Rod Dreher Disputes JKA Smith

From JKA Smith at WaPo:

And in his much-anticipated book, “The Benedict Option,” blogger Rod Dreher has seen the apocalypse: “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.” Note, again: if you’re not alarmed, you’re not seeing things, a circular reasoning to help work yourself into a froth of fear.

These are books intended for choirs: they are written to confirm biases, not change minds. They are not written to be overheard. If you’re not part of the alarmist choir, reading these books will sometimes feel like watching video smuggled out of secret meetings in underground bunkers.

This critique is not a progressive dismissal. For nearly a decade I have been trying to diagnose the causes of Christian assimilation to culture in books like “Desiring the Kingdom” and “You Are What You Love.” The church certainly needs to have a conversation about how it fosters the faith in each generation and a new intentionality about Christian witness in a secular age. And like these authors, I think the future of Christianity will look ancient.

But the new alarmism is something different. It is tinged with a bitterness and resentment and sense of loss that carries a whiff of privilege threatened rather than witness compromised. When Dreher, for example, laments the “loss of a world,” several people notice that world tends to be white. And what seems to be lost is a certain default power and privilege. When Dreher imagines “vibrant Christianity,” it is on the other side of the globe. He doesn’t see the explosion of African churches in the heart of New York City or the remarkable growth of Latino Protestantism. The fear seems suspiciously tied to white erosion.

But beyond this narrow fixation of their fear, there is a more serious theological concern. “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,” as author Marilynne Robinson put it. It is a refusal of hope. And despite all their protests to the contrary, what sticks with you when you walk away from these books is a bunker mentality. It’s what sells the security system.

From Rod Dreher:

Rod Dreher has come out swinging at JKA Smith, whom Dreher thinks has suddenly reversed his stand on the big ideas in Dreher’s proposals about The Benedict Option, a proposal that is drawing attention from all sorts in the theological spectrum. I will be blogging about Dreher’s book in a week or two, but for now I want to draw your attention to Dreher’s lengthy critique of Smith.

One hour before I had to make the decision [about with whom to publish The Benedict Option, which I will be reviewing on this blog], I was on the phone with Jamie Smith, who did his dead-level best to convince me to come to his publisher, saying that we could work together on this common project. I had two years worth of e-mails from him praising my Ben Op work. He sat next to me at a 2014 First Things symposium at which I presented a slightly longer version of this paper about the Benedict Option. In subsequent personal conversations and e-mails, he praised the Benedict Option to me, and never indicated that he had a single misgiving about it. So, I was almost persuaded to join his team, in large part because of him

In the end, though, I chose Sentinel, which made the better offer. This was on January 12, 2016.

Only two months later, Smith was denouncing the Benedict Option publicly for being “alarming and despairing.”  If you follow that link, you’ll see my response to him, answering specifically the charges of alarmism.

So, why the Strange New Disrespect for the Benedict Option? Nothing had changed in the proposal that Smith once admired. The only thing that changed is that I did not take James K.A. Smith’s advice and join him at a certain publisher. Funny how that happened. Let that indicate how seriously you should take his critique.

SMcK: I do want to see evidence of Smith’s liking of the Benedict Option. I’ve not seen that in Smith’s writings.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.