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Should Christians Prepare for a 'Dark Age' in the Church?

For many Christians, it’s as if American culture has changed in the blink of an eye. And for most, it’s for the “worse.” Each month, it seems, America becomes more secular, less morally literate, and noticeably more hostile to Christianity.


In the space of just two years, we've seen marriage laws that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support during the Clinton Administration wither beneath activist outrage. What President Obama professed to believe just three years ago—that marriage is the union of one man and one woman—has today become the definition of bigotry—so despicable it's compared with Jim Crow-era racism.


What happened? According to columnist and author Rod Dreher, this overnight revolution in Americans' opinions on marriage and religious freedom is no mere moral slide. It’s actually nothing short of a “cosmological shift.” In other words, the assumptions that have made gay marriage culturally inevitable—the idea that people are the sum of their desires and that marriage has no intrinsic purpose or definition—amount to a total shift in the way our culture looks at human persons.


Some of his critics accuse Dreher of being a defeatist. But his view of the situation is sober and realistic. If nothing else, the firestorm we saw this year when Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act reveals our situation. Not only have we seen a new view on “marriage,” but even something as historically American as religious freedom now sounds to many in our culture like bigotry and a “license to discriminate.”


“We are fighting for the right simply to practice our religion without being punished by the state and by the culture,” says Dreher. “And it's a fight we're losing, quite frankly.”


So what does he propose we do? Well, Rod joined me on “BreakPoint This Week” to answer that question, and to begin a conversation about something you’ve heard Eric and me mention before on BreakPoint: It's called “the Benedict Option,” and it's Rod's developing proposal for how the church can survive and thrive in the coming years.


Borrowed from moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre's book, “After Virtue,” the Benedict Option takes its name from the father of Western monasticism. St. Benedict, troubled by the moral decadence of his time and the decline of Christian Rome, founded communities that carried civilization, learning, and faith through the Dark Ages by separating themselves from the dominant popular culture.


Rod describes the Benedict Option as a way to prepare Christians for a new “dark age,”—a “strategic withdrawal,” to “prepare a culture of resistance for the church,” and “a way of reminding ourselves who we are and [remaining] a light to the world...”


Now to many, that will sound like retreat or surrender. After all, Chuck Colson emphasized that Christ claims sovereignty and victory over “every square inch” of human existence, and so we should stay fully engaged in the public square. How does the Benedict Option jibe with that?


For starters, no one is proposing retreat, says Rod. And he isn't calling us to don habits and head for the hills. He's not even suggesting that we stop participating in politics or shaping culture. What the Benedict option is, and which Rod admits is still very much a work in progress, is about maintaining our allegiance to, our fundamental identity in, and our witness for the Gospel. The Church is bigger, older, and more important than any nation or culture. And as Rod points out, recognizing that and living it out is the heart of the Benedict Option.


I hope you'll come to and listen to my conversation with Rod. It's the beginning of a conversation—not the end. In fact, I don’t agree with everything that Rod proposes, but it is a conversation that I sincerely believe that we the Church must have.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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