A Strategic Withdrawal
The goal he advocates is to form counter-communities where faithfulness to God, harmonious community, and beautiful alternatives to the barbarism of our times can be seen, experienced, and modeled.
It is touted as the only sure-fire way of passing down Christianity to our own children.
The history behind it is the 6th Century monastic movement of Benedict, begun under the collapsing Roman Empire and its waves of barbarian invasions–where civilization collapsed into violence, paganism, anarchy, and unchecked brutality.
Benedict created a rule of faith, a manual for how to organize and run monastic communities that anyone could copy anywhere in the empire, after founding such a place in Italy and seeing it become famous for its highest spirituality and quality of community.
Dreher states his thesis in two points.
First, “The culture war that began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s has now ended in defeat for Christian conservatives. The cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream—has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.”
Second, “The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly counter-cultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.”
So Dreher concludes, “If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.”
By which, he means The Rule of St. Benedict.
In other words, we will need to form new monastary-like, fully immersive communities in order to survive and even thrive.
The link to the article is here:
The Critics Respond
Of course, his views have plenty of critics.
Christianity Today also published four articles by critics, which state The Benedict Option has blind spots, offers us a false dichotomy, falls short of genuine pluralism, and is not an Evangelical option.
A summary of these our responses is found here:
David Brooks, writing for the New York Times, has this response:
My Own Response
My own response to all this is to note: there’s a pendulum here going from extreme to extreme.
This prescription would have us American Evangelicals go from the extreme of trying to make our society a Christian one, from a God-and-county kind of American Christendom, to the extreme of a long-term, full-scale retreat into isolated communities.
From theocrats to the spiritual equivalent of hunkered down preppers living out in the woods, stock-piling food, and certain the dystopian apocalypse is just around the corner.
And it’s a kind of all-or-nothing kind of thinking.
The truth is two-fold:
- We have gone from being a esteemed religious majority to a disliked religious minority.
- There are other, biblical, far more hopeful ways of dealing with this reality that bore fruit in both the New Testament and in the current Third World.
A Better Option
We therefore have one far better option.
For true Christians, being a part of a disliked religious minority is normal.
Such a status certainly didn’t stop the Apostles or the early, quickly expanding New Testament churches–despite vicious persecution, spiteful slanders, and popular hostility.
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also!” cried their frustrated, confounded pagan accusers.
The early Christians wielded disproportionate, positive influence far, far beyond their small numbers.
Their works of charity were unparalleled and broke all social bounds with indiscriminate agape love.
Their joy and fearless courage–singing hymns of a sure future with Christ while in the arena facing certain death–haunted and impressed the hard-bitten Romans.
Their exposing tirades against the follies and vices of paganism made the Romans embarrassed of their own religion and the immoral, childish conduct of their gods.
Their self-evidently transformed personal lives bore eloquent testimony to this sheer fact: Jesus Christ transforms even the worst of lives and offers such grace to all!
They proclaimed the Gospel in private conversations, in public venues, in courts and arenas and marketplaces.
In other words, they didn’t retreat, they advanced boldly, even straight into suffering and death.
They didn’t lament, they praised with a joy inexpressible and full of glory.
They didn’t despair, they hoped and acted like their hope was undaunted.
They weren’t out to reform society, but to transform individuals and, if society changed for the better as a result of a critical mass of converted hearts, so be it.
In other words, the self-protective, self-isolating defensiveness of The Benedict Option is not compatible with the Gospel, with agape love, with the suffering required of faithful Christ-followers, or with our Lord’s orders for us all to “Go into make disciples….to the ends of the earth!”
We do not need to return to the monasticism that Martin Luther helped us break free from.
We need to return to the indomitable, undaunted faith of missionary, proactive, evangelical, joyous, contagiously transforming, hearts-aflame Christianity– which the only type of Christianity found in the New Testament.
If there is a kind of corruption we need to renounce, it is the corruption of a cold-hearted, worldly, Americanized, politicized, self-centered, control-loving, pseudo-Christianity we have bought into.
This corruption is coming mainly from the inside, not from the outside.
We therefore don’t need the Benedict Option, but a full-orbed return to our biblical roots–the Apostolic option!