New Monasticsm Articles


Andy Peck in Christanity Magazine writes about the ancienst paths and the new journey for monastics from the modern church.

‘Why are increasing numbers of evangelicals embracing ancient Christian traditions? Christianity magazine looks at the reasons behind this emerging trend…’

He on

So you discover that a friend has left your Anglican church and is now worshipping with Baptists. Are you bothered? It might depend why he or she left, but in these days when denominational ties are weak you’d probably barely give it a thought. After all, within evangelicalism the beliefs and service style will be pretty similar whatever the name on the building.

But what if you were in an evangelical/charismatic church and your friend departed for a church known for its ‘bells and smells’ – Anglo Catholic, Roman Catholic or Orthodox? How would you feel then? More serious? The journey ‘up the candle’, as it’s colloquially known, may put your friend on the prayer chain – as brows furrow and people start asking, “why?”

But this is happening in growing numbers. Many evangelicals have moved to join the Catholic and Orthodox Churches or embraced some of ancient traditions (practices typically associated with these churches) within the last 30 years.

Some of these figures are quite high profile. Francis Beckwith, the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, for example, reverted to Catholicism. On this side of the Atlantic, Michael Harper, at the forefront of the Charismatic Renewal in the Anglican Church and one time editor of Renewal, which later merged with Christianity, left the Anglican Church in 1995 to join the Orthodox Church; Rev Prebendary Nick Mercer, one time minister at Upton Vale Baptist Church and later director of training at London Bible College, now serves as vicar general for the London College of Bishops within the Anglo-Catholic tradition. And there are many like them.

Interesting perhaps, but how is it relevant to you if you are in an evangelical fellowship? Many evangelicals are bringing these ‘ancient traditions’ – practices normally associated with the High Church/Roman Catholic Church – into corporate worship and private devotions: liturgy, incense, meditation, fasting (when it isn’t even Lent) retreats, spiritual direction, scripture reading and prayer using methods perfected in monastic life.

Andrew Walker, professor of theology and culture at King’s College, London, was brought up a Pentecostal and now worships in an Orthodox church from the Russian Tradition. He gave a paper at St Paul’s, Hammersmith in 2003, and said that, “The Principal of Spurgeon’s College identifies himself as a ‘Catholic Evangelical’…. Canon Tom Smail, veteran of the Renewal, considers himself an ‘Evangelical Catholic… In the New Church sector, Roger Ellis in Chichester has incorporated elements of Celtic spirituality and prophetic symbolism into Charismatic rhapsody.”

These people don’t see ancient traditions as ‘lifeless ritual’ but a vital part of their moving forward with God. So why are some evangelicals switching churches and others embracing ancient traditions? Here are five explanations they might give.

1. We believe the same things

On February 8 1952, CS Lewis wrote to the Church Times of the great unity that existed between the high (Anglo- Catholic) and low (Evangelical) churches over against the liberal and antisupernatural churches. He used the phrase ‘Deep Church’ or ‘Mere Christianity’ to describe their common faith. Recently this ‘Deep Church’ language has returned to describe the truths shared by Churches (such as Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant). But most evangelicals typically didn’t accept this: jumping from the book of Revelation to the Reformation and the break with Rome. Evangelical essentials including salvation through grace by faith reminded them (as every new believer came to faith) of the evils of any religious approach that favoured works rather than the work of Christ, which would include of course classic Catholic and Orthodox doctrine – at least as they understood it. Many forget, or render insignificant, that for a thousand years from AD 37-45 to AD 1054-66, all believers in the UK were part of the undivided Orthodox Catholic Church – the latter date representing the time when the Bishop of Rome split, forming what we know as the Roman Catholic Church. In those days of course, the visual and symbolic were especially important in telling the faith story.

In recent decades many have realised that evangelical heritage has to include this period, (or was God absent for 1,000 years?) and concluded that the basic tenets of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches are the same: indeed David Watson, at the forefront of charismatic renewal in the 70s and 80s, even concluded that the Reformation was not necessary!

