare to a culture industry that is not at all shy about sculpting souls – through manufactured experiences, engineered to appeal to our most reliable impulses. That’s how one can achieve economies of scale. The result is a massification of the individual.

Modern freedom is a kind of slavery — certainly for Christians. If you subscribe to this definition of freedom, you cannot help but be swayed by every new church trend that comes down the block. Millennials have to be given credit for one thing: they sense the ephemerality of contemporary Christianity that is geared towards “preference-satisfying behavior.” It cannot stand up to the hurricane of post-Christian culture.

It must be said too that an ahistorical Catholicism (or Orthodoxy) — that is, a Catholicism/Orthodoxy that has in its treasury all this historical experience and wisdom, but that never makes use of it by introducing the Tradition into the life of parishes here and now — is no better than trendy megachurch spirituality. In my 13 years worshiping as a Catholic in America, it was very rare that you got the sense that Christianity existed before the lifetimes of everybody now living. I mean, there was no manifest connection in the sermons or anything else with the lives of the saints, with the early church, with the experiences and teachings of medieval Christians, and so forth. You lived in the Everlasting Now. When my new Evangelical Anglican friend last night said that he was angry for a long time at his upbringing for denying him almost any awareness of and access to the Great Tradition of Christianity, you could say the same thing for contemporary American Catholicism. (I can’t say about Orthodoxy; there are so few of us, and my limited experience has been the opposite — though I have heard from Greek Orthodox Americans who fell away that this was their own experience). So, though Catholics and Orthodox have more tools for the Ben Op than Evangelicals do, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the way most of us live today is sufficient to hold on. We need those roots, and renewal within them.

In the end, the overall impression I left the table with this morning was that Millennials, whether they meant to do this or not, have come to the end of the road with modern Christianity, and are facing the fact that there’s nothing much keeping them attached to it, as opposed to drifting into the Nones category. And this will happen, in mass numbers, over the next decade or two as pressure from the mainstream, post-Christian culture builds. You cannot fight something powerful with nothing much.

But what is the answer?

This is what the Benedict Option project is about. I will close for now, and walk down the street to the big meeting. Check back on this blog later on, maybe even tonight, and I’ll blog what I will have learned this afternoon. One thing I didn’t bring up here, but that did come up in our conversation this morning: the need to recover a sacramental understanding of the world.

UPDATE.5: This will be the last update on this super-long post. As it turns out, I don’t have a lot to add. The meeting was really great, with lots of questions and lots of excitement — but it turned out to have me talking so much that I didn’t get the chance to take many notes. The best question I got was from a teacher in a classical school, who said that in her experience in the classroom, there’s a big difference between knowing what to think and knowing how to think. She wanted to know what implications that might have for the Benedict Option.

What a great observation, and question! I had not conceived of it that way, but the teacher had a really important insight. So much Christianity in our culture — even conservative, small-o orthodox Christianity — is a quest to discover what to think. What should we think about the poor? What should we think about same-sex marriage? What should we think about ecumenism? And so forth. These are good questions.

But as the teacher’s question revealed, we Christians so rarely set out to discover how to think in an authentically Christian way. We look to the Bible, or to the Catechism, or to popular pastors or teachers for clear, unambiguous answers. Often those answers are not readily available to us. We may be given a clear teaching or principle, but learning how to apply it in our particular situation is not at all clear.

Both fundamentalism and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism relieve us of the burden to think through a problem, because they provide easy answers. It is more important, though, that we learn how to think Christianly — that is, with a mind and conscience formed by deep and continuous encounter with God through prayer, sacrament, fasting, and holy tradition. This is not something you can get from reading books alone, or from reading whatever the most popular current Christian books are. This is something that comes from formation in community, including the communion of saints (= the men and women recognized as heroes of the Christian tradition, and learning from the example of how they lived and struggled with things).

My own temptation for all of my life as a Christian has been to go to a book or books to look for answers. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, but it is not a sufficient thing. As I’ve learned walking the Orthodox way for the past nine years, it is a weakness to think that one can always find the truth by acquiring more information. Some things can only be learned through experience. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once advised a young poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Along those lines, if we have lived the tradition in our daily lives, not just in what we think, but in our practices, we will be able to live our way into Christian answers to hard questions. And if we train ourselves and our children how to think as authentic Christians, we, and they, will be far better off as we face the tumultuous challenges ahead of us than if we, in our impatience, settle on the what-to-think solution.

This is not an easy thing to accept in a culture that demands clear answers right this very second. But it’s the truth, I believe. I am going to have to explore this teacher’s insight a lot more in the book (which my agent will begin shopping around to publishers next week, I think).

So, I’m leaving Colorado Springs tomorrow, so very, very grateful for having come here and met so many engaged Christians asking themselves the same questions I’m asking myself about how we can live faithfully in a post-Christian culture. Listening to them, and talking with them, is my own way of “living the questions,” and I really do believe that in this way, we will live out the answers. Thank you, Colorado Springs people. Let’s stay in touch.

