Wes MARKOFSKI. New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism. Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. 364. ISBN 978-0-19-025801-6. Reviewed by Pierre HEGY, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11542.


There were more than 200 new communities in the New Monastic movement in 2013; this is more than the number of new Catholic monastic communities founded in the last fifty years. This trend represent a radically new development according to Wes Markofski who spent five years, from 2006 to 2001, as a participant observant in four neo-monastic communities. The spread of Monasticism represents a radical change in American Evangelicalism.

In the first two chapters we get an overview of the development of Evangelicalism over the last 100 years. In the 1880s and 1890s under the influence of Dwight Moody, Evangelical Protestantism was essentially a religiously conservative movement which soon came in conflict with the theological liberals of the modernist movement. Politically, however, conservative Protestantism was mostly liberal until the 1920s when Fundamentalism pushed political and economic progressivism underground. The generation of Billy Graham consolidated the “five points” of traditional orthodoxy (biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, etc.) while at the same time prioritizing evangelism, individualism, and the purely spiritual transformation of society. All of this is called into question by the New Monastic movement.

Here are the positions of the two camps. According to traditional Protestantism it is the individuals who have to work at their salvation as well as at their economic and social development. Individualism is usually related to social change and upwards mobility, but unexpectedly since the 1920s up to today, this individualism turned into social and political conservatism. The New Monasticism takes opposite stands, favoring evolutionary theory rather than creationism, social justice rather than evangelism, communitarian cooperation rather than individualism, left-liberal politics rather than conservative programs, and this-worldly social action rather than other-worldly spirituality (p. 66). Ultimately, in the 2008 Presidential election, after much painful soul-searching, some or many voted for Obama rather than the Republican candidate. This is a radical change.

Chapter 6 gives some glimpses at the organization of the New Monasticism. The author describes one Mid-Western community called the Urban Monastery. In About 2005, “five founding members of the Urban Monastery found a foreclosed drug house in the city and decided to move in together.” (p. 166). No other information is given. These founders had no plans except to uphold the basic rules adopted in 2004 by a group of Christian community leaders. Some of these rules are: relocate to the abandoned places of empire; share economic resources; offer hospitality to strangers; nurture common life in intentional communities; support celibate life; commit to disciplined and contemplative life. (p. 162).

It is only in the last pages of the book that we get some details about religious life at the Urban Monastery. There are “three expressions” of community life. First there is Sunday worship every other week only, in order to emphasize the importance of the other two “expressions.” Members are expected to form “collectives” of ten to fifty people meeting weekly to foster Christian involvement in their environment. The collectives are defined by their focus: the Arts, Young Professionals, Prayer, Justice, Social Work, and other interest-based groups (p. 262). More important, however, are the Discipleship Groups that meet weekly in groups of two or three for spiritual development. They are expected to read fifteen chapters of the bible and discuss about twenty questions concerning the love of God, self, and the World, and also about specific issues like sexuality, money, bible reading and daily prayer. It is expected that most of the members of the Monastery will join one such group. Out of the total of 150 members, sixty form the Leadership Community, meeting every other week for prayer and decision making. Finally the ultimate authority rests with the five founding members.

This summary only describes the shell in wich the numerous activities take place at all times in what resembles a religious commune. There is enormous spiritual dynamism in this movement which prompts the spontaneous creation of new communities in the US and abroad, most of which consist of about twenty members. This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of Protestant religious radicalism. The author is mostly concerned with theoretical discussions and the book often reads like a PhD dissertation. Hopefully the author will also publish a few data-centered articles as there is great interest today in spirituality and monasticism.