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Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Benedict Option for Progressive Christians?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the Benedict Option ("A Benedict Option?"), which is a movement associated with the Crunch Con, Rob Dreher. Briefly, it takes its inspiration from the final paragraph of the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre's magisterial book, After Virtue, in which he argues that the only way to sustain a coherent moral culture in the modern world is to build “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained.” McIntyre speculates that the preservation of today's civilization may depend upon the emergence of “another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict” who can create local communities similar to those of Benedict's that sustained civilization and moral life through the so-called Dark Ages.

As Dreher imagines it, the Benedict Option entails a partial withdrawal by traditional Christians from the political sphere. They would still voice their opinion on public issues but no longer seek to play key roles in presidential politics. It would require “a radical shift in perspective among Christians," one in which they see themselves "as living in ruins (though very comfortable ones!) of Christian civilization.” Their task would be to keep “orthodox Christianity alive in the hearts and minds of believers, living as exiles in an ever more hostile culture,” and would be “primarily a theological and cultural project” based on radically rethinking of their place in the world.

Most associate the movement with political conservatism, but Dreher is no fan of our current President, and as I have noted elsewhere ("Geniuses for Jesus (Updated)") although McIntyre is no longer a Marxist, his take on economic issues places him closer to Karl than it does to Adam Smith. Consequently, I can't help but wonder if the Benedict Option could function as a "model" of sorts for progressive Christian congregations. It's no secret that Mainline Protestantism is struggling in terms of attracting and retaining adherents (although many Mainline executives remain in denial -- see "Mainline Denial Redux"), thus instead of worrying about church growth (and decline), perhaps Mainline congregations can focus instead on forming communities in which a robust theological, moral, and intellectual life can flourish, with the hope that they can sustain both their members and surrounding communities through our current "dark" age. As the theologian Stanley Hauerwas has argued, the decline of the Mainline may be good for it. It may help it recover the core of the Gospel, one that preaches and lives Jesus's radical vision for our world.

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