The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, written by Rod Dreher, was published in 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group.
It is rather obvious that America has transitioned into a post-Christian nation. There are a few options of how Christians can handle this shift.
This is the entire premise of The Benedict Option. Modeled conceptually after the monastic community of St. Benedict, Dreher suggests that it is more important for Christians to maintain a distinct identity and ride out the storm. This is not a surrender, but it is an intentional decision to make sure that Christianity survives, and he believes the best way to do that is to internally reinforce Christian communities. “Recognizing the toxins of modern secularism, as well as the fragmentation caused by relativism, Benedict Option Christians look to Scripture and to Benedict’s Rule for ways to cultivate practices and communities” (18, Kindle Edition).
The obvious question you probably have relates to the practicality of such a project. After all, there seems to be less and less room in society for orthodox Christianity. Dreher fully recognizes that secular man has moved away from the conception that Christian doctrine matters at all. He quotes Brother Ignatius, a monk living in the Norcia monastic community in Italy who points out, “’The best defense is offense. You defend by attacking,’ Brother Ignatius said. ‘Let’s attack by expanding God’s kingdom—first in our hearts, then in our own families, and then in the world. Yes, you have to have borders, but our duty is not to let the borders stay there. We have to push outward, infinitely’” (73-74, Kindle Edition).
This makes the project seem much more achievable. We first need to get our own lives in order. Dreher is not suggesting that everyone becomes a monk by any means, but he is suggesting that we need to intentionally think about our lives and what we do. We need to make sure that our own lives are evidence of right priorities and submission to God’s order. Once we do that, then we grow to our families and beyond. While we are focusing on our families and our local communities, we build institutions. Specifically, our churches need to reclaim their historical role of standing out in the world for goodness. “As times get uglier, the church will become brighter and brighter, drawing people to its light” (117, Kindle Edition).
Once individual lives and churches are functioning appropriately, and often times working together across denominational lines whenever possible, Dreher believes that Christian education is necessary to counter the narrative of secular education in America. As the product of public education and a public university, I do not know that the situation is quite as bleak as Dreher suggests on this chapter, but I do take his point without a doubt that, “the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake has been slowly separated from the pursuit of virtue” (148, Kindle Edition). As I have studied in a Christian university for my MA as well as my current PhD, I will say that I feel like I receive a more complete education when the pursuit of virtue is intertwined with the pursuit of knowledge. Christian schools do that very well, and I certainly appreciate the point he makes.
Ultimately, Dreher summarizes The Benedict Option by characterizing both what it is and is not. “The Benedict Option is not a technique for reversing the losses, political and otherwise, that Christians have suffered. It is not a strategy for turning back the clock to an imagined golden age. Still less is it a plan for constructing communities of the pure, cut off from the real world. To the contrary, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life” (236, Kindle Edition).
This book is vitally important for Christians to consider. Historical Christianity has excelled when, even in hostile environments, Christians live like Christians. As at times become more difficult and it is harder to be a Christian in name only, those who stand for the name of Christ are going to need to return to Biblical truth. Not only that, but they need to build institutions to help the community and future generations carry on this great tradition. We are seeing an imminent flood, but if we start building the Ark right now, we will be able to survive the storm. Through the beauty of God reflected in the Christian life in the Christian community, we will help people searching for meaning amidst modernity and present an attractive alternative to so many bankrupt worldviews.