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The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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“The Trump era… has not made “The Benedict Option”…less timely, but more so….Conservative Christians active in politics have no choice but to do the best they can from that unsteady, wavering position. But only a robust counterculture, a healthy sense of their own freakishness and, yes, a few St. Benedicts will save them if they fall.”
—Ross Douthat, The New York Times
"The Benedict Option, is already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade."
—David Brooks, The New York Times
"I'm more missionary than monastery, but I think every Christian should read this book. Rod Dreher is brilliant, prophetic, and wise. Even if you don't agree with everything in this book, there are warnings here to heed, and habits here to practice.”
—Russell Moore, president, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
“A terrific book: provocative in its content, shrewd in its insights, vivid and engaging in its style. The strength of The Benedict Option is not just its analysis of our culture’s developing problems but its outline of practical ways Christians can survive and thrive in a dramatically different America. This is an invaluable tool for understanding our times and acting as faithful believers.”
—Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia
"This is the kind of book I am going to use to get the thoughtful people in my congregation reading and discussing. It is going to be helpful to the very people who have to live on the front line."
—Carl R. Trueman, Westminster [PA] Theological Seminary; writer for First Things
“An insightful and optimistic plan of action for Christians who are starting to realize just how hostile American culture is to their faith.”
—Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, senior editor, The Federalist
“Deeply convicting and motivating. This book will be a grounding force for the Church in the decades ahead.”
—Gabe Lyons, author of Good Faith; president of Q Ideas
About the Author
ROD DREHER is a senior editor at The American Conservative and the author of Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Little Way of Ruthie Leming.
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Top Customer Reviews
In his new book The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher argues that western civilization is in a period of stark decline, not unlike the fall of Rome in the days of the ancient monk for whom the book is named. And just as Benedict left the ruins of Rome to create a new community designed to keep the faith alive so that some day civilization could be rebuilt, Dreher argues that Christians need to strategically withdraw from our degraded culture to revitalize faith, family, and community.
Some reviewers have charged The Benedict Option with hysterical alarmism (and a little subtle racism to boot). Others, like Rachel Held Evans, dismissed the book as an example of the "White Christian Industrial Persecution Complex." After all, as Evans argued, Christians make up 75% of the population.
It is hard to imagine how these reviewers could have missed the point more badly. As Dreher points out in the opening chapter of the book, while most Americans identify as "Christians," only a minority believe anything that could be traditionally identified as Christianity. Instead, in actual practice most Americans subscribe to what sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton call "Moral Therapeutic Deism." It is "moral" in the sense that most people think we should be nice to each other. It is "therapeutic" because most people think that God just wants them to be happy. And it is "deism" because most people think God is essentially uninvolved with the world (unless they have a crisis and need divine help to be happy again). Adherents of this new religion don't mind "Christianity" so long as it doesn't interfere with the materialism, consumerism, and radical individualism so endemic to our culture.
Only those who have decided to accommodate to our culture would fail to see the hostility of the current age to Lordship of Jesus Christ and those who seek to follow Him. Indeed, almost at the same time Rachel Held Evans pontificated about a "Christian persecution complex," Princeton Theological Seminary retracted an honor it intended to give well-known author Tim Keller precisely because of his traditionalist position ("toxic theology" as one critic put it) on sexual ethics. Big government, big business, and big entertainment have all made it clear that they intend to bring as much pressure to bear as they can on anyone or any institution that dares to defy the social agenda of the LGBTQI movement. Those who chirp away about "alarmism" and a "persecution complex"remind me of Detective Frank Dreben in the old Police Squad movie telling a crowd, "Please disperse, there's nothing to see here," while a fireworks factory explodes in front of them!
But Dreher's concerns about the collapse of our culture extend far beyond sexual ethics. He sees a culture filled with rampant materialism and exploitive consumerism, but so distracted by technology it isn't even aware a problem exists. And such a culture, having lost its memory of the ancient truths about the deeper spiritual realities of the creation and its Creator, is on the verge of overwhelming the faulty levies of the vapid faith held by so many.
