I pre-ordered my copy of the Benedict Option. Like many, I was eagerly waiting for this book.
I wasn't disappointed. I got the book just a few days after it was released, and must have been one of the first federal inmates to devour it.
I then ordered a copy for each of my four sons, (aged 14-24) my son-in-law, my four ministers, and a friend in here---a total of 10 extra copies.
Like I said, I wasn't disappointed.
Dreher's goal with the Benedict Option is to "Embrace exile from the mainstream culture and construct a resilient counter-culture" in this age of "Post-Christian barbarianism." These issues are very close to my heart.
I embrace his goal. His prophetic eye and voice is greatly needed in our day. He gives insightful analysis on how western society has reached its present state of disintegration.
He gives a blueprint for the construction of an alternative culture with helpful material on topics like raising godly families, technology and media, education and jobs---all in the context of Christian community.
"Dreher argues that the way forward is actually back---all the way to St. Benedict of Nursia."
On my second time through the book I began to wonder whether Dreher missed something in plain sight.
Does he go back far enough?
Has there every been a more resilient counterculture than the one established around 33 AD by the King of a New World Order?
Did that King leave behind a constitution, a "Rule of Life," for the citizens of His Kingdom by which they could establish a radical counterculture?
Would this "Rule of Life" not only enable the early Christians to survive the paganism around them BUT ALSO empower them to be a "City on a Hill" and a "Salty Influence" on society around them?
Did it work for the early Christians?
Are there societies throughout church history that have lived by this Rule?
Does this Rule work in modern society; are there resilient countercultures existing under this Rule right now?
YES! To all of the above.
And it's really surprising to me that Dreher, at best, only makes glancing reference to this most radical and transformative "Christian Manifesto."
It's time for "THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT OPTION."
(Don't get me wrong, I'm not canceling those extra copies and I'm going to dog-ear and mark up my personal copy some more.)
But something is very wrong with Christianity and I think it will require going beyond a "Benedict Option."
In his column "A Tale of Two Churches," in the April issue of Christianity Today, Andrew Wilson notes that "In many ways the story of Christianity is full of light."
"But there is an undeniable dark side: attacking, burning, crusading, drowning, flogging, ghettoizing, hunting, imprisoning, Jew-hating, and lynching." (And might I add, "bombs and bullets.")
Wilson says of the people involved in the above atrocities, "As far as we know, they have loved God, followed Jesus, and received His Spirit."
Is there anyone else raising their eyebrows and going, "REALLY??!!"
Eighty-six years ago E. Stanley Jones, the "Billy Graham" of the 1930's and 1940's, exclaimed, "The greatest need of modern Christianity is the rediscovery of the Sermon on the Mount as the only practical way to live." (Christ of the Mount, p. 14)
He couldn't have been more right---then and now.
Historians tell us that in the first three centuries of the church, the Biblical passage most referred to was the Sermon on the Mount." (Kissinger, Sermon on the Mount, p. 6)
I sincerely believe the loss of the Sermon on the Mount led directly to the "dark side" of Christianity Wilson wrote about.
Jones goes on to say in his 1931 classic, "The fact is, that the Sermon on the Mount is not in our creeds. As the Apostles Creed now stands, you can accept every word of it and leave the essential self untouched...Suppose we had written in our creeds and had repeated with conviction each time, "I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it!"
"What would have happened?" Jones asks. "I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would be different." (p.12)
"With its emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life, the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother--in--law Licianius, sentenced to death his 11 year old nephew, killed his oldest son Crispus, brought about the death of his second wife, took the nails that were supposed to come from the cross of Christ, and used one in his war helmet and the other on the bridle of his war horse."
"Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church, and his memory celebrated as equal to the apostles, was hailed as "bishop of bishops and presided at the council of Nicaea." (p.12-13, Jones.)
WITH CHRISTIANS LIKE THIS, WHO NEEDS BARBARIANS?
It's time we push back through the wreckage of a dark "Christianity", and let the light of true Christianity lead us to the Light of Lights. It's time we go back past fundamentalism, past revivalism, back past Martin Luther and the Reformation, the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, Benedict of Nursia, Augustine, Constantine and Origen and the early fathers---and reclaim our heritage.
On our journey we may find help from many great men and movements. But they will help us only as they point us to the Lodestar.
The Lodestar is a meek and lowly man from Nazareth, sent to earth to bring the Kingdom of Heaven among us.
He led his World Revolution without violence and killing (except for allowing Himself and His followers to be killed) and He taught them how to be "salt and light" and full of good deeds that would glorify God in the midst of barbarianism.
Rod Dreher has helped open our eyes to the realities of our day and time.
In my opinion, one of the most profound statements in the book comes from the leader of a Christian community in Italy whom Dreher interviewed, Marco Sermarini:
"I didn't know the teaching of Jesus Christ was for all of my life, not just the religious part of it. If you recognize that He is Lord of all, you will order your life in a radically different way."
It's time for the SERMON ON THE MOUNT OPTION.
To be continued.
Kenneth L Miller 08464-082
Federal Correctional Complex
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804