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The Benedict Option Isn’t “Two Kingdoms” Enough

Brandon already made excellent points about the Benedict Option and I don’t have much more to add. But one thing stands out to me and I’ve had something on my mind for a couple weeks and this is a good excuse to mention it.

First, a summary of the Benedict Option. Dreher:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Important clarifying interpretation from Brandon:

Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”).

Now my own take. The Benedict Option is being seen as an alternative to One Kingdom cultural transformationalism. It is being seen as an alternative to the “change the world” mentality. Thus, the danger exists of seeing all dissenters from the Benedict Option as being in the alternative camp. So when I say the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, I actually mean that I am on the opposite extreme as the transformationalists.

As Brandon noted, the problem with the Benedict Option is not in its “withdrawing from the world” per se, it is in its assumption that there is ever a time to pursue Christendom at all. Dreher thinks that “now is the time” to seek shelter and live “in the world but not of the world.” The problem with this is that it is not radical enough; it does not emphasize our pilgrimage enough; it is not reflective of a strong Two Kingdoms paradigm because it sees our current predicament as a backup plan.

Thus, the Benedict Option does not go far enough. It does not separate that which is temporary (the physical world) from that which is eternal (ideas/truths) in a consistent matter. It waits for a time when Christendom will return, when temporary institutions can once again be united with the Church. But this misses the entire point of Two Kingdoms theology.

Now, don’t get me wrong at all. From a cultural commentator standpoint, I tend to enjoy Dreher and the rest of the American Conservative folks. I certainly read their content and am pleased that there is a voice on the right that is not leftist/neoconservative. I love the Old Right and traditional conservatism. But the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, though it’s heading in the right direction by withdrawing from the empire. I would just ask that it be more radical in doing so.

Published in C.Jay Engel