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. ...

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