As I have already stated, I’m intrigued by the majority of aspects of the neo-monastic movement. However, as I reflect on this movement, it is becoming more apparent to me that there is at least one aspect with which I take issue. The irony in all this is that it comes from both sides, those opposed and those in favour of neo-monasticism. It is the narrow focus of what comprises monasticism and neo-monasticism, that is, in particular the ‘social justice’ emphasis. Some have even gone so far as to term neo-monasticism: the New Friar Movement. However, as we will see their understanding of being a friar is found in the Franciscan tradition. On the outset there is nothing wrong with this, yet it is simply one strain of monasticism and to classify an entire movement through this filter might be premature.
For those who are involved with neo-monasticism there is a deep need to address the marginalised and the stranger. These are good things. Most definitely we would all do well to do more in this regard. However, this is not the only focus of traditional monasticism, nor should it be the central focus of neo-monasticism. Their appeal to embody the Sermon on the Mount is a sincere one. Nonetheless, it appears to be a highly censored Sermon on the Mount, comprised mainly of the ‘social justice’ aspects and little else. The Sermon on the Mount is about a gospelized humanity (hat tip: Darrell Johnson). It is capturing our full ‘created-ness.’ It is what we were created for. To limit this understanding is detrimental to the entire understanding of the Sermon. In fact, one might go so far to say it creates a specific duality between the spirit and the physical. In order to over come this understanding we must centre our understanding of Christianity in worship (cf. Chan, Liturgical Theology).
As I have already mentioned in a previous post, the central focus of any Christian’s life is worship. Without this focus all emerging movements will fail. I’m not talking about a simple understanding of worship. I’m talking about an all encompassing depth, which most evangelicals fail to fully understand. One of the most glaring omissions from a majority of evangelical theology is ecclesiology. Without it no movement has the foundation to stand. But that’s a topic for another time.
Objectors or critics of neo-monasticism see it on one side as a return to (Roman Catholicism and a works based righteousness) or a misdirected movement which will not pass beyond this generation. Neither is the case. However, the critics also cast a narrow definition of what monasticism was and is.
One example is only necessary for either focus: the Dominicans. Their primary purpose is two-fold: to evangelize and disciple (to use evangelical terms). It is their belief that if we do this well, then the rest will fall into place.
If we are to embrace the possibility of neo-monasticism, which in my humble opinion could be the way forward, we must begin to embrace monasticism in all its facets.