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A Brief Thought on the Benedict Option

May 4th, 2015 | 2 min read

By Jake Meador

Rod Dreher continues to do important work over at TAC writing about the Benedict Option ahead of a book he hopes to write on the topic. In one recent post, he defined it this way: “a limited, strategic withdrawal of Christians from the mainstream of American popular culture, for the sake of shoring up our understanding of what the church is, and what me must do to be the church.”

He then went on to articulate a few specific points that are essential to the Benedict Option as he understands it:

  • Heavily embodied worship that moves one out of one’s own head and into the realm of ritual, tradition, and custom.
  • It needs to be disciplined and focused on training the passions.
  • It needs a strong pastor and a strong creed.
  • It needs to demand serious, steady involvement of its members and not change its practices to be “seeker-friendly.”
  • Finally, it must be mission-minded.

As I read this list I couldn’t help thinking that you could almost reduce the Benedict Option to basic Christian piety and church life–catechize our young people, embody the truths of the faith in word and deed, hold firm to orthodoxy, take seriously the moral claims of the faith, don’t participate in public institutions that directly undermine the faith. These things all sound quite ordinary when you come right down to it. Indeed, I’m not sure there has been any era in the church’s history when we did not need to do these things.

If anything, all that we’re seeing right now is that the logic of the day, with its emphasis on freedom, self-creation, breaking away from traditional orders now seen as oppressive, and the limitless of human ingenuity never has made much sense when set next to traditional Christian belief and practice. If the bobo establishment is in the process of kicking us out it’s only because Christianity and American boboism never made much sense together in the first place–it’s just taken us a bit of time to realize the fact.

If that is the case, then it’s likely that what is needed right now is less talk about the unique demands of this particular historical moment and attempts to articulate a contextualized response and more focus on classic Christian practice and church life.

Put another way, perhaps the issue isn’t that the culture has moved away from the faith, but that the faith’s adherents have moved away from it along with the culture–and as the culture we’ve attached ourselves to becomes progressively more antagonistic to orthodoxy we are simply becoming aware of the distance that has opened between the faithful and traditional orthodoxy. We’ve been riding along with the culture even when we shouldn’t have (ahem) and we’re just now beginning to realize where that ride has taken us.

So while it feels like we’re having to articulate a response to unique cultural challenges maybe all that’s really required is a return to the basics of Christian discipline and church life? Here the wisdom of the two men for whom this blog is named may be our best help. Lewis said that if you have done a sum wrong, then the only thing for it is to work your way backward, figure out where you went wrong, and fix it. It’s no good to continue pressing forward in search of a solution. Like Chesterton’s explorer in Orthodoxy, we might think that we need to discover some new Idea to combat the politics of the NICE. But really we simply need to rediscover the bracing truths of orthodoxy.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).