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.
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 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.
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.