Home/Rod Dreher/Evangelicals & The Ben Op, Part II

Evangelicals & The Ben Op, Part II

Tish Harrison Warren, one of the new -- and quite different -- St. Benedicts emerging among Evangelicals

You might have seen yesterday’s post in which I repeated Al Mohler’s question: “Do Evangelicals have what it takes to do the Benedict Option?” (His answer: No, but those who return to a more robust and rooted Reformation form of Protestantism do.) Along those lines, here are a couple of great thoughts from Evangelicals.

The first is from an e-mail from Marcus Brown, which I post here with his permission:

Greetings from Wheaton, IL — the Evangelical Vatican. Regarding your question about the BenOp and whether evangelicalism has the stuff to sustain such an effort … I think the observation that, in general, evangelicalism is too shallow to survive is spot on. I come into contact with a lot of pastors of evangelical churches, and their number one priority is marketing. How can they get more people in the door? How can they make the production of the worship service more attractive? How can they make their sermons more “relevant”? Lots of skinny jeans and soul patches. I know that’s a broad brush, but I see it every week.

However, there has been a movement afoot to return evangelicalism to its classical roots. I’ve seen this especially among two groups — the Reformed and the Anglicans.

Go read Bob Webber’s books from the 1980s and 1990s. He saw it coming — Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail.

Twenty years ago, I discovered the Anglican Church, an odd group of evangelicals who were rediscovering the beauty of tradition and liturgy and along with refugees from the Episcopal Church and all its collective lunacy. The result? A vibrant and rich movement that’s grounded in tradition and fueled by evangelistic fervor. The Anglican Church in North America has the stuff to sustain the BenOp.

Right here in evangelical Wheaton, I could point you to multiple examples of churches that are bucking the trend of evangelicalism by going back to the traditions of the Reformation and the church fathers. Places like College Church in Wheaton, Church of the Resurrection, All Souls Anglican Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church. Also, Clapham School — a classical Christian school birthed 10 years ago and growing its enrollment every year.

The means are there because more and more evangelicals are looking around at their slick production values, their trendy branding efforts, and their pseudo-intellectualism, and they’re coming to the conclusion that the emperor has no clothes. The road to the future runs through the past.

“The road to the future runs through the past.” What a great line, one capturing the essence of the Benedict Option.

Next, here’s a powerful essay from Sharon Hodde Miller, making her debut on the Evangelical site Mere Orthodoxy. She talks about how this year has been an “apocalypse” for her in terms of an unveiling (the real meaning of “apocalypse”). It has revealed to her that the Evangelical culture of which she was a part is too focused on self-help, and not enough on real discipleship. She writes about how this realization caused her to change her own ministry. More:

This is the challenge facing evangelical women. The pressure to be nice competes with the calling to be prophetic. But women are not the only ones facing this struggle. For every article about making money with your blog, or having a better marriage, we need leaders who are leveraging their authority with their particular audience to call people to rugged faithfulness. We need teachers who are targeting the idols of people-pleasing and politics and worldly success, and helping us to be the actual people of God. And we need pastors engaged in the kind of spiritual formation that resists cultural influence, and prepares believers for loving self-sacrifice.

Last year [Walter] Brueggemann summarized our prophetic failing this way: “I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic, U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence” (A Way Other Than Our Own, p. 3)

Both in women’s ministry and “American Christianity,” we are witnessing the fruit of inadequate spiritual formation. When our spiritual formation winks at, or embraces, cultural idols, we will produce individuals who are totally unable to resist the culture. That is why we are in dire need of prophetic leaders with the courage and clarity to name our adulterous loves. It’s hard work, and humble work (since ranting should not be confused with prophetic teaching), but we need it now as much as ever.

Read the whole thing. This is a time of choosing. There is no more middle ground.

Here’s one more, from an interview with my friend Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church of North America. Excerpts:

I have had to learn to think about repentance differently. I think the term “repentance” can be thought of as this really dramatic event, like an altar call, you repent once and then your life is supposed to be different from then on. I’ve come to see repentance and faith as breathing out and breathing in, as I say in the book, or your left foot and right foot. We’re constantly walking in repentance and constantly walking in faith. I need to understand repentance and faith not as things that happen to us in dramatic moments but as the daily rhythm of life. Kathleen Norris makes the connection in her book The Quotidian Mysteries between repetitive practices in liturgy and repetitive practices in things like laundry — repetitive practices in daily life. That was really helpful to me.
There seem to be two different struggles that we have with repetition. One is for those folks like me that really crave novelty and new experiences. Having to do something every day — like make the bed every day when you know that it’s going to be unmade again — is really discouraging. Some of it is personality. I need ritual and routine so badly, but I reject it at the same time. To some extent, repetition is completely impossible to avoid. We just are — neuroscience is showing this more and more — people that live in patterns. It’s not the patterns themselves that are the enemy. It’s what those patterns are doing to us. Are we entering into patterns that are diminishing us?

Can we enter our daily lives and the work we have to do in a way that doesn’t diminish us but teaches us the beauty of repetition or teaches us how to serve people? I think Evangelicals love novelty and Americans in general love novelty, but novelty exhausts us. We cannot base our faith on it. Repetitive practices are what we actually need to sustain the marathon of our life in Christ, this long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson would say. I also think there is some Evangelical bias against so-called “vain repetition.” I actually sometimes wrestle with that, but I think that I’ve come to see repetition as completely unavoidable. Even in churches that claim no liturgy at all or have set themselves up against liturgy, it’s fairly predictable what each Sunday will look like.

I’ve just gotten to the point where I think this is how humans are made. We will be unhealthy people if we try to reject all repetition. We need to think well about how this repetition is forming us and what kinds of people it’s making us.

She’s talking about her new book, Liturgy Of The Ordinary: Sacred Practices In Everyday Life. More:

I really want readers to think more about how their corporate worship practices are shaping them and the way that their daily activities are shaping them. I joked that I hoped that no one could read this book and ever brush their teeth the same way again. I didn’t mean that every time people brush their teeth they would be singing the doxology or something; I meant that daily life would take on the texture of worship in a new kind of way. I want people to be able to approach their ordinary life with a new level of respect and to recognize the way God is working and shaping them.

Check out Tish’s website here.

You want to meet Evangelicals building the Benedict Option within their own traditions? Here are three.

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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