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48 Comments To "Ben Op in Colorado Springs"

#1 Comment By Geoff Arnold On October 31, 2015 @ 10:36 am

If you want to understand the power of ritual, you need to talk to some of the (many) atheist Jews. They may not believe in God (sorry, “G-d”), but they observe the Sabbath, keep the High Holidays, and use Jewish observance as a way to structure the tempo of their lives in defiance of the “always on” culture.

#2 Comment By B.E. Ward On October 31, 2015 @ 10:38 am

Wow.. Agia Sofia.. I’m jealous!

This is screaming for a VFYT later!

#3 Comment By Schmendrick On October 31, 2015 @ 11:17 am

As one of the millennial “nones” and with a friend who I’m also sure is a “none” at heart attending a Divinity School precisely so he can go into activism and social work, I can assure Mr. Dreher that for a non-trivial number of us, we search for meaning apart from the divine because divine metaphysics make no sense to us…all the supernatural stuff cuts against everything we see in daily life, which is a constant celebration of the power of naturalistic knowledge. Cell-phones, computers, the internet, advanced mathematics, space travel, self-driving cars, drones – the world of the young is filled to bursting with evidence that man can successfully understand, manipulate, and control the whole visible world (and huge swathes of the invisible one) without any recourse to mystery or supernatural explanations. We may yearn for sacrament out of a tribal feeling of disconnectedness from each other brought on by the rise of the internet and decline of the physical social space. We may resent that the humanistic disciplines are less narrative and authoritative than they used to be (though SJW’s are hellbent on fixing this problem!) and the vocational programs teach skills rather than character. But there’s no great hunger among the “nones” for an institution or belief system which demands we subject ourselves to constant cognitive dissonance as a price for explaining – to say nothing of solving! – these issues. If you want to re-sanctify the culture, the biggest hurdle is squaring the idea that the human spirit is fundamentally not of this world with the history of the past two hundred years, which rather decisively show that the human spirit is actually fantastically good at relating to and mastering this world.

#4 Comment By Fr. Peter Funk On October 31, 2015 @ 11:22 am

Rod, I’ve been meaning to mention this to you for a while: I humbly recommend that you read some of the work of Mary Douglas as you think about what is required of a Benedict Option community. The mention of Evangelicals and Olmstead’s article reminded me of this. Much as there is a hunger more a greater ‘liturgical’ even ‘mystical’ experience of faith and worship, there is a danger that it is all so much woo if there is no clear, underpinning social organization to the group making use of ritual symbol. Millman brought this up in his critique several months ago, but my concern is deeper, that for symbols to communicate, they must be reinforced by real disciplines and–most importantly–certain types of social structures. To me, this is the biggest hurdle to clear in founding genuine BenOp communities.

I am writing on this problem at my blog.

[15]

This became an urgent matter because we have had several men enter our monastery who are converts from various points on the Evangelical spectrum. I watched as they wanted badly to make sense of the very dense liturgy that one finds in a traditional monastery, but until they were able to connect the symbolic language to specific behaviors and clear lines of authority (and clear articulation of the common good), they found themselves frustrated. Douglas’s *Natural Symbols* is the text we use the most to address this problem, but she has many books that are helpful in this regard, including very challenging commentaries on Leviticus and Numbers.

One of the factors that led her to specific ideas in Natural Symbols was the widespread abandonment of ritual by her fellow Catholics in the late 60’s. She recognized that her fellow academics poured scorn on ritual, and she noted that this is not because they were more advanced intellectually than others, but because of the social structure of academic life and its pressures (another theme of your recent posts). So she set out to vindicate ritual and symbol, and from her training in anthropology, she was able to demonstrate how certain social arrangements (such as, I believe, American democracy) render inhabits deaf and blind toward symbols.

#5 Comment By Isidore The Farmer On October 31, 2015 @ 11:47 am

“At a group discussion around a long table in a pub earlier last evening, I confessed to the others (all Evangelicals) that I don’t know the Evangelical world well, but I had always admired Evangelicals from a distance for doing a good job teaching the Bible. At that, lots of heads around the table shook, saying, No. Several people said that young Evangelicals today know very little about the Bible.”

To make it worse, they have no tradition to fall back on either, given Protestantism’s general rejection of tradition. I have been attending a Catholic church on occasion in recent months. One of the things I noticed is that more scripture is read during the mass than in the protestant churches I know. This was a bit hard to digest, given Protestantism’s supposed emphasis and reliance on scripture. (These are Southern Baptist churches to which I refer, and I think very fondly of them and the people there. But even the Lifeway Sunday school curriculum is now reduced to a mere 8-10 verses a week, often carefully avoiding anything to challenging to modern sensibilities. That’s all the scripture you get, followed by a softened interpretation. The trend is not good.)

#6 Comment By Chas On October 31, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

I wondered if you would get over to <A href=" [17] Sophia. Nice atmosphere, but the baked goods were too sweet for myself. Still . .. the upstairs room.

#7 Comment By Larry On October 31, 2015 @ 12:30 pm

I have an evangelical background, one I walked away from into a more mainline Protestant community. Ritual wasn’t what I was looking for, but more intellectual depth, honesty and nuance when dealing with the Bible, faith and religious history.

