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9 Most Intelligent Takes on Rod Dreher’s "The Benedict Option"

Christian writers, scholars, and prelates are busy analyzing Rod Dreher’s long-awaited book, The Benedict Option. Dreher has challenged us all to ask hard questions about culture, Christianity, and the West, and he has succeeded. Right and left are talking about this provocative call to reflection and what exactly it’s asking of not only Christians but also their critics.

But how do you get an accurate sense of the conversation so as to formulate your own thoughts when you have little time and there are so many voices?

Dreher’s book covers a lot of ground, so it’s helpful to climb a hilltop to take in the landscape. We combed through dozens of reviews and curated the nine that are most balanced and that address The Benedict Option from these fundamental perspectives: culture, philosophy, history, faith, and criticism.

We hope this helps you drop into the conversation and formulate your own review!

1. JAKE MEADOR DECONSTRUCTS THE BENEDICT OPTION

Meador breaks down the structure of The Benedict Option and of Rod Dreher’s thought. Whether you have read the book or not, this is a great place to start. Understanding the construction of a work is just as important as understanding its content. Meador also reminds us that Dreher has provided a strategy, not the strategy.

2. ALAN JACOBS REMINDS US WE NEED HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

“The whole debate over The Benedict Option,” writes Jacobs, “needs to be brought down out of the absolutist clouds and grounded in more historical particularities.” In other words, let your immediate context inform your approach.

3. ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT DEFENDS DREHER’S “ALARMISM”

Chaput is as aware of your limited time, as we are. So it is with great consideration that he recommends reading Dreher’s book, regardless of whether you agree with it. He also finds plenty of “alarmism” in Scripture and argues for its role in society.

4. JOHN ZMIRAK HAS THREE CHALLENGING QUESTIONS FOR THE BENEDICT OPTION

Zmirak has experienced the Benedict Option from the time he was young and doubts its efficacy. He has three questions for you, particularly if you come from a Christian community or background.

5. NATHANIEL PETERS SAYS THERE'S NOTHING VERY BENEDICTINE ABOUT THE BENEDICT OPTION

Dreher reaches for more than he can handle, says Peters. Maybe he shouldn’t generalize from Benedictine tradition to social prescription—and then again, maybe the Benedict Option isn’t Benedictine at all.

6. DAVID BROOKS CATEGORIZES BELIEVERS INTO PURISTS AND IRONISTS

Beware extremes, says Brooks. People tend to fall into two categories, and both are guilty of exaggeration, not realism. So where does Dreher fall?

7. FR. GILGER SAYS DREHER GETS IT RIGHT AND WRONG

The Benedict Option fulfills its aim in part, but also leaves the reader hanging, says Fr. Gilger. It’s intentionally unsatisfying, which fulfills the purpose of such a book. The point is to start a conversation, not finish it.

8. GERALD RUSSELLO FINDS THE BENEDICT OPTION DEPRESSING—AND EXHILARATING

Russello agrees with Dreher: it’s time for believers to recognize the many cracks in a civilization we take for granted. And yet this is no reason to panic. Christianity has been a source of beauty and renewal before, and it can be again.

9. ROD DREHER EXPLAINS: “MY BOOK IS ABOUT CHRISTIAN HOPE, NOT OPTIMISM”

The author himself explains the book’s purpose to the National Review and offers thoughts on how his readers should approach the Benedict Option. Nothing like getting inside the author’s head to understand his work.


Complement with Michael Ward on C. S. Lewis and the art of disagreement, Peter Lawler's guide to conservatism today, and Chad Chisholm on why you should start a reading group on your campus

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