Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option advocates a simple response to modernity: retreat, re-arm, and renew. Basing his battle plan on that of the sixth century founder of Western monasticism, Dreher argued that, just as St. Benedict abandoned the decadence of a declining Roman Empire, so Christians today should respond to a society crumbling into decadence by pulling back, circling the wagons, and looking to preserve Christian culture in enclaves of community, commitment, and a common life in Christ.
Dreher was criticized for being defeatist, idealistic, and overly negative. However, many of his critics clearly had not read his book. He was never calling for all of us to head for the hills, grow beards, raise chickens, and build little chapels where we gather to recite the rosary and wait for doomsday. Instead, his vision was simply the response of the Christian church engaged in the perennial question of the right relationship between Christ’s kingdom and the kingdom of this world.
In various epochs in Church history, Christians have faced the same challenge: do we fight the prevailing godless culture or do we accommodate the spirit of the age—adapting the faith to the zeitgeist? The third way has always been neither to fight nor to accommodate but to live out a radical Christian witness within the world. This third way has been the apostolic way, the way of the great missionaries, martyrs, and saints: They were in the world but not of the world.