Discernment and “The Benedict Option”

Hearts & Minds Review: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

I recently posted a link to Christianity Today Online’s forum of responses to Dreher’s March cover article in Christianity Today, which put forward “strategic withdrawal” from culture as the way forward for American Christianity. The above link is another thoughtful response, this time with respect to Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option, on which his article is presumably based. (The author of the review, Byron Borger, is also the owner of a lovely bookstore called Hearts & Minds, from which I order all of my theology/faith/culture-oriented books, and it is largely due to their columns and newsletters that I hear of many of these books in the first place.) The review is long, so I will briefly sum it up here. I do encourage you to read the whole thing, regardless of your interest in Dreher’s book, because it is really a great reflection on the church’s role in the world, and it includes many great recommendations for other books about the various topics touched on in the review.

Borger discusses six main points about Dreher’s book:

  1. The book clearly reflects the influence of St. Benedict of Nursia, who formed spiritual communities in the period after the Roman Empire.
  2. The modern day call for a new kind of Benedict originates not with Dreher, but with Alasdair MacIntyre, in his After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theology, and Dreher’s concerns with the breakdowns in modern society acknowledge that they go much further back than any recent legislative or cultural movements, although perhaps Dreher does not go back quite far enough.
  3. Dreher is well-read and references many great authors, which gives the book a strong foundation for its critique of “modern progressive impulses.”
  4. Dreher’s earlier book, Crunchy Cons, sought to critique conservatism from within, drawing on the likes of Wendell Berry to advocate for more local, more green, more other-oriented conservatism. The Benedict Option also quotes Berry, but Dreher is selective, emphasizing Berry’s views on materialism, family stability, traditional sexual ethics, and conservation, but drawing no attention to his critiques of nationalism, violence, etc.
  5. The book may not be adequately clear on how bad things are or how much Dreher thinks we need to retreat; Dreher has responded to published criticism by clarifying that “he does not counsel a full resistance or a complete withdrawal.”
  6. There is much you may be ambivalent about in the book–he probably overstates what we should be alarmed about and how alarmed we should be.
  7. There is much to wisely consider in the book–worship and the church, prayer and community, spiritual practices that cultivate the interior life, all of these are deeply important, formative, and may indeed be increasingly important as the civilization around us becomes increasingly disconnected from “Christian-inspired” principles.

Borger ends the review with a lovely apologia for a resurrection-oriented, culture-shaping role for the church, from which these few quotes are drawn:

There is little doubt that Dreher is right that many churches these days don’t really help us live into the sort of holiness to which we are called.

But the same Bible also holds out a vision of the renewal of all things. Everything.   The Bible tells us to go into the world; it just does. There is no escaping the missional call to serve our neighbors, the public sphere, working “in but not of” the society around us…

Work, family, politics, art, learning — it’s all gift, it’s all service, even in … a state of exile. Our church liturgy anticipates the final restoration of things…. As such, good liturgy … is hopeful. We hear good news each week and practice ways of embodying such hope, even in exile.  I think Rod [Dreher] should worry less about Supreme Court rulings and listen better, week after week, to that great liturgical refrain:  He Is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed.

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Re-created

One of the blogs I follow is A Holy Experience (author Ann Voskamp, of One Thousand Gifts). Today, I read this journal post, in which she suggests to her husband that they leave the farm on which they live for a real vacation, and he quietly comes back with the suggestion that they go somewhere where they can serve rather than be served. At the end of the post, she muses on the beautiful ways in which God uses us, broken and insignificant though we are, to bring and become his kingdom.

And sure, we may all want anywhere other than suffering and ashes. But this is a dust-crushed world and Christ didn’t avoid it but chose to come to it. And the Farmer knows it. Why embrace dust and ashes? Because it’s out of dust and ashes, God grows the impossible.

Photo credit: Reigning Wanderer
reigningwanderer.blogspot.com

Because God exchanges dust and ashes for beauty and miracles and He cares so much that He doesn’t care that it’s not fair.

Because God raises whole people out of ashes and He writes mysterious grace in dust, and with Him, dust and spit and muddied things can still help us see.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Because though you are dust and will return to dust, though everything you know may be burnt to ashes, memory scattered to the wind — there is a God who can re-collect you, remake you, resurrect you and revive you with eternity.

When Lent & Valentine’s Collide 

I’m currently revising a review of Les Misérables (which will be posted here soon – hopefully next week). But Ann’s phrase “and with Him, dust and spit and muddied things can still help us see” is at the crux of my conclusions about the film – a muddied thing, how it can help us to truly see grace, to live it – to be new creations now.

Stay tuned.

art | redemption | hope

Check out this brief post on the Culture Making blog:

Good art in dark times | Culture Making.

In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.

This seems to support the thought that art should be redemptive, having “as dark a worldview as it wish[es]” but not forgoing hope in what God is doing and will do with and in humanity.  In spite of this fallen world, the current uncertainty and often apparently prevailing darkness, God is in the process of redeeming his people and the whole of creation.  Perhaps art should lift up not just what is human, but what is godly and therefore the hope of humanity, its potential – but this might just be that which appears “magical” and is certainly that which lives and glows.  After all, Christ is the light of the World, and his light shines through us as vessels.  There is great richness left in us because God has not abandoned us.  So let’s not give up hope.

(cf. Philip Ryken, Calvin Seerveld, and Jeremy Begbie)