The Vanishing American Adult

Ben Sasse bookSenator Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult is part blueprint to reverse the juvenalization of American society and part autobiography.  Drawing upon authors such as Christian Smith, (see here for more on emerging adulthood), Jeffrey Arnett, and his own experience as a college president, Sasse explores the problems of emerging adults, and how to help them become more self-reliant.  His case is laid out in in several chapters entitled:  Flee Age Segregation, Embrace Work Pain, Travel to See, Consume Less, and Build a Bookshelf.

While not a book about evangelism, church planting, or collegiate ministry, Senator Sasse’s book still touches on a huge problem facing the church:  a rapidly growing illiterate American society which does not understand civic virtue, hard work, and the gift of liberty.  Drawing on research Senator Sasse points out numerous troubling points:

  • Declining readership
  • Safe spaces at colleges to avoid troubling topics
  • Lack of understanding on the make up of government
  • Increase in the time spent on social media
  • Mass consumerism
  • A schooled elite with no work experience

According to Sasse, who has a Ph.D. in history, the United States has abandoned its traditional notions of close family ties in both church, education, and work, to more and more age-segregated groups.  This segregation coupled with a secularized public education system and a 24-7 internet black hole is leaving Millennials and Generation Z to fend for themselves with terrible results.

One of the ways to turn this situation around, according to Sasse, is to integrate children back into the family.  This means families taking more control of the education of their children, while also including them in adult society.  This will be a slow process.  It will require families to make huge investments in changing lifestyles.  The ubiquitous internet and first cousin consumerism must first be tackled by parents so as to model it to their children.  We have to ponder, how much are parents willing to change.

Quoting Mark Twain that “I never let school get in the way of my education”, Sasse makes a plea for adults to bring their kids more and more into their world to see what adult work is like.  Rather than shield children from work and its reality, we need to be helping them navigate those waters earlier.  This means supplementing their educations in highly important but non-school ways such as travel, working with their hands, responsibility taken earlier rather than later, and wrestling with the ideas of great books.

So why should pastors, youth ministers, parents, and collegiate ministers read Sasse’s book?  Because the work we have to do as Christians is not only evangelism and church planting.  To help foster a functioning society, we are going to have to educate, and mature, a society that is deeply broken in its spirituality, character, and thinking.  As quoted by Rod Dreher in his book, The Benedict Option, professor Michael Hamby states: “Education has to be at the core of Christian survival—as it always was.”  According to Hamby, there must be a quest for what is true and beautiful.  The church must be concerned with guiding the next generation on such a quest.

In some ways this book is too late for college students (though anyone can start wrestling with its ideas).  It fits best to teach families and the church how to begin thinking about systematic reform for young adults before they get to college.  And for those who are passionate about future college students, I would argue that it is up to collegiate workers to help address the challenge of this book.

Here are a few suggestions to use this book:

  • Create your own list of 60 great books and start reading them
  • Find out what your students are reading and see where they need help filling in the cracks
  • Create summer reading lists for college students
  • Create a theology of work and teach it early
  • Share the importance of an understanding of global Christianity
  • Include this book as a resource for church leaders who are preparing youth before they get to college
  • Use it as a reference for parents who are asking about preparing their children for college
  • Refer it to pastors in your personal circle of friends or colleagues

Finally, if you are interested in creating a look list, don’t’ just skip to the back and see what Senator Sasse put on his list of 60 books.  Instead, take some time and struggle to come up with your own list.  But don’t stop there.  Set up a shelf, put your books on it and invite your family, church, or collegiate group to start reading.

To hear Rod Dreher on the importance of education click here

 

 

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The Benedict Option Part 2

Here is the second part of my interview with Rod Dreher on his book The Benedict Option.  In this second part, we talk about what the Benedict Option might look like on a college campus, and what Christians face in the modern academy.

For part two of the No Campus Left Podcast click here

For my review of his book click here

The Benedict Option Part 1

I had the pleasure recently to interview Rod Dreher about The Benedict Option.  In Part 1 we talk about some general concepts that Rod is trying to get across to his readers.  We cover the background of St. Benedict, practical application of some aspects of the Rule of St. Benedict, liquid modernity, and why Rod decided now was the right time to write the book.  This interview was for the No Campus Left podcast.  Part 2, which will focus more on how the Benedict Option affect the campus, will come out soon.

