Let's Talk About the Benedict Option! (and talk and talk and talk and...)
Alternative Title: A working list of articles on the Benedict Option (with some brief thoughts of my own)
Maybe Rod Dreher should have shut up about it. Maybe instead telling everyone about it and sounding off his alarmist church bells he should have gone off and actually lived out The Benedict Option in humble solitude the rest of his life. Then, decades after his death we would be writing about him and how he changed culture and the Church.
But Rod Dreher is a writer and a thinker and so, after a decade of thinking and writing and continually working out his ideas in public, he published them officially in the form of The Benedict Option. It's too bad really, and yet...WOW...as a budding author if I were Dreher I would be basking in the overwhelmingly abundant attention my book would be getting. Maybe I haven't lived long enough, but I cannot remember a book that has stirred up so much thoughtful and critical conversation. Now, I also might be pretty discouraged if I were Dreher because it would seem about 2/3s of all the articles I have read have been either mostly negative or slightly positive but with serious caveats. Here is a typical criticism summed up in one sentence:
"I somewhat agree with Dreher's underlying premise about living in robust Christian community but here is what he gets wrong..." and then the author goes on to list out Dreher's inadequate readings of:
—Medieval, Enlightenment, and Modern history, culture, and philosophy.
—the philosopher Alisdair McIntyre, from whom Dreher draws the very concept of the Benedict Option.
And they then go on to criticize:
—his alarmist and separatist tendencies that urge for Christians to withdraw from society (even though he doesn't exactly say that)
—the fact that his arguments leave out the experiences of ethnic minorities and immigrants.
—the fact that Dreher was a Methodist, then a Roman Catholic, and now an Eastern Orthodox (in other words, a "church hopper" on an epic level).
—that he's abstracted what it means to be a Benedictine from the monastic life and instead applies it to lay communal living (which a lot of people don't think is a good idea).
—And lots more! There are numerous well thought out arguments by many well-read scholars and thinkers.
So where do I stand on The Benedict Option? At first I thought I might have something to say about it, wanting to defend it, raise it up, and inform people they're reading Dreher wrong. But after reading some 20 articles on the book I now see Dreher has numerous flaws/weaknesses/inconsistencies in his argument (see especially the Eastern Christian Books article and the "critical review" article from Patheos). Therefore, I don't exactly see any point in defending Dreher anymore, not with all the problems in his foundational arguments. And yet I am incredibly grateful that so many people are being challenged to think about and critically discuss what it means to live in Christian community in our age and time. In other words, the questions remain... I think these questions are vital for those of us who claim Christ (and are claimed by Christ) and who believe the Church is the Body of Christ and are called to live in true Christian community and not merely be a "well, we go to church and that's it" kind of people. Dreher may not have written the be-all-end-all manifesto for the Church in Post-Christian America that we were hoping for, but he sure has stirred up God's people to have an ongoing conversation about it.
Personally, this makes me want to find people on a local level to start a dialogue where we robustly challenge each other about what God is calling us to in our communities. But I also thought I might offer a service here by listing most of the numerous articles I have read. On some level I think they are all worth our time, even if a number of them are caught up in scholarly mudslinging and ad hominem attacks. It's a lot of articles, but my intention is to educate people on the spectrum of arguments about the Benedict Option before you go and start talking about it with your pastor or small group (or writing your own lengthy blog response).
One final thought: reading all these articles has caused me to want to spend concerted time reading the works of Alisdair Macintyre, Stanley Hauerwas, and Alexander Schmemman. I mean this as no slight to Rod Dreher, but the works of those authors are calling out to me more at this point. I'm grateful The Benedict Option phenomenon conversation has become a catalyst for it all.
One final thanks: the author of one of the articles actually reached out to me and was gracious enough to send me his book on a topic in the same vein of The Benedict Option. So thanks Gerald Schlabach! I hope to get to your book Rethinking Protestantism soon!
Here now is the list of articles. One thing to be aware of is that Dreher himself is still constantly blogging and giving his own responses to people's review of the book (usually with an incredible amount of snark...): http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/
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