The Benedict Option

benedict option

The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, originally published in 2017.

I originally posted this review in January of this year, and am presenting it again with  additional thoughts based on my expended perspective on the issues it explores.

This article,  which I only recently encountered, outlines some concerns about the prospect of Christians fervently embracing The Benedict Option. I think he makes some valid points worthy of consideration. It left me wondering where the perfect balance is between The Benedict Option and the status quo. I concluded that it isn’t so hard to find, at least in this instance.

One of the reasons I read non fiction books is because I hope to learn, discern, and implement things of value from with the pages. Because my life contained precious little extension towards building intentional Christian community outside of Sunday services, I have undertaken what it for me a valiant undertaking: Opening my home up to extend hospitality to my fellow believers at least once a month.

We shall see how that develops, but after the first official event yesterday, and with invitations extended for another, I was reminded of my review of this book and the evolution of my thoughts on the subject. it with this in mind that I am re-running my review of The Benedict Option:

I decided to read this book after about six months of regularly reading Mr. Dreher’s commentary over at his blog on The American Conservative. As such, I approached this entire discussion and exploration of his ideas from a novice perspective. I was unaware that he had been promoting this idea for some time or that it had undergone various iterations over the past few years.

I am quite partial to the virtues of seeing a thing through new eyes. It was after all, my husband’s novice, unchurched, untainted conversion to the Christian faith which invigorated my own and showed -embarrassingly so- how little I knew the Bible that I thought I knew so much about.

In the time since I have begun reading Mr. Dreher, I have come to learn that people whose opinions I hold in regard find the sum total Mr. Dreher’s prescription problematic. However, I am going to review this book the way I originally approached it; as a novice to Mr. Dreher’s ideas and solely on the merits of what he offered within its pages.

I begin this review with the same caveat I offered to my Protestant friend before she began it. Namely that Dreher is “big O” Orthodox, and Protestants should appreciate this distinction as they begin his book. There are points and assertions Dreher makes which spring from this base and no doubt would turn off many a Protestant who is unprepared for some of his points.

Overall, however, I think the book and its ideas is worth a look. I suspect many Christians are probably already living loose versions of his idea in their own lives if they haven’t trapped themselves in ideologically driven quarantines from other believers.

In sum, Dreher -in his book at least- proposes that Christians build intentional and separate communities from the larger culture as the cultural ethos grows increasingly hostile to Christian faith and values. It is always best for the reader to do his or her own homework. However, even with a few quibbles here and there, I agree with the general tone and proposal Dreher puts forth. After all the Bible does implore us to come out and be separate, calling us a peculiar people.

A quote:

Relearning the lost art of community is something Christians should do in obedience to the Apostle Paul, who counseled the faithful to do their parts to grow the Body of Christ “for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But there are also practical reasons for doing so. Building communities of believers will be necessary as the number of Christians becomes thinner on the ground.

In the book I did not gather that Dreher was advocating total isolation from the larger culture, which was a good thing. On technological advances:

Benedict Option families and communities who remain apathetic toward technology inadvertently undermine nearly everything they are trying to achieve. Technology itself is a kind of liturgy that teaches us to frame our experiences in the world in certain ways and that, if we aren’t careful, profoundly distorts our relationship to God, to other people, and to the material world – and even our self-understanding.

When we abstain from practices that disorder our loves, and in that time of fasting redouble our contemplation of God and the good things of Creation, we re-center our minds on the inner stability we need to create a coherent, meaningful self. The Internet is a scattering phenomenon, one that encourages surrender to passionate impulses. If we fail to push back against the Internet as hard as it pushes against us, we cannot help but lose our footing. And if we lose our footing, we ultimately lose the straight path through life.

I liked the book. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (reviewed here) is infinitely better as Bonhoeffer is pretty incomparable. However, as he deals at length with the changes in the sexual culture and the inducement of technology into every phase of life, I think this book is worth the time it takes to give it a read.

Grade: B

RELATED: Review of Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.








13 thoughts on “The Benedict Option

  1. elspeth says:

    I had a really stimulating and rewarding in-person conversation with some other women about the ideas and conclusions drawn from this book. Only I and one other of the 5 women had read it, but they all had some thoughts on the notions, and one even knew of a failed communal type living event some Christians she knew had attempted.

    One of the conclusions we did reach was that a big first step (albeit a baby one) for many Christians would be to start learning how to be there for other believers, and willing to even be inconvenienced (*shudder*) to help your sisters in Christ because they are your spiritual sisters and that’s what family does.

    When we learn to get outside of ourselves and truly extend ourselves to one another where are right now, then, and only then can we begin to discuss anything resembling a functional Christian subculture.

    I should stipulate that our conversation and conclusions centered around flesh and blood relationships as a good portion of our talk landed on the distortion created by dependence on virtual relationships.

