Dennis Okholm, raised as a Pentecostal and a Baptist, has written this book for Protestants of the evangelical tradition to explain what Benedictine monastic spirituality is all about. Now a Presbyterian minister, he presents his life story and his interest in Benedictine life. He became an oblate, or an associate, with Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota, and he became involved with the American Benedictine Academy. Benedictine oblates are not only Roman Catholics but also include other Christians. Katheleen Norris, the author of The Cloister Walk and Dakota is another Protestant oblate, and she provides the foreword to Okholm’s book.
Okholm examines Benedictinism from an evangelical Protestant point of view, explaining to fellow evangelicals what this is all about and that they do not have to be afraid of it. He presents the Rule of St. Benedict to this audience to give them a better understanding of this sixth-century document. He reveals how Benedictine spirituality or life is lived not only by monks and nuns, but also by laypeople. His chapters cover listening, poverty, obedience, humility, hospitality, stability, balance, and how these and more can change the world we live in. Okholm’s afterword shows why Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and others opposed monasticism (there were abuses and laxity in some Benedictine monasteries before and after the Reformation), and he explains how these fears are no longer valid - or that monasticism as it was supposed to be lived was and is a good thing.
Okholm reveals that Benedictine spirituality is not complicated; in fact, it is quite simple and very ordinary. There is nothing extraordinary about Benedictines; the ordinariness of their life is a great asceticism in itself. One does not have to look for exotic or Oriental methods of spirituality. Benedictine spirituality is a tried, ancient spirituality. St. Benedict compiled his Rule by picking the best from the monastic traditions before him, and his Rule is very scripturally oriented - he quotes or alludes to scripture many times throughout, using the best from St. Augustine of Hippo, John Cassian, the Rule of the Master, St. Basil the Great, and other monastic founders and documents. St. Benedict’s key words are balance and moderation. Nothing is to be done in excess, or to the other extent of doing nothing. He urged his monks to live a balanced, moderate life.
Okholm has conducted classes on Benedictine spirituality at various colleges that have been successful eye-openers for his students. This book is a fruit of that experience and of his lived experience as a Benedictine oblate. This reviewer is a Benedictine monk who can say that Okholm has done a great job of explaining Benedictinism and its spirituality. This book is highly recommended to Protestants and Catholics curious about Benedictines and their spirituality. It is also recommended to Protestant oblates.
Dennis Okholm (Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary) is a professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University and a parish associate at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. He has taught in North Dakota, Kentucky, Illinois, and other places. He is the author of The Gospel in Black and White (1998), and is the co-author of Invitation to Philosophy (2005), Evangelicals and Scripture (2004), A Family of Faith (2001) and of others.