Evangelicals teach the Bible in an exhaustive but superficial way. The pastor preached topical, “relevant” messages and went picking-and-choosing texts from all over the Bible to support his point. We’d delve into those texts, even talking about the original languages, but it was always in service to the day’s topic. There was never any sense that the Bible could breathe — it could “speak,” sure, but it would never say anything that wasn’t perfectly in line with Evangelical identity and theology. I had a strong sense that there was nothing new to discover or experience — only the conclusions of my Evangelical forebears to learn and parrot.

And when those forebears began with Billy Graham and led into such theological heavyweights as James Dobson and Chuck Colson, you start to get the idea of just how shallow the Bible teaching was.

Ultimately I became convicted that Evangelicalism was not a theological tradition but a political identity. If you were anti-abortion, anti-sexual revolution, anti-evolution and anti-environmentalist, you were Evangelical.

#8 Comment By Thursday On October 31, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

not grounding them seriously enough in the Bible

I want to emphasize the danger here again: a lot of people seem to think the problem is that the church is not banging enough head knowledge into our kids. Let me tell you, there are more than a few ex-Evangelicals or marginal Evangelicals out there who know the Bible pretty well. Rachel Held Evans and her band of followers would be a very good example.

On the other hand, we do want to form our kids in a specific tradition, not just religion in general. The stories and poems in the Bible must be a crucial part of that formation. Even purely propositional knowledge has its place.

But this alone is not enough.

#9 Comment By Mike Sugimoto On October 31, 2015 @ 1:07 pm

I think you’re basically right about evangelicals and basic Bible knowledge, since they place a premium – at least used to – on personal religion via Scripture (ie bring a Bible to church, daily devotions, etc).

These same folks would tend to be suspicious towards liturgical settings and be know-nothings in regard to church doctrine, history, etc, but the more ‘theoretical” of these, ie Reformed, have tended increasingly towards mining the wealth of the confessional, creedal traditions.

Not too surprisingly, these same folks have fueled the classical Christian school movement, such as, on one hand, the Moscow folks who got the ball rolling, and others heavily invested in it, such as Ken Myers, JKA Smith, many PCA churches, Circe, etc. These generally have the Kuyperian cultural mandate orientation, also characteristic of L’Abri Fellowship.

My general confusion is how to assess the conservative mega-evangelicals, whose churches keep growing or hold steady during these times? They tend to have a LOT of turnover, however, so the statistics on attendance are very deceptive.

#10 Comment By Beth On October 31, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

I have to laugh at Schmendricks last statement about humanity mastering the universe. Try telling that to the people in central Texas who have just had massive flooding and loss of lives.

#11 Comment By Beans On October 31, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

Rod, this and the how societies remember post are two of your recent best. About a month ago, I had approached my church’s leadership about the lack of reverence our children are experiencing in church. The final straw for me came during a Wednesday night youth program billed as an event for moms and their elementary age children. The youth leaders started with a lighthearted talk focused on their relationship with their mom and concluded with a “game” in the space used for Sunday school worship which ended with Cheetos and whip cream ground into the carpet with the mothers looking on with varying degrees of shock. Not a moment of quiet or a reflection on spirituality. Just fun, fun, fun!
Yes, the Evangelical churches are failing. It is heartbreaking.

#12 Comment By David On October 31, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

“I had always admired Evangelicals from a distance for doing a good job teaching the Bible. At that, lots of heads around the table shook, saying, No.”

Yes, a thousand times this. There are some fantastic preachers and Bible studies. There are epic expositors. Billy Graham could only come from Evangelicalism.

And then there’s the rest. Moral Therapeutic Deism is the law of the land. While his next-of-kin took up the culture wars, Joel Osteen has supplanted Billy’s influence. Teaching on leadership and how awesome we can be take up a lot of time. The music is written with a shelf life of 3-5 years. The buzzwords in evangelicalism are leadership and influence, not discipleship and humility.

The grass is always greener. Some of my romantic thoughts about Catholicism and Orthodoxy were brought back to reality when I realized that some of the RC or OC friends could name dozens of saints but had never cracked open a Bible on their own. Our people may do it, but too often it’s more about a Personal “Life Verse” than a reading to reveal the nature of Jesus.

#13 Comment By entirelyuseless On October 31, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

Religion is a human need, while concrete religions like Christianity make particular claims about the world. People who don’t accept those particular claims are still human beings and will still have the same needs, so there is nothing ridiculous about people trying to do something about that.

#14 Comment By James C. On October 31, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

Thank you, Father Peter, for recommending Natural Symbols. I’m going on retreat at the Benedictine abbey of Fontgombault in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been thinking of ways to help prepare myself for a world sanctified by 6 hours of daily sung ritual prayer. I’m checking Amazon for it right now.

[NFR: I just ordered it. Thank you, Father Peter! — RD]

#15 Comment By Johan On October 31, 2015 @ 2:39 pm

Re: your reply dismissing “fantastically good at relating to and mastering this world” — and what is the high-tech destruction of Imperial Japan if not mastering the world? Some pretty major-league physics went into that.

#16 Comment By mlindroo On October 31, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

Schmendrick says:
October 31, 2015 at 11:17 am

>> If you want to re-sanctify the culture,
>> the biggest hurdle is squaring the idea that
>> the human spirit is fundamentally not of this
>> world with the history of the past two hundred
>> years, which rather decisively show that the
>> human spirit is actually fantastically good at
>> relating to and mastering this world.