    Have I mentioned that I love books?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. stmichaelkozaki says:

    E: have undertaken what it for me a valiant undertaking: Opening my home up to extend hospitality to my fellow believers at least once a month.

    This is flat-out awesome. I tried doing this (we called it a Basic Ecclesial Community) but it faded over time since 1) my wife is pretty incompetent socially and this takes leadership, 2) we really couldn’t find many people who were religious and serious enough and lived close enough to make it work. We also tried to include rotating religious activities like charity work, prayer, and Scripture study…and that’s just a downer for most, everyone just wants to eat and play…

    I’m going to comment on the post later, just wanted to give a shout-out to your undertaking. Color me impressed!


  3. stmichaelkozaki says:

    I suspect many Christians…if they haven’t trapped themselves in ideologically driven quarantines from other believers.

    Chuckled on this one. Isn’t this what Protestantism is, by definition?

    even with a few quibbles here and there, I agree with the general tone and proposal Dreher puts forth.

    I agree with the tone, but not the proposal. He isn’t radical enough. The Church must get smaller. Methinks things will get a lot worse before Rod and his crowd finally wake up to the seriousness of things.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elspeth says:

    On a serious note, though. I have had wonderful relationships with Catholic homeschool moms. I don’t think there needs to be some kind of shibboleth to build working relationships with Christians that will serve us when we need to be there for each other. What I have in common with those Catholic moms:

    1. Homeschool
    2. Homemakers
    3. Belief in traditional family model as best as Americans can understand that.
    4. Husband headship
    5. Love of cooking
    6. Love of learning

    I even have several Christian friends (Protestants, I might add) who love, love love their Catholic holistic primary care doctor so much they drive a pretty good distance to patronize his practice.

    Again, they find what they share on Monday-Saturday is enough to build camaraderie and a bond.

    Given the nature of things in our current culture (including the massive number of lukewarm Prots and Catholics), I can easily see how devout Catholics and Protestants will increase in fellowship as the screws tighten.

    Or maybe my faith in humanity is just too pollyanna.


  5. stmichaelkozaki says:

    Look, I agree. I simply challenge your original quote: I suspect many Christians…if they haven’t trapped themselves in ideologically driven quarantines from other believers. because I don’t see people who have firm values as being “trapped”, and of course you leave “believers” conveniently undefined. It’s always funny to watch casual religious groups (like HS) deal with a JW or LDS or pro-abort RC or whomever if too far off their personal reservation. Most RC don’t even know the difference; most Prots freak. Why? Because their unity is already on very unspoken ground so everyone walks on eggshells.

    Note RC often easily move among others (like your HS group) for two reasons: 1. Their Church already has the theology debates settled (Protestants can’t help but get involved in theology debates if only to choose their church), and 2. They are lukewarm and don’t care.

    From my POV, when a person actively conforms themselves (via logic, reason, and the obedience of faith) closer to what is true he or she objectively distances themselves (in non-casual relations of course) from those who embrace individualism in faith and reason. That’s just how it is; people get on the bus for hell willingly, and that’s their right. Thus I don’t like the terms “quarantine” and “trap” to define the obedience of faith. That’s what secular people think. But it’s not true. By conforming our will and life to the Communion of Saints we are free to become unified with Christ & his followers in every age (Eucharist). This is not being trapped, it’s being set free to “join the feast” (St. Paul). That is, if I can’t sit down with a glass of wine with St. Ignatius, my local bishop, and my HS buddy in heaven when I die (and here on earth with those still here), I’m really not overly excited by by buddy. But this doesn’t preclude casual relations with him at all. I just don’t mix the beliefs I would die for with my casual relations. Both have their place.


  6. Elspeth says:

    When I said “trapped themselves into an ideological quarantine”, you know that was figurative, right? Consider it a turn at hyperbole to illustrate a greater point. 🙂

    I was referring to people who are not nearly as reasonable as you sound. I’ll leave aside for the moment the intimation that as a Protestant I am Hell-bound, because I like you and look forward to hanging with you in Heaven one day. But there are people who genuinely want ZERO to do with other believers who disagree with them on any point of faith. (and by that I mean believers in Christianity as held forth in the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds)

    I get what you are saying, but I happen to firmly believe that one can hold firm beliefs and still be close to someone whose beliefs diverge in one way or another. At least close enough that you’re willing to extend yourselves to one another even at some personal risk if the surrounding culture makes it difficult for Christians to get on. Only time will tell which one of us is correct.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. stmichaelkozaki says:

    E, I think we generally agree. My views more of a “ideal”; you may be closer to it in real life than I. I also think this failure at communion is the critical, unspoken crisis of our time. I also think my religion (RC) has failed miserably at recognizing this, and we are going to pay a big price in the next generation.


  8. Elspeth says:

    My views more of a “ideal”; you may be closer to it in real life than I.

    I think we do generally agree. Right there you hit the heart of my original quote. Ideal would be…ideal! But when we make the perfect the enemy of the genuinely good, we err.


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