Here’s a small collection of recent coverage of The Benedict Option.
Jesus Christ told his followers to go and make disciples. He said to preach the gospel through actions. Throughout history, missionaries and ordinary people have attempted to follow this command, even when their personal safety was threatened, or when they were subject to derision or ridicule. How do you align your point of view with Christ’s directive?
The Great Commission is non-negotiable. Period. We have to evangelize, or we fail Christ. But we can’t give people what we do not have. The decision for Christ is only the first step in a lifelong journey of discipleship. What we lack today is real discipleship. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre says that in the modern West we have come to a place where we think feelings are a reliable guide to truth. This is true in the broader culture, and it is certainly true in the culture of the contemporary church. I spoke to an Evangelical couple recently who told me that their church, which had for a long time been biblically sound and theologically conservative, changed overnight to being progressive, all for the sake of relevancy. The ministry staff even marched in the local gay pride parade. This couple was gob smacked by what happened, and couldn’t understand how it could have happened so quickly. The answer is that when you are not firmly anchored in Scripture and the traditions of Christian thought and practice stretching back centuries, you blow wherever the winds of culture take you.
My contention is not that we should head for the hills and build metaphorical monasteries to keep the world out. That is not realistic for most of us, nor is it desirable. But I strongly believe that if our Christian families and churches are going to form generations of believers capable of bearing witness to this post-Christian culture, we are going to have to take some steps back from that culture, or it’s going to overwhelm us. It’s already happening. Popular culture does a much more effective job of catechizing our children and us than the church does. The evidence is there.
What does it mean to say “take some steps back from that culture”? First, it means withdrawal from certain formative aspects of the broader culture that make it harder to see and to serve Christ. For example, Christians have as disordered a relationship with technology as everybody else. I know churchgoing Christians who send their kids to Christian schools, and who think they’re covering all the bases, but who give their kids – even little kids – smartphones with Internet access, because they don’t want their kids to stand out as weirdoes. This is devastating, just devastating to their moral and spiritual formation, and not just because it puts a gateway to the world of hardcore pornography right into their hands.
It’s not enough to turn away from bad things. We have to turn toward good things, and deepen our relationship to the Good, the True and the Beautiful, in Christ. And we have to do that in community. We need each other, and we need to remember that if we are not joyful in the Lord, if we are instead terrified, then we are not doing something right. True love casts out all fear.
LifeSiteNews: An important part of your book is about your stay at the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia. But the Benedict Option is not a call for a return to monasticism, is it?
Rod Dreher: For those of us who are called to live in a monastery or a convent, I hope they will accept that call. But for most of us, that is not our call. We are called to live in the world. But there are lessons about how Benedictine monks and nuns live that we can draw on as lay Christians on how to live faithfully in a post-Christian world.
LifeSiteNews: What are those lessons?
Rod Dreher: There are a number … but the first one is, I think, that we have to impose a certain order on our lives if we are to keep our eyes focused firmly on Christ. Father Cassion Folsom — who, for the time I was there, was the prior — told me that in the modern world our attention is so dissipated and fragmented by a thousand different things that our spiritual powers are also depleted.
What the monks do is that they live this highly regimented life according to the rule of St. Benedict, not for its own sake but for sake of deepening their conversion. So they pray when the rule tells them to pray, they celebrate Mass when the rule tells them to celebrate Mass, they study Scripture when the rule tells them to study Scripture.
Out in the world we aren’t going to live according to such a strict rule, but we do have to have order in our lives. To say on the straight path, so to speak, a path, a pilgrimage towards conversion. They also have to things like practice stability. That is one of the most counter-cultural things the Benedictines can teach us.
Contrary to some media reviews of his book, he said, he doesn’t actually think Christians need to literally head for the hills.
“A Christianity that doesn’t love and serve its neighbors is not true Christianity,” he said, adding, “We have to go out into the world knowing who we are and what we believe.”
Dreher said that like the early church, today’s Christians need to prepare to live as “minorities in a pagan culture.”
Christians are facing incredible challenges, challenges that have never been seen in the West since the West was Christianized. We can’t live as if the world was still Christian.
He said if Christianity is to survive the coming dark age, Christians must rededicate themselves to living counter-culturally. He outlines the steps for counter-cultural living in his book.
Dreher said that too many churches and Christian institutions have fallen victim to a pseudo-Christianity scholars have dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or the idea that Christianity is merely about making an attempt to be a good person and occasionally asking God for help in times of trouble. He added that churches should support their flocks by instructing them on repentance and asceticism, so they know how to suffer for their faith.
I hope these interviews are making it clear that even if you don’t think you will agree with this book, or with everything in it, the questions it raises are vitally important ones for the church in this moment to engage.
UPDATE: Just posted — my podcast interview with Russell Moore.