Evangelicalism and the “Benedict Option”

Ordered a copy of Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option,” which will be released on March 14. I am eager to read it.

Dreher has spoken and written about enough that its outlines are clear. The basic thesis is that the West has already entered a new Dark Ages as western civilization breaks down and supports for a Judeo-Christian worldview are eroded to the point where opposition to that worldview is considered a good thing. Like the Benedictine monks of old the church must create and nurture intentional communities of Christians who have withdrawn from trying to mainstream culturally, which increasingly means giving up Christian distinctives, the very distinctives that nourish its vitality. This goes beyond church as usual, as in “going to church” and doing the church program thing. What does Dreher mean by this withdrawal? That’s what the book is all about.

Already many Evangelicals are rejecting the book’s essential posture toward culture, accusing Dreher of a withdrawal from its mission and imperatives. The loudest voices raised against it come from the Evangelical left, voices like Ron Sider. This has somewhat surprised Dreher, but I am not sure why. Dreher is Eastern Orthodox after years as a Roman Catholic convert in his twenties. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have a long tradition of monasticism. Protestantism has none.

An early distinctive of Protestantism was its rejection of monasticism and its clericalism. Protestantism does have a strain of Anabaptism, which nurtured separatist communities, such as the Mennonites today, but it has never captured the Evangelical mind as a serious option. In fact, most Anabaptist churches today are Left oriented churches with progressive agendas and an ambiguous line separating the Church and the world.

My guess is that Dreher’s book will not gain anything approaching a serious foothold in Evangelicalism, though there will be some attempts to include it but with a mellowness which will make it indefinite and amorphous. Evangelicalism tends to be activity and optimistic. While it freely critiques culture, it has a genetic disposition to believe that victory over darkness is just around the corner. Dreher is too pessimistic ( Dreher would say realist) for their tastes.

This discussion is worth having. Everyone agrees the new hostility toward religion in the Western world is a virulent strain of a cultural disease that threatens the health of the church. A definite answer to the question of how the Church should cope is in the making. Stay tuned.

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