Book Review: The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

by Rod Dreher

I was directed to this book by a respected writer, teacher, and theologian,  Gene Veith.

I agree with Veith that this is an important book.  I wish that it was more important than it is, but it is important at the very least.  Dreher asserts that Christians have lost the cultural war and therefore will lose the struggle to legislate Christian morality.  These losses have already occurred cannot be undone (likely for several generations) and should be acknowledged as such.  While there is a place and necessity for Christians to continue to voice their beliefs in the public and political realm those voices will be increasingly marginalized and perhaps even criminalized.

What are Christians to do, then?

Dreher argues far more eloquently than I have that Christians need to acknowledge this, quit moaning about it, and get on with planning how to ensure that Christianity is passed down to our children and grandchildren, so that it survives this new Dark Ages and is ready to re-emerge into a changed political and cultural landscape an indeterminate number of years, decades, or perhaps centuries down the road.

The metaphor Dreher chooses for this is St. Benedict of Nursia, who in the sixth century created a rule for monastic life still in use today, which Dreher sees as informative not for a new wave of monks and nuns but rather ordinary Christians seeking to preserve their faith in an increasingly hostile and intolerant culture.

This sounds fascinating to a Lutheran like me who views monastic life as impractical at best.  Unfortunately, Dreher only references Benedict’s Rule in passing and without much specific quoting.  I’d rather thought I’d find a copy of the Rule in the book itself, but it isn’t there.  Dreher seems more to see in St. Benedict a prescient figure for his time, which is certainly what Christians seem to need now.  Dreher is not advocating monasticism in the traditional sense, or a withdrawal of Christians from culture and society, but rather that Christians need to take steps to intentionally preserve the Christian faith in their families and communities, steps that most people will likely find extreme to say the least.

Communal living (whether under one roof or in a network of like-minded homes in a neighborhood or town) is a major aspect.  Reconsidering our devotion to the public schooling system (as well as private schools) at all levels, and considering home schooling utilizing the classical educational model is another strong recommendation of Dreher’s.  Strategizing as to what career options will likely remain open to Christians in an era where corporations are increasingly mandating employee adherence and support of codes of conduct that may violate their Christian beliefs is another major issue.

Dreher recognizes what we all sort of know in our gut – that the changes of the last 40 years have been nothing short of monumental, tectonic even.  Everything has changed and is going to continue to change and not in a way convenient or even permissive of traditional Christian teachings and ways of living our lives.

Dreher intends to sound the alarm to rouse Christians to radically reconsider the assumptions they have accepted about how life ought to be lived and how the life of faith should be lived out.  I know Dreher intentionally avoids many specific recommendations as he understands that Benedict Communities are going to come in all shapes and sizes and he doesn’t want to curtail holy imagination towards that end.  But a bit more in the specifics arena would likely be helpful to folks who are otherwise bewildered by the picture he paints of the future.

Read this book.  Read it as a family.  Read it as church communities.  And begin to look for folks who understand just how different the coming generations of Christians are going to need to live in America.  There is no returning to the halcyon days of mid-20th century America as a Christian nation (if that was indeed accurate).  We need to prepare for a future even more difficult than the present.  God is good.  The Holy Spirit is with us.  The Church will never be eradicated, but individual Christians and corporate Christian entities are going to have an increasingly difficult road ahead.

Let’s work together to figure out how to keep moving down it and through it.

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