I finished Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. As a friend recently said: if you’ve been reading Dreher’s blog for a while, you totally know what you’re getting in this book. The only thing that really stood out from the book-version of his argument concerning the Christian church’s place in contemporary society is the chapter about the monks of Norcia, which gives us a glimpse at “basic Benedictine spirituality,” something that has interested me for over a decade.
It seems to me that Dreher makes one basic assertion that needs to be dealt with. And before getting to it, let me acknowledge that the response to that assertion (when posed as a question) is both yes and no. Early in the book, in the first chapter, Dreher says
This is not just about our own survival. If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training– just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have. [emphasis mine]
Is that final statement true? Does the church today actually lack what it hopes to give to the world? If the statement is true, then how do we “get” what we should already have? If the statement is false, why does it often feel like the statement is true?
The Gospel, of course, is what we have to give to the world. I think most churches today would say that we have the Gospel but it’s the world that doesn’t want it. And there is some truth in that. But the Gospel, the good news of Jesus the Messiah crucified and resurrect and ascended to redeem God’s fallen creation, is more than just a proposition to be spoken until we feel we can knock the dust off our sandals. It is more than a propositional framework. It is truth with implication. As every word of the New Testament claims, it is a reality rooted in revelation and relationship. It is truth that works its way into every aspect of life like yeast through kneaded dough. It’s a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand. It’s a royal priesthood and a holy nation. As Dreher notes a number of times, quoting Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” That is true of both the incarnation and the church in Gospel terms.
Dreher asserts for over 200 pages that we need to think long and hard about what we say we believe and how we understand the implications of the Gospel for living day-to-day. One does not have to whole-heartedly agree with his argument to take a moment and reflect on the different areas of life his book touches on. On some level, humility demands this of us. If, like an alarm, it wakes us up to the reality of the world around us, then so be it. If it reminds us that we have tapped the snooze button one time too many, then so be it. And if we are already wide awake when the alarm sounds, let’s be glad for the reminder and get on with the work that we are already doing. And let us hope that more will join us.
(image from amazon.com, where you can always order the book)