I am sorry Rod, but your response to Schmendrick is just mind-bogglingly inane.

Is really everything important we need to know about the history of human civilization in 1815-2015 related to those images of Hiroshima and Auschwitz that you posted? Boy, what a total non-sequitur…

[NFR: You really need to think about what I’m saying with those images. The point is that for all our mastery of Nature, we have no mastered human nature, which will inevitably use scientific and technological mastery for evil ends (as well as good ones). The mystery of human nature is neither explained nor its problems solved by iPhones. — RD]

#17 Comment By Ronan Ryan On October 31, 2015 @ 2:57 pm

Rod,

Just dropped in after a while not reading and it’s so good to be back. This article from Jonathan Freedland – The Guardian’s Executive Editor – about why he, a non-believer, still observes Yom Kippur every year might be germane to this discussion.

[18]

The last two paragraphs made a particular impression on me:

“Isn’t religion inherently conservative? Listen to the pope demanding radical action to save the climate or denouncing the death penalty: some conservative. Isn’t faith parochial and narrow, ensuring one tribe stays only with its own, never mixing with others? Logic says it should be, yet experience suggests people with strong roots in their own communities are better able to understand and relate to one another than people who stand outside.”

And

“And lastly, there’s the central objection: isn’t religion irrational? This is the Book of Mormon question. To which the most direct answer is yes, it is irrational. It cannot be explained or justified in the clear, stainless-steel language of pure reason. Some of it is absurd and bizarre. But you might as well ask a man why he supports this football team rather than that one. Ask a woman why she loves this man rather than that one. Reason is what separates us from the animals. But it does not account for all that makes us human.”

#18 Comment By Bryan On October 31, 2015 @ 4:07 pm

“ended with Cheetos and whip cream ground into the carpet”

To be fair, this sounds pretty fun. Did the whipped cream turn all orange? I bet it did.

#19 Comment By Bobby On October 31, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

I would echo Larry’s comments above. I wasn’t raised evangelical, but have generally found myself on the fringe of the evangelical movement. Today, I’m part of a conservative mainline communion that’s absorbing a lot of former evangelicals into its fold. Most of these folks are saying things fairly similar to what Larry is saying.

Evangelicals do study the Bible, but often in a fairly naive way. In most instances, they treat the Bible as a compendium of propositions whose meaning is wholly independent of time, context, and space. In short, they come to the Bible looking for certainty, namely, for clear black-and-white answers on complex social questions of the day. Molly Worthen documents this well in her recent book on the founding of the modern evangelical movement. For many evangelicals, an “inerrant Bible” became a convenient antidote to the social angst that emerged at the close of WWII. The inerrant Bible was evangelicals’ way of knowing that God approved of their participation in the Culture Wars. So, even though evangelical kids may have a fair bit of knowledge of the Bible, they’ve accumulated that knowledge within a rubric that used the Bible primarily to demonstrate that evangelicals were right and good, and that their enemies (mainline Christians, social liberals, libertarians, etc.) were wrong and evil.

Most people leaving evangelicalism today are looking to rediscover the Bible, i.e., to affirm its importance, but to free it from its captivity to the Culture Wars. They want to rediscover a Bible that is primarily about Christ, and free themselves from one that is primarily about affirming the features that distinguish the evangelical identity from the broader culture (opposition to abortion, conformity to restrictive hierarchical gender roles, skepticism of the natural sciences, etc.).

That’s not to say that these ex-evangelicals are looking to become social progressives. They’re generally not. Even so, they’re not looking to force the Bible to set forth black-and-white answers on important questions of social policy in 21st-Century America.

But that’s still controversial among older evangelicals. Take the firing of Pete Enns from Westminster Seminary as an example. Enns rejects inerrancy, the 1940s-era doctrine that underwrites the notion that the Bible can be marshaled in support of the Culture Wars. Since that time, inerrancy has always been central to evangelical identity, despite the fact that this doctrine appears nowhere in any historic Protestant creed. In fact, it wasn’t codified into any formal sense until 1978. So, Enns rejected inerrancy, but held to views that were not otherwise inconsistent with what Reformed Christians have believed for 500 years. But that alone was enough to warrant his dismissal. Another professor, Douglas Green, was also pushed out of Westminster, also for teaching things that undercut the doctrine of inerrancy.

As the Culture Wars draw to a close, a lot of younger evangelicals are coming to see that they know nothing about this book that they’ve read all of their lives. They’ve come to appreciate the silliness of biblical inerrancy and the effort to take the Bible captive to certain social and political agendas. They want to rediscover the Bible as something besides a rulebook whose chief utility is demonstrating the evil of one’s cultural enemies.

In one sense, I’m hopeful that something new can emerge from those fleeing the wreckage of traditional evangelicalism. But, until recently, there haven’t been too many places to go. A friend recently told me, “I want to find a Protestant church that takes the Bible seriously–so seriously that it’s willing to let the Bible speak on its own messy terms instead of within the ideological framework of a pre-set political or social agenda.” Sadly, finding such a communion is difficult. I’m hopeful that something along those lines may emerge out of the newly formed ECO or the newly reinvigorated EPC. But it will probably take a few years. The Culture Wars may be over, but a number of traditional evangelicals are still bitter about the results. They poured their lives into them, and are still dismayed over God’s decision not to bless their efforts. Those wounds will probably need to heal before we can move forward in any significant way.

