Don’t get me wrong. I love onions. You can ask my wife. So when I suggest that the Benedict Option is really just an onion I am not saying that it was a terrible book. I am saying that I like it a lot. But I came away from the book wondering: where are the meat and potatoes?
I think Dreher is on to a lot of really good stuff in this book. For example, his call to leave the public school system is wonderful. Yes, Christians should get out and get out fast. I also like how he gets the big issues (Homosexual marriage, the LGBT agenda, etc) and he presses his readers to see how society has turned against Christians. We are in a war and if you don’t see the red dot aimed at you then you need to look in the mirror more often.
Society has run so far from the truth that even little daily things that I do are now extremely counter-cultural. For example, my four year old daughter will tell me that I can’t wear dresses because I am a man. And I say yes, that is correct. She says women wear dresses and I say yes, good. Such simple truth that is apparently so radical. Gosh, I feel edgy. Or another example is all the godly Christian wedding ceremonies that are happening in our country. Each one is a fire shot at larger society. Each one is a bold statement that we do not agree with the intoleristas and that we will resist their confusion tooth and nail.
These kinds of black and white issues offer great clarity to Christians. Just yesterday I saw a Christian on Twitter explain why he is sending his young daughter to a public school: he wants her to experience racial diversity. What a lame reason to send a child into a lion’s den. If you are sending your child to a public school for the reason of diversity then you are inviting the gender bender bologna in and you are part of the problem.
Dreher is good at explaining and warning about the problems. His book is solid on that.
The area where he is weak is his solution, which we have to admit is everything. If you can see a problem but you don’t have a real solution then you aren’t really helping much. It’s like a doctor that tells us that we have a brain tumor and then he writes us a prescription for some vitamins.
The solution that Dreher offers is that we need to imitate the Benedictine monastic model and incorporate that kind of serious intentional community living into the Church. He suggests that Christians live near each other and offer support to each other. He suggests starting schools and businesses that can band together. He suggests better practices with cell phones in order to resist the social trends of pornography and mindless entertainment. And while these are good things, they are not unique to Christian communities. In fact, many of these things LGBT communities do way better than us (e.g. community) and look where it takes them. If a community is robust and supportive and thriving and it is centered around Baal, then it doesn’t really help much that they look healthy and that they are intentionally living together.
One specific example of how Dreher offers a weak solution is his continual emphasis on liturgy and rhythms of the Christian life. While I appreciate those things—I practice liturgies in my own life—they are not the solution. A liturgy, just because it is a liturgy, does not help if it is not based on a true foundation. Another way to say this is that everyone has a liturgy, even the intoleristas. So the real question needs to be: are these practices based on the truth?
Currently, there is a huge liturgical revival happening in American Christianity with an emphasis on training hands and feet and bodies to love Jesus. While some of this trend is good, there is one key issue that we are not talking enough about: the danger that you can spend so much time training the body that you miss the head and the heart. Yay, Christians can walk in a straight line. But who really cares if they don’t know where they are going?
So while Dreher offers some great ideas and thoughts, he never gets to the solution, which is Jesus. We don’t need more intentional living, we need Jesus’ blood to cleanse us. We don’t need strong businesses: we need confession of sin and forgiveness. We don’t need to build schools: we need to repent and turn to Jesus. That’s the first step. While those other things are good, they are not the solution. And if we start to work on those things while we are still missing the central piece—Jesus—then we might as well quit now.
But here’s the thing: when we focus on following Jesus and turn to Him, all those others things will happen. Do you want a good school? Follow Jesus. Do you want to have good Christian businesses? Repent and believe the gospel. Do you want to be ready to suffer for your Christian faith? Love Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
This point leads to the other central problem with this book: there is no gospel hope in the book. I understand that things are dark and that they are going to get even darker, but where is the calm, confident hope of Christianity in the book? Dreher mentions some of the early martyrs but he doesn’t seem to draw much hope from them. I was waiting for Dreher to quote Justin Martyr: “You can kill us, but you can’t hurt us.”
There is a kind of joyful war spirit that has always characterized God’s people even in the midst of dark times and dangerous enemies. This is because we follow a leader who is stronger than death. A man who can enter into death itself and still come back to life. That kind of man is unstoppable and there is nothing that can stand in His way. So what does that mean for us now? It means everything. It means that as we watch the enemy growing larger we should not embrace hopelessness or fear. Instead, we should respond: “Aha! Now we can’t miss, even if we tried!” And this kind of confidence is not based on ourselves or what we can do; nor is it a blind guarantee that we will win in this time and place. This kind of confidence is based on Jesus and His work. And because of that work, this confidence is bold to dream big and make bold requests of God. This confidence prays for God to give us the world and then it asks for Hell on top of that.
That’s how powerful the gospel is. God can change hearts in an instant and if it is His will, a revival can happen in the blink of an eye. I don’t get the feeling that Dreher would be ready for a revival like that in America but we must be ready. If Jesus wants America, He will have America.