Professor Andrew Walker, an avid supporter of Deep Church, says, “It is about the marriage between the ‘new thing’ God is always doing in our lives, and the ‘old things’ – the historic givens of the Faith – that he has already done which includes the means of Grace that he has provided for our spiritual nourishment. Deep Church, then, is not just about something old for something new (or the other way round). It is about anamnesia [remembering] and re- imagining. It is about catholicity and a holy separation. It is about a re-collected history and writing a new chapter in the annals of faith.”

Many evangelicals have concluded that we can happily drink from one another’s cup without becoming contaminated; it is time that the old divisions were repaired.

2. We have the same spirit

For many, the impetus to be open to ancient traditions came when evangelicals and charismatics discovered that people with a Catholic or Orthodox (such as Greek, Russian) heritage were exhibiting the signs of the very life God had given them – indeed at an experiential level, charismatics found they had more in common with charismatic Catholic and Orthodox believers than their conservative evangelical cousins. Evangelicals were forced to either conclude that this was ‘human’ or the devil, or indeed the work of God: maybe God didn’t have the same theology of the Reformation which they had!

Asked why he had left Anglicanism to join the Orthodox Church, Michael Harper said, “The Holy Spirit!” and that for him and his wife, the experience felt like “coming home”. Many within a charismatic background are finding that they can combine openness to the spirit with aspects of Deep Church.

Many more, weary of hype concerning predicted revival about to head over the horizon, preferred a backward look to a creedal faith and practices with firmer foundations than the shifting focus of the latest fad.

3. We want to grow

Other evangelicals have found that the staples of Bible study, prayer and strong preaching weren’t leading to godly living. They knew the truth but it didn’t change them at a heart level. Looking for more, they found writers like Richard Foster, who in his book, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ explains that disciplines such as fasting, solitude, silence, meditation (so called Catholic practices) had actually been in the Bible all along. These were not ‘works based’ as often thought, but a God-given means of growth. More latterly his mentor, Dallas Willard (author of ‘Spirit of the Disciplines’, among others) has shared in print and in conferences how he learned to value the pre-Reformation saints. John Ortberg popularised such teaching further in ‘The Life you’ve have always wanted: spiritual disciplines for ordinary people’.

Publishers such as that bastion of evangelicalism, IVP, now have an imprint, ‘Formatio’ dedicated to such material. Many have sought out ‘spiritual directors’ skilled in the art of helping people notice and welcome the presence of God into their personal lives, skills largely found within Anglo Catholic, Catholic and Orthodox settings. Hence even evangelicals deeply suspicious of ecumenical unity, and even of the legitimacy of modern non-evangelical denominations, were prepared to practise what the ancients practised and many found, to their surprise, God working in ways they could scarcely have imagined.

4. We want to build community

But if it is starting to sound as if this ecumenism is all about evangelicals who have become more broad-minded in their old age, there are streams within the emerging church movement (typically younger people) which are mixing vintage wine along with that newly harvested.

In ‘Punk monk: new monasticism and the ancient art of breathing’, Andy Freeman and Pete Greig chart the rise of Boiler Rooms – places where prayer is conducted 24/7 and a community is built around a pattern of prayer, study, celebration and caring for the poor and lost: patterns which sound remarkably like those in a monastery, but then you guessed that already. From humble beginnings in Reading, there are now 56 Boiler Rooms in 14 countries.

Reflecting on ‘Punk monk’, Canon Rev Dr Adrian Chatfield, who heads up The Simeon Centre for Prayer and the Spiritual Life serving Ridley Hall, Cambridge and wider afield says, “There is something in the rights of prayer and the rule of life and a true realisation of community that is attractive. It was seen in Lee Abbey in the 1950s and Northumbria more recently. Young people are saying: ‘We want to belong – we want to join community.’”

In his book ‘The new conspirators’, Tom Sine highlights the ‘new monasticism’ that has developed, including The Order of Mission at St Thomas Crookes Church, Sheffield and The Iona Community, Northumbria Community and the Order of St Aidan and St Hilda who both follow a ‘rule of life’ under the oversight of Franciscan brothers.

