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

What Season is the American church in today?

FallWe often hear about a post-Christian America and what that means for the church today.  I think we can get bogged down in definitions, and at times even struggle for a way to explain it.  Sometimes a graphic or image can help make things more clear.  For describing the situation, I really like what Tim Keller says in his book  Center Church.  In that book he uses the concepts of seasons to explain where we are today.  Here are the seasons and what they mean in the relationship of culture and church.

Winter describes a church that is not only in a hostile relationship to a pre-Christian culture but is gaining little traction; is seeing little distinctive, vital Christian life and community; and is seeing no evangelistic fruit.  In many cultures today, the church is embattled and spiritually weak.

Spring is a situation in which the church is embattled, even persecuted by a pre-Christian culture, but it is growing (e.g. as in China).

Summer is what Niebuhr described as an “allied church,” where the church is highly regarded by the public and where we find so many Christians in the center of cultural production that Christians feel at home in the culture.

Autumn is where we find ourselves in the West today, becoming increasingly marginalized in a post-Christian culture and looking for new ways to both strengthen our distinctiveness and reach out winsomely.

According to Keller we are in the Autumn period in the West, though various regions can be a different levels within a season, or perhaps in another season.  Keller’s point in the book is that we can use different methods of engagement depending on the season.  According to Keller it would seem the Relevance and Countercultural positions (the other two are Two Kingdoms and Transformationist) would be the best for an Autumn period.  Of course, one may have theological or other objections to these two positions.  Regardless of where one lands on what position to use, I think that Keller’s imagery is a good one, and a great starting place to think about how the church responds to a culture that is “increasingly marginalized.”