So his proposal is a "strategic withdrawal" from the world. Critics have distorted this into a full-fledged retreat at best, or escapism at worst. But that is not at all what Dreher has in mind. What he does intend is that those who truly want to follow Jesus must take this commitment seriously, and to take it seriously in all aspects of life: in politics, at church, in the home, in school, at work, and in the bedroom. This requires an intentional decision to think, live, and love differently than the world.
So for instance, families should set regular times of prayer and Bible reading. Politics should be about serving the local community. Churches should be about worship, not entertainment. Education should be about learning virtue (and ultimately, knowing God). Work should be a vocation, a stewardship of the talents and blessings of God for His glory. Sex should be celebrated in the context of marriage between a man and woman as a reflection of the intimacy and life-giving nature of God Himself. And technology should be a servant to these purposes, not a master of the world's purposes.
When we built our house, we asked for added insulation to keep the house cooler in the summer. We are "in Florida," but we did not want to be "of Florida"! The Benedict Option is a call for Christians to insulate themselves from the fever heat of a dying culture so that we can be ready to serve the culture with faith still intact. "If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world..." (p. 19).
Since Dreher comes from a Catholic/Orthodox background, some of the discussion of monasticism and high church liturgy was foreign to me. But I have been moved by this book to find ways to intentionally order all aspects of my life around the glory of God rather than the present evil age. It has made me think more rigorously about my private time before God, my work ethic in service of God, my relationship with my wife, and my commitment to love others. I strongly encourage you to read it and see how it challenges you to take your faith more seriously, as it has me.
This rich book is not what it sounds like--a call for Christians to become more Benedictine or more monastic or more Catholic--it is NOT this...rather, it is a call to Christians of all denominations here in the west to carefully consider ways of being in community as we proceed in a post-Christian world. It is to consider practical ways that the Benedictines have been successful, as well as how other forms of Christian community have been successful, and then to thoughtfully consider which aspects might help our particular Christian community to thrive.
It is written by an Eastern Orthodox Christian (not a Catholic, as some reviewers have reported) but it is a non-denominational book. It will appeal to serious (as in deeply committed) Christians of any denomination whatsoever.
It's a provocative book that covers a wealth of different areas for Christians to consider and to be intentional about, including technology, worship, education, and so much more. I have read several books that discuss the future of Christianity--many that have been outstanding--but none as provocative nor as practical as this one.
Highest recommendation possible.
There are aspects of the book with which I resonate. I believe that Dreher’s conclusion that Western civilization has reached a tipping point in the accelerating decline of Christianity is valid. I see that Dreher is calling for authentic Christian community, which is a clear emphasis of the New Testament that many Christians in America neglect. On the other hand, there are specific recommendations that I don’t endorse, such as withdrawing from public schools and forming our own educational institutions. In fact, in my view Dreher is trying to find that line between “in the world” and withdrawing from the world. I find many of his suggestions too isolationist. It was hard to see precisely what the Benedict option is, because the recommendations are a mosaic of related suggestions including not allowing pre-teens to have smart phones, preferring involvement in local politics over national politics, using liturgy in worship services, buying from Christian businesses, creating Christian schools based on the Trivium, and starting small-groups. When you stand back and look at the picture he is creating, it’s clear that Dreher advocates a close-knit counter-cultural community. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see the edges—is this isolation or engagement with the world? People may see what they want to in this projective test, and I saw retreat and further ghettoization of a Christian subculture. I’m sure many will disagree.
Finally, all authors have deeply rooted assumptions. Dreher assumes that a Christian civilization is a good thing, and that the decline of the cultural dominance of Christianity in the West is bad. I offer that many biblical authors did not have that. Jesus did not make any progress toward the Christianization of the Middle East. He made disciples, and they made disciples. Early Christianity grew in a hostile pagan culture, and when the Roman Empire became Christendom under Constantine, some would argue that this opened the door to the corruption of the church and a perversion of the organic, relational, Christian fellowship that had previously been predominantly underground. I’d call that stance a protestant evangelical dispensational view, with which I would not expect Dreher to agree. It would take a book-length treatment of the subject to respond fairly to The Benedict Option. Fortunately, the book appears to be getting enough attention that I’m certain the debate (discussion?) has been sparked.