Here’s the paradox of the Benedict Option: if the church is going to be the blessing for the world that God means for it to be, then it is going to have to spend more time away from the world deepening its commitment to God, to scripture, to tradition, and to each other. We cannot give to the world what we do not have. We should engage with the world, but not at the expense of our fidelity and our sense of ourselves as a people set apart. We must somehow walk a path between the Christian fundamentalists who reject everything about the world and the accomodationists who love the world so much that they rationalize idol-worship for the sake of preserving their privileges. “Engaging the culture” must never become an excuse to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar. Winsomeness must never be a veil concealing our cowardice from ourselves.
There must have been something about the daily lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon that trained them spiritually so that when they were put to the ultimate test, they passed. It must be that way with us, too. We are failing at this today, and failing badly. The numbers I cited earlier tell a tale of Christian infidelity. If we don’t change our way of living, we will not survive as the church. We will be assimilated. There is no middle way…
If we are going to stay true to our faith, we are going to have to listen to voices from outside the here and now – authoritative voices from the Christian past, especially the premodern era. How else are we going to be able to tell the difference between those who speak comforting lies that we want to hear and those who, like Jeremiah, preach the prophetic word of God? We must beware of religious leaders who are content to be chaplains to the contemporary cultural order. That way is death.
– Rod Dreher, Signs of the Times, Plough Quarterly, Issue 13
Thanks for this, Adria. I’ve just been reading an essay (and listening to the lecture on YouTube: Burke Lecture on Religion and Society 2004) by Stanley Hauerwas titled “Bonhoeffer on Truth and Politics.” His theme is “to show that Bonhoeffer rightly understood that the gift the church gives to any politics is the truthful proclamation of the gospel.” There are a number of instructive cautions in this work, some specific to America, such as exposing secularization or “in the tension between the attempt to say the truth and the will for the community, the latter always prevails.” Both Hauerwas and Bonhoeffer (as did early Friends) put speaking truth over all other concerns. Here’s an excerpt from Bonhoeffer’s that is quoted in the piece. (It’s from a 1934 letter to a bishop in which he discusses an upcoming Christian conference, which will include both those who are opposed to Hitler and those “Christians” who are in accord.)
Precisely because of our attitude to the state, the conversation here must be completely honest, for the sake of Jesus Christ and the ecumenical cause. We must make it clear–fearful as it is–that the time is very near when we shall have to decide between National Socialism and Christianity. It may be fearfully hard and difficult for us all, but we must get right to the root of things, with open Christian speaking and no diplomacy. And in prayer together we will find the way. I feel that a resolution ought to be framed–all evasion is useless. And if the world alliance in Germany is then dissolved–well and good, at least we will have borne witness that we were at fault. Better that than to go on vegetating in this untruthful way. Only complete truth and truthfulness will help us now. I know that many of my German friends think otherwise. But I ask you urgently to appreciate my views.
There is no better place to become Christlike than in the world. We don’t need more time alone with scripture, we need more of Jesus. It’s too easy to camp around a biblical revelation or gift and never get to the cross where we can be crucified with Him. Whereas the world gives us opportunities every second to do so. Every time we find ourselves crucified with Jesus is a time we are one with Him and His prayer that we may be one as He and the Father are one is answered.
Hello, Adria! Working my way through *The Benedict Option* So far, it sounds good, but it also looks like an elite-oriented repackaging of traditional Quaker and Anabaptist ideas about “A City Set on a Hill” and “A Village in the Valley.” I may comment more when I get the book read and digested!