Christianity Todayasked four thoughtful voices in our movement to read our March cover story on The Benedict Option and answer the following question: “In a time of weakening institutions and in an increasingly pluralistic age, what is the best way for Christians to strengthen their local Christian community?”
There’s an ominous tone to Rod Dreher’s piece, which opens with a portrait of an America hostile to Christian living. In response, Dreher calls for a strategic withdrawal of Christians into communities where we can commit to learning together, raising our children, resisting assimilation to a degenerating culture, and sustaining our way of life, much like the monastic orders of the Dark Ages.
I have great sympathy for Dreher’s call to live in proximity to other Christians, practicing our faith as a way of life—not just a Sunday worship service. I too sense the urgency for intentional communities with practices for facing the challenges of living God’s kingdom in the post-Christian climate of North America. The Christian life is not only individual commitment; it is a social reality. A community therefore, is the indispensable first step towards living a life in Christ among the world.
We cannot however, make a choice between living in Christian community or being present in our culture. To paraphrase theologian Stanley Hauerwas, how can the church possibly withdraw when by necessity we find ourselves surrounded? There’s no place to go.
The church is made who it is by being the church in the world. The church’s primary reason for being is to be in and among (but not of) the world (John 17:14–15). Just as Israel was birthed to be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 22:18), so also the church was sent by the Spirit into the world to bring all the nations to himself (Matt. 28:19).
We cannot, therefore, extract ourselves from the world without losing who we are. The church does not have a mission. It is mission.
It is impossible to be a community of integrity without the challenges that come from engaging in the world. By sitting alongside those different from us, those outside Christ, we are challenged and see the lacunas in our own lives. This is what makes witness possible.
We must remember that despite Satan being allowed to roam the world, Jesus still rules over the world, and he shall rule until all have been made subject (1 Cor. 15:25). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Christ, and we are therefore to go into this world making disciples (Matt. 28:18,19). As such, the church recognizes God is at work in the world too.
Church community must mold character and form families as well as shape the skills necessary for discerning and participating in Christ’s work in the world.
This is the kind of Benedict Option we need.
The church is necessarily both a faithful internal community and a faithful external presence in the world. The church must be a way of life, seven days a week, that engages the world with the gospel. This is where I see the Benedict Option pushing us.
David Fitch is the B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He is author of Faithful Presence: 7 Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission.