Surviving as Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
A review of ‘The Benedict Option’ by Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher sees a great flood coming, and he hopes you see it, too. This flood is not one of water and rain; the waves are those of cultural change.
In his bestselling book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in A Post-Christian Nation, Dreher notes a growing number of significant changes in Western culture that add up to far more than just a recent trend. It is a sea change in the way culture works and the way culture relates to the Church.
The consequence, for Dreher, is that the Church needs to learn (or rather, re-learn) a way of interacting with the world around it and building disciples within it. To find that new-to-us paradigm, he draws from the life of Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the Benedictine Order. These monks withdrew from the rubble of the Roman Empire, built monasteries across Europe and saved Western civilization.
Rome fell under the weight of its own debauchery and corruption. The Church rose from the ashes because of the intense discipleship and focused engagement of Christians like the Benedictine monks.
Are we in a similar situation? Is our culture imploding under the weight of its debauchery and corruption? Does the Church need to find a better way ahead so we can once again save Western civilization?
Dreher lays out his case through a quick survey of the last 2,000 years of Western thought and how we got to where we are now. He then recaps the history of Benedict and his order and how their “Rule for Living” may still apply to us today.
Then he proceeds to lay out the positive case for the Benedict Option. The core of the book covers several specific areas of engagement in the following chapters:
• A New Kind of Christian Politics
• The Idea of a Christian Village
• Education as Christian Formation
• Preparing for Hard Labor
• Eros and the New Christian Counter Culture
• Man and the Machine
The Benedict Option is roughly this: The church needs to withdraw from its current form of cultural engagement, strengthen its discipleship and learn better ways of engagement. As Dreher often puts it, we cannot give the world what we do not have.
Is our culture imploding under the weight of its debauchery and corruption?
Several of his proposals have created a lot of criticism and conversation. Dreher, for instance, is so convinced that our current model of public education is harmful to kids, he says, “it is time for all Christians to pull their children out of the public school system” (155).
This proposal may sound extreme to some, but it fits comfortably within his larger model: withdraw, disciple and re-engage.
Especially helpful to a pastor is Dreher’s chapter on sexuality. He makes a clear and compelling case for robust Christian orthodoxy on this matter. We live in a sexually charged culture.
The pastor and the Church need to find how to lead the way in what were once taboo or uncomfortable topics. Dreher notes, “Watering down or burying biblical truth on sexuality for the sake of keeping Millennials won’t work. Mainline Protestant churches have tried this strategy, and they remain in demographic collapse” (204).
Dreher’s personal faith journey brought him into the Eastern Orthodox Church, so the book places significant emphasis on liturgy and tradition. Pentecostals tend to react negatively to these kinds of suggestions, but I found it useful to listen to a faithful brother and consider how liturgy and catechism train our families in discipleship.
I believe there is a lot of value for a pastor in The Benedict Option. Dreher forces us to pay attention to some of the significant and seismic changes in culture, but more than that, he produces some tangible suggestions. And I agree with him that we can’t just do business as usual and expect better results.
Moving ahead for the Church will mean some difficult reflection and learning how to deepen our congregation’s relationship with Christ so that they can walk into our world as faithful, courageous and effective Christians.
Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in A Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017).