My friend, Joshua Banner, invited me into a conversation about this article. My response is below. I’m excited to read the upcoming book by Rod Dreher.
Joshua, I’m so glad you shared this article and appreciate you sending it my way. I had not seen this article yet and, although I’ve followed Dreher for several years and enjoyed reading and identifying with “Crunchy Cons”, I had not read anything on the upcoming book “The Benedict Option”.
I’ll respond, but with a caveat. This topic is central to my journey and you and, in order to do it more justice, you and I need some significant time on the front porch in Carlton Landing, preferably with a Bible in one hand and a shared bottle of Bulleit Rye on the coffee table.
When I first saw the title, “The Benedict Option”, I was intrigued but presupposed that I would disagree with the assumed premise as I associate the Christian monasticism tradition with vacating the role of culture shaping and being intentional about our influence on society. I’ve read about intentional communities and have studied ways this kind of faith is practiced today. You might have seen “The New Monasticism”. While there are parts of that movement that are very interesting and appealing to me and while it connects with something that god has done in my heart (which i’ll get to in a moment), I think these movements tend to emphasize “withdrawal from society” too strongly. I feel called to engage culture and stay connected with society, so I don’t care to build a wall around me and live a cloistered life.
But the element that such movements have which is SO appealing to me is the deeper understanding of what it means to live a Godly life. Also, the humble respect and appreciation for the Christian tradition provides an anchor to ones faith that I don’t see in the many of the new emerging church patterns. There is a desire in everyone for a DEEP faith experience that transcends denominational lines and the consumer culture of our day. People want substance, meaning and purpose. They look to the church and typically find a watered down experience that fails to change lives or inspire passion or stand up against injustice or affect how we spend our time, money or energy. When faced with going with the pop culture or joining a typical North American church, I fear that most people would say “what’s the difference”? That is a tragic reality but that’s where the church is today in most places.
Since 2003, in trying to figure out how to see redemptive, impacting change and positively affect the way people live and interact, being a real estate guy, I’ve started by looking at the shape and meaning of the built environment. Musicians will look to music. Film makers will look to film. Politicians will look to policy. I look to the bricks and sticks of architecture and, more importantly, urbanism. Carlton Landing was/is an experiment to see how that works. Hopefully, it works well to provide an environment where life-giving culture is nurtured and continues to be long after I’m gone. Wheeler District in OKC is Round 2, now in an urban context. (Blair Humphreys is overseeing that good work.)
In the process of founding Carlton Landing, some might say that it was a retreat from society in the historic sense of the monastic movement. But I felt that we were creating a place that would nurture culture and foster community so that people could come out, be restored, and go back into their cities to engage culture and use their influence to lead society. I saw a place like Carlton Landing in the same light as the Chautauqua Movement – a place where positive culture could emanate and grow influence. So it’s more about cultural engagement than cultural withdrawal.
Also, I see the slide of the American culture over the past 100 years as a transition into a post-Christian society. Some don’t want to admit that, but I’d be happy to debate that with anyone. Our institutions have fallen – family, marriage, church. In many ways we’ve abandoned a God honoring position in education, government and certainly entertainment. The outcomes of moral relativism have started to be realized and I think they’ll just continue to grow. It’s the reality we live in.
So where does that leave the church? How do we search for truth and live out the gospel in this kind of society? After reading the CT article and listening to an interview with Rod Dreher by Albert Mohler, I think Dreher is right on the money. He’s not calling for a withdrawal, but rather a ratcheting down of our theological understanding and Christian practice. We have to know what we believe, how to effectively impact the world by practicing that faith, and guard against the slide into moral and ideological relativism through cultural assimilation. We have to be willing to set ourselves apart, not necessarily geographically, but certainly morally and ideologically. We must be intentional about knowing how we as men and women can walk with God, what it looks like to have families who live in a way that honors God, how to live in community in a way that personifies the Gospel, and how to have a podium of influence in society for positive change.
A longer conversation on the porch sometime!