Practices thought by evangelicals to signal withdrawal are seen by some to represent the very basis for engagement and service that a modern, rootless generation needs.

5. We want to value the arts

Inevitably many church trends mirror the cultural environment. Is it any surprise that a postmodern world with its mistrust of texts and authority would value the visual and aesthetic offered by ancient practices?

John Drane, author of ‘After McDonaldization’, says, “Our culture is more visual today. Classic evangelicalism is so abstract. Jesus called us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Evangelicalism has focused on the mind to the exclusion of the other three.”

“Do we know God cognitively or affectively?” asks Chatfield. “There used to be a belief that words were sound, whereas art was more slippery. The advent of postmodernism showing that words themselves are be interpreted by the reader/hearer and reminds us of the affective nature of our faith. It is not just in doctrinal formulations that we experience God.”

Hence many evangelicals who once eschewed anything showier than a text on a banner or a decorative communion tablecloth, see the majestic, almost theatrical services of High Church as potentially attractive to seekers – witness the recent boost in attendances of Christmas mass at cathedrals nationwide. Some within the emerging church incorporate ritual, art, symbolism and liturgy into their gatherings as they help postmoderns connect with God.

A healthy trend?

So what do you make of all this? Should you welcome it, be alarmed or just be neutral?

For a start we need to say that it’s not a case of ‘We are all going to Rome, Moscow and Athens, will the last one to leave evangelicalism please turn out the lights’. We don’t yet know whether to describe this as a trickle or a stream.

Clearly there is a difference between changing churchmanship and adopting practices which cohere with evangelical distinctiveness. Maybe evangelicals can be positive if changes in churchmanship are made out of genuine convictions in a heartfelt embracing of how God is leading them. And it would be churlish in the extreme for evangelicals to be prejudiced against practices included in scripture just because they perceive them to be ‘High Church’ or ‘Roman Catholic’.

However, it also needs to be noted that although evangelicals have missed and lost some of the insights of pre-Reformation Christianity, let’s be clear that this wasn’t all good either. The ancient traditions did not save the ancient churches from a quagmire of ritualism that gave Christianity a bad name. God had to send a new wave of the spirit in Pentecostalism in the early 20th century.

So as evangelicals reject a sectarian approach, they need great wisdom to assess what it is appropriate to embrace. There were good reasons why evangelicals historically rejected the aesthetic and visual dimensions of faith knowing that the New Testament was keen to break with those visual and ritualistic parts of Judaism that had been replaced with Christ.

All spiritual disciplines, (evangelical classics such as Bible reading, prayer and listening to God’s word preached, as well as fasting, meditation, spiritual direction and monastic living) are tools God can and will use, but need to be used properly lest they merely pander to a self-obsessed age and aid a Christian retreat into cloistered environments.

The touchstone should surely be, “Does the way I worship and practise my daily devotions help or hinder godly living for Christ where he has placed me?”

For many, embracing ancient traditions has served that end – and even if you decide it’s not for you, hopefully it will be with a greater respect for those who kept the torch of the gospel shining in the past so that future generations, like you, may live in its light.

0001-0411-0919-5036_ruler_inches_and_centimeters Something that I have been thinking about for a time is a rule of faith. The benedictines and most monastic orders have them, but I have very much like the Rule of St Benedict.
And so my church is currently looking to introduce this is a slightly different way. We would like to introduce it as mission, a personal mission possibly as a primer to baptism but also as a help to spiritual growth.
These are my suggestions thus far:

I have approached looking ahead to it being used as a baptism primer and for furthering spiritual growth/discipline and discipleship of all.

Connecting to God on a daily basis

A Daily Office and Bible reading

A different daily quote to contemplate or ponder

Daily Format

I have considered an online format but on reflection I think we should print our own books. This can be done quite cheaply at  or a similar site. This has the advantage of being to carry it and freely access it anywhere.

