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Books For Small-O Orthodox Christians

I am very, very grateful to Father Dwight Longenecker for his generous review [2] of The Benedict Option [3] — and for pairing it with Anthony Esolen’s great book Out Of The Ashes [4].

What is the answer? If both men call first for an awareness of the problem, they also call for a conscious, intentional, and disciplined response. Mr. Esolen’s solutions are broader in their intent—with particular examples, whereas Mr. Dreher’s solutions are more specific. In The Benedict Option he lays out particular actions that individuals, families and communities can take. Both men acknowledge that the vocation to re-build a Christian culture will require hard work, sacrifice and serious commitment.

Mr. Dreher is to be commended too, for acknowledging the shared worldview of all Christians who are committed to historic Christianity. Increasingly the division in Christendom is not between Protestant, Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The division is between those who believe Christianity is revealed by God and is eternally true, and those who believe the Christian religion is a human construct and a historical accident which not only can be adapted for every age, but must be.

When he emerged from his prison cell in communist Romania, Baptist pastor Richard Wurmbrand said in the torture chambers there were no Baptists, Catholics or Orthodox. There were only brothers in Christ. This is the ecumenism of our age: Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox who hold to the timeless truths of Scripture and the Christian tradition will know at heart that they are brothers and sisters. Together they will rediscover the foundations of the faith, and almost despite themselves, may lay the foundation for a new Christendom.

Read the entire review here. [2]

If you’re interested in the Ben Op, please do order Esolen’s new book [4], as well as Archbishop Charles Chaput’s latest, Stranger In A Strange Land [5]. We are all three talking about how to be authentically Christian, and to build an authentically Christian culture, in post-Christian America. These men are Roman Catholic, and I am Eastern Orthodox, but all three books will be helpful to all small-o orthodox Christians, as defined by Father Dwight’s quoted remark above.

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15 Comments To "Books For Small-O Orthodox Christians"

#1 Comment By Boz On March 5, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

Yes, I keep meaning to read all three and thought it was fascinating that three books on the same phenomenon appeared around the same time. I also noticed that Patrick Deneen is reviewing all three together in First Things next month.

[NFR: It’s the sense of the times. — RD]

#2 Comment By Potato On March 5, 2017 @ 2:28 pm

In The Benedict Option he lays out particular actions that individuals, families and communities can take.

I’ll be very interested in this part. Most of the discussion here has been pretty vague, and it’s hard to determine what exactly a well-motivated individual should do.

#3 Comment By Betsy On March 5, 2017 @ 3:29 pm

I’ve been following your Benedict Option discussion for months and am eagerly waiting for the book’s release. I recently found this podcast of Benedict’s holy rule. Much of what I’ve heard so far would complement your book. [6]

#4 Comment By RealAlan On March 5, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

For Evangelicals, I recommend Lee Beach, “Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom”. (IVP Academic, 2015).

I haven’t read it. As with Rod’s book, I’ve read only Mr Beach’s articles circling the issues. As I read them, he diagnoses the problems the same, but perhaps indulges in the typical Evangelical “We must mission to the whole world” evasion of the problems.

I heard of Mr Beach today, after Church, perusing the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s magazine, “Faith Today”.

It’s a pretty decent magazine. In the past its contributions on the issue of involvement in politics have been impossibly naive articles about how to contact your MPs (i.e., phone, don’t write, and never just send potted language some group has urged you to send) and assertions that the church can never retreat but must mission to everyone.

Mr Beach’s book seems to at least recognize the reality of Christians’ position today.

Rod…perhaps you have written about Beach before and I have missed it. Couldn’t find a reference in the archives. You probably don’t control to whom your publisher sends review copies…but could you have one sent to “Faith Today”, the magazine of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada?

You are clearly trying to comprehend and approach same wavelengths with Evangelicals. This is one way.

I’m going to send the editors an e-mail suggesting they review it, even if they have to buy it themselves.

#5 Comment By Gregory Martha Herr Obl.S.B. On March 5, 2017 @ 5:46 pm

Excellent review by Fr Longnecker!

