With the collapse of Christian values in western civilization, what are we to do?
I recently read an article in Christianity Today called ‘The Idea of a Christian Village” written by Rob Dreher. In it, Dreher correctly points out that Western Christian civilization is in trouble. Churches are becoming less effective at combatting cultural decline. He notices that the major cultural issues challenged by Christians today seem to be limited to abortion and gay marriage, two areas where they are losing. Other areas of cultural decline are going unchallenged, like consumerism, secularism, and rabid individualism.
The solution, according to Dreher, is what he calls “the Benedictine Option”; a concept to which he devotes an entire book. The Benedictine Option is a strategic withdrawal from secular society. As Dreher puts it:
The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.
To not do so means to doom our children to cultural assimilation. We see the reality of what Dreher is talking about since 70% of children that grow up in the church leave by the time they are 19. There is a clear problem with our culture, and it is only getting worse.
The Benedictine Option gets its name from St. Benedict, a monk living in the 6th century who founded a monastic order in response to the collapse of Roman Civilization. Benedict’s group was governed by three vows – Obedience, fidelity, and repentance. These vows, Dreher argues, should be taken seriously be Christians starting a community apart from the culture.
I like Dreher’s emphasis on Christian community. Loner Christianity is more dangerous than ever. Without a solid community to serve and raise your kids in, Christians we are doomed living a compromised life. The pull of the increasingly anti-Christian culture is too great to weather alone.
I seek to put this Christian community principle into practice as my wife and I are looking for our first home. It has always been a dream of mine to own a house, and it would be easy to choose the best house at the best price regardless of location. However, we are narrowing our search to one city in particular: Kent. Kent doesn’t have the best house market nor the best house prices, but what it does have is majority of our ministry. We have a consensus with our best friends, who are also fellow young couples, which is that we want to live in as close proximity to each other as possible. We want to be able to lean on each other and have our kids grow up together. We may be missing out on our potential “dream home” in another location, but it is worth it to have a strong community of believers helping each other weather the storm. In our culture, we are fighting an uphill battle, and we could use all the help we can get.
I don’t agree with everything Dreher advocates with the Benedictine Option. For one, he seems to have the goal in mind that through the church’s example, we can begin to influence and change the culture around us. I don’t buy into this line of thinking since the Bible is clear the whole world is in the power of the Evil One. Our efforts should not be concentrated on changing the culture because this would be a fruitless and discouraging effort. Paul promises that as we get closer to the end times, Christian values in our culture will decay further. People will become “Lovers of self” and “holding on to form of godliness yet denying its true power” (1 Tim 3:2-5). He paints a bleak picture here, so what are we to do?
We can follow the example of the first century church. These Christians lived in an incredibly hostile culture, one even more hostile than ours today, yet they were “Strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). For these early Christians, the goal was not to transform the culture, but rather to rescue people out of the culture through salvation and discipleship. This was the way the church operated for hundreds of years until it became institutionalized by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Much of the pure Christian message became diluted as the government took it over.
While establishing a strong Christian community is important, we must be careful not to go too far and become Christian isolationists. Dreher is clear in the article he is not advocating isolationism, that is, cutting ourselves off completely from the culture so we don’t become polluted. However, Dreher does make some recommendations that go too far this direction, like building our own Christian schools and hospitals. I want my kids to go to public school and engage with the culture so that we can build a thriving ministry. We know that this is a dangerous and risky thing to do, but I myself have experienced what it is like to be under the Lord’s protection. Having a close-knit Christian community nearby also has a strengthening effect that offsets some of this risk.
I am happy to find someone like Dreher who sees the Western cultural slide and has some solutions for us, but we must be careful not to delude ourselves into thinking we can reform it. The best we can do is establish a close-proximity tight-knit community, fight to preserve the unity, and reach out to the people around us and rescue them from the sinking ship.
Our very own Professor Joel Hughes read Dreher’s book and posted and excellent review here that I used for reference.