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    Mosaic detail from The Great Catch

    The Pentecost Option

    Jacqueline Rivers on The Benedict Option

    By Jacqueline C. Rivers

    July 13, 2017
    • P Riggs

      Distilling the entire conclusary mandate of God down into Acts 2:42 and the several versus that follow so narrows the method and grand scope of Christian life. You have a neutered religion. These people obsessed with Acts 2:42 measure the tallow count in their candles to "reproduce" that magical time and then scratch their heads wondering why the candle flame is not attracting those use to electric light. It's so hysterical to watch most of evangelicalism bristle about the "Benedict" option because it involves some interior and exterior discipline. God forbid that some real world extension of faith might be the dirty word of requirements or disciplines.

    • Luis

      "...When we should have been championing the cause of people who feel same-sex attraction and often lead divided and painful lives, we condemned them. As a result, millennials reject us and view the church as a source of the problem...." The article began well by saying we should seek to live a more unified christian life, and fight our Picasso-modern-life---fragmented and displaced. Yet, the article is a part of the problem The Apostle Paul, whom you say we should diligently study, said, drunkards, thieves, or homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God in his epistles. What you are calling for is to live a a false unified life by asking christians to condone a false view of the self. We will not see change in our communities, if we seek to push liberal theology which denies God`s design of sexuality. Once again, it is liberal theology te reason for our fragmented lives, not historical christianity.

    This is a particularly telling time in Western culture – a time when Christian values that were once widely accepted and enshrined in law in Western nations are increasingly vanishing from the public square and being replaced by radical individualism. The need for Christians to resist the seductions of today’s culture is real and just as pressing as the need to remain engaged as a public witness to the gospel. The time is ripe for a more robust and dedicated Christianity, similar to the practice of the early Christians, the original Benedict Option. However, the crisis in Western culture must not be conflated with a crisis of Christianity, which is thriving in the global south, particularly in Africa. Indeed, it is essential, even as we discuss the need to resist Western culture, to acknowledge the strength of global Christianity and the black church here in the United States in order not to alienate the fastest-growing segment of the population: non-white people.

    Western Christians must seriously reconsider the original Benedict Option, as described in Acts 2:42–47:

    They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold their property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

    The time is ripe for a more robust and dedicated Christianity.

    This is really the model for Christian life; we should be doing the things that are outlined here: devotion to prayer, scripture, and fellowship. Our churches have fallen far short of this, instead practicing “cultural Christianity” and becoming very weak as a result. I remember being bewildered at the Harvard Christian Fellowship as an undergraduate. I was a new Christian, and I thought that Christianity was supposed to turn your life upside down, reorder your priorities, and transform you. With these young people, it was warm milk and cookies. Just as Dreher describes in his book, the students were concerned with consumerism, getting a Harvard degree, and going on to be extremely comfortable financially.

    One aspect of Acts 2 that I take very seriously is the promise of signs and wonders. In the Pentecostal Church, the belief that God has the power to heal and to work miracles, even in the twenty-first century, is one we take seriously, although this belief is rare in today’s churches.

    There’s another verse in Acts we fall short on: “The believers were together and shared everything in common.” Do we care for each other that way? Instead, we lead atomized lives, separated from each other. We don’t know our neighbors, and often church is just a matter of watching the clock: “When is he going to end? It’s one hour and one minute. Church is supposed to be over in an hour.” But there isn’t time for fellowship, for connection, for investing in each other’s lives, for caring for each other radically, as these people did, because they met every day. If anybody was in need, they were ready to sell what they had in order to take care of one another. That is the original Benedict Option. Dreher’s book should be celebrated because it holds up the biblical model for Christianity, which has been overlooked.

    But I am concerned that in the book, there is a conflation of Christianity with Western culture. Dreher writes of Christianity’s retreating into the Benedict Option to survive a cultural cataclysm as it did in the Dark Ages in Europe. He presents communal living as a ship to take us across the dark waters to a more friendly time when Christian culture can resurface. But the crisis he describes is really limited to the West. ­Christianity was born in the Middle Eastern milieu. Of all the books of the Bible, only Luke and Acts were written by a European. Many of the foundational developments in Christianity actually took place in North Africa and moved from there into Europe: think of early church fathers like Origen, Ignatius, and Athanasius. Christianity will survive the fall of the West, because it’s God’s work, not the work of the West. And today, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, Christianity is truly a global religion: “In 1910 about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Today one in every four Christians lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, and about one in eight is found in Asia and the Pacific.” In sub-Saharan Africa, the Christian population climbed from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010.

    One strategy we might explore is to draw on the dynamic, Holy Spirit–filled strength of the church in Africa and in South America to launch a revival in our creaky white churches here in the United States. This revival is important because many millennials have been alienated by misreading the claim to religious freedom as an excuse for discrimination. When we should have been championing the cause of people who feel same-sex attraction and often lead divided and painful lives, we condemned them. As a result, millennials reject us and view the church as a source of the problem. But we black people are the ones in this country who have suffered the most grievous discrimination and who continue to be harmed by structural racism and mass incarceration. It was our faith that inspired our ancestors to lead the civil rights movement. If we stand up and talk about religious freedom, we have a level of credibility that is unparalleled in the rest of the church, because too often millennials and others associate the white churches with racism rather than with championing the cause of the poor.

    When my husband, Eugene Rivers, and I were undergraduates at Harvard, Eberhard Arnold’s writings powerfully turned us on to this original Benedict Option, especially his books The Early Christians and Why We Live in Community. My husband was struck by the authentically radical character of the Bruderhof understanding of Christian faith and practice and their sincerity in actually carrying it out. Several of us traveled from Harvard to the Deer Spring Bruderhof in Connecticut to see the community in action. We were struck by it, but we weren’t ready to retreat from our vision of living in the city to serve the urban poor. Returning to inner-city Boston, we tried to build community, drawing on the model of shared work that we saw at the Bruderhof.

    I am really grateful for the role that the Bruderhof played in shaping our spiritual lives as we faced the challenge of building a community among the poor. It’s even harder to resist the consumerist culture if you have never had it, and everybody else has. We faced some of those difficulties, as well as the question of how to educate the next generation, which Dreher also raises in his book.

    Dreher is right that much of the Christianity that is practiced in the West is compromised and reflects the values and aspirations of secular culture. Western Christians must be prepared to make substantial sacrifices to resist the culture. But hasn’t that always been true? One area where the need is especially strong is in resisting the subtle forms of racism that ignore the vibrant fidelity of thriving African churches. Similarly, to dismiss the vital role of the black church in the United States in repudiating charges of discrimination that are being leveled against the exercise of religious freedom is to alienate an important segment of the population. Authors such as Dreher need not speak for the global south or the black church, but they must acknowledge the critical role they play in Christianity. It is essential to the credibility of our analysis.

    Images on this page: The Great Catch Mosaic (detail) © 2001 John August Swanson / Eyekons. Courtesy of Concordia University Irvine

    Mosaic detail from The Great Catch
    Contributed By JaquelineRivers Jacqueline C. Rivers

    Dr. Jacqueline C. Rivers is director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.

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