I also suggest adding:

Three sections of teaching notes

Christians Classics list

Web resources list

Room for notes

Daily Prayers (Daily office)

One Daily Office per day consisting of:

The principal prayer – the opening prayer of the day

Daily reading from scripture

The confirmation of the Trinity

Declaration of Faith

Lord’s Prayer and Amen


Forty days which is in keeping with Jesus time in the Desert/Moses on the mountain/Jews in the desert and is a time period of transformation in scripture. 6 weeks and 2 days – for instance it could run from on Sunday Jan 11th and that means it would run through to feb 27th.


All teaching session should be over a simple meal

After church on a Sunday

The teaching should cover all basic areas of belief


All should serve each week

People would need to be placed in different ministries to understand service and serving


All people should be giving, that includes financially, time and energy

It should be with a joyful heart

Percentages may make it feel it’s about money or people are in some way having to pay for the course which may detract from the spiritual aspect of it.

Small Groups

All people should be a member of a small group


Initially this could be divided among the three leaders.

For baptism primers I would suggest one on one

Those who have done it before to do it with those who are preparing for the sacrament of baptism

Finishing up

A day away at an abbey/convent for some quiet reflective time and a chance to share for all members

A meal together the night before the baptism




NewMonasticism An interesting paper  I cam eon across browing recently.

‘Some of these resemble “third order” societies—whose members have a primary church commitment outside of the order, but who live according to the order’s Rule. Others function as primary church groups—ie. the community functions in all respects as a church, including pastoral care, the ministry of word and sacrament etc. Some are now well established and others comparatively new.

There is variety and diversity, not unlike in the type of monasticism present in Celtic Ireland and Britain.’

From Arlen…

There may be many answers, but here I just want to float the following for consideration:

perhaps because our society needs to see and alternative way of life….

perhaps because our churches need to see an alternative way of life….

perhaps because the pursuit of wealth, social status and pleasure which are the current social    values, need to be counter balanced…

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer…


…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old, but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Extract from a letter to his brother Karl-Friedrick
January 14, 1935

Monastic Vows…


Simplicity—a frugal and focused life. We strive to be a community that is unencumbered by excessive possessions and filled with passion and purpose to seek first God’s kingdom. We’ll seek to align all our resources whether time, personnel, money, or energy around one dominant theme: God. (Matthew 6:33)

Community—a shared and stable life. We strive to be a community that rejects “rugged individualism” and pursues instead radical interdependence. We’ll make and keep long term commitments to each other without constant uprooting to so-called greener pastures. (Philippians 2:2-4)

Worship—a God-centered life. We strive to be a community that vigorously pursues intimacy with God. We’ll lay our lives down as a daily, living sacrifice of praise, magnifying God’s purposes and promoting his fame. (John 4:23)

Study—a transformed life. We strive to be a community that is immersed in and renewed by the vigorous study and application of Scripture to the culture that bombards it. We’ll reflect and think deeply for ourselves and refusing to be spoon-fed the pablum of media and advertising. (1 Timothy 2:15)

Work—a productive and creative life. We strive to be a community that does its share. A community that co-creates with God. We see value and meaning in all forms of work, whether manual or mental. We view work as an end in itself, something to be enjoyed, as part of our spiritual formation, and not just a means to an end. (Acts 20:34)

Service—a generous life. “Freely you have received, now freely give.” In a world that idolizes power, individualism, and pride, we’ll show Christ’s way of serving through practical acts of love. (Mark 10:45)

Hospitality—a welcoming life. We strive to be a community that recognizes the face of Christ in friends and strangers. We want room in our heart, schedule, and residence for guests—both invited and uninvited. (Matthew 25:35)

Justice—a socially active life. We strive to be a community that breaks the chains of oppression and injustice. In world full of injustice, we’ll work at a local, grassroots level for visible social change and be a voice for justice among the world’s oppressed. (Luke 4:18, 19)

