The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher is an important book. It serves as a prophetic wake up call to the church, challenging us to take a fresh look at what is happening around us:
- We must “make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.”
- “The spiritual crisis overtaking the West is the most serious since the fall of the Roman Empire near the end of the fifth century. The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West.”
- “If believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, their faith will not survive for another generation or two in this culture of death.”
- “Too many of our churches function as secular entertainment centers with religious morals slapped on top, when they should be functioning as the living, breathing Body of Christ.”
Dreher makes three important points:
- We are in very serious trouble. Dehrer traces the secularization of the West back seven centuries. The last few years, for example, have brought immense pressure on those who hold traditional biblical values. He rightly points out that Christians may soon find certain careers closed to them. I have seen this first hand at our church as several teachers, social workers, and New York City employees have shared with me about the increased pressure they are now under.
- We must get serious about discipleship. One of the strongest parts of the book is the call to “integrate deep prayer and substantial spiritual training into our churches.” Why? So we can truly bring Christ to the world. Repeatedly, he notes the superficiality of how we are doing spiritual formation today, and that we cannot give the world what we do not possess. His emphasis on asceticism, fasting, and classic spiritual practices such as those found in The Rule of St. Benedict is refreshing.
- We must build robust communities. It takes a structured support system of relationships to build mature Christians in the world we live in. “The church can’t just be a place you go on Sundays,” Dreher writes, “it must be the center of your life.” He rightly notes how much we can learn from Orthodox Jews and the way they order their lives around their communities.
At the same time, The Benedict Option has a number of weaknesses.
The voice and perspective of the African-American church is ignored. Dreher forgets they are not grieving the loss of cultural power, and thinking about withdrawal; they never enjoyed much power to begin with, having always existed on the margins.
In addition, the Scriptures call us clearly to go out into the world as the salt of the earth, not move into insulated communities. God didn’t tell the exiles in Babylon to withdraw, but to seek the welfare of the city to which God had sent them (Jeremiah 29). See this helpful book review by James A.K. Smith.
And finally, while the White, middle class church in America is in decline, ethnic churches are growing. Add to this the explosive church growth in Asia, Latin America and Africa, and we get a fuller perspective of God’s larger work in the world.
I strongly encourage you to read, slowly and prayerfully, The Benedict Option. You won’t agree with everything, but you will be challenged to fall to your knees as I did and ask, “Lord, what might You be saying to me through these pages and what might be one or two personal or leadership adjustments that You are inviting me to make today?
P.S. The Emotionally Healthy Relationships Course is an important piece of our EH Discipleship Pathway. I invite you to join me on June 29th for a three-hour, Live Training on how to lead this Course in your church. Click on the graphic below for more information.