Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 3

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 3

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto part 1; Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the signs of brokenness in the church today is the near total absence of application in pastoral sermons. In seminary, no sermon is complete without a sermon application. Today’s sermons are delivered more with an attitude of nice-to-know, not critical for salvation or the practice of our faith. In our buddy culture, the idea of a pastor actually offering advice is not-politically correct. The same holds for books about faith.

The Monastic Connection

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation starts with the application up front: Benedict is short for Benedict’s rule which is a structured approach to daily life. He writes:

‘A Rule works that way, to channel your spiritual energy, your work, your activity, so that you’re able to accomplish something,’ Father Cassian said.

‘Monastic life is very plain,’ he continued. ‘People from the outside perhaps have a romantic vision, perhaps what they see on television, of monks sort of floating around the cloister. There is that, and that’s attractive, but basically, monks get up in the morning, they pray, they do their work, they pray some more. They eat, they pray, they do some more work, they pray some more, and then they go to bed. It’s rather plain, just like most people. The genius of Saint Benedict is to find the presence of God in everyday life.’ (52)

Making Room for God

What Dreher is proposing for postmodern Christians is to focus on “finding the presence of God in everyday life.” While this objective is simple enough, it is hard to apply. Consider his advice:

Here’s how to get started with the antipolitical politics of the Benedict Option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good. (98)

If you think these prescriptions are easy, try turning off the television set. I attended a funeral about two years ago where the man was buried with a television remote in his hand. Or how about the smartphone suggestion? My wife, who teaches in the public schools, cannot get through to her students because they are distracted by cellphones constantly and refuse to study. These seemingly simple suggestions represent radical departures from American culture today.

Order in Disorder

Dreher writes: “If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder, then the most fundamental act of resistance is to establish order.” (54) Monks establish order, in part, by praying liturgy of the hours, which is seven times daily (58-59). By regularly returning to prayer, they are better able to reflect on God presence at each point in the daily routine. Dreher notes that “ascetical practices train body and soul to put God above self” (63) and provide an antidote to the spiritual sloth of our time (64). He notes:

A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist. A church that does not emphasize asceticism and discipleship is as pointless as a football coaching staff that doesn’t care if its players show up for practice. (121)

One of the things that I enjoyed most about interning as a chaplain in Providence Hospital’s Alzheimer’s unit was that I got to take the Catholic residents to mass every morning.

Monastery as School

Dreher places a special emphasis in his writing on education as a spiritual practice and cites Benedict’s rule which refers to the monastery as “school for the service of the Lord.” (148). He notes that “The classical Christian does not ask, ‘What can I do with this learning?’ but ‘What will this learning do to me?’” (160) Christian formation is the objective, not learning facts and figures that can easily be forgotten. He is particularly a fan of a classical Christian education which he prefers, because students learn to appreciate the history of the faith.

Reiteration of Argument

Dreher reminds the reader that:

If we don’t take on everyday practices that keep sacred order present to ourselves, our families, and our communities, we are going to lose it. And if we lose it, we are at great risk of losing sight of the One to whom everything in that sacred order, like a divine treasure map, points. (236)

While I know people who have ordered their lives by Dreher’s objectives, I know precious few and most have paid a hefty cost.

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church and culture. He then offers the development of new schools and community as necessary components to maintaining a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I outlined Dreher’s book. In part two, I looked at his definition of the problems facing the church and, in part three, I looked at his recommendation for dealing with those problems.

[1] @RodDreher, TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

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Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 1

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 1

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Benedict of Nursia, Italy (480 –547 AD) is a Christian saint established a rule for daily life and a new monastic order.[2] The rule stipulated seven prayers each day (the hours) and ordered every aspect of life in the monastery. Benedict’s rule helped the Christian church survive the fall the Roman empire. It later served as a model for universities in the Middle Ages and the corporation in modern times.

Introduction

In his book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Rod Dreher sees the church today facing a challenge similar to the fall of the Roman empire and Saint Benedict’s response, establishing a monastic order, as providing a template for the church’s dilemma today. He writes:

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives [can] no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.” (2)

Why the Apocalyptic Response?

Dreher sees the 2015 defeat of a conservative initiative in Indiana, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at the hands of Gay rights activists and major U.S. corporations as a watershed event. It was quickly followed by the U.S. Supreme Court declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell decision). In this new environment, he writes:

Dreher sees the 2015 defeat of a conservative initiative in Indiana, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at the hands of Gay rights activists and major U.S. corporations as a watershed event. It was quickly followed by the U.S. Supreme Court declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell decision). In this new environment, he writes:

“Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.” (3)

Dreher declares that the culture war is over and Christian conservatives lost. The election of Donald Trump as president has given the church more time to prepare, but little hope of a revival. Dreher paints a grim picture of a hollowed out church that needs to build an ark for the coming flood (238).

Background on Dreher

Who is Rod Dreher? He describes himself as a senior editor at The American Conservative and an author of several books including: Crunchy Cons, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming [his sister], and How Dante Can Save Your Life. He and his wife have three children and live in Southern Louisiana, which may account for his interest in floods.

Organization

Dreher writes his book in ten chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion, acknowledgments, notes, and an index. The chapter titles are:

  1. The Great Flood,
  2. The Roots of the Crisis,
  3. A Rule for Living,
  4. A New Kind of Christian Politics,
  5. A Church for All Seasons,
  6. The Idea of a Christian Village,
  7. Education as Christian Formation,
  8. Preparing for Hard Labor,
  9. Eros and the New Christian Counterculture, and
  10. Man and the Machine (vii).

Dreher writes like a conservative Catholic. Still, he balances his examples between Evangelical and Orthodox Christian sources. He even throws in examples from Jewish communities (130) and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons; 135). The theme, decline of the American Christian church, led me to expect Dreher would take shrill tone, but Dreher studiously avoided this temptation through use of research and helpful case studies.

Monastery in Norcia

One case study that stands out was his visit to the Monastery in Norcia, Italy, where Saint Benedict was born. The Norcia monastery dates from the tenth century, but was closed in 1810 by Napoleon Bonaparte who worked hard to devastate the Catholic church throughout Europe. Dreher writes:

“Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that had the power to destroy the church. ‘Your majesty,’ the cardinal replied, ‘we, the clergy have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred year. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.’” (49)

American monks helped recently to re-establish this monastery (48-49). Dreher’s visit inspired lessons that he enumerates throughout his book.

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church and culture, and offers the development of new schools to maintain a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I will outlined Dreher’s book. Part two looks at his definition of the problems facing the church. In part three, I will look at his solution to those problems.

[1] , TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benedict_of_Nursia.

Also see:

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

Continue Reading