Friday, 24 March 2017

The Benedict Option

What began as a 2013 article in The American Conservative – and which attracted a lot of attention then and since – has now become a book, recently published: Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017).

I have a copy on order, but so great is the amount and volume of engagement with it and reviews of it – an indication of its significance – that I almost feel as if I’ve read it already!

It’s written from a North American perspective, which means that some adjustments will need to be made for other ‘post-Christian’ contexts. Still, in his own situation, Dreher suggests that American Christians should look back to the sixth-century monastic order of Benedict of Nursia for a model to help us survive life in a post-Christian society. Calling on us to prepare ourselves for darker times ahead, and warning us about the possibility of seeing the effective death of Christianity in western civilisation, Dreher offers a ‘strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church to embrace “exile in place” and form a vibrant counterculture’.

There are many early reviews of the book, including by Collin Hansen (here), Trevin Wax (here), Hugh Whelchel (here), Christopher Smith (here), Scott Aniol (here), Byron Borger (here), Jake Meador (here), Dan Edelin (here), Wyatt Graham (here), and the start of a series of posts by Douglas Wilson (here, here, and here).

Christianity Today asked four evangelical thinkers (Hannah Anderson, David Fitch, John Inazu, and Karen Ellis) to reflect on it, with a response from Dreher himself.

There’s a conversation here between David Kern and Rod Dreher.

In a review (here) James K.A. Smith couples it with other books which advocate what he calls ‘the new alarmism’. Dreher responds to Smith (here), in a piece in The American Conservative (where Dreher is a senior editor).

In another article, ‘The Benedict Option or the Augustinian Call?’, James K.A. Smith advocates Augustine’s eschatological caution in a call not to ‘live ahead of time’.

‘The Augustinian counsel of stability is an admonishment to stay in the mix of things, among those in error – to inhabit our callings in what Augustine called the permixtum of the saeculum, the mixed-up-ness of the time between the cross and kingdom come’. This provides a flavour of Smith’s own forthcoming volume on political theology in which he’ll argue for a hope that ‘we’ll answer an Augustinian call: centring ourselves in the life-giving practices of the body of Christ, but from there leaning out boldly and hopefully into the world for sake of our neighbors’.

Dustin Messer (‘Smith, Dreher, and the Prophet Daniel’) thinks Smith’s review is uncharitable, and yet does have concerns ‘that the BenOp may be used by believers as an excuse to evade the call to bring all spheres of life under the good rule of King Jesus’. With Chris Wright, he sees Daniel holding together two realities: ‘serving the city while rebuking the city’.

Takimg the metaphor of the body of Christ, Alan Jacobs (‘The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange’) writes about a way of exchange as a principle where ‘Christian parents who teach their children at home should be grateful that other Christian parents are helping their children to bear witness in public schools’, that we should ‘learn from, and be enriched by, one another’s experiences’, which ‘can only happen... if each member assumes the integrity of the others’.

All of the above is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and it will be interesting to see how the discussion continues to unfold.


Anonymous said...

My favourite review article was this one:

Antony said...

Thanks – that’s a great and enjoyable piece, which had completely passed me by!