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The Benedict Option: review

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Posted by Mike Print, 19 Jul 2018

Mike Print reviews Rod Dreher's bestseller, The Benedict Option.

THE BENEDICT OPTION: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
Rod Dreher
New York: Sentinel, 2017 262pp £19.99pb ISBN: 9780735213296

How do we, as Christians, balance Jesus’ call to maintain our distinct identity as the people of God, and remain relevant to the culture around us? Are we, as Western Christians, in danger of becoming like the frog who was placed in tepid water, and did not notice as the water temperature slowly increased? Has the legalisation, and acceptance, of gay marriage marked a point of no return for Western culture, and do Christians now have to stop trying to save this culture, and start working to ensure a Christian culture survives the new “dark age” which is upon us?

All of these questions and more are tackled in a new popular level book written by Rod Dreher which has rocketed to a place in the New York Bestseller list since its publication in March 2017. Rod is a conservative American Christian (culturally and theologically) who is attempting to wake up an American church which he believes is slowly boiling in a decadent and morally-compromised US culture. In his first two chapters, Rod sets out to prove his point to his American audience, and British Christians will need no convincing of his central thesis given how we have preceded the Americans in moving to a post-Christian society.

In the following chapters, Dreher moves to suggest that we cannot stop this decline, and instead we ought to prepare our people to create their own Christian sub-culture which can survive whilst the modern Western society destroys itself. At this point one is liable to get twitchy, particularly as Dreher points to Benedict of Nursia (hence the title), the founder of Western monasticism, as an example for emulation. However, it is only fair to highlight at this point that Dreher is NOT suggesting a heading for the hills, or a mass movement into remote monastic communities. Rather, he is suggesting a deliberate creating of Christian community in the places which we find ourselves: first through a thorough vetting of modern culture, and then by the adoption of deliberate Christian practices which
will sustain these communities against the cultural onslaught which has already begun. We may be inclined to think that we are already doing this, and perhaps many of us are, but Dreher’s book helped me, at least, to see how modern media, smart phones, and centrally-set school curricula are altering the way Christians see the world without us noticing. His solutions include homeschooling, the deliberate use of liturgy in our churches, a deep, and ongoing engagement with Scripture, and the careful vetting of the media which we allow into our homes, and into our heads.

None of this is unique to Dreher. Much of this is tinged with a certain Americanism which may cause us to smirk, and, as is the wont of many American authors, the book is probably a third longer that it needs to be. But what Dreher does is to bring together, in one place and at a popular level, a clear and incisive look at the Western world, and some ways in which Christians might fight back.

You will not agree with everything in this book. You might think that Dreher gives up to soon or that he removes Christians too far from the cultural wars around us. But the book is worth reading for two reasons: first, it gets you thinking about your own lifestyle, and those in our churches, and stimulates us to produce our own answers to surviving in what is undoubtedly a post-Christian world. Secondly, this book is worth reading, because of its impact. It is being discussed across the States by Christians of every tradition, and it will not be long before members of our churches are reading and digesting Dreher’s work. The Western Church must respond to the collapse of Western culture, and this book will certainly help many people to begin to formulate a response, even as they critique and challenge some of its suggestions.

This review was first published in Churchman, our theological journal. Subscribe to Churchman or purchase individual issues.

Mike Print is a curate in Padiham

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