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Benedict Option and Balance

Had a great time this weekend at the annual conference of the Christian Legal Society, held this year in New Orleans. Julie and I arrived late on Friday evening and had to leave after lunch on Saturday, which meant we weren’t even in town for a full day. But it was a full day, so to speak. Met some great folks, some of whom I’ll be seeing again this weekend at the Benedict Option conference at Georgetown (Oct 10, 10am-12:30pm, Gaston Hall at Georgetown U., 3700 O St., NW). More info here.

At the CLS confab, I spoke to a group of law students and law professors about the Benedict Option. After my talk, a young law student from Georgia approached me to say that he agreed with a lot of what I propose with the Ben Op, but he wanted to draw attention to my remarks about the difficulty of keeping the Ben Op from becoming culty.

“I’ve been reading the things you’ve been posting about the situation with Doug Wilson,” he said, referring to this and this. He went on to explain that he is a product of the conservative Christian homeschooling world, and that it was a great thing for him, but that he had a number of friends from the same world who had been damaged by fundamentalism of a sort marked by fear, paranoia, and control. Some of them were left so broken, he said, that they lost their Christian faith altogether.

I told the young man that it was very important for me to know more about this, and that I would like to stay in touch with him. I asked him to consider writing something for this blog about his experiences, and those of his friends, so you readers and I can talk about it in context of developing the Ben Op. He said he would do so.

About 15 minutes later, I was sitting at a lunch table with a group of students, including a young woman from California, who told me about her experience as an undergraduate at a well-known Evangelical college. The theology department there was so liberal, and so devoted to deconstructing the faith of the students, that she had to fight hard to hold on to her basic Christianity there. If I remember correctly what she said, a number of Christian undergrads she knew there lost their faith; she credited having grown up in a strong Christian home for giving her the foundation to hang on to her belief through the crazy.

How do we find the middle path between these two extremes? The Benedict Option is, of course, in part a reaction against loosey-goosey Christianity, so I don’t have a big worry that versions of the Ben Op would be at risk of being too lax and liberal. The real concern I have is that we would go too far, and create institutions or communities that would be too controlling or otherwise unhealthy. A secondary, lesser concern is that fear of fundamentalism would be so overwhelming that the nascent Ben Op community would fail to create the practices and structures that would be effective in accomplishing what the Ben Op is supposed to do.

Thoughts? I’m only interested in constructive criticism here. If you just want to gripe, don’t bother, because I’m not going to publish it. I’m genuinely trying to learn here, and value your meaningful advice and suggestions.

And hey, if you are in the Washington, DC, area on Saturday, please come to the Ben Op conference and share your ideas.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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