The Boutique Option

The next chapter in The Benedict Option is well written, and makes many pertinent observations. A lot of true and necessary things are said, largely concerning the need for older doctrine and need for a liturgical worship that shapes cultures. But there is still a problem, and it is largely architectonic. The chapter has a structural problem.

One of the rhetorical virtues of this chapter is the ecumenical tone—while Dreher is Eastern Orthodox, he goes out of his way to be inclusively respectful of other believers in other communions. He promotes and argues for what he believes, albeit respectfully—but he is so respectful that the structural problem with his entire project is laid bare. This structural problem is, again, what is called the retreat to commitment.

In this chapter, Dreher commends, recommends, quotes and praises Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Calvinist Presbyterians, Anabaptists, Mainline Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholics, urging them all to recover their doctrinal roots, and urging them all into a more formal liturgical worship. He wants us to “immerse ourselves in the words and the world of the old saints” (Loc. 1566). Which old saints should we resort to? Well—and this is the problem—whatever works for you.

“in which they use prayers written by Calvin himself” (Loc. 1554).

“Denny Burk, a seminary professor and Southern Baptist pastor in Kentucky, says the lack of church discipline in churches across his denomination have left congregations completely unprepared for the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution” (Loc. 1740).

Simon Chan, a Pentecostal, argues that their churches “must return to the richness of liturgical worship” (Loc. 1649).

Here is a summary of how Dreher is handling this:

“It is beyond the scope of this book to tell other Christians how they should celebrate their liturgies while still being faithful to their theological tradition” (Loc. 1682).

What Dreher is doing here is setting aside the claim of the communion he belongs to (the claim to be the one true church) and acquiescing to one of the central demands of modern individualism, ecclesiastical version. The communion that has authority over me is the one that I chose, and not the one God chose. We should be doing whatever it is that our faith community summons us to, and Dreher encourages us to function on the historical and liturgical end of that community, wherever that happens to be.

This is not toppling the modern idol of personal choice, but rather surrendering to it completely. This is precisely why the church in North America is simultaneously massive and impotent.

The questions cannot be dodged—unless we are merely using the great doctors of our theological tradition as providers of thick books to decorate our studies as the pagan darkness falls, or if we are simply celebrating our liturgies without paying the slightest regard to the claims made in, through and by those liturgies.

I will give you an example:

“At its most basic, Sunday liturgy begins with the formal gathering of the worshiping community, the reading of Scripture, the celebration of Communion, and the dispersal of the community to live for Christ” (Loc. 1603).

Worship done this way “awakens the sense that worshipers are communing with the eternal, transcendent realm through the ritual and its elements” (Loc. 1611).

Now I actually do appreciate the tone that Dreher takes toward those Protestants who have worship services that seem like religious services. But this charity that Dreher is extending to us is emphatically not the teaching of his tradition, and it is not what the liturgy he celebrates is supposed to embody. Every week, I invite the saints at Christ Church: “come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.” But according to the “old saints” of Eastern Orthodoxy, I am doing nothing of the kind. And according to the old saints of my tradition, more than a little idolatry is involved in the tradition that Dreher pursues.

The irenic way he structured this chapter actually means that in our flight from the coming pagan night, we have all booked it down to the ecclesiastical mall in search of a boutique option that works for us. We are shopping for designer liturgies. We are looking for something that we can use, in much the same way we might find a weight loss program, or speed reading course. Dreher doesn’t mind if we don’t shop at the place where he shops. He just wants us to purchase something more historic and formal than we are used to.

But liturgy is not a tool that we wield in order to get something from God. When that error is made, the worship will become increasingly effeminate, and the personal lives of those involved in it will become increasingly carnal. Worship must be in accordance with the Scriptures because in our worship God is using that worship as His tool for shaping and forming us. We are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We are not permitted to make alterations in what the Bible says for the sake of fitting into our own damn traditions. Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda. The church reformed and always reforming. This is true for every communion, and it goes double for the churches that claim to be reformed.

However, Dreher is right about the central thing. “In other words: If you do not change your ways, you are going to die, and so will what’s left of the Christian faith in our civilization” (Loc.  1502). But changing our ways means that the millions of Christians in North America need to learn how to say something completely new to the millions of non-Christians in North America.

What we need to learn how to say is this:

Jesus Christ is already the monarch of this nation. After His bloody crucifixion, He was established as the king of all nations by His resurrection and ascension. He was crowned as king by His Father. He is not running for president, and He does not need your vote or mine. He was established in His position of ultimate authority, not by your choice or mine, but rather by the election of His Father. Jesus is Lord.  

Dreher accurately points out one weakness of institutional evangelicalism. It is based “on revivalism, making it inherently unstable” (Loc. 1651). This is quite true about revivalism. But suppose there were a massive revival that led to the confession above. Suppose a true revival, sent by the Holy Spirit of God. Ah, that’s another matter.

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adad0
Member

Being “made precious” is not a boutique option.
It is drastic, life or death.

If you are dead, and you want life, you get life at the Cross,

Which ain’t no boutique!????????????

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

This reminds of objections to Nationalism. How can a white American nationalist support Alexander Dugin, Rodrigo Duterte or even black nationalism? How can he not? We may forever be in competition with other nations but our common enemy is the monster of Universalism that eats nations. Your argument against Dreher in this post is an underhanded universalism. If you advise men to cling to their own Christian faith traditions you must not have much confidence that YOUR tradition will rise to the top in the ecumenical melting pot. Your previous argument was that the culture would not stand to allow… Read more »

adad0
Member

God Himself, is of course, a mustard seed “universalist”.
The problem with
“universalisms” other than God’s, is that they are all too small.