#20 Comment By Michael Guarino On October 31, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

[NFR: You really need to think about what I’m saying with those images. The point is that for all our mastery of Nature, we have no mastered human nature, which will inevitably use scientific and technological mastery for evil ends (as well as good ones). The mystery of human nature is neither explained nor its problems solved by iPhones. — RD]

You are conceding too much. We have not mastered nature in any existentially significant way, nor will we ever do so. The proper response would have been an abandoned grave, not photographs from past atrocities.

#21 Comment By Nathan On October 31, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

Rod, I’m really enjoying your BenOp thinking. I noticed you mentioned Wild at Heart and characterized it unfairly in my mind. I’ve been deeply involved with Ransomed Heart which is John Eldredge’s ministry and read his work including Wild at Heart, Waking the Dead, and The Utter Relief of Holiness. I can tell you that his presentation of the Gospel calls men to seek all the healing and restoration that God offers so that we can love God, lead our families, and bring Kingdom life in beautiful ways in our community. Wild at Heart and John’s message gets characterized as a cheep gung-ho let’s go chop lumber in the woods manner too often. He often points to Orthodox and Catholic traditions as effective and beautiful paths for loving God and others through spiritual disciplines, etc. Truly a message of walking with God and training as spiritual athletes if you will. Many men impacted by Ransomed Heart are not outdoors types, but our hearts as men are made to love and lead well. In fact, the Become Good Soil ministry has sprung from this and calls men to build character over the building of a personal professional kingdom. So it’s about becoming the kind of man who loves and walks with God, not some goofball ministry. Just wanted to share that as I feel it’s an important clarification of your earlier He-man comment. A man like you seeking God and desiring to choose the narrow road would fit right in honestly. May God continue to bless your work,Rod.

[NFR: Thanks for this. I didn’t mean to characterize it in any particular way, and I apologize for not having been clear. I have not read the book. — RD]

#22 Comment By dennis On October 31, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

The search for meaning in today’s relativistic culture is daunting. Truth is subjective, tradition is for the ignorant..it is only natural that the young hunger for certanity and something that requires sacrifice..The “young, restless,and reformed” movement of the past ten plus years has fit that bill. The danger in the hunt is that because the need is so strong, it is easy to abandon critical thinking and accept the wrong “solution”. (Not saying that y,r, and r is necessarily wrong)

#23 Comment By panda On October 31, 2015 @ 5:08 pm

Just heard on twitter about a shooting in Colorado Springs. Hope you are safe!

#24 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 31, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

“We rejoice in the power shown by the atom…” Psionic Psupervillain

No, we have not mastered human nature–yet.

We will. We will.

#25 Comment By panda On October 31, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

“If you want to understand the power of ritual, you need to talk to some of the (many) atheist Jews. They may not believe in God (sorry, “G-d”), but they observe the Sabbath, keep the High Holidays, and use Jewish observance as a way to structure the tempo of their lives in defiance of the “always on” culture.

I think this is way too simplistic. I know many atheist Jews (and am one), and we usually celebrate some holidays simply because in the diaspora, that’s an marker of ethnicity…

#26 Comment By panda On October 31, 2015 @ 5:10 pm

And you won’t find many Jewish atheists, or even reform Jews, or even reform Jewish rabbies, who keep the sabbath, as it should be kept according to the Talmud..

#27 Comment By Edward Hamilton On October 31, 2015 @ 5:27 pm

The older I get, the more I appreciate that much of what I valued in my own conservative Protestant upbringing is now being classified as “fundamentalist” rather than “evangelical”. When I describe the bibliocentric environments that I remember (fondly, but also with a bit of embarrassment), they all register as part of a lost world of 50s-era small-church fundamentalism that my parents were slow to exit. The Awana program where I learned all those bible verses? At a “fundamental” Bible church. The summers at Bible Memory Association camp? Not many evangelicals these days still doing anything like that. The little neighborhood outreach programs my mother ran, dating back to her Child Evangelism Fellowship days? Totally uncool and hopelessly dated, by modern evangelical standards.

This is the opposite of the way I engaged with those terms 20 years ago as a college student, when we were essentially attached the label of fundamentalism to everything that we didn’t like about our own background as a way to hold it at arms’ length. But these days, when I see people at my own (small conservative nondenominational Protestant) church respond negatively to the use of “evangelical” as a catch-all social category, it’s very much the other way around. The word “evangelical” is now a word that is carrying a lot of the negative freight of megachurch growth mindsets and coffee bars and performer-centric praise bands and shallow homiletics (aka the “vaguely spiritual stuff I think about this week’s most popular movie” sermon).

And that’s roughly where I am, too. First, let’s go back to singing some of the old Wesley and Watts hymns on a regular basis, and then some day in the distant future we can talk about the further advantages of dumping even those hymns in favor of St John Damascene, if that’s really what the Orthodox world will ultimately demand of us.