Sabbath—a renewed life. We strive to be a community that takes time to stop doing and just be. We’ll embrace solitude and personal renewal, valuing time away to re-charge and re-align as Christ did. (Mark 1:35)

Celebration—a joy-filled life. We strive to be a community that knows how to party. We’ll take time to rejoice together and celebrate occasions both big and small. Whether a special accomplishment was earned by a child in the community, a holiday is being recognized, or just sharing a simple meal—we’ll celebrate and enter into the joy of God’s kingdom. (Philippians 4:4)

In the years since the Second Vatican Council, the various traditions of Christian faith have participated in an ecumenical gift exchange for their mutual enrichment. Catholics have embraced Protestant strong points like singing the faith and closer familiarity with the Word of God. Protestants have increased their celebrations of the Eucharist and rediscovered helpful practices like spiritual direction.

An article entitled “The Unexpected Monks” in the Feb. 3 issue of the Boston Globe is only the latest indication of the ecumenical gift exchange. The article reflects on the rise of the New Monastics — “some 100 groups that describe themselves as both evangelical and monastic have sprung up in North America” — who come from a variety of Protestant traditions. They share a common dissatisfaction with what they see as the over-commercialized and socially apathetic culture of mainstream evangelicalism, especially in its “prosperity gospel” expression.

Both Luther and Calvin removed monasticism from the range of legitimate forms of Christian living. True Christians, said the 16th century reformers, were to be engaged with the world, not spending their time chanting in Latin. But today increasing numbers of evangelical congregations have created relationships with Catholic monasteries and join the monks for spiritual retreats.

They are discovering prayer and study as ways of engaging with and for the world, but they are not stopping there. The new monasticism that is evolving does not aim to separate itself from society, is environmentally conscious and cares about social justice. Nearly all the New Monastics have regular jobs and social lives, and many of them are married.

They see their simple living, grounded in prayer and service, as a way to better integrate core Christian values into their lives as contemporary citizens. They seek, in the words of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ.”

Last November I had the opportunity to visit the Monastery of Bose in northwestern Italy, founded in 1965 by Enzo Bianchi. Bose presents itself as “a monastic community of men and women belonging to different churches.”

In his book Monastic Life and the Ecumenical Dialogue, Bianchi shares three reasons why monastic life provides a particularly ecumenical terrain.

First, monasticism precedes the divisions in the church. It is a human phenomenon with its own anthropology (celibacy, community life or solitude, asceticism, the search for the absolute) even before it became a Christian phenomenon. It is for this reason that interreligious dialogue (such as the North American Monastic Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue) takes place in monasteries more than elsewhere. 

Further, within Christianity, as long as the churches remained united, monasticism remained single and undivided, with its Western expression recognizing the Eastern monasticism of the desert fathers as its source. Citing Psalm 87:7, every monk, Bianchi says, ought to see that “Within you (the undivided church) is my true home.”

Secondly, monasticism came into being as a radical commitment to follow Christ, and therefore as a pathway to holiness. When holiness is pursued in religious life, even in different churches, it is a unifying force. Holiness allows us to realize that confessional walls do not rise as high as heaven.

It was the French priest Abbé Paul Couturier — the same one who shaped what we now call the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity — who said that at a certain degree of holiness, confessional differences lose their force because holiness looks beyond the division of the churches.

If monastics truly respond to their vocation of inner unification, communion lived visibly and continually renewed reconciliation and mercy, says Bianchi, they will be servants of unity and ministers of ecclesial communion.

A third reason that makes monasticism a natural site for ecumenical dialogue is that it has always sought to be a life of conversion. As the dictum goes, “the church is always reforming itself,” but in the history of the church concrete expressions of reform have been few, and what reform there is tends to be put into effect slowly. In monastic life, on the other hand, every century has seen a reform in which there has been an effort to return to the sources and begin again, in a more profound obedience and faithfulness to the Gospel.

Because of the centrality of the word of God in monastic life — the office, lectio divina, Eucharist — and the resulting emphasis on reform, monasticism is capable of speaking the same language as the Reformed churches and of being their authentic dialogue partner. 

