One approach to living in a post-modern culture is to withdraw from it. That is basically what Rod Dreher recommends in his 2017 book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.
Dreher declares, “I have written the Benedict Option to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in practice. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.”
His basic model is the recently renewed Benedict order for living a monastic life. Benedict of Nursia founded the order in 529 in Subiaco, Italy. Just a few years later he founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which gained fame in World War II.
The recent Pope Benedict XVI chose that name, like fifteen popes before him, to honor Benedict and the movement he started. Dreher is attracted to the Benedictine order because it is less rigorous than the many others, like the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. Unlike the founders of other orders, Benedict wrote the Rule of Saint Benedict, which discusses the purpose behind various parts of the monastic discipline.
Dreher’s basic assumption is that the Benedict Option can be applied to families raising children who will not succumb to the basic tenets of MTD (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). These are: 1) a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life. 2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, 3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself, 4) God does not need to be involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem, 5) Good people go to heaven.
People today who choose the Benedict Option know that if believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, their faith will not survive for another generation or two. They recognize an unpopular truth: politics will not save us. Instead of looking to prop up the current political order, they recognize that the kingdom of which they are citizens is not of this world and have decided not to compromise that citizenship.
Those living the Benedict Option will draw on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church to embrace “exile in place” and form a vibrant counterculture. They will look to Scripture and to Benedict’s Rule for ways to cultivate practices and communities. Such communities will recognize that the new political order is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be lived with. It will be those who learn how to endure with faith and creativity, to deepen their own prayer lives, and to adopt practices focused on family and communities. They would go on and build churches, schools, and other institutions within which the orthodox Christian faith can survive and prosper.
Those who follow the Benedict Option might choose to follow updated practices like: Take on digital fasting as an ascetic practice, Take smartphones away from kids, Keep social media out of worship, Do things with your hands, and Question progress.
Taking the Benedict Option is one way to live as conservative Christians in our current Post-Modern culture. Will much come of this approach? It might in small clusters of believers who choose to maintain relationships within the same congregation where they worship together. This might happen especially among those families who choose to live in the same neighborhood.
It’s hard to imagine this happening, though, among families who adopt rigorous practices that cut their children off from the digital world still emerging. Limit screen time, certainly. But maneuvering the internet will be a basic skill for surviving in the business world.
Do you agree that the Christian’s best option is to withdraw from the Post Modern culture? What do you think of Rod Dreher’s claim that if believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, their faith will not survive for another generation or two?
David Wentz says
What it means to be in the world but not of it will differ for each individual. It’s a series of decisions that must be made prayerfully at key points of life and throughout the day as we practice the presence of God. J. Warner Wallace says it’s a difference between our location and our source of information (https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/christian-worldview-what-does-it-mean-to-be-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world/).
David Luecke says
I think you are saying that we face the challenge of translating the there and then into here and now. That takes skill.
David Wentz says
That’s a different issue, but also an important one. It all takes skill developed through prayerful practice.
Kent Stephens says
I read The Benedict Option. I was intrigued by the draw of the devotional, simple monastic way of life. His background seemed to connect him to the church of the ages. When he started proposing his current-day applications, I realized I was not in the same mindset as he, and did not agree with his rejection of “living in the world but not part of it.” I felt his solution was to isolate himself, his children and the Church. I also felt there were some political influences that left me in a different place from the book.
Though not devotional at all, better food for thought on our changing world would be Tod Bolsinger’s Canoeing the Mountains. In it he uses the journey and challenge of Lewis and Clark, experienced and equipped to find a navigable waterway to the Pacific, only to realize it didn’t exist. They had to trade their canoes in for pack animals and skills for navigating unfamiliar mountain terrain. Along the way, the learned about and documented the new environment. They had to change equipment and approach in order to reach the desired destination.
David Luecke says
Good analogy. Though many may think so, God is beyond our rational ability to understand. The best we can do is tell parables and paint images.
David Wentz says
I’m not sure I agree. Paul didn’t tell many parables. He did use illustrations and analogies, but also propositional statements and instruction in behavior.
Frank Janzow says
I find biblical insights ever applicable, despite ever changing cultural issues. The scriptural idea that Christians are to be “In the world, but not of the world” is particularly helpful. I glad there are folks who feel called to the monastic life because they present a counter culture witness important for us all to hear. But if we all did that, society would likely collapse. Perhaps a better idea would be to urge regular retreats of significant solitude through out the year for reflection and shoring up of one’s spiritual identity distinctive from the going culture’s fare.
