The Benedict Option – Responses

When it comes to the Church’s place in the surrounding culture, many have advocated an approach called “The Benedict Option.” This view is largely associated with conservative journalist Rod Dreher, who, taking his cue from moral philosopher Alasdair McIntyr, argues that we are approaching a new dark age which requires new forms of local community to sustain its moral and intellectual life. We should pursue a community life modelled upon that of St. Benedict who established monasteries as beacons of light and hope during the dark ages. The Benedict option is attractive to those who want to fulsomely live out the Christian tradition in insulated communities because they no longer resonate with the moral fragmentation and hyper-individualism of the sub-cultures surrounding them.[1] I think the Benedict Option is right to stress the local over the political and the spiritual over the cultural. It does not require ceasing political engagement, just not investing the totality of our hopes in political processes. Commendable as well is looking to our traditions for our identity and fostering alternative local cultures through churchcraft. That said, this option looks a lot like the circling of the wagons, just with monks rather than with cowboys. The danger though is that the church’s vocation could become retreatist rather than redemptive, its praxis becomes monastic without the missional dimension, or its thoughts turn introspective rather than effusive towards the outside world.

A number of critiques have been levelled at the Benediction Option over at Christianity Today (see here) to which Rod Dreher himself responds (see here).

D.A. Carson adds his two cents as well, and you can read more over at First Things.

In a forthcoming book, I argue for something called the “Thessalonian Strategy,” based on Acts 17.1-9 about Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, which is the view that if the church today is to again turn the world upside down, then we must recognize the asymmetrical balance of cultural and political power that is arrayed against us and respond by adopting a strategy that makes us an evasive and vaporous target. We need to balance good citizenship with being a public nuisance to state authorities if they harbor militant secularist impulses. The churches should aspire to be good to win the favour of the masses, yet to government with an anti-religious agenda we must be civically unmanageable and ineradicable, prophetic on the margins yet pervasive in the centre, everywhere felt but rarely seen. In the contest with a militant secular state we have to be the mole in a game of whack-a-mole, we have to be the jelly that authorities futilely try to nail to the wall, and be the mysterious smell of damp in the dry wall that just won’t seem to go away. Direct confrontation is going to get us nowhere. As Jesus himself taught, the church needs to be more like a mustard seed, a tiny seed that grows like a pungent weed and slowly overwhelms all that is around it (Mark 4:30-32).

[1] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Conservative Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017).