The Benedict Option: The Fruit of a Compromised Church
…Has it come to this, that monkery is to be revived in a professedly Protestant Church?…For the love you bear to your Redeemer, be duped no longer, and by your own hatred of monkery and priestcraft, come ye out from among them, be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing
Evangelical Christians have recently had an eye-opening experience. Even before the book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation had hit the stands, it was already causing a stir. According to David Brooks of the New York Times, it is “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.”(source) A cover story in Christianity Today described it as a vision for a Christian village on “how to conserve and strengthen the American church.” (source)
And then others quickly joined the cause, which included;
Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (source), Matt Chandler, President of the Acts 29 Network and pastor of The Village Church (source), Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (source), Carl R.Trueman, Westminster [PA] Theological Seminary, and John Piper, founder and teacher of desiringGod.org (source), and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
For some, they were left scratching their heads trying to figure out why the ideas of a sixth-century monk, who spent three years in a dark cave, would be presented to evangelicals as an example to follow. (Particularly, when the author of the book, Rod Dreher, makes the statement “…the West owes an incalculable debt to Benedictine monks.”)
On the other hand, for those who have been warning the Church about the carelessness of evangelical leaders, this was just one more example exposing the Downgrade in our midst. Hence, the extent of the problem is now on full display as we witness high profile leaders throwing their support behind a book predicated on the false notion that for Christianity to survive a collapsing culture, evangelicals should band together and follow the example of Saint Benedict of Norcia, a man canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic church in the year 1220 and named patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964. What does this say about our current condition?
Remarkably, even before the book was available in bookstores, on February 13, 2017, Al Mohler devoted a whole radio program to the book. It was obvious from the interview Mohler followed Dreher’s work closely and even told his listeners, “…the book is very important and I want to commend it to every thinking Christian, we ought to read this book and we ought also to read far beyond the title.” (source)
During the interview, Dreher described his life as,
…shaped around liturgy that’s been in the church for 1500 years. My life is shaped around chanting the Psalms and on all kinds of sensual ways that embody the faith. But for me as an Orthodox Christian and me as a Catholic, the faith had more traction and it drew me in closer and closer. I don’t know if evangelicals can do that…
In response, Mohler concurred with his guest, “I do not believe evangelicalism has sufficient resources to survive either this epoch or much beyond.” But, it was apparent Mohler felt his guest did understand the “resources” needed for evangelicals to survive a secular assault on our faith and our families.
To the contrary, it doesn’t require a PhD in theology to discern the “resources” found in the model and example of Saint Benedict will serve to increase numbers in the Catholic church, not strengthen evangelicals. And for sure, this is not the biblical response on how the Church will survive amid a collapsing culture? Instead, it will serve to undermine it.
Nevertheless, Rod Dreher told Mohler’s audience that it is
time for Christians to take seriously the times we’re in, to read the signs of the times and to respond in a responsible way… And I use Saint Benedict of Norcia, the sixth-century saint, …He went out to the woods to pray; he lived in a cave for three years and asked God to show him what to do with his life. He ended up coming out and founding a monastic order… They tendered within those monasteries the Scriptures, the prayers, the liturgies, and the old ways of doing things.
With more airtime given to him, Dreher illustrated further his passion for the way of Saint Benedict. He said,
One of the stories I tell in the book is about going to the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a small town in the mountains of central Italy, that was where they say Benedict was born…. Napoleon closed it down in 1810, but in the year 2000 some American monks went there and reopened it. And they wanted to sing the traditional Latin mass, and it’s become a real oasis of Christian peace and beauty. Well, it’s the sort of place where you go there up in the mountains, and you really envy these men, their peace, where they can worship and meet visitors.
(See video clip of the monks of Norcia: source)
In other publications Rod Dreher has stated, the “1,500-year-old Benedictine way of life is a model for us.” He has also said, “Benedictine spirituality is a practical spirituality, a way of Christian living that consecrates the routines of the every day.” (source)
What is “Benedictine Spirituality”?
Per a 2014 article written in The American Conservative by Rod Dreher, titled, “Meditation & The Jesus Prayer,” Dreher described and acknowledged his prayer life had included praying the rosary as a Catholic, but now says he uses a “rosary-like prayer rope to pray the Jesus Prayer.” (The “Jesus Prayer” is also mentioned in The Benedict Option.) (source)
Dreher states the repetitious line of “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner” said repeatedly is indeed “contemplative and meditative.” He also defends it saying, “it is well grounded within ancient, unbroken Christian practice going back to the Desert Fathers of the early church.” (source)
In the same article, a link was provided to “a short primer,” to obtain more information on “the practice of the Jesus Prayer.” Oddly, he also cautions readers regarding the practice due to the similarities in breathing techniques used in “yoga or transcendental meditation and the like.” Therein lies one of the greatest dangers and deceptions of this practice. (source)
This primer also provided the following information; “The history of the Jesus Prayer goes back, as far as we know, to the early sixth century, with Diadochos, who taught that repetition of the prayer leads to inner stillness.” The primer also acknowledges the influence of John Cassian, who was celebrated for his mystical writings. It is said Cassian, in turn, influenced the teachings of Saint Benedict. (source)
Further information in the short primer includes instruction on how to breathe correctly while repeating the Jesus Prayer: “If we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. We are to breathe naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.’ On the exhale, we can say, ‘have mercy on me, a sinner.’ We are to breathe and pray slowly reverently and attentively.”
