My Initial Thoughts on TBO

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Well, the book is out, and I’ve contributed to a Colson Center symposium on the idea. We were invited to submit up to 175 words, which I know is a truly vast torrent of verbiage, so if you don’t have time to read my whole contribution I would stress this point:

Transformation is needed, but withdrawal does not transform. Instead, as we saw at Pentecost, by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel is now to be expressed within the daily life of all the world’s nations. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to make us disciples in our daily lives as Americans—for we have no other lives to live.

For the sake of honesty, I want to record that I was invited to contribute to the symposium even if I hadn’t read the book, which I haven’t (it’s only just out, after all). We were told that we could look at this CT article and then respond to the Benedict Option rather than to The Benedict Option, and that’s what I’ve done. In my contribution, I quoted the specific claims to which I was responding, in hopes of avoiding the impression that I was responding to the whole book (which I haven’t read) rather than to those specific claims (which I have).

I’m sure I’ll read the book eventually, but frankly, it’s hard to find the motivation. The way TBO has been discussed publicly for years has struck me as similar to a phenomenon common in academia: You popularize a phrase that appeals to many people, but for multiple reasons that are not easily reconciled with one another, and then build a career for yourself as the only person who is allowed to authoritatively resolve disputes about what the phrase “really” means. So those who see TBO exemplified in Tim Keller’s church and those who see it exemplified in monestaries will provide Rod Dreher with job security as a referee. But whatever TBO means to Dreher, if some champion it because they love Kuyperians and other champion it because they love monks, it’s not clear to me just how much of a clear and stable meaning it will ever have in the public mind.

To the person who originally coined the phrase, of course, it meant hateful resentment toward our neighbors (“the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time”) and an implicitly totalitarian political philosophy. But we’re not allowed to remember that now.

If Dreher’s book provokes a fruitful rethinking that doesn’t lead into the dead end of MacIntyre’s resentment of freedom and hatred of flourishing, I’ll be glad he wrote it.

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