I have not run across anyone who was deeply satisfied with Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. Reasons for dissatisfaction have varied, but I’ll offer some that I have observed:
- Dreher’s tone is alarmist, to an irritating extent.
- He paints with broad strokes.
- There is no comprehensible theological framework (have a little bit of Eastern Orthodoxy, add in a helping of Roman Catholicism, and throw an Evangelical cherry on top).
- His proposed Benedict Option communities sound quaint and compelling; but his conclusion left readers with more questions than answers.
With those slim [and admittedly undeveloped] critiques, I will admit that much of what Dreher offered as observations rings true. Society is turning, and Christians are increasingly exiles – I sense it both within my academic surroundings and in my new profession. His general areas of practical focus are worthy, especially education and the trades. His book is timely, readable, and well worth reading.
In the last week or two a friend posted a New City Commons podcast of James Davison Hunter. I found the author compelling, and though I wasn’t immediately familiar with his name, I have enjoyed The Hedgehog Review, published by the institute which he leads. On a whim (and because it is a personal weakness), I ordered his new book, To Change the World, thinking it would sit on the “post-J.D. shelf.” However, I’ve already benefited from the content and scholarly nature of the book as I research for my J.D. writing requirement.
I’m suggesting Hunter’s book as an appropriate follow-up to the Benedict Option. B.O. offers whatÂ is essentially a missional shift, which everyone realized. The “from” was clearly the posture of the Religious Right, but the “to” was amorphous and unknown.
Hunter provided some of the missing framework for my own analysis of Dreher’s shift. He identifies three distinct Christian ideologies pertaining to political engagement: (1) the Religious Right, (2) the Christian Left, and (3) the neo-Anabaptists. Using this construct, I think it is fair to describe Dreher as advocating a shift away from the Religious Right toward neo-Anabaptists (or perhaps simply Anabaptists, which coincides with his Hutterite shout-out).
Both theologically and culturally, I come from Anabaptist and Free Church roots, with some concessions made for those in the Religious Right. I am able to empathize with the Christian Left in only a limited fashion. According to Hunter, neo-Anabaptists would tend to make accommodations for the Left (he notes a lot of cross-over), offering limited empathy for those on the right. Where I personally find a gap is the “neo” prefix, but at this point I am working off a cursory read and am admittedly doing Hunter a disservice by oversimplifying.
For now, I’ll commend the book and look forward to an opportunity to digest it in fellowship with better minds.
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