The Idea of a Christian Village (Benedict Option, ch. 6)

The sixth chapter of Rod Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option, is about building strong Christian community from the family to the local church to local ‘grass roots’ ecumenism between conservative believers. Rooted in Scripture and tradition, drawing strength from those who have gone before, we turn turn to fellow believers around us to nourish and strengthen our faith and grow in Christ.

I don’t know how to respond personally to this chapter. I recommend it to you to see how it would work in your situation. I certainly find appealing the idea of turning my home into a domestic monastery — that is, where my wife and pray and live with discipline and intentionality and raise our son ‘Christianly and virtuously’ (to quote the BCP).

But some of it won’t work for us now.

We are victims of our atomised culture and the economy of how universities are run. I am not interested in retreating from secular academia just yet (thankyouverymuch, chh. 7 & 8), so that means working within the broken system to provide for my family, taking one-year contracts as they come and building up my CV to land a permanent job.

That means that we are living in a new city with a 4 1/2-month-old baby with no settled church, no community for both of us, no local ties so no ecumenical ties. Besides, I’ve felt on the fringes of church for a few years now (whether my own local community or the wider Anglican world), so this is a hard chapter to apply. Just who on earth am I supposed to be living closer to? With whom will I start a study of the great classics of the Christian faith?

I don’t know.

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5 thoughts on “The Idea of a Christian Village (Benedict Option, ch. 6)

  1. I actually read the Scarlet Letter and I’m terrified about the concept of a christian village. It’s been done before and it didn’t really turn out that great. If I remember my history correctly, a puritan village used to kick out anyone who got on the governors/pastors bad side and a lot of people who had that same story formed the community we know now as Providence, Rhode Island.
    Besides, if God calls us to be a city on the hillside and a light in the darkness; what good do we do by closing the shutters and keeping that light to ourselves? Wouldn’t everyone in the dark feel abandoned? Wouldn’t the cause of Christ suffer? When Benedict reignited Christianity, it was an active business, going places and doing things – living as Christians should. It wasn’t the act of holding up inside a building that was important.

    • Hi Jamie! Indeed, most Christian social experiments such as those of the Puritans have not been the greatest examples of grace. But what the chapter of the book is about is forming rich and deep community with fellow Christians, not founding a literal village. While Dreher calls for strategic withdrawal from certain aspects of life in the world, and especially in terms of how our children interact with that world, he doesn’t think that we can/will/should completely remove ourselves from the rest of the world.

      Re St Benedict, he did go a few places. Three years alone in a cave was one place. He was driven out of another place when the monks tried killing him. And he spent his final years as the abbot of a cloistered monastery devoted to prayer and labour. Not that Benedictines didn’t get out and do all sorts of stuff later on, mind you. But Benedict of Nursia, in his lifetime, did not reignite Christianity (it didn’t need reigniting). That’s all historical stuff — again, though. I agree with your point. We should be more like Franciscans and canons regular than Carthusians.

  2. This is the heart of Dreher’s book. Can a Christian community be created in the 21st century that can follow The Rule of St. Benedict. There are some parts of The Rule that worry me, e.g., Chapter 5. Obedience. “The first step in humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, they carry out the superior’s order as promptly as if the command came from God himself.” That is scary to me.

    In essence this is asking a brother to give up his conscience as a price of brotherhood. Barring an apocalypse, I cannot see this happening in most of the Christian world, except for cults we would NOT want to emulate. Rather, I think we need to meditate on the difference between a Christian Community and a Christian Village. One can flourish in an urban or suburban milieu; the other requires a certain degree of isolation. Early Christian communities were in urban settings, involved families, and took years of preparation before admission was granted. The monastic traditions that followed The Rule were most frequently isolated, often in the extreme. But in an economically viable Christian Community now, I think the leadership structure must be something other than a pyramidal hierarchy.

    Thoughts?

    • I think the rule of obedience is truly only feasible if you have an abbot who looks like Benedict’s recommendations, or like someone from Gregory’s Book of Pastoral Rule.

      Something other than a pyramidal hierarchy is a good idea, and I think that here is where submission, rather than obedience, comes into play, taking a cue from the chapter on the subject from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. That is, we choose to willingly submit to one another out of love, and because it is an act of the will, we cannot be trampled upon, for we have already chosen submission. Moreover, because it is mutual, there is room for discussion about boundaries and when to say no and all that.

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