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On Not Understanding The Benedict Option

Book is a Rohrshach test for contemporary American Christianity

Great, great blog post by Andy Crouch:

1. Social hostility and legal restrictions will undermine the viability of many Christian institutions, and significantly limit individual Christians’ participation in many professions and aspects of public life, in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 20%

Portion of journalistic coverage of the book devoted to this claim: 90%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 98%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 50%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 5%

2. Due to a lack of meaningful discipleship and accommodation to various features of secularized modernity and consumer culture, the collapse of Christian belief and practice is likely among members of the dominant culture (and many minority cultures) in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 80%

Portion of journalistic coverage devoted to this claim: 10%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 2%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 90%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 100%

Karen Swallow Prior also notes how a lot of people simply don’t grasp the basic claims of The Benedict Option. Excerpts:

The Benedict Option’s vision is not to make nuns and monks of modern Christians. Nor does it propose a bunker (whether literal or figurative) from which to establish merely an updated version of the fundamentalist separatism of yore. Nor is the turn to Benedict a quixotic attempt to recapture a romanticized past.

To the contrary, The Benedict Option calls Christians wherever they live and work to “form a vibrant counterculture” by cultivating practices and communities that reflect the understanding that Christians, who are not citizens of this world, need not “prop up the current order” (18). While the monastery that birthed the Benedict Rule was literal, the monastery invoked in The Benedict Option is metaphorical. It is not a place, but a way.

Dreher explains:

We are only trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. We are not looking to create heaven on earth; we are simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing. (54)

In this part, Karen says something that no review I’ve yet seen says about the book:

The heart of The Benedict Option is the third chapter of the book. Here, after describing the order of St. Benedict and his Rule, Dreher draws from the Rule to identify and adapt principles that we in the church should apply within our modern context:

  • Order: recognizing and establishing inner order that is in harmony with the natural limits and ultimate reality created by God
  • Prayer: making communication with God through prayer and scripture the basis of daily life
  • Work: recognizing that work is not separated from the spiritual life and must glorify God
  • Asceticism: resisting the materialism, consumerism and hedonism that drive modern culture and inhibit the spiritual life
  • Stability: putting down deep roots where we live, work and worship
  • Community: prioritizing fellowship with others over individual interests and freedoms
  • Hospitality: being as open to the world as is possible without compromising orthodox faith
  • Balance: practicing the prudence necessary to balance not only right and wrong, but competing goods

The beauty of these principles is that they can be adopted by nearly any Christian individual or community, regardless of denomination, ethnicity, socio-economic status or location. Some, certainly, speak more to those in positions of privilege or power. But it is perhaps the most oppressed among us who demonstrate the transforming power inner order has within the harshest of conditions. These principles not only bring internal order, but knit communities together, as well as create new bonds among those who share them. The rest of the book’s chapters detail how these principles can be applied to various spheres: politics, churches, local communities, educational institutions, workplaces, families and technology.

Read her entire piece. 

As KSP and Andy Crouch say, this is a book that is primarily about shoring up the Christian faith in a time of great testing — and the test will come not so much from persecution of some sort, but from a falling-away from within. Whether you think you will agree with The Benedict Option or not, you need to read it and deal with its actual arguments. There’s a reason why David Brooks, who did not like the book, calls it “the most important religious book of the decade.”

Read it and decide for yourself.



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