Literally, it is a book by Rod Dreher.
Less literally, it is the idea that Christians should intentionally form communities wherever they live. This facilitates the formation of disciples who can withstand the pressures of the world while simultaneously being in the world as gospel witnesses.
In Dreher’s words:
“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer do business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.”
Basically, we have to be formed to Christ if we want to inform others about Christ through our daily lives.
And these days, we will not be formed to Christ unless we intentionally do so.
And trying to form our families to Christ will require the help of communities who are doing likewise.
If you don’t read the book, read Rod Dreher’s article-length FAQ.
Yes, because we are living in a post-Christian society in the West. The fact that Christianity is no longer the background morality of culture by definition means that Christianity constitutes a “counter-culture.” To function successfully as a counter-culture, Christians must live intentionally in a way that was not necessary when nearly everyone was at least nominally a Christian.
There are many ways that Christianity conflicts with the prevailing culture. We disagree about the sources of ultimate truth, the meaning of essential words like “love” and “justice”, and whether human nature is fallen or fundamentally good. These are not superficial disagreements.
Christian beliefs are being targeted by the government and businesses in a way that has never happened in America before.
Furthermore, culture in the West is falling apart. We are enmeshed in an opioid epidemic, rising suicide rates, the possibility of transhumanism, among many other other issues.
The necessity of the Benedict Option has been well described by Alan Jacobs:
“The Benedict Option, as I understand it, is based on three premises.
1. The dominant media of our technological society are powerful forces for socializing people into modes of thought and action that are often inconsistent with, if not absolutely hostile to, Christian faith and practice.
2. In America today, churches and other Christian institutions (schools at all levels, parachurch organizations with various missions) are comparatively very weak at socializing people, if for no other reason than that they have access to comparatively little mindspace.
3. Healthy Christian communities are made up of people who have been thoroughly grounded in, thoroughly socialized into, the historic practices and beliefs of the Christian church.
From these three premises proponents of the Benedict Option draw a conclusion: If we are to form strong Christians, people with robust commitment to and robust understanding of the Christian life, then we need to shift the balance of ideological power towards Christian formation, and that means investing more of our time and attention than we have been spending on strengthening our Christian institutions.”
Christians believe we have an answer (repentance and grace) for the world’s problems (sin and rebellion).
However, the Benedict Option suggests that without a thick Christian community, our current secular society will wear Christians down and form us to false gods to the point we no longer have an authentic Christian witness.
If we do not have an authentic Christian witness, then we are not offering the world a solution to its problems.
We are not running from the world’s problems nor offering a fearful defense.
We are offering a hopeful offense:
A prophetic, hopeful, counter-cultural resistance.
The goal is not to escape the world to keep a clean, pure faith.
The goal is to have a place to daily recharge and re-form your faith so that you can stay in the world and not become of it.