Why You Should Read The Benedict Option

Ship

Rod Dreher is not an academic.  He has no Ph.D. and does not teach at a university.  Yet, he is able to take complex concepts of philosophy, sociology, history, etc. and explain them in ways that most people can grasp.  He is also not a priest, pastor, or leader of a parachurch organization.  Yet he writes and speaks as a layman with true spiritual depth.  He shares his own struggles, faith, faults, and victories with a transparency and sincerity that we can resonate with.  You would actually like to sit down with him and talk about life.  And this is one of the great things about The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, it is not coming from an academic or denominational leader:  it is coming from the ground up.  And for the Benedict Option to work, that is exactly what is needed to get it going.

Of course, the success of the Benedict Option is also due to its timing.  Though Rod alluded to the Benedict Option ten years ago in his book Crunchy Cons, I don’t know if most Christians would have been ready.  Anyone who read Lesslie Newbingin 40 years ago, or Missional Church almost 20 years go will know the diagnosis of the decline of Christianity in the United States, but during these ten years since Rod mentioned the need for a new Benedict, so much has happened.  The Millennial generation has shifted to the left on social norms and politics, marginal issues like same-sex marriage and transgender rights have become new norms, businesses have become arbiters of family values, sports is a tool for cultural enforcement, and what was once considered out-of-control political correctness on our campuses is now ubiquitous.  I don’t need an academic to explain it to me, I see it everyday.

But there are other forces at work too. Technology like the internet and cell phones have brought us amazing amounts of information, but the ability to literally spend our whole lives on pointless trivia.  The “authentic self” that philosopher Charles Taylor wrote of in his masterpiece The Secular Age, reached its apogee in Caitlyn and Bruce Jenner.  Bruce Jenner, a Cold War hero to us in Generation X, became a cause celeb to Generation Z as Caitlyn Jenner.  Transpose that Wheaties picture of Bruce in 1976, winner of the Olympic decathlon and “world’s greatest athlete” with Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, and you see trajectory of where we are headed as a nation.

As Christians we did not want to believe the academics.  Developing as a nation under the canopy of our country as a “city on a hill” from John Winthrop’s sermon A Model of Christian Charity, we always told ourselves we could “go back” to ideal times.  Revivals did help, and many truly believed that with the right focus on the right segments of society, we could still transform the culture.   But we finally find ourselves “strangers in a strange land” to steal a line from Robert Heinlein.  Continue reading

Advertisements

An Age of Authenticity

One of the interesting terms that Taylor uses in his work A Secular Age is “An Age of Authenticity.”  He asserts that we live in an age where we “authenticate” ourselves in order to find meaning.  This age began around 1960 and follows two other ages:  the Ancient Regime, and the Age of Mobilization.  In order to explain how these three ages fit together I want to first look at the Ancient Regime.

Taylor starts by explaining how the Ancient Regime is a mix of Christian and pagan practice based on local communities where everyone has their place, and life moves in tune with an “order of hierarchical complementarity, which is grounded in the Divine Will, or the Law which holds since time out of mind.”  Its just the way things are.

To see a living fossil of the ancient regime, we can look at the enthronement of the British sovereign.  Because Queen Elizabeth has ruled for so long, many people do not remember her coronation in 1953.  But most of it was recorded, and can be seen as an example of Christendom combining the church and state.  You can watch a 4 minute clip here, where you can see a Christian drama enacted.  In great majesty and pomp we see the queen don a “robe of righteousness”, vow to uphold justice and mercy, and act as lord of a realm that ultimately belongs to Christ.  Lords and ladies in their finest crowns and diadems fill the cathedral,like hosts of angles, while higher lords attend to her like seraphim around the mercy-seat of God.  Though not included in this short clip, she also promises to uphold and defend the Gospel and the Protestant form of Christianity, and kiss a Bible before she signs her name to these promises.  This is Christendom in a high and stylized form. As Christians we can connect with this ceremony in a way we do not with a “non-religious” government. Yet it is also the same church that persecuted Catholics, jailed John Bunyan, and vilified the Wesleys.  The royal family brings in tourist dollars, looks great at state funerals, weddings, and diplomatic visits from other countries, but we are not going back to Tudor or Elizabethan England.  It’s over.  How it changed and why we moved to the next phase in Taylor’s theory , the Age of Mobilization (1800-1960), will be coming in a subsequent post.

Till then, I hope you will be thinking what did we lose in losing Christendom and what did we gain?

A Secular Age

51MC80cCciL._UY250_

I first came across James K. A. Smith’s book, How Not to be Secular, about Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age in the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2015.  The title looked interesting but I did not have time to order it.  Then this past December I ordered it and started reading.  I couldn’t put it down.  This was partly due to the fact that some parts of this book need to be read several times to be understood.  Smith wrote his book explaining Taylor’s book partly because A Secular Age comes just shy of 800 pages.  Neither books are what I would call an easy read.  But I was hooked.

I have been hearing about “post-Christian” American since the 80’s with some of Francis Schaeffer’s works.  But I had not found anything that really explained it in a broad sense with terms and themes that could help me get a handle on the concepts involved.  But Smith’s book really opened a window up for me to explore Taylor.

There is no way to explain all about Taylor’s work in one post.  However, I hope to explore several of his themes over several posts.  Some themes may even need to be broken down into multiple posts.  But as the title of his book suggests, Taylor is interested in breaking down what it means to live in a secular age.  For Taylor, this is ultimately to live in an age when it is conceivable to not believe in God.  Of course there is a lot more to his work than just this one concept, but this is an important concept to grasp.  He is not saying that a huge majority of people do not believe in God, but that it is now possible for this to happen.  So, how did we get from Christendom to where we are now?  That history is what the book chronicles, and I hope to reflect on this over time in several posts.  I think that Taylor’s work is important not just so we can understand how we got here, but also so that we can use a common language as campus ministers, pastors, collegiate leaders, and students as we explain our position to nonbelievers on our campus, and process what is going on in society around us.  I hope these posts will peak your interest and get you to dig deeper with Smith’s book or Taylor’s original work.  Keep checking in for this continuing discussion.