When an Evangelical Christian book makes The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic in the same month every Pastor should know what that book is about and what people are saying about.
As we keep putting the focus on books GHC pastors should be reading, this month’s featured book is The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher.
Quickly his deep concerns are on the table. His introduction rings the alarm bell loudly when he writes, “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization.” That’s a loud ring of a doomsday bell.
I can understand his concern and statistics and trends give credence to his concern. But I think Dreher then states his frame of reference, his worldview that I think skews the book from being a helpful idea to possibly a too biased agenda. On page 3 he writes, “the culture war that began with the Sexual Revolution in the 1960’s has now ended in defeat for Christian conservatives.”
Ouch. Really? The crazy 60’s defeated Christian conservatives? That defeat leads to the demise of Christianity in our civilization??
Of course many have written into the dilemma of a changing culture and a declining Church attendance and a lessening respect for Christian belief’s and values. Think Reinhold Niebuhr, think Walter Rauschenbusch, think Dietrich Bonhoeffer, think Rowan Williams, think Francis Schaeffer, think Oz Guinness, James Davidson Hunter – and you can probably add another ten names to this list. Yet none of these outstanding theologians have spoken so despairingly of Christianity’s fate – and none of them have suggested the solution Dreher does.
Either Dreher has found something they missed; or for the others maybe Christianity was bigger than the Christianity Dreher sees. Maybe their Christianity is big enough to believe in what we term ‘the agency of God’. God is active in the world apart from the Church, who are God’s sent People to join him in His work.
Dreher sees America post the Obergefell decision (2015 Supreme Court case in which the Court held in a 5-4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples) as lost. This book, like his other writings are marked by reactionary fears. His strategy imitates St. Benedict and he suggests like-minded, like-valued Christians retreat into enclaves to weather a new dark age.
Yet, it seems to me that Dreher sees the “Benedict Option” as a way to protect certain kinds of Christian values rather than see the Kingdom of God come to earth: The Gospel, the Good News Jesus announced.
You could read this book and conclude that Dreher’s biggest concern isn’t that the Gospel goes to all the world, but that a certain group of Christians no longer seem to have political muscle. As one critic of the book suggests Benedict’s Option carries a ‘whiff of privilege.’
Is Obergefell really to be compared to the persecuting threat of Nero to Christianity? Is today’s moral revolution going to destroy Christianity any more than the rise on intellectual scholasticism threatened in the Middle Ages? Is it worse than the societal darkness of the Dark Ages?
Is the Sexual Revolution really a bigger threat to Christianity than rampant Capitalism or Segregation and the degrading apartheid it fuels?
Christianity is bigger than Dreher sees it. His option shrinks it. That’s bad for Christianity, bad for the World.
Sadly, the Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic have a bigger view of Christianity than Dreher does. Read it as you ask yourself “how big is my Christianity?”
Most certainly in this pluralistic, alternative-fact society we need it to be big and Jesus bigger!