The outward thrust of Christian life can be seen, first of all, in an imperative that is often called the cultural mandate, but I call it the First Great Commission. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God instructed Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:22), “till the soil” (2:5) and “have dominion” (1:28). Let’s consider the three commands that make up the First Great Commission.
Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is the bestselling and most discussed religious book of the past year. In it Dreher argues that the past few decades in American life have revealed the extent to which Bible-believing Christians have been decentered socially, culturally, and politically. An increasing number of Americans—including those with cultural power—view historic Christianity as implausible, unimaginable, and even evil. The effect of this attitude on America’s social and cultural institutions has been devastating.
For this reason, Dreher exhorts us to strengthen the church while there is still time. He sees encouraging signs that Christians have begun to come to grips with the reality of a post-Christian America, but argues that we have yet to take the necessary steps to strengthen our churches, families, and local communities for the difficult years ahead.
Light in the New Dark Ages
In order to carve out a viable path for the future, he argues, we must cast our eyes back to St. Benedict of Nursia, the early medieval monk who retreated to the forest after Rome’s fall. Benedict built monastic communities undergirded by habits and values such as order, prayer, work, asceticism, stability, community, hospitality, and balance. As Dreher sees it, we should learn from those Benedictine communities so that our own American faith communities can be pockets of light in the new Dark Ages.
If Americans nurtured a Benedictine type of Christianity, Dreher avers, we would take a few steps in a monastic direction in every aspect of life, such as work, leisure, politics, and education. In other words, we would spend a lot less energy on social, cultural, and political engagement, and a lot more energy strengthening our families, churches, and local communities.
Dreher concludes that though the American church would never ask to be decentered, it should recognize its marginalization as a golden opportunity. Losing social, cultural, and political influence might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.
American Christians should be grateful for Rod Dreher’s insights and the concerns that animate The Benedict Option. With a keen eye, Dreher discerns the way sin and unbelief have corrupted and misdirected our nation’s cultural institutions and culture-makers. With pastoral concern, he urges Christians to nourish our identity in Christ by strengthening our churches, families, and other associations. With proper humility, his book repeatedly urges Americans to learn from Christians in other nations. With a persuasive pen, he urges us to prepare for the challenges of the future.