Coming home from a conference on a three-hour car drive, I got to hear some of our university’s students talking about their own complaints about the evangelical churches in the area, and “lack of historical grounding” was certainly a major concern. But it’s important for Catholic/Orthodox apologists to understand that this means something a little different for Protestants who have internalized at least some minimally restorationalist understanding of church history, and who don’t necessarily see patristic/medieval thought as the only solution to that dilemma. Sometimes it seems means having a deeper understanding of the ANE and Greco-Roman world. Sometimes it means reading Calvinist or Wesleyan sources more seriously. Sometimes it means making Christianity more like 2nd Temple Judaism or like modern Messianic Judaism. All of those are probably going to be more comfortable ways for young Protestant evangelicals to seek to recapture a sense of historical depth than the more structured and ritualized elements of the Catholic mindset.

Again, that’s not to begrudge any Catholics who want to argue that privileging comfort and familiarity are not the first task of the Church, just pointing out that there’s not as straight a line between the premise that “we’re dissatisfied with being historically rootless” and that conclusion “so let’s all start attending Mass and buying prayer beads” as Catholics and Orthodox might initially hope.

#28 Comment By jrm On October 31, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

Well, it’s true that the mystery of human nature will ever be solved by iPhones, but, judging by the date of the atrocities, some 5000 years after widespread religion, iPhones don’t seem to have done a worse job than any other institution in understanding human evil.

#29 Comment By Mark Hamann On October 31, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

Update 4 should really be its own post.

What strikes me in this entire post is that you have a lot of cats to herd. Everyone is talking about why this or that didn’t satisfy them. Rod, you, having searched for a long time, found something that satisfies you. But, I think you’re over-estimating, perhaps as a result of the length of your journey, its ability to continually satisfy a community. Yes, there are some who will be satisfied. But some won’t. Your remedy seems to be to tell them to double-down on just trying harder and waiting–they’ll eventually get it or if not it’s just something they have to suffer through for the good of the community.

I guess, I’m having trouble seeing how the BenOp can herd all these cats. It’s fine for the cats who want it, but a lot of the rules will make a lot of cats want to run. Then, what’s really the difference between a BenOp community and a church community?

#30 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On October 31, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

Rod,

I think yours is the most advanced and thorough explanation of the religious crisis of these days. I hope that the topics you touch here will be a major part of your BenOp book.

Reading your post, I have been dazzled by the insight contained in it, that is, that the crisis of religion comes from the fact that the Church has largely seceded from its history to turn to an eternal present
and that, by forgetting her tradition, she forgets not only what to think, but how to think, that is, how to address the problems of contemporary life in a Christian way.
Whitout a link to the historical Church, we lose the example of the saints and the practices that should help us to lead a Christian life in our times, and that is a tragic loss, of great import to our lives.
It’s incredible how it looks self-evident after you have stated this, Rod. That’s the mark of great intuitions. You should develop this line of thinking more in depth, as it may be of paramount importance for the future of the Church.

#31 Comment By Jake V On October 31, 2015 @ 10:08 pm

Everything flows from the worship of Christ.

Christians must be formed by corporate worship that is orthodox before they can really understand the Scriptures, be true disciples, and lead others to Christ.

#32 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 31, 2015 @ 11:01 pm

[Picture of the gate of Auschwitz]

“Mr Dreher. Mike Godwin is calling on line one…”

While I get your point, I would argue that modern man is simply more efficient at killing his fellows than his predecessors (plus, there’s so many more of them to off); pre-modern times are every bit as blood-stained and barbaric.

#33 Comment By Lord Karth On October 31, 2015 @ 11:56 pm

Schmendricks:

You speak of Humanity as having mastered the world. But you are so far wrong that you do not even realize how fantastically wrong you are.

Humans have fathomed a few of the more superficial laws of the universe, in a very localized environment. But has it ever occurred to you that the Earth is not the whole universe ? We do not even know enough to be able to protect ourselves from some of the more obvious physical threats in our environment. Diseases still kill us. Solar radiation still confines us to this one small planet. Pollution threatens the biological stability of the one little planet that we do know something about. You (and we, as Humans) know a lot less than you/we think we do.

We cannot even prevent ourselves from dying. 100 percent of us will die at some point. If/when you figure out how to reduce that number, you let me know.

Until then, it would appear that a serious dose of humility is in order.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#34 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 1, 2015 @ 12:59 am

“it is only natural that the young hunger for certanity and something that requires sacrifice.”

I’m going to risk going Pauline Kael and say that that does not sound like any young people I know.

Every generation has its people who are a little, well, off, like my brother-in-law who joined the army in the 60s because he felt he needed to. He was just lucky he spent his three years drinking German beer and cavorting with the frauleins and not in a mud hole in Asia. The smart ones avoided such nonsense. There is a reason that two men who avoided Vietnam won elections by landslides. It was regarded as sign of great intelligence.

But we kept hearing about how young people needed challenges when the truth is young people only needed to have fun and get laid and could not have cared less about changing the world. And they don’t care now.

#35 Comment By Autreck On November 1, 2015 @ 3:56 am

Rod,

You’re going to have the greatest time convincing large numbers of evangelicals – not to mention orthodox evangelicals, especially – of the merits of the Benedict Option, without demonstrating at least a casual interest in Jesus and his intent.

