(456) THE BENEDICT OPTION (Part 2) – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

It is ironic that as the church celebrates the 500th anniversary of 41QY+zZAzfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_the Protestant Reformation, current trends today shows a church that has blended many of their differences, theological principles, and practices together. On the surface, that may seem like a good thing to see the church unified.  

In some respects, reality says that some of this actually has benefited the church. Interaction on several social issues that at times consume the headlines such as abortion and same-sex marriage have benefited from a unity in presenting a biblical view on these issues that otherwise usually gets silenced by the gatekeepers of a secular society.  I would hope that this unity continues to stand strong when based on biblical principles.  The unity isn’t always shared by Christians by and large.  Several Protestant denominations approve of either abortion and/or gay marriage.  Some will even go as far as approving gay ordination of ministers within their particular denomination.  On the Roman Catholic side, on some of these issues, the Church has been a strong tower with respect to upholding biblical principles.  But like some Protestants, the lay Catholic may hold a personal view that is far from what the church teaches.  In addition to that, we have a Pope today who routinely makes statements that imply (directly or indirectly) some difference of views on issues long held by the church for centuries.

That said, biblical unity shouldn’t depend on the views from various Christian denominations. Rather, biblical unity settles on Christ and a truly a biblical view of the issues.   The important consideration is not necessarily what your church believes but rather what does God say in His word.  There lies an important difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  Roman Catholicism upholds church tradition on equal authority with the Bible. Protestants hold the Bible as the ultimate authority.  It is a key difference between the two groups – insurmountable to many.  There are several other major differences, but just to state one more key difference is the view of how one becomes a Christian – a works-based versus grace through faith alone based approach.  Again, a huge difference between these two groups.  

Rod Dreher, the author of The Benedict Option, was a Roman Catholic and now adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Dreher writes in his book about the need for Christians today to learn to apply the practices of the sixth-century monk, Saint Benedict. Benedict was the founder of the monastic Benedictine order.  The reason is that Dreher believes that there is no reverse of the culture war which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s and ended in the defeat for Christian conservatives (pp. 3,79) and there is no hope of being reversed (p. 89). Dreher points to the time of Saint Benedict where the monastic community formed in the early centuries of the church with the intent of preserving the faith for future generations.  In his view, the monastic system preserved the faith through the medieval period (pp. 4,29,236).  He takes that further to state that in order for our faith to survive today, we must “learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West” (p. 4).  Therefore, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the alienation brought on by modern-day life.

Dreher traces the moral fall of modern society to five landmark events that rocked Western civilization:

  • In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or, in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality.
  • The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
  • The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which displaced the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy.
  • The Industrial Revolution (ca. 1760—1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • The Sexual Revolution (1960—present) (p. 23).
    • [G. Gilley @ tottministries.org]

I would agree that these events “rocked” society at the time, but I don’t necessarily attribute all of these events as responsible for the fall of society?  Some of these events clearly adversely affected society (e.g. sexual revolution) but with the others listed, one will need to ask what would the alternative have been if some of these events listed above didn’t take place?  In other words, the alternative would most likely have been far worse (alternatives to Democracy, Growth of Capitalism….etc.). 

Specifically, Dreher’s Catholicism comes out with his listing of the Protestant Reformation as being responsible for the collapse of religious unity and authority.  Again, a series of events that “rocked” society but in this case, a unity developed against the traditions of the church (Roman Catholicism), the authority of the Pope and instead focused more on God’s grace found in His word. People began looking at the Bible for truth – even to the point of giving up their life for the spread of God’s word. So much more could be said on this issue.

With little surprise to me, in addition to putting down the Reformation, Dreher introduces several aspects of contemplative mysticism, also found in early Roman Catholicism. Practices are recommended which have little similarity to Biblical practices and instead mirror mystical practices from other Eastern religious beliefs (e.g. Eastern Mysticism)

Check out a few of these in the following quotes from his latest book.

In this quote, contemplative practices such as praying the Jesus Prayer repeatedly, lectio divina, silent prayer, stilling the mind…..etc.

 

Imagine that you are at a Catholic mass in a dreary 1970s-era suburban church that looks like a converted Pizza Hut. The next Sunday you are at a high Catholic mass in New York City, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Scripture reading is the same in both places, and Jesus is just as present in the Eucharist at Our Lady of Pizza Hut as at St. Patrick’s. Chances are, though, that you had to work harder to conjure a sense of the true holiness of the mass in the suburban church than in the cathedral—though theologically speaking, the “information” conveyed in Word and Sacrament in both places was the same. This is the difference liturgy can make. (Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, pp. 106-107, Penguin Publishing Group; emphasis added)

I told the priest how, in response to a personal crisis, my own orthodox priest back in Louisiana had assigned me a strict daily prayer rule, praying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) for about an hour each day. It was dull and difficult at first, but I did it out of obedience. Every day, for a seemingly endless hour, silent prayer. In time, though, the hour seemed much shorter, and I discovered that the peace I had conspicuously lacked in my soul came forth. (The Benedict Option, p. 59)

For the monks, prayer is not simply words they speak. Each monk spends several hours daily doing lectio divina, a Benedictine method of Scripture study that involves reading a Scripture passage, meditating on it, praying about it, and finally contemplating its meaning for the soul. (The Benedict Option, pp. 58-59)

The Reformation broke the religious unity [with Rome] of Europe. In Protestant lands, it birthed an unresolvable crisis in religious authority, which over the coming centuries would cause unending schisms. The Benedict Option, p. 45, emphasis added)

If you don’t control your own attention, there are plenty of people eager to do it for you. The first step in regaining cognitive control is creating a space of silence in which you can think. During a deep spiritual crisis in my own life, the toxic tide of chronic anxiety did not began to recede from my mind until my priest ordered me to take up a daily rule of contemplative prayer. Stilling my mind for an hour of prayer was incredibly difficult, but it eventually opened up a beachhead in which the Holy Spirit could work to calm the stormy waters within.  (The Benedict Option, pp. 227-228, emphasis added)

In a 2017 Christianity Today article titled, “The Benedict Option’s Vision for a Christian Village” by Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, Dreher says the following. Our deciphering is in brackets:

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself [unify by removing the barriers between Protestantism and Catholicism], while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith [not biblical roots, monastic roots of the desert fathers and other mystics], both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart [contemplative prayer practices – Nouwen called it moving from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical] forgotten by believers in the West [that’s what Merton taught]. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs [the cost is going to be the death of biblical truth]. (source)

Several remarks by Dreher show a promotion of contemplative practices & mysticism which today is a major concern and a major reason NOT to read or support his recommendations.  With Dreher’s turn towards Eastern Orthodoxy, mysticism plays into an even larger part of the religious practices that is promoted within the church.

Dreher’s ECUMENICAL unifying of the church glosses over why the church separated in the first place.  Even more concerning are that these are growing trends in the church today.  But the unification is in spite of Biblical truth instead of Biblical truth.  Issues ranging from how one is saved through a works-based system of man-made theology or a Scripture inspired view of grace alone is a critical difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.  It is disappointing to see some major Protestant leaders such as Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, John Piper…etc., come out stressing the importance of this book and recommending that we ought to read Dreher’s book.

Future postings will continue to look at the effect of mysticism in the church along with addressing the ecumenical trends in some parts of the church today.

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