Along with your other recommendations, the critical book to add is ‘Life Together’ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

[NFR: Yes, that’s a good one. I read it while writing TBO. Also, “The Spirit of Early Christian Thought” by Robert Louis Wilken. A phenomenal, beautifully written book about the early church. — RD]

#6 Comment By TitusA On March 5, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

That’s a very important ezine review, and Father Dwight is a much respected intellectual in every circle I know of. This is the sort of review in the sort of media that’s going to expand your book’s readership immeasurably. Congratulations, Rod, the BenOp is now on the map!

#7 Comment By Anne On March 5, 2017 @ 6:55 pm

So there’s my problem with the BenOp all laid out in the space of one paragraph: On the one hand, Fr. Longenecker tears down a wall constructed over centuries by dissent and disagreement (and lest we forget, bloodletting) that’s stood between the various groups of Christians who still see themselves as right-thinking, those who, he says, “believe Christianity is revealed by God and eternally true,” and on the other, tacitly approves another between them and the much larger group of Christians made up of ordinary Catholics, ethnic Orthodox, liberal and mainline churchgoers whom he dismisses in one fell swoop as “those who believe the Christian religion is a human construct…which not only can be adapted for every age, but must be.”

What we have here is, literally, ecumenism for people who hate ecumenists. But it’s an ecumenism based on basic misinformation about the shared opposition (most of whom would be shocked to hear fellow Christians claim they don’t believe Christianity is either revealed or eternally true), and a willingness to disregard doctrine and dogma that once mattered enough to fight wars over. Why? Because they now think they have more in common with each other than with fellow Christians who outnumber them. Can this be a good foundation for saving Christianity?

Now, I know there are reasons aside from this disconnect dividing the Church itself for finding the idea of a BenOp appealing.
Most important in my opinion is the sense most Christians feel that they need closer bonds with others to nurture their own faith and help pass it on to their children. In our overly mobile, increasingly fragmented and uncivil society, many Americans, Christian and otherwise, feel this same need for closer ties, for “significant others” to turn to who aren’t half a continent away. In a way, we’re all looking for that village to help raise ourselves, if not our child.

All in all, for Christians, this need for social backup and the knowledge that “we cannot give the world what we do not have” remains undoubtedly the best selling point out there for the BenOp. But then this exclusivist, isolating tendency of people convinced the whole darn culture is the enemy, and their fellow Christians its witting or unwitting collaborationists, continues to get in the way and kill whatever enthusiasm I might otherwise have.

#8 Comment By Potato On March 5, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

So there’s my problem with the BenOp all laid out in the space of one paragraph: On the one hand, Fr. Longenecker tears down a wall constructed over centuries by dissent and disagreement (and lest we forget, bloodletting) that’s stood between the various groups of Christians who still see themselves as right-thinking, those who, he says, “believe Christianity is revealed by God and eternally true,” and on the other, tacitly approves another between them and the much larger group of Christians made up of ordinary Catholics, ethnic Orthodox, liberal and mainline churchgoers whom he dismisses in one fell swoop as “those who believe the Christian religion is a human construct…which not only can be adapted for every age, but must be.”

Depends on what you mean by “Christianity,” doesn’t it?

If you believe, as I do, that the propositions set out by the Nicene Creed are “revealed by God and eternally true”, that does not stop you (or me) from thinking that most of the things we are so attached to must be “adapted to every age.”

The list is extensive. All-male priesthood, priesthood at all (as opposed to priesthood of all believers), liturgy, governance, hierarchy, fasting, calendars, even things like remarriage after divorce, same sex marriage, infant baptism….none of these are mentioned in the Creed. And most of them are given short shrift in the gospels too. Surely we can believe in the Trinity, and in the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, without necessarily thinking that the Roman Catholic Church (or, some Protestant church, or the Orthodox Church (which one?)) is the One True Church, so that believers from other groups are out of luck. A lot of adaptation has happened in the last 2000 years, and the process will certainly continue.

Christians have indeed killed each other over questions of whether one is saved by faith alone, or faith and works, or whatever, but those were hardly our proudest moments.