“We must confess, though,” says Bianchi, “that many monastic and religious communities simply do not investigate the ecumenical pathway toward reconciliation: they consider ecumenical activity optional, or they think of it as a specific charism granted ecumenical communities. As a result, they plan and organize their way of life, their diakonia and their mission in society among the churches without taking into consideration the other Christian traditions.”

(Fr. Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, DC.)

A New monasticism

From Christian History & Biography:

Re-Monking the Church
Many Catholics and Protestants are looking back to Benedict for the community and spiritual intensity they can’t find in modern culture.

Christians struggling for sanctity in a too-comfortable world should pay attention to this observation by Mark Noll: “For over a millennium, in the centuries between the reign of Constantine and the Protestant Reformation, almost everything in the church that approached the highest, noblest, and truest ideals of the gospel was done either by those who had chosen the monastic way or by those who had been inspired in their Christian life by the monks.” Can Western monasticism’s “father,” Benedict, still give us an antidote to cultural compromise?

At first blush, this might seem unlikely, at least in the Western church. Between 1978 and 2004—nearly the entire span of John Paul II’s pontificate—the number of men in monastic and religious orders (not including priests) decreased by 46% in Europe and 30% in the Americas, while the number of women decreased by 39% and 27%, respectively. Compare this to the trend in the global South: During the same period, men in monastic and religious orders increased by 48% in Africa and 39% in Asia, with women increasing on those two continents by 62% and 64%.

A number of the Catholic writers in the 2006 volume A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century frankly wonder if “monasticism as we know it” is, in God’s providential plan, destined for obsolescence in the West. Yet most suggest that new and powerful forms of the monastic impulse may even now be arising.

This is certainly the impression given by the 21st annual Monastic Institute, held in July 2006 at St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota. There, Catholic Benedictines and members of established communities such as L’Arche and the Catholic Worker Movement joined with leaders of new Protestant communities with names like the Simple Way (Pennsylvania), Rutba House (North Carolina), and the Church of the Servant King (Oregon) to mine the riches of Benedict’s Rule. This strikingly diverse group—50% Catholic, 50% Protestant—discussed the topic of “new communities” with high hopes that, indeed, God is still in the monastic impulse.

The Lure of Tradition

Many signs buoy this hope. Even in the midst of declining numbers, Benedictine monasticism is still thriving on a wide spectrum from the modernized (seen at places like St. John’s) to the traditional. In 2000, American monks reestablished a Benedictine monastic community in Benedict’s Italian hometown of Nursia, now called Norcia. American Catholic monasticism has seen new life from an unexpected quarter: young men committing themselves to a very traditional form of Benedictine monasticism at the recently founded Clear Creek Monastery near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Clear Creek’s monks celebrate the Latin Mass, cultivate Gregorian chant, and practice not only the gospel demands of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also the distinctly Benedictine gift of hospitality. Many Americans, struck anew with the yearning for holy community rooted deep in the church’s history, have come to visit—and a few to stay.

But what if someone does not desire—or does not sense God’s call—to make the lifelong vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience required of monastics? Do the spiritual resources of the monastic tradition have anything to offer to the person who has made commitments to spouse and family, or is pursuing a secular vocation? History gives a resounding “yes.” After all, monasticism was never intended to encompass a different set of spiritual values than those followed by all Christians. It offered a means of living the Christian life with more single-minded intensity.

For nearly a millennium, there have been people (one might call them “monastic groupies”) who have connected themselves to a monastery in a less formal way, committing to certain spiritual disciplines while remaining in the world. The option of becoming a monastic associate or oblate has enjoyed a recent surge of popularity as both Catholics and Protestants have sought in monastic spirituality something they feel is missing in their own lives.

The Longing for Connectedness

Also more numerous within the Catholic fold—and arguably no less in the spirit of Benedict himself—are members of a cornucopia of mission-driven ecclesial communities, such as the Christian Life Movement, Chemin Neuf (A New Way), and the Emmanuel Community. In June 2006, the same month that the Monastic Institute met in Minnesota, Pope Benedict XVI met with over 100 new ecclesial groups in St. Peter’s Square.

