Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants

I am reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99. Also his recent book, Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks is free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.
Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants by Dennis OkholmTakeaway: Spiritual Growth is not a quick fix.  It is a journey without end.

One of my favorite classes at Wheaton College was Systematic Theology with Dennis Okholm.  I think I learned more about theology in that class than I did in all of my theology classes at University of Chicago Divinity School combined.

So when I saw that Okholm’s book was on sale for kindle (2 weeks ago), I picked it up and read almost all of it in a single sitting, that probably goes against the theme of the book.

Monk Habits for Everyday People is a very readable and interesting look at how Protestants (and more particularly Evangelicals that are often most interesting in evangelism and salvation) can learn from Benedictines about how to live as Christians.  This is an ongoing theme for me this year.  Not intentionally, but I think it is something that God is doing in me. As Okholm says near the beginning of the book:

We have become consumers of religion rather than cultivators of a spiritual life; we have spawned an entire industry of Christian kitsch and bookstores full of spiritual junk food that leaves us sated and flabby. As if we believed the infomercial that promises great abs if we just buy the right piece of equipment for $39.95, we think that the secret to being a spiritually fit Christian can be had by finding some secret technique or buying the most recent hot-selling inspirational devotional. Maturity in the Christian life does not come in these ways. The life of the disciple is like that of the athlete who prepares for and runs a marathon. We can have the snazziest running garb, assemble a library full of training schedules and tips, and watch Chariots of Fire each day every day for a year, but while all of these things might help, they will not be a substitute for the unspectacular training and diet that we must engage in if we are going to become mature Christians, “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:4). It’s that way with anything in life—being a concert pianist, a skilled sculptor, or an insightful historian.

And this soon after that, “What Benedictines have to offer Protestants in this quest is the lived reminder that the Christian community’s ultimate function is to shape individuals who, as disciples of Christ, are being formed into his image.”

My ongoing project of reading about Catholic theology and spirituality has meant that I keep running into the fact that spiritual growth is not sexy, it is mundane, on-going and often more about what is not seen.

The structure of Monk Habits is 7 chapters on 7 virtues that Okholm has identified as central to being Benedictine. The virtues are Listening, Poverty, Obedience, Humility, Hospitality, Stability, and Balance. These are not exciting virtues.  These are long term.

Okholm does his job of bridging the gap between Catholic monks and an evangelical audience well.  He grew up in and has taught in the Evangelical world.  But he also became a Benedictine Oblate (someone that does not take monastic vows, but attempts to live the life of a Benedictine outside the monastery.)

This was not the purpose of Monk Habits, but I would be interested in understanding why Okholm has chosen to not become Catholic. (My guess is that it has at least something to do with the fact that his wife is a Presbyterian minister.  But there is probably more to the story.)

Monk Habits is a book well worth reading.

Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

3 Comments

“The life of the disciple is like that of the athlete who prepares for and runs a marathon. We can have the snazziest running garb, assemble a library full of training schedules and tips, and watch Chariots of Fire each day every day for a year, but while all of these things might help, they will not be a substitute for the unspectacular training and diet that we must engage in if we are going to become mature Christians, “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:4).”

As I am nearing the end of my first season as an age-group triathlete I certainly identify with this. There have been many hours of lonely slogging through 5:30am swim practices, many nights I have spent alone riding my bike, and many Saturday mornings spent running.

I have skipped many fun activities with friends, turned down a large share of desserts, and made difficult choices about my other outside of work activities to pursue this sport.

Months upon months of training before the race. Then if you don’t want to lose all of your fitness you have to get back to it after the race. There is no point where you arrive and never have to train again.

Definitely interested in reading this book.

It sounds to me like the message of this book is something that all of us Christians need to hear. Many of us are so used to having instant gratification that we become discouraged when we don’t become like Christ after being in a relationship with him for a few years or even a decade or 2. Aside from that, I have always admired the path monks choose but have not figured out how to translate their chosen devotion to a life in the “real world”. I might pick this one up as well.

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