The long awaited book “The Benedict Option” book is finally out and I am looking forward to reading it. When I do, I plan to perform a solid review of it. Although, I have not read the book, I have read some of the commentaries on it and Dreher’s discussion of the Benedict Option. Therefore, I want to react to some of the ideas floating around about the book.
Some argue that Dreher is advocating that Christians surrender all political and social power. Having seen some of his blogs on this subject, I tend to think these charges are a bit overblown. Perhaps after I read the book I will agree with them, but for now I am skeptical that Dreher wants Christians totally out of politics. Others argue that we do not need to go take Dreher’s advice because we can fight to take the culture back.
Has Dreher omitted the fact that God can bring American back from the brink? Of course, God can do that. Nevertheless, when I read the Bible I notice that God generally does not have us rely on our own political power. In fact, God warns against seeking help from political forces instead of from Him. God admonished Israel for seeking a King (I Samuel 8). God told Jews not to rebel against Babylon (Jeremiah 27: 6-11). I am not saying that Christians should avoid politics. We should seek our rightful political voice in appropriate ways. Christians have to be smarter in how they engage in political activism in a society where they are no longer the dominant voice. They cannot act as they have done in the past when they did have that voice. Furthermore, it is presumptuous to believe that God will automatically do exactly what we want. God often uses our lack of social and political power to strengthen us.
While Christians should be concerned about both political and cultural matters, if we had to choose only one dimensions to influence then it should be our culture. What attracts me to the Benedict Option is its focus on building up one’s own culture. Gaining cultural influence will eventually bring political influence. But having political influence does not mean that you can change the culture. While Christians have not totally ignored our culture, I fear that over the past few decades Christians have not given the same attention to changing the culture as to winning political offices. The Benedict Option offers us the opportunity to reset these priorities.
There are many steps Christians should take to gain cultural relevancy, but an important step is strengthening our own communities. We are a subculture that does not currently have great influence among the cultural elites. To survive co-optation the Christian community cannot be weak. A weak community follows the larger narratives in our society rather than protect its own values. Many critics of the Benedict Option have missed the point. To change our society we have to change ourselves. What we have been doing has not been working. It has not been working, in part, because our own communities are not strong enough to endure corruption from the larger culture.
If you have any doubt about the weakness of our communities then talk to your Christian friends with adult children. How many of them complain about their kids no longer living in their faith? In strong communities, the kids grow up to take the place of the adults. That is not happening nearly enough in our churches. This is just one symptom of a weak Christian community. The Benedict Option encourages us to seek out ways to strengthen our Christian communities. I know from Dreher’s blogs that he prioritizes creating the atmosphere that maximizes our chances of raising our kids with our faith. An important part of how to do that is by raising them in a strong Christian community.
If Christians are going to retain their voice in the public square then we need to have a subculture that maintains our distinctiveness. Christians need, at least for the time being, to forget the idea of “taking the culture back”. Instead, it is important for them to seek a place at the table with a unique voice. The only way this occurs is if Christians undergo an extensive campaign of cultural maintenance.
The entire notion of community has changed in my lifetime. When I grew up my community was people at my neighborhood and maybe people I met at school. With the development of the internet, our community can often be people we never met face to face. This is both scary and exciting. It is scary because the idea of having community with people online seems impersonal. Nevertheless, it is exciting because it opens up new avenues for communal resources. There are ways to build a strong Christian community if we can be creative in thinking about what culture is and how to use those resources. My hope is in time, more Christians will engage in creativity thinking about this new type of community.
With this new reality about community, it is wise to consider how we can fortify our Christian communities. How to strengthen our Christian culture is a question I have been thinking about lately, and I realize that there are many factors to consider. In due course, I hope to write more about those factors. My hope is that the Benedict Option will be a great beginning point to discuss how we can reinforce our Christian communities. I have my idea of what that community looks like and my vision may be quite different than Dreher’s. Nevertheless, discussing what that vision should be and exploring how we can achieve it is what the Christian body needs at this point of our history. If the Benedict Option encourages us to have this conversation, then it may be one of the most consequential Christian book we in quite a while.