Along with a couple members of the First Things editorial staff, I was blessed to spend this past weekend on the gorgeous Maryland coast. The occasion was the first annual Fare Forward Summer Symposium. In case you missed the First Thoughts and While We’re At It write-ups a while back, Fare Forward is a new “Christian review of ideas,” written by, and primarily for, emerging adults. Themes for this first year’s issues have included orthodoxy, place, the good life, and dualism.
The topic of the weekend’s symposium was “Public Christianity in the Twenty-First Century.” About fifty young Christians of all stripes made it out, some trekking from as far as Nebraska, Texas, and Arizona to be present. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, our keynote presenter, brought his whole family to join the festivities as well.
Much of the symposium was occupied by a conversation on competing versions of Christian presence in our contemporary world. While there were a variety of viewpoints expressed, the general consensus was that many of the styles of public engagement with the faith that our generation has inherited will not be our strongest options going forward. (Whether this is simply because the contextual setting for such engagement has changed, or rather is indicative of more pervasive problems with the old modes themselves, is of course another important enquiry.)
What should replace these outdated versions of public Christianity remained, and remains, far less clear. In my own remarks, I recommended something like MacIntyre’s famous “Benedict option,” his stellar conclusion to After Virtue in which he remarks, “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”
Many—Douthat included—were and are skeptical of this “new Benedictine” reaction (though most agreed with me that the “old Benedictine” reaction of taking religious vows would be a perfectly appropriate answer). (more…)