Calling It Like It Is
This is a great read. Rod Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox Christian and former Roman Catholic, says much that will resonate with the believer. He rightly analyzes the nature of “Christian” approaches to our culture and the dramatic shift in the last 10 years. In short, he says what we’ve all painfully realized: America is officially a post-Christian nation.
Most of his criticisms hit the mark. Speaking of how the church has failed to stand apart from culture, he says,
We seemed content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be Christian.
He rightly asserts that
American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.
He calls for the question without mincing words: “In the end, either Christ is at the center of our lives, or the Self and all of its idolatries are.” Amen!
Given that we live in a post Christian culture, Dreher’s thesis is that we need a strategic withdrawal from culture, modeled on the Benedictine monastic worldview and lifestyle. This isn’t necessarily a literal withdrawal, but rather a worldview shift.
He applies the Benedictine model of total abandonment to the will of God in vows of obedience, fidelity to the community, and changed living to politics, church life, Christian subculture, education, vocation, sex, and technology.
His thoughts on politics, education, and technology are worth serious consideration for all followers of Jesus. For example, on the church he says, “American Christians have a bad habit of treating church like a consumer experience.” He rightly criticizes the spiritual bankruptcy of this approach.
On politics he concludes, “Christians have to keep clearly before us the fact that conventional American politics cannot fix what is wrong with our society and culture.” For far too long we have looked to Washington for solutions that can only be solved by Jerusalem.
His assessment of education will likely be the most challenging for many:
Those who try holding on to pedagogical forms—public, private, and parochial—that can no longer shape the hearts and minds of the next generations in an authentically Christian way risk damaging their kids by leaving them morally and spiritually vulnerable.
Whether you agree with him or not, we must give serious thought to the forming influence of education on our children’s character, not just math and reading.
We’re Not Saying the Same Thing
As much as I found myself agreeing with so many of Dreher’s observations and conclusions, I also realized his work is missing something. Something big. He makes no reference to the transformative power of the gospel.
The gospel-less culture of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church cultures has left Dreher longing for a gospel transformed community without the power of the gospel. Indeed, this is also the flaw with the Benedictine worldview: we cannot create a Christian culture, only the Spirit of God bringing sinners to repentance and faith creates Christian culture. Will power is no substitute for the gospel that is the power of God for salvation.
The only reference to conversion in his book is negative. He criticizes “Evangelicalism” because it “has historically been focused not on institution building but on revivalism, making it inherently unstable.” This statement, perhaps more than any other, reveals my problem with The Benedict Option.
No amount of cultural isolation, home schooling, and tech-free space can change the heart of a sinful human being. We’re not building an institution— Jesus is, and it’s his church, full of personal revival stories of sinners who came to saving faith.
Dreher assumes that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants are small “o” orthodox Christians. I presume by this he means that we all believe God exists, that the Bible is his Word, and that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. But demons believe that much.
Our hopes are rooted in very difference sources. The hope for sinners in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is rooted in the church itself and an individual’s ability to do good works, not faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone that produces good works.
Is the Answer Community, or a Gospel Transformed Community?
In the end, I share Dreher’s analysis of our cultural situation, but I would propose a different solution. Rather than take the burden on ourselves to create a culture that will endure the culture’s attacks, let us entrust ourselves to the life giving God of the Scriptures who gives spiritual life to those dead in their sins.
The community Dreher is suggesting we build is already in existence in gospel preaching churches. We may need to take some of his advice, but we must be careful to do so with an emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ good news is our hope, no matter what culture does to us.