The book itself builds on the prayer life of Benedictine monks by pointing out their support of this Prayer. Per the author, Father Basil told him, “…as you have discovered with the Jesus Prayer…You have to set aside time for it.” The author also draws attention to other Benedictine spiritual practices, which includes several hours “daily of doing Lectio Divina.” (source)
It is telling that it is not only concerned Christians who have noticed that the trajectory of the book is to highlight the historical workings and roots of ancient Catholicism and the Orthodox religion. When even New York Times writer David Brookes, observes, “The heroes of Rod’s book are almost all monks,” our question should be “Why?” instead of just blindly following.
Our own review of the book confirms what others are saying: “Dreher presents a radical vision for the future of Christian life, and calls on American Christians to embrace an ancient way of life modeled by St. Benedict, a sixth-century monk who built enduring and separatist Christian communities focused on prayer, hospitality, and spiritual practice.” (source)
When Evangelicals begin opening doors to canonized saints, they also open other doors.
If The Benedict Option is given any more ground than it has already been given, we can expect more spiritual confusion to follow. Giving the Church a taste for Saint Benedict will inevitably introduce other aspects of Rome.
In the words of its author, the goal is the “rediscovering” of “an old tradition…we need to go back to the early church to see how our ancestors did it, see what they did, see how they embodied the faith and culture and practices.” (source)
It should be obvious, there are other disturbing issues besides the spiritual and theological persuasions of the author, Rod Dreher. Although Mohler acknowledges the difference that exists between their two faith perspectives, he also says evangelicals can learn from Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism without compromising their theological convictions.
But, once again, he is underestimating the power of error, and using poor judgment not consistent with Scripture. More importantly, did Jesus and the apostles encourage learning from the Pharisees?”
Furthermore, this growing willingness to excuse and accommodate biblically unsound teaching, or provide a platform for error and falsehood, is troubling. Moreover, to any believer in Christ, who left the Catholic church precisely because of its teachings, will be stunned to know certain evangelical leaders now think the teachings of a prominent monk are worthy of their attention.
Also, past writings of The Benedict Option author indicate a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. A stated personal belief on both purgatory and ghosts should give pause to those inclined to give him access to evangelicals.
Despite Scripture saying, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes the judgment (Hebrews 9:27),” Dreher has stated;
…I believe…the soul survives the death of the body. As for ghosts, I believe that in some cases, God allows the spirits of the dead to visit the living, and in other cases those spirits are unhappily bound to the earth in a kind of purgatorial state, from which they need the help of the living to respond to divine grace and be free to move on… I have seen haunted houses, including my mom and dad’s place, freed of ghosts by Christian prayer, and that is the most important thing I need to know. My local friend, a Catholic, told me the ghost left her house after she told it to depart in the name of Jesus. (source), (more on purgatory)
Hence, such being the case, regardless of the author’s good intentions, Christians should not spend their hard-earned money on this book.
Scripture warns “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” ( Ephesians 5:11) Yet, we find this great evangelical disaster picking up steam in our midst. Regardless of anything helpful found in the book, why would evangelical men give any support to an idea highlighting a false religious system as an answer to survive a corrupt culture and a worldly church?
Also, instead of adhering to the words found in Scripture regarding our response to error, and our fellowship with those who espouse error, it is becoming increasingly apparent men are finding their own ways of doing things. Consequently, they ignore the warning:
Watch yourselves…If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting, for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. —2 John 8-11
To those who left Roman Catholicism behind to embrace the sufficiency of Scripture and salvation found in Christ alone, to those who threw away their rosaries with all its Hail Mary’s, to those who abandoned the teachings of a church that embraces purgatory and praying to canonized saints, to those who left Rome, there will be no turning back. They will want no part of Saint Benedict’s strategy for Christians.
Lastly, it is incumbent on us to heed warnings from men who have proven they understand the battles of our day. A.W. Pink is one of those men:
“To turn away from the lifeless preachers and Publishers of the day—may involve a real cross. Your motives will be misconstrued, your words perverted, and your actions misinterpreted. The sharp arrows of false report will be directed against you. You will be called proud and self-righteous because you refuse to fellowship empty professors. You will be termed censorious and bitter—if you condemn in plain speech—the subtle delusions of Satan. You will be dubbed narrow-minded and uncharitable because you refuse to join in singing the praises of the “great” and “popular” men of the day. More and more, you will be made to painfully realize—that the path which leads unto eternal life is “narrow” and that FEW there are who find it. May the Lord be pleased to grant unto each of us—the hearing ear and obedient heart! “Take heed what you hear” and read!” (source)
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. —Galatians 1:10
(Note: Link to the above Charles Spurgeon quote: (http://www.spurgeon.org/tract09.php )
** Pulpit & Pen will be posting a book review on Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” soon.