It honestly feels like you have been more greatly yoked by tradition and history and the culture of the High Church, than the Bible which has been given to us by the Lord:

(Romans 15:4)

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

If you’re more willing to quote vast tracts from obscure medieval philosophers than from the Bible, the Option will seem esoteric and, almost secular.

Find support for the Benedict Option in the Word and convince us who otherwise love your writing and passion.

#36 Comment By midtown On November 1, 2015 @ 8:33 am

Schmendrick’s comment brought to mind this old joke:

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.”

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”

#37 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 1, 2015 @ 10:01 am

Regarding one tiny point in the post, Father Peter’s recommendation of Mary Douglas’ books: I read one of the books he recommended, Douglas’ Leviticus as Literature, and it was an amazing book. Challenging, as Father Peter says, but also one of the most charmingly written nonfiction books I’ve read. A difficult and pleasurable read.

In it she said that some theory from some of her earlier books was wrong, and that Leviticus was a counter-example. But I don’t know whether that applies to the book you ordered.

#38 Comment By TR On November 1, 2015 @ 11:33 am

There has never been a decade since at least the 1950s when “young people” were not hungry for spiritual nourishment or whatnot. Or so those anxious for this to be true have always told us.

And T. S. Eliot made fun of this same over-generalization in “Thoughts after Lambeth” in the late 1920s.

#39 Comment By Glaivester On November 1, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

Bobby, what do you mean “rejects inerrancy?” Does Enns argue that the Bible is wrong in places?

If you are arguing that many evangelicals have gone wrong in focusing on political/social battles and ignoring personal growth in Christ, that’s fine, but please use a different term to describe that.

#40 Comment By Eric Todd On November 1, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

I think it is interesting that you have set out to address and define this strategic retrenchment of Christians called the Ben Op, but increasingly find yourself referring back to Orthodox Christianity and our particular traditions.

Is the Ben Op compatible with Evangelicalism or does it ineluctably lead on to an Apostolic tradition such as Catholicism or Orthodoxy?

Having personally come from Evangelicalism, I consider the Ben Op particularly compatible with Orthodoxy; I have doubts about its compatibility with Evangelicalism. Orthodoxy is by its nature “other worldly”–even compared to Roman Catholicism. It’s epistemology reaches back to the ancient Church Fathers. It doesn’t have even the Roman Catholic notions of “the development of doctrine”. It seem impervious to ideas of cultural “relevancy”.

By contrast, the raison d’être of modern Evangelicalism seems to be to make Christianity culturally palatable for the sake of the Great Comission (ostensibly without compromising doctrine). Doesn’t the Ben Op, with its eschewing of modern culture, entertainment and mores, evicerate this fundamental purpose of Evangelicalism (or at least it’s modern manifestation)?

#41 Comment By Pat On November 1, 2015 @ 5:15 pm

If you think MTD has easy answers, you’ve never really tried it. It has gentle answers, but they’re not easy. I found that out when I actually tried some of the meditative practices my pastor recommended.

#42 Comment By Mick Lee On November 1, 2015 @ 6:05 pm

I was raised a Lutheran and I am a Lutheran to this day–actively receiving and participating in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I also meet with Evangelicals here and there. In spite of the constant waxing poetic of ecumenicism, all these meetings only emphasize how different we are. When I speak, it seems they are mystified. On my part, the ponderings of Evangelicals on the current state of the Church are wrong-headed and a waste of time. Worse, the issue of the mission of the Church “in the contemporary context” is left as an open question—a topic for which many trees are sacrificed for the sake of laborious tomes.

Of course, the current state of the Lutheran Church has its own problems–mostly inflicted by its own hand. As an “orthodox” Lutheran, all this verbal diarrhea about “relevance” and appealing to the “nones” is a useless distraction. The mission of the Church is now and is always the proclamation of the Gospel. Short of the Cross, nothing in Christianity makes any sense. Sadly, the Cross is absent in too much of the Church’s outreach to the world.

In my take of those who come to darken the door of the Church, there is a real hunger for the Bible and what it has to say. Unfortunately, we fail them by misperceiving what they want. The catchphrases of contemporary preaching and teaching are “relevance” and “experience.” There is a constant insistence that our theological language had become increasingly irrelevant to modern people and that the goal is to relate the Bible to lived human experience. Pastors are taught sermons should be filled with references to the actual lived experiences of the congregation; they should be marked by little stories and cultural references; and they should use a good deal of comedy. The upshot is that personal experience interprets Scripture.

But experience is deceptive. The human heart is deceptive. It is Scripture which shows us what the true reality of our experiences is. The Scriptures open up an entirely new world. They filled with idiosyncratic characters who do and say jarring and astounding things. Through all of the twists and turns of the Biblical accounts, the outlandish, most unsettling and scandalous character is met: the God of Israel. A God beyond all human imaging. A God who cannot be discovered by human experience and intelligence. Instead, a God who reveals Himself to us. A God for Whom all we really know begins at the Cross.