David Luecke says
In but not of the world is a constant challenge. For some personalities going on retreats work well. I knew the ways of the world during years of high level university administration. Egos abound and need to be fed. The alternative for me is to constantly try to deny myself. Practicing humility in day-by-day living can accomplish much of what others achieve in a retreat.
Lee Larsen says
Well more and more people are trying to shelter themselves and their children from what society wants the norm to be. Certainly the individual rights of speech and expression have taken precedence over religious rights. This is creating an avalanche of sinful desires being played out before us on both the little and big screen. It is being forced into our classrooms under many false & misleading pretenses. This has reached the level where the impact from these actions are now becoming more and more obvious to the Christian/Conservative part of our society, thus the “Great Divide” is forming. This is tearing at both faith and country. We do know God’s word will prevail, but the question remains on how many true believers will there be and what will America look like in the aftermath.
David Luecke says
Yes, the future of our democracy is in doubt. I like to believe that excesses bring a reaction in the opposite direction. Our job as biblical Christians is to witness to the better life that becomes apparent in the better life we display.
Douglas Schoelles says
1, Aren’t nearly all the monastic orders so much about withdrawing from the world in one way or another? Not just the Benedictines.
2. I would say we are called to live counter culturally all through both OT & NT.
3. I agree that learning to navigate the digital culture will be necessary. Which necessitates having a strong Christ culture in home and in the church.
David Luecke says
Yes, all Catholic orders practice withdrawal. Benedict explains it most broadly and simply. Yes, our calling is to live counter-culturally. That starts at home with the family. What a challenge today. What a need for wisdom that we older ones don’t have.
Dean Joy says
I agree with much of what Dreier is saying, however the part about seperating ourselves maybe a bit problematic. If we separate to much, we are not being the light of Christ in the world. We do need to separate to nurtured and strengthen our faith, but then get back out in the world to be a light to the world. There needs to be an ebb and flow to how we live our faith so that we can transform the world. I believe this is what Jesus was attempting and teaching the disciples to do.
Ron Bostick says
The idea of remaining close in fellowship with other Christians I agree with.
However, not sure how the Great Commission plays into this philosophy.
I have not read this book, but I also am worried about whether it is possible to pass on the legacy of faith to generations in the future while living in our current culture. There is so much that we already must compromise. I have a spiritual self-preservation instinct for future generations that makes me want to withdraw from the way we currently do life. There are many examples, but here are a few to consider. As a parent I have done everything I know to promote God’s standards for purity before marriage. Yet in order to finish schooling and establish a vocation to provide for financial independence, we ask our young couples to wait 7 + years, and be into their twenties before marriage and intimacy. As a mom, I want my family to abstain from video games (some of which involve sensitization to fantasy killing) and iPhones, especially children. Yet I know another parent whose child with no iPhone has no means of communicating and making friends, now suffering from loneliness and depression. I see that these devices to self-entertain are, through distraction, keeping us from interacting with God in prayer and relating to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Not to mention the unlimited access to media that works against our every taught Biblical precept, and the danger of predators it literally puts into the hands of our children. The pandemic has made this even more pronounced. I don’t know what the answer is. I have been shunned by fundamentalist homeschoolers and I don’t think I would be accepted in the Amish community. But I want to do my part to save my own children’s children, and also future generations. Lord, what’s your plan?
jeanne menich says
Interestingly enough, i agree with Dreher. Christianity has become very watered down, especially in America and if we do not stop this watering down of Christian values, the church will no longer live up to the values it has espoused for centuries. With things like Critical Race Theory rising its ugly head in our churches, we need to be very careful where we stand. Racism is slowly becoming a religion all of its own. It does not espouse true Christian values, with one of those being,
the value of all races and all people. Christ died for all of mankind, not just a valued few. Christianity either is the truth or it isn’t and there are many forces out there today that are trying to say Christians should not exist. If the Christian church is to survive, it has to survive as an entity of truth. Christ did not say he was the “way, the truth, and the life” as empty words of a platitude. They were words to live by. Words that describe who we worship and words that are the bottom line of Christian believers. Ergo, Dreher is correct. We cannot be separate entities and survive the onslaught that is coming our way.
One way of asking the question is by contrasting 2 New Testament phrases: “ 1)Come out from among them”, and 2) Go ye therefore, into…., How can come out from if you never went into?! Add to this that “the gospel…. is the power of God to everyone who believes” and I must conclude that a total monasticism ( I haven’t read the book to say that this a his position) preempts a major source of Gods redemptive plan, the preaching of the gospel so…. a counter- cultural hidden and community life in Christ? Absolutely! Failure to preach the gospel ( which the church in the west is guilty of ) absolutely not !