#9 Comment By at the soundcheck On March 5, 2017 @ 8:07 pm

Exactly what Anne said.

A commenter responding to something in the last thread stated the truth: “One receives criticism differently from family than from neighbours; and neighbours should speak with care.” This arrangement is broken online. I can’t imagine any of my personal friendships with non-Catholic Christians being possible if we pointed out such obvious Church errors or character flaws to each other.

I wonder if Rod as an adult walked through the Catholic Church a few years with critical glasses. It barely makes him an ex-Catholic, yet criticism exists of the Church and its members commenting here. It does feel like division to me. I would be called small-o, but you know, no thank you. I wouldn’t trust a group like that.

Sorry for the scathing review of the idea, but that’s the biggest thing that turns me off the BenOp. I hope Esolen is different.

Re the idea, I think it will be rural and urban. Throughout my life, I have witnessed lone Christians holding firm, even amongst persecution (in youth). True role models. It does require an inner life. I believe it is necessary and possible in whatever turmoils are coming to urbanites.

#10 Comment By William Tighe On March 6, 2017 @ 7:09 am

Potato wrote:

“If you believe, as I do, that the propositions set out by the Nicene Creed are “revealed by God and eternally true”, that does not stop you (or me) from thinking that most of the things we are so attached to must be “adapted to every age.”

The list is extensive. All-male priesthood, priesthood at all (as opposed to priesthood of all believers), liturgy, governance, hierarchy, fasting, calendars, even things like remarriage after divorce, same sex marriage, infant baptism….none of these are mentioned in the Creed.”

Well, so what? The Nicene Creed, about which I believe the same thing as “Potato,” is nevertheless merely a response to the particular errors which arose in a specific place and time; it no more exhausts (or, in a general sense, defines) the Catholic Faith than do, say, the definitions of the Second Council of Nicaea, or those of the Council of Trent – or, for that matter, a certain papal documentof 1994 entitled “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” (all three of which I believe to be “revealed by God and eternally true”).

There is no basis for Potato’s sort of historical reductionism, which reduces the authoritative content of the Christian Catholic Faith to the Nicene Creed and leaves everything else up for grabs.

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 6, 2017 @ 8:45 am

So, while you are talking about how to build an authenticakky Christian culture, I am going to keep talking about how the secular civic culture framed by our constitution and documented by Alexis de Tocqueville allows you space to do that while not allowing you or anyone to make it mandatory. I trust Rod Dreher, but I do not trust Charles Chaput.

#12 Comment By Rob G On March 6, 2017 @ 10:07 am

“Because they now think they have more in common with each other than with fellow Christians who outnumber them. Can this be a good foundation for saving Christianity?”

When the monastics left the cities to live in the wilderness not all Christians went with them. This doesn’t mean that Christians who stayed were necessarily worldly or compromised. But neither does it negate the fact that many were.

Fr. Longenecker is correct: if a person “believe[s] the Christian religion is a human construct and a historical accident which not only can be adapted for every age, but must be,” he’s a Christian in name only, objectively speaking.

There’s where the “division” lies. And note, many folks have been onto this for decades. Touchstone magazine, for instance, has long been promoting and advocating for this sort of “ecumenism of the trenches.”

#13 Comment By at the soundcheck On March 7, 2017 @ 12:51 am

I’m not crazy about Chaput either. Since he’s in my church family, maybe I should write him a letter. 😉

#14 Comment By Alan On March 8, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

“America is a pluralistic, multicultural democracy. How do kids growing up in a Benedict Option community learn to deal with people who are different from them?”

I’m extremely sick of this blatantly dishonest question. It’s always asked, of course, by the people who are neck deep in our modern culture and religiously follow every whim, belief and sacrament of said culture. These are the intolerant folks who can’t understand how anyone doesn’t accept the “truths” that come from the modern culture and mainstream media. In short, the folks who always ask this question are themselves totally unwilling to deal with people who are different from them. These folks forced Sweet Cakes Bakery and Barronelle Stutzman out of business.

#15 Comment By Athanasius Spine On March 10, 2017 @ 10:53 am

As a point of clarification, Richard Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor, not Baptist.