The real Jesus is an outrage to the contemporary mind. There is no way around that. Our attempts to soften the edges of the Gospel only makes the Proclamation obscure and inaudible. Our deadly conceit is that we think our times are so different. We and those who came before us have always been hard-hearted—and the “nones” are no different. Christ came into a world of unbelief and it should come as no surprise to us that we find ourselves in that same world. When Christ calls us, He is calling us to die. We don’t want to hear it and soft-pedaling the Gospel will not open hearts and ears.

#43 Comment By Lewis Grant On November 1, 2015 @ 7:14 pm

One of the results of this — and this, she said, is something she sees in working with disaffected Evangelical young people in COS — is that people get this false dualism in their heads. That is, they think that if the Bible is not literally true, then everything must be up for grabs.

This is exactly what I’ve seen in the evangelical culture that I grew up with. (In fact, more than anything, this is what I set out to combat in my vocation as a Christian academic.) It’s a big problem.

#44 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 1, 2015 @ 8:32 pm

MTD involves meditative practices? Whodathunkit?

#45 Comment By Glaivester On November 2, 2015 @ 8:35 am

“Did you notice in your Dante talk ,” said the man, “when you said that the moment of accepting Jesus wasn’t the end of the journey, but only the beginning, that somebody in the audience said, ‘Preach it’? You find among Evangelicals these days frustration with the way we have typically approached the Christian life. For a lot of us, church is about going to a place to get information that you can go out and spread to other people, who will accept that information and make a mental decision based on it. It’s all about what happens in your head. People are finding that’s just not enough.”

I think the problem here is the idea that getting your “passport to Heaven” is the end of the journey. If you believe that, then “once saved, always saved” and “all you have to do is believe on Jesus to be saved” do amount to “the journey ends when you believe.” It’s not so much “if I’m saved no matter what, why be good,” as it is “if the biggest issue has been solved, what’s the point of being here waiting?”

I think what people do not realize is that (according to once saved always saved evangelicalism) having your eternity made secure occurs at the beginning of the journey, not the end. And while spreading the gospel to others is a big part of what the rest of our natural lives is for, (a) edification and growth in grace is also very important, and (b) if we don’t tend to everything else, we will have little impact in spreading the gospel. That’s where the role of the Holy Spirit in converting people is an important doctrine, and perhaps to some extent some form of predestination.

What I mean by that is that the best way to accomplish spreading the gospel is to do what God says to do in all areas of life. Deciding that the most important thing is to make converts so you will get just enough information to spread just the message of salvation, and to neglect every other area of your walk with God and to neglect parts of your life like getting a job, etc. – that makes sense from a human perspective, but it will not work. God wants your whole life, every part of your life, and a Christianity that is only interested in the most basic doctrines will not be successful.

Having said that, everything does however come out of the doctrine that Christ died for your sins, and everything you do in life should refer back to God’s power. At my church, there is a call for the gospel at the end of every sermon, but the sermon itself is generally on a topic of how one who is saved ought to be edified in their lives. The point being that we are able to call on the power of God only because Jesus died for our sins, reconciling us to Himself. It is always useful to remind ourselves of the basis of our salvation, and then to live out our lives through the power that God has given us through that salvation.

And by the way, asserting as I do that Christ’s death was a substitutionary sacrifice does not mean that wiping our slate clean was the only thing he accomplished. He did make us a new creation, gave us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and adopted us into the family of God on the merits of His life. But
I believe that his substitutionary atonement was a necessary precondition through which all of these things were done.

#46 Comment By JonF On November 2, 2015 @ 9:46 am

Rod, as an aside how is your back doing? You are well enough to travel obviously. Shall those of us praying for you start adding prayers of thanks?

[NFR: Thanks so much for asking, Jon. I’m doing a lot better this morning. Julie said last night, “You’re walking like somebody who isn’t in pain anymore.” It’s almost entirely true; I have only a small residue of pain left. The remarkable thing is that I had to stand during the entire liturgy yesterday in Colorado Springs because all the chairs in the church were taken. By the end of the liturgy, I was in a lot of pain. At Holy Theophany parish, the priest gives the sermon after the liturgy ends. By then, some of the people had left, and I was able to sit down in a chair. It was the feast of SS. Cosmas and Damian, the unmercenary healers, so as I sat listening to the sermon, I asked God to heal my back through their prayers. When I stood to go kiss the cross before leaving the church, I had no pain. And I was pain free all the way home to Louisiana, meaning that for the first time in 10 or 11 days I was able to do without any medication at all. This morning my back is slightly sore, but so much better than it was before I walked into church yesterday morning. — RD]

#47 Comment By Pilgrim On November 2, 2015 @ 11:37 am

I’ m glad your back is better.
There are many threads to pull on this post.

For me, the rub of these questions/tensions between head/belief and body/ritual comes when a person with a certain level of cognitive impairment has no path to baptism or communion in a given congregation/faith “tradition”.

#48 Comment By John Quadrino On December 20, 2017 @ 10:24 pm

Rod! Agia Sophias is closing :[.They announced it on facebook: [19] . The coffee shop has yet to say why, I suspect the business cost to much for the family and the Holy Theophany church that were funding it? I found Orthodoxy there as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. Will miss it, hope other churches pick up this mission/ministry.