iAt Book Club: The Benedict Option

April 12, 2017
1 Comment

Last week iAt began its first book club series featuring the book, “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation,” by Rod Dreher.  Throughout the week various voices added to the series, interacting with one another as they responded to the book. Series contributors are Donald Roth, Scott Culpepper, Gustavo Maya, Erin Olson, and Robert Lancaster. This week, Donald Roth and Robert Lancaster add their thoughts one final time.

Title: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
Author: Rod Dreher
Publisher: Sentinel
Publish Date: March 14, 2017
Hardcover: 272
Price: $25.00
ISBN: 978-0735213296

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses thus far. I wish I would have read Gustavo’s and Erin’s responses before writing my first one—I might have said some completely different things. After reading all the responses, it seems that Donald and I are most sympathetic to Dreher’s proposal, but I suspect we would both be able to find some things with which we’d take issue, whether in the diagnosis or the actual solution (or “Option”) that the book proposes. I’ll leave it to Donald to confirm or disagree.

As with all the responses in this series, please excuse my inability to address every aspect of the book in the way that a more traditional book review would. I am sure there is much more that all of us could say about this book, given a different format. And, just because I don’t say it doesn’t mean that it is not important. What I offer here, largely, are thoughts in development. Most of what I say will likely not be what I say finally on this important book. I’m open to pushback. I want to make sure that I get Dreher right, even while hearing out the many voices who, for one reason or another, have found reasons to take issue with (and/or raise criticism of) his book.

As I think more about Donald’s discussion of metaphorical differences (Smith vs. Dreher), I tend to believe that the discussion might be a reason for some disagreement. Might not other differences be: journalist vs. academic, and Catholic/Orthodox vs. Kuyperian/Reformed? Would the Two-Kingdoms crowd fall closer to the side of Dreher, Smith, or somewhere else? This, too, is one place where it would help to get a diversity of voices, from both minority group churches in the United States and the global church. The concerns of Evangelical Christians in the United States are different than the concerns of Christians in the Global South, for example. It’s not as though things have always been good for all Christians in the United States and have only now taken a turn for the worse.

Scott, too, has provided us with much to consider, including an important outlook at historical context. His reminder that people have been living the Benedictine way at many times and in many styles throughout history is one that keeps coming up in most reviews of the BenOp, and it’s one that is helpful for us to remember. I grew up in the PCA in the South, and although we did not incorporate every practice that Dreher recommends, we did adopt many of them. Culture has, of course (even in the South), changed since then.

One aspect of Scott’s piece that I want to mention is his idea that what Dreher proposes is actually closer to an Anabaptist Hutterite Bruderhof than a Benedictine cloister. I’d say this is correct…his proposal seems similar to any Amish community, for that matter. These groups have adopted most of Dreher’s practices, but they are not walled off from the world. However, their liturgy – at least the Amish worship I’ve experienced – would likely not be up to snuff with someone who prefers the liturgy of Rome or Constantinople.

As I said, I think Scott is right. However, I am not as convinced as Scott and Erin that “a champion of free enterprise like Dreher” would completely reject a sharing of all things in common. He might not embrace it to the extent the Bruderhof do, but it’s likely that he would be closer to it than many Western Christians who have wedded themselves to a materialistic culture. I will admit that Scott and Erin are probably more right than wrong about Dreher’s free market thought influencing his ideas. Still, I think that for most of us, embracing the call of Dreher will demand some economic sacrifice. Where his proposal misses the mark is that the sacrifices can more easily be made by people in the middle and upper class than others. Not everyone can afford to send their children to classical school, or to pull one parent out of the workforce in order to begin the homeschooling. However, many families that could do so might balk at Dreher because they have become accustomed to their lifestyle above their faith. I saw such situations when I was church planting; sometimes people told me that they would frequently miss worship or could not afford to support the ministries of the church because they had to take advantage of their three country club memberships, or a vacation to their second home in the mountains. Granted, this was a small minority of people. But even with that being said, this criticism from Scott and Erin is, I think, justified. Dreher’s plan is an “option” for certain people, but certainly not for all. I wonder if, after some of the criticism he has received, Dreher would edit anything from the book. I’d be curious to see what changes he would make if he were ever to rewrite it for a second edition.

Gustavo makes an important point, as I might recall noting in my first response. Dreher and Smith discussed mostly the diagnosis, at least in reference to the Washington Post piece. I’d be interested in how the social-structural account of race plays into the BenOp—that is the lifestyle to which Dreher calls us. I recognize that for many people who have historically been in the minority, many of the disciplines Dreher proposes are not at all new. But is there more than that?

There’s more to say, but I’ve already said more at this point than I intended to. I’m eager to hear what others think.

About the Author
  • Robert Lancaster serves as the Electronic Resources & Reference Librarian at Dordt University. In addition to his library degree, he also has some degrees in theology.

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