The Christian Studies Blog


A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

Posted by Dr. Jeff Peterson on June 6, 2017 at 9:30 AM


In the months leading up to its March 14 release and since, Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation has attracted considerable attention. The book takes its title from the reference to Benedict of Nursia (author of the Benedictine Rule about AD 540, and thereby “founder of Western monasticism”) in the rather somber conclusion to Alisdair MacIntyre’s famous (for an academic book) After Virtue, originally written in 1980 (quotation from the third edition, p. 263):

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.
What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point.
What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.
Book cover.jpgDreher argues that any American Christian community that wishes to preserve meaningful continuity with the Christian past is now inescapably in the situation MacIntyre describes, with support for the Church withdrawn by the governing class and pressure to abandon its traditional teachings, especially on sexual morality.
My own interest in the book has been frustrated by my inability to set aside time to read it and see just how Dreher understands the present moment and what remedy he offers. 
But, as Dreher observes on his blog, comes now Rowan Wiliams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, with a review. Dreher credits Williams with capturing his book’s thesis in this summary:
For conservative religious believers, the battle on the political field has largely been lost; there is no point in wasting energy on forming coalitions to challenge or change legislation. What is needed, instead, is to develop a more densely textured religious life, in which regular patterns of communal prayer and intellectual and spiritual development will keep alive the possibility of inhabiting a nourishing, morally rich tradition. Christians ought to be more like Orthodox Jews or conscientious Muslims: living visibly at an angle to the practices of contemporary society.

Check out Rod Dreher's book The Benedict Option

Williams has his reservations about the book’s thesis, but credits it with raising 
“helpfully tough questions to a socially liberal majority, as well as to believers of a more traditional colour.” The beauty of a good book review is it allows you to begin evaluating the thesis of a book before you’ve had time to read it all. Read in tandem, Williams’ review and Dreher’s post in response provide as good a point of entry into Dreher’s work as I suspect one will find.

We'd like to hear your thoughts about how Christians should face living in a post-Christian nation. Please comment below. 

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Austin Graduate School of Theology is an Austin seminary offering B.A. and M.A. ministry degrees, and Austin Grad is accredited by the same agency that accredits Abilene Christian University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas, and others.  Austin Grad -- one of the top Christian colleges in Texas and among the top seminaries in Texas -- is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is in conversation with all who confess Jesus as Lord. Austin Grad promotes faith seeking understanding and is committed to providing a high quality education for those who desire to be equipped to expand the Kingdom of God.

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