The Jesus Option

Rod Dreher's book The Benedict Option is continuing to generate conversation, so I wanted to revisit my recent post contrasting Rod's vision of the BenOp with what I've described as a progressive vision of the BenOp.

To summarize my recent post about a progressive BenOp, I contrasted Christian culture with cruciformity. Rod tends to focus his discussions of the BenOp upon preserving Christian culture: orthodoxy, liturgy, and piety.

My concern with making culture the focus of the BenOp is the same concern Jesus leveled at the BenOp proponents of his time and place: the Pharisees.

My argument is that a progressive BenOp will focus not on culture but upon cruciformity, spiritually forming cross-carrying followers of Jesus. Another way to make this contrast is that Rod's BenOp is inspired by medieval monasticism, where the BenOp I'm describing is inspired by the gospels.

Examples of these sorts of BenOps are the Catholic Workers, the new monastics, and the L'Arche communities.

Now, readers have pushed back on me for characterizing these BenOps as "progressive." Can't orthodox and traditionally conservative Christians practice lifestyles of radical care and hospitality? Wasn't Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker, orthodox, pious and traditional in her ethics?

If so, why describe these BenOps as "progressive"?

This is a fair point. Three reflections/responses.

First, I called these BenOps "progressive" as I was trying to show fellow progressives how we need and can create a BenOp. That is, I was casting a BenOp vision for progressives. Thus a "progressive vision of the BenOp."

Second, Rod hasn't included these communities in his BenOp descriptions. The Catholic Workers, new monastics and L'Arche don't appear in The Benedict Option. Presumably because these communities are focused more on radical hospitality than preserving Christian culture (orthodoxy, piety, liturgy). They don't hit the bulls eye for him, so they aren't great exemplars of his vision. Which is fine, but for a progressive like me these communities are precisely on target, especially when you have Jesus as your target rather than medieval monasticism.

In short, I used the label progressive because BenOps focused on radical hospitality seem to fall outside of Rod's vision, precisely because of what makes them so attractive to progressives.

Third, but the point is well taken. Conservative Christians can create these sorts of communities as well. So a more inclusive label may be in order.

I've suggested calling these cruciform BenOps the Franciscan Option. But since these BenOps are focused on the gospels another name could be the Gospel Option, or even the Jesus Option.

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