Each is committed to following a disciplined pattern of life—some communally and some in the regular spheres of family and work—and to serving the world in its own way. Many include married couples along with priests and individuals who have taken vows of celibacy and poverty. Though the ecclesial communities are not deliberately “monastic,” they are meeting needs that in previous centuries could only have been met by joining a monastery.

Many of us yearn to be deeply rooted in Christ in a way that reflects his holiness, and to share this rooted, holy life with a community, but we find this hard to do in the modern West. Our culture pushes us to strive for individual fulfillment, to consume more and more, and to spend much of our lives working to pay for that consumption. The result has been a world of constant mobility, alienation, and loneliness. Quasi-monastic movements like the Catholic ecclesial communities reveal a deep desire for connectedness—a sense that we need to live a regular, disciplined life of devotion to God, and that we can’t do it alone.

Protestant “Monks”?

In Protestant circles, this monastic impulse can be seen especially in the phenomenon of intentional communities. Among these, the self-described “new monastics” have taken their cue from philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. In his influential 1981 book After Virtue, MacIntyre compared the state of the West to the decadence of the late Roman Empire, and called for “another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” In 1998 Jonathan R. Wilson picked up MacIntyre’s ideas and put them into more explicitly Christian form in Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World. He fleshed out a call for a “new monasticism” that would allow the church to truly be the church in this troubling, fragmented age.

In a time when, it seems to Wilson and the new monastics, “many parts of the church are sinking with the culture and doing so without any resistance,” Benedict’s wisdom has again become a fount of inspiration and guidance. In School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism (which emerged from a 2004 meeting of “new monastic” communities) leaders concluded that at least some Christians must engage in some form of separation—not only from the “culture at large,” but also from the increasingly compromised church—to model a life of true devotion and obedience to Christ.

But historically, of course, monastics have not stopped at separation—nor do these “new monastics.” Benedict founded a monastic way in which hospitality to the stranger and the needy is a prophetic witness to the world. Thus these new quasi-monastic communities have dedicated themselves not only to contemplative disciplines and submission to a communal rule, but also to solidarity with the poor, racial reconciliation, and peacemaking.

One Protestant who attended the St. John meeting, Bethel Seminary graduate Jan Bros, was driven by the difficulty she experienced pursuing true spiritual formation in her old megachurch to start a new monastic community in Minneapolis called Abbey Way, founded on Benedictine principles. When Bros asked a Benedictine sister what she thought of Protestants seeking to start such communities, to her delight the nun replied, “Benedict would approve.”

Passing Fad or Promising Future?

Even in the midst of such celebration, members of new communities, both Catholic and Protestant, are aware that the current love affair with monastic forms of worship and life can amount to another unhelpful “fad” as people run after books and retreats. A few candles and a few chanted prayers do not a prophetic community make.

Church of the Servant King’s Jon Stock says, “It’s awful hard for us Westerners not to approach Benedict as another technique, another consumable, another path to self-actualization.” Stock also admits that the new monasticism, focused as it often is on social activism, can lose its connection to the larger church and to worship practices anchored in the church—a concern shared by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Asbury Seminary’s Christine Pohl admits that Benedict’s four pillars—”life under a rule, life lived in commitment to a particular people and place, obedience, and ongoing conversion”—present a challenge to modern Western Christians, with our “wariness of vows and commitments, and our individualistic and mobile lifestyles.”

Time will tell whether the “new monastic” communities will survive, whether the traditional Benedictine monasteries will continue to thrive, and what new forms of counter-cultural, prayerful, prophetic community will arise to inspire Christians and shake the culture. But for now, the future of Benedict seems as bright as his past.

Chris Armstrong is associate professor of church history at Bethel Seminary and a senior editor of Christian History & Biography. The author thanks Dennis Martin for his guidance on the current state of Roman Catholic monasticism.