BreakPoint: Exploring the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher’s Much-Needed Conversation Starter

Perhaps you’ve been hearing about this new book, “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher, and wondered, “What’s that?” Let’s talk about it.

A new book by blogger Rod Dreher, “The Benedict Option,” has already been debated, discussed, and by some, dismissed and denounced before it was even released—or read. Well, now it’s out, and it’s worthy of a thoughtful discussion, particularly about what Rod calls “a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity.”

The Benedict Option name comes from the last page of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1981 book “After Virtue.” As Dreher recently explained, “MacIntyre said the time is coming when men and women of virtue will understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who want to live a life of traditional virtue. These people would find new ways to live in community, he said, just as St. Benedict, the sixth-century father of Western monasticism, responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order.”

Now as the quote suggests, Dreher’s book makes two key points: first, we’ve arrived at a moment where “full participation in mainstream society” is no longer compatible with living lives of traditional Christian virtue; and therefore, second, the time has come to find new ways of living as Christians.

Now, Dreher’s description of the cultural moment we’re living in will sound familiar to any BreakPoint listener.

For instance, anyone who doubts that American Christians are less free to practice their faith in the public square simply hasn’t been paying attention. I wouldn’t call it persecution, but I wouldn’t call it freedom, either.

And he’s spot-on when he says that “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a term from Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, is the real faith of too many young Christians these days. He’s equally correct to note that this shallow worldview will not withstand the cultural pressures that Christians face.

And that’s perhaps the most important contribution “The Benedict Option” makes: taking seriously the powerful ability of culture to shape our hearts and minds. Culture is a catechizing force, but too many of us are like the fish who don’t know they are wet.

And so, Rod says, Christianity needs to be characterized by “thick ties,” to fellow Christians and institutions, and especially to our churches.

This “thickening” may take the form of physical communities, but most of the time it won’t. And yet still, “the church can’t just be the place you go on Sundays—it must become the center of your life.”

This may sound obvious, but it is, in my opinion, the second important contribution “The Benedict Option” makes. For too many Christians, churches are “a consumer experience,” instead of institutions that shape both who and whose we are. Christian discipleship must become more than merely instructive. It must become formative.

Of course, the controversial aspect of the Benedict Option is Dreher’s call for “a strategic withdrawal.” To many, understandably, this sounds way too much like post-Scopes fundamentalism that abandoned the public square to non-Christians.

Dreher insists that it doesn’t mean the same thing, and I hope not. Because escape is never an option for Christians. We should never retreat into our institutions because we’re seeking safety. We should, however, strengthen them out of loyalty to each other and to the true, the good and beautiful, preserving the best of Christian culture so that we can—at some point—gift it back to the world in acts of grace.

Now whether you agree or disagree with the Benedict option, I am thankful that Dreher’s book is igniting a long-overdue conversation about what it means to live in a post-Christian context.

In fact, we’ve started a conversation on Rod’s book with a dozen or so leading Christian thinkers via an online symposium at BreakPoint.org. Please come to BreakPoint.org to see what they have to say about “The Benedict Option.”

 

Further Reading and Information

Exploring the Benedict Option: Rod Dreher’s Much-Needed Conversation Starter

Read opinions about Dreher’s book “The Benedict Option” from a number of Christian thinkers  at the BreakPoint.org symposium site, here. And then get a copy of the book for yourself–it’s available at the online bookstore.

Find a BreakPoint radio station in your area–Click here.

Resources

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
  • Rod Dreher
  • Sentinel Publishers
  • March 2017

Available at the online bookstore

"The Benedict Option" symposium
  • various
  • BreakPoint.org
  • March 17, 2017

  • Marion Stade

    I yearn for the sort of church you write of here.

  • John Shepherd

    One thing I haven’t heard mentioned in response to BenOP critics (especially evangelicals) is to point out that evangelical foreign missions work has been conducted and modeled on something that could easily be considered a form of BenOP model itself. Western missionaries all go to a foreign (and often hostile!) place and as a matter of expediency and often even survival, they form into “compounds” to live together. Are they doing that to “escape” from the hostile culture around them? Of course not! They went there specifically to reach out to that people group! But in order to be effective in that work and to be able to withstand the pressures, etc. they found it highly beneficial (even necessary) to live in a “thick” community of fellow believers.

    I think there may be two reasons why I haven’t heard this mentioned yet:
    1) Most critics of BenOP are unfamiliar with the history and methodology of evangelical foreign missions. (Rod Dreher​ himself may be unfamiliar with the concept as he comes from the Catholic and Orthodox tradition.)
    2) Most critics of BenOp are loath to accept one of its root tenets; that the American culture (i.e. my own neighborhood) that looks so familiar and “safe” could be as dangerous and “hostile” as any place in Africa or New Guinea.

  • O Keith Hueftle

    As a companion piece to “The Benedict Option”—and a corrective—you might look at “The HESED-Factor and the Parables of Jesus”, just now in print and available at Vineyard Bookstore in Evansville, Indiana.

    As I heard Rod Dreyer interviewed by Raymond Arroyo on EWTN; and then reading the reviews on BreakPoint, I was thinking the whole time: these two books ought to go together.

    (The fact that I’m author of The HESED-Factor gives me an obvious “in” which I hope you’ll forgive.)

    Book is available at Vineyard: 812-479-8777.
    (See cover blurb, below.)

    O Keith Hueftle
    ————————————
    A Navy SEAL stumbled on it in a tragic assignment in Afghanistan.
    A Cincinnati rabbi unearthed its rich ore in his doctoral thesis.
    A Pope tapped into it with his own Spanish twist on it. What is it?

    the hesed factor…

    “Leads the reader on a treasure hunt or archeological dig… to discover Hesed as the missing link between Old and New Testaments—the Rosetta Stone to own our Hebrew roots.”
    Gordon Dalbey, speaker at men’s conferences and author of best-seller, Healing the Masculine Soul.

    “You certainly have me engaged! The two styles of Covenant, and the “costs” involved in engaging in covenant is very insightful [for] our individualistic society.”
    Rev. Victor Clore, STL, PHD, Catholic priest in Detroit; adjunct professor at two local universities; on staff of Dominican Center for Religious Development.

    “Traces the footprints of grace from the practice of hospitality in the Old Testament straight into the parables of Jesus. His original exploration of the single Hebrew word, ‘hesed’ (grace) enriches the parables and deepens the spiritual continuity of the two covenants.”
    David McFadzean, partner, Wind Dancer Films,”Home Improvement” and faith/family film productions.

  • Larry Sparks

    Christians can not afford to retreat from society, Christians must be involved and continue to be a light to the world and evangelize whenever possible. This has been the modus operandi for the last 21 centuries, as we are called to go out make disciples.