Click here for the link.

For my review of The Benedict Option click here

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

Dealing with the new Dark Age: The Benedict Option.

benedict-optionIf you are not familiar with Rod Dreher or his writing, you may not know what the Benedict Option (a.k.a the Ben Op) is.  Rod’s book will be out on March 14th so you do not have long to find out if you want to read it.  In the meantime he has written numerous posts at the American Conservative.  Perhaps his fullest sketch of the Ben Op was at Southern Seminary during the school’s Gheens lectures.  To see his first lecture on The New Dark Age click here.

However, if you don’t have time to listen, I will try to outline a few basics about Rod’s thesis.

  1.  The west is going through a new Dark Ages which will bring challenges to the American church.  This new Dark Ages will last a long time. There will not be a quick fix and it will most likely bring different forms of marginalization and economic persecution to the Church.
  2. The goal of Christians during the this Dark Age should be less about propping up American Imperium and more about building an Ark to survive the flood waters that are going to sweep over the country.
  3. In order to reemerge at some distant point with the Gospel, the Church will have to spend more time educating and disciplining its members in a new more Christ-centered community.  These communities will need to be somewhat removed from culture, but not removed geographically.
  4. All orthodox Christians, whether Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox, will need to find common cause, while drawing upon strength in their own traditions to build these communities.
  5. It’s called the Benedict Option after St. Benedict who founded a monastic order at the end of Roman empire.  This order over the next few centuries protected and nurtured the Gospel during the Dark Ages for the West at a later date.

This is the Benedict option in a nutshell.   Continue reading

The Benedict Option comes to Southern Seminary

I have been looking forward to reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for almost a year now.  Though the book is set to come out in March, Rod laid out a large part of the book in several talks given at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this week.  If you know nothing about Rod, or his thesis to be laid out in his book, these talks will help you get the big picture.  If you want to preorder the book, you will get a copy on March 14th or so.  If you don’t know what this is about, here is an excerpt from the Amazon blurb:

In a radical new vision for the future of Christianity, NYT bestselling author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life. 

The link is down now while the talks are being edited.  When they are edited, I will post the link again.

 

There is so much here to process.  Hope you listen, read, and talk to someone about it.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

benedict-optionWith the rapid realization by Christians that American culture is more like an adversary than an ally, church leaders, writers, pastors, and lay people within orthodox Christianity have begun to ask where does the American church go from here.  Though some like Russel Moore are more optimistic about “keeping Christianity strange”, others are more skeptical about the church’s days ahead.  One of those who remains skeptical is lay person, writer, and blogger Rod Dreher.  Known for his blog at The American Conservative, and his book How Dante Saved Can Save Your Life, Mr. Dreher believes that the church will face a continuing hostile culture which will force her to entrench for decades to survive the coming battle.  He takes the title for his book, as well as the concept for the church’s health, from St. Benedict of Nursia (480 AD-547 AD). In creating a rule to help the Church, Benedict also set in motion systems that would create institutions to preserve Western civilization during the coming Dark Ages. Thus the title of the book:  Mr. Dreher sees a coming Dark Age for the American church.

According to Mr. Dreher, he is not advocating “running to the hills to hide,” but a focus on ingraining a Christ-centered mentality in the church.  To do this, he contends that there must be some withdrawal from mainstream culture which is quickly moving away, if not against, the Church.  By withdrawing, yet being a faith presence within culture, he contends that the Church will reemerge at some future time to lead the culture back to Christ.  He is talking  a long view of the cycles of Christianity.  I personally think he is on to something that we Christians need to really ponder.

In a year when many evangelicals seemed to think that a Trump presidency would roll back the hands of the cultural clock, The Benedict Option will be an interesting, and perhaps, needed tonic to purge an overly confident evangelical church. Though I respect Mr. Dreher and appreciate his writings, I don’t know if I will agree with everything that he will say in  his book.  But I  do know that it will be one of the books that every serious-thinking Christian should be familiar with going forward.  I have already pre-ordered my copy.

 

The Benedict Option is due to be out March 14, 2017.