Reclaiming Christian Community?

Big publishing news going on today. A long-awaited and much-anticipated book—Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation—burst on the scene today. My preordered copy arrived from Amazon just now. This book calls on Christians, struggling to live as Christians in our Post-Christian world, to follow the model of the sixth-century founder of monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia. It was Benedict, disgusted by a disintegrating Roman culture, who withdrew from his society in order to rebuild authentic Christian community. As followers of Jesus Christ, he asked, how could they reclaim orthodox faith and practice? His actions reshaped the future of Western civilization. Dreher believes we face such a choice as Christians for our own day.

In this morning’s New York Times David Brooks calls this book “already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.” Those are big words, demanding attention from most Christians and so many others trying to understand our world today. First Things, by the way, is streaming a live panel with Dreher tomorrow evening from New York. People are praising and puzzling over this book. People are disagreeing, yet flocking to find out what the Benedict option is all about. I have been quoting in my own writing from the early discussion around the Benedict option. I too believe this may be an important book.

Dreher opens his book this way:

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in practice. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what its costs.

Heady stuff, no doubt about it. I should say I am decidedly not a separatist. I choose not to live with too gloomy an outlook. Maybe on some social issues I don’t live where Dreher lives. In fact Brooks, after praising the book as a major event, goes on to disagree with some of the premises. But while we may have our disagreements, I am convinced Dreher presents us with an important discussion that Christians must engage. Indeed we do live in a decidedly secular culture. We all feel it. We worry and fret about it. We are not sure what to do about it. Is our faith, at least in the West, dying out? We’re not sure how to answer. We’re not sure how to live authentically as Christians in our day. We are sometimes not sure at all what we actually believe. Is it possible to reclaim genuine faith for our own lives and for our time?

Maybe there is fresh thinking here and in the discussion that will follow that will guide us into a more vibrant future as Christians. I will be talking about this book and its ideas in the days to come.