Barnabas
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Barnabas

Too this side of eternity.

adad0
Member

So says the mortal. ????
????????????

PerfectHold
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PerfectHold

Liberalism?

Arwenb
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Arwenb

I almost hate to nit-pick like this, but what rises to the top of the melting pot tends to be dross, not gold.

D
Guest
D

I’m not following the argument that Doug is promoting universalism. It seems that he is saying one faith position is right others are wrong. And making them all out to be equally valid options is doomed to failure because of the particularity of truth.

Could you expound upon your reading?

I can see pragmatic reasons why you would be anti-Universalist and be a vocal supporter of others throwing themselves into their projects. But you can also be anti-universalist and say “there is only one truth, come and get it.”

Barnabas
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Barnabas

A close-enough faith tradition that is stable is superior to consensus building. If the claim was that there was one truth then the truth would be non-negotiable. That would be completely consistent with a Benedict community that says come and get it, just sign this confession first and the first time you find some clever nuance or improvement upon it you’re out on your ear. The non-Benedict option is to continue the negotiation. Liberal Christians negotiate with non-believers and conservative believers negotiate with liberal Christians. The stability of any belief is maintained through geographic, philosophical and cultural isolation and defensiveness… Read more »

demosthenes1d
Member

Thanks for the explanation. You have read much more into Doug’s position than I.

Don’t discount the hostility in Moscow-Pullman. I have lived there. The cultural feel is more a mini version of Austin, TX, or Columbia, MO, than Boise. The universities absolute dominate public life. In fact Christ Church has made very effective use of a struggle narrative to maintain cohesion and distinctive identity.

Barnabas
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Barnabas

D, have you seen Scorsese’s Silence? Very thought provoking.

Jonathan
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Jonathan

Does it match the book well? The book was one of the most thought-provoking pieces of fiction I read in college, and sparked some quite lively discussions between Christians on our campus. I thought I could see what Endo was trying to get at, and I disagreed with several of his conclusions, but the book was so well-written than you could quite reasonably do that even while staying within the context of his own story.

demosthenes1d
Member

I haven’t. I have Endo’s book on my short list. I have pretty much avoided Hollywood for the past 10 years (when I have strayed from that I have been inevitably disappointed). But, I will try to watch it after (if) i make it through the book.

PerfectHold
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PerfectHold

You say Dreher’s liturgy contraticts his overtures toward ecumenicism?

But so does the liturgy of many presbyterians, no?

Witness the PCA & OPC excluding kiddos or many acknowledged/recognized believers from the Table.

But you have to start from somewhere, no?

Thursday1
Guest
Thursday1

Both of these things can be true:

1.Multiple liturgical traditions are capable of resisting the acids of modernity.
2. Only one liturgical tradition is correct.

Let’s look at something analogous:

1. Multiple theologies are capable of resisting modernity.
2. Only one theology is correct.

I’d agree with number 2, but It is blatantly obvious that many wildly incorrect theologies, such as Mormonism, Islam and Hinduism, are capable of resisting modernity.

Resisting modernity may not be enough, but, in itself, it is surely a worthy goal.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

I missed where in the article that resisting the acids modernity was a goal?

Wendy Dibble-Lohr
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Wendy Dibble-Lohr

How about a chapter title and number and not just “the next chapter”? (Andrew, husband of Wendy)

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

   Chapter 5:
A Church for All Seasons

bethyada
Member

Sunday liturgy begins with the formal gathering of the worshiping community,… the celebration of Communion

Clearly he hasn’t been to a Baptist church.

insanitybytes22
Member

“….urging them all into a more formal liturgical worship. He wants us to “immerse ourselves in the words and the world of the old saints”

Well, something that drives me nuts in the world, hardly anyone ever wants to just immerse themselves in the words of Jesus Christ.

adad0
Member

Luke 21:33

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

John Callaghan
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John Callaghan

It’s not an either/or situation. You immerse yourself in the words of Douglas Wilson on a daily basis. You’ve almost certainly read more words that Doug has written than the recorded words spoken by Our Lord. (The same holds true for every one of us who comments here.) Dreher’s point is that there is an immense store of wisdom in the past that illuminates the path that brought us from the time of Christ’s passion and death to where we are at now. Think of it this way. You write a blog where you ruminate on eternal matters and on… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

You’re quite right, there is great value in reading the words from people who have already walked the path or even those who are walking it now. The problem I see in the modern world is that we are forever looking to other people’s words rather than the bible. So today rather than a bible study, we have a “Beth Moore study group.” I have a couple of guys right now who run about the internet pretending they can actually revoke people’s salvation if you don’t take an oath to Calvin and reformed theology. Than we get into wine versus… Read more »

Matt
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Matt

“The communion that has authority over me is the one that I chose, and not the one God chose.”

Correct…and short of an outright theocracy this will always be the case. What is your actual objection here?

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Although, it has never actually been the case.

Authority stands there like a father biting his nails, worried about how the kid or neighbors will react.

ashv
Guest
ashv

If you can’t think of several relevant objections to Dreher leaving the church he was raised in for the Roman Catholic church, and then leaving that again for Eastern Orthodoxy, then you might benefit from reading some of Pastor Wilson’s books and back catalog of posts….

Matt
Guest
Matt

I have no objections to Dreher leaving any church for any other church.

ashv
Guest
ashv

It’s a pity he hasn’t taken a vow of silence.