Retreating from battle can be a failure of nerve, a sign of defeat, or a tactical move. In any case, it’s one of the most difficult military maneuvers to pull off with minimum loss of life.

In our March cover story, Rod Dreher argues that Christians have lost not merely a cultural battle but the war itself. In skirmish after skirmish—abortion, divorce law, public piety, and human sexuality—the nation has adopted sub-Christian and anti-Christian ways. Add to that the legal assault on our ability to freely express and live our faith—well, it feels to Dreher and others that while the war is over, the battle is more fierce than ever.

But it’s not as if “secular America” is the bad guy and “the church” is the good guy. Dreher recognizes that much of the church has been co-opted by the secular, and much of the secular has taken on the aura of religion. In the chaos of battle, it is sometimes hard to tell who is on whose side. Dreher calls for a Christian retreat in part to admit how badly the culture war has gone. But this retreat is not a failure of nerve nor a sign of defeat (Jesus is still Lord), but a tactical withdrawal to regroup the church for the days ahead.

We think his Benedict Option is an intriguing idea well worth pondering, which is why we asked four leading thinkers of diverse opinions to ponder it. Specifically, we asked:

“In a time of weakening institutions and in an increasingly pluralistic age, what is the best way for Christians to strengthen their local Christian community?”

What is the role and mission of the church in times like these? For if the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it, as Jesus said (Mt. 16:18), one can presume that the church is not going anywhere, no matter how dire things external and internal are.

Christ’s body, with him as head, is the institution that ultimately matters, that binds and looses as does no other. That much our respondents no doubt agree on. But what exactly is the best way forward to renew the church and its mission? That faithful Christians disagree about the answer does not surprise us, but only suggests that the way forward is a beautifully complex and challenging one.

–Mark Galli, Editor