Apr 10, 2017


The Benedict Option and College Ministry

Tom Knight writes about Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and what that means for college ministry.

ALSO: Don’t miss Tom’s interview with Rod Dreher on the No Campus Left Podcast! Part 1 and Part 2.

After a decade of thought, hundreds of blog posts, and a stroll through several hundred years of history, Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, helps the modern Christian understand where we are in Western Christianity, how we got here, and what we must do next. The book is named after St. Benedict of Nursia who wrote a rule for monks during the collapse of the Roman empire, and in doing so helped preserve Christianity through the Dark Ages.   Though not all the issues raised by Mr. Dreher are original, (if you have read Missional Church or Lesslie Newbigin you will already know the diagnosis), many of us are now ready to actually agree with the diagnosis.  The cultural events of the last five years have accelerated the dismantling of Christian “normalcy” at a rapid pace. We are not talking about efficiency anymore; we are talking about survival.

According to Dreher the post-Christian culture we find ourselves in has reached the point where Christians will continue to be marginalized, shunned, and thought of as extreme.  At the same time, the forces of technology, distorted understandings of sexual identity, lack of historical knowledge of the West, and a failure to internalize basic Christian doctrine have undermined even orthodox Christianity.  Rather than put our hopes in political parties “turning back the clock” in the culture wars (we have lost), Dreher sees the need to form ark-like communities that can weather the flood, preserve the Gospel, and be light to the coming Dark Age.  As he puts it, Benedict Option Christians “recognize that the new order is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be lived with.”  If you agree with that statement, you already understand the corner we have turned in American Christianity.  We are now exiles, and we had better get our arks together.

If you are doing ministry on a college campus, I think you instinctively know this.  So, I am not going to try to convince you.  And I also think you know that college students bring a natural willingness and longing to form close groups for fellowship.  But that “phase of life” camaraderie will not be enough to survive.  What we have to start thinking and talking about is how we will build these communities with college students with the intent that they will take new lifestyles with them when they leave, in order to create Gospel-centered communities wherever they land. Remember, in the great order of the Church, we are not just graduating them, but also commencing them to lead and serve for years to come.  So how do we do it?

Here are a few offers:

New Liturgies
Create new liturgies that guide students not to just go along with the secular liturgies the modern campus often imposes on them.  Are students praying together and learning Scripture together?  Are there routines that will help them see the need for technology-free times for reflection, prayer, and solitude.  What would a countercultural rhythm of life look like on your campus.

Consider: You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

Cultivation of the Mind
You may be thinking that this is the whole point of college, but let’s be real.  Many students have bought into the notion that college is just a way to get a good job.  The old adage that “a college education is the most expensive thing a person pays for and never receives” is becoming more common.  Have your students form reading groups where they study Christian classics and talk about them.  Talk about issues regarding culture and integration of faith.

Consider: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll

Emphasize academic work as the calling of a student.  Are they integrating their faith into the discipline they are learning, or grappling with how Christ and the church fit into a subject they are studying?  Do they know history and how Christianity played an important role in the development of the West? Of the notion of the academy?  What does it mean to be a Christian student, rather than just a student who is a Christian?  What is the real worldview they hold?

Consider: Creation Regained by Albert Wolters

Holistic Evangelism
How will they weave beauty and authenticity into the the life of these communities to help bolster their evangelism in a world where logic and reason have been replaced by emotivism and feelings.  How will they be the “hands and feet” of Jesus in the local community while also understanding that they are a “peculiar people called by God.”

Consider: The World Beyond Your Head:  On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew Crawford, or lives of Christian saints/martyrs.

Realistic Expectations of Life after College
Have they been prepared to understand that the secularism, hostility, and political correctness they face in the academy is not just the “ivory tower”, but the new way of life they will increasing find in “the real world” when they graduate?  How will they best be prepared to pass the test of putting their faith first, and their job second?  Will their profession even be open to Christians?

Consider: Hostile Environment by George Yancey

The students on our college campuses today will face enormous pressure to deny their faith, or simply be silent, and slowly melt away from other believers.  As campus ministers, pastors, Christian faculty, and lay leaders, we owe it to our students and future generations to begin these conversations about the issues raised by The Benedict Option, and what our options would look like as a way of life starting on our campuses.

You can hear Tom talk with author Rod Dreher about these ideas on the No Campus Left Podcast – Part 1 and Part 2.

about the author

Tom Knight

Tom is a collegiate strategist in North Carolina, specializing in international student work. He holds a law degree from Wake Forest and an Mdiv from Princeton. He is the author of No Passport Required: Collegiate Ministry as Global Missions.