The Benedict Option
There is a lot of flap online about the recently released book The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. The book proposes “a strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.” He bases his book on the monastic order that St. Benedict formed in the dark ages and calls for us to retreat into Christian communities and more or less hide from a declining culture.
Dreher is a decided pessimist. While many evangelicals are elated about the election of President Trump and see this as an opportunity to “bring our nation back to God” he sees this as merely an interlude in an already lost war that gives us “time to prepare for the coming dark age.” In fact, he says “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization….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.”
So, is he right? There are already a lot of online opinions about this. You can see a few them here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Trust me, there are many others but I got tired of creating links. While most of those links go to respected evangelical sites like Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition I’ve included one from a progressive Christian and one from an out-and-out nonbeliever. If you feel that listing to people who disagree with you threatens your salvation then for sure skip those two.
Another thought that came to me, and that I am in the process of doing, is that we might want to read The Rule of St. Benedict itself in a modern translation and see what this dear saint said directly.
I have two preliminary thoughts on the concept. The first is that, in our connected world, there is no easy comparison to the Benedictine era building of a wall around your little community and shutting the outside out. Just ask our Amish friends or even better the vast, supposedly self-sufficient, Mennonite Colonies in South America. They strive to be separated from “the world” but constantly find they can’t do it.
The second thought is that if our churches are not already the sort of “in the world but not of the world” sanctuaries we want then there is something wrong with them. Church, the community of believers committed to each other and to the word of God, is where we draw our strength and comfort as we then go forth to engage that big bad messy world out there. In other words, we as believers are already not of the world. Hmmmm. Where did I hear that? Oh yes, I remember.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:14-19