New Monasticism is a growing movement within evangelical Protestant Christianity that aims to combine the life of Christian community modeled in the Book of Acts and the call to service and social justice found throughout the Bible with commitment to personal spiritual disciplines and accountability found in traditional monastic movements. The goal is to find a new way of being the church that addresses the needs of contemporary society while remaining rooted in historic Christian faith and practice.
The name “New Monasticism” comes from the idea that this movement seeks to recover the values of historical monastic communities like service, community, simplicity and spirituality while updating them for a modern context. New Monastic communities can take many forms, but most try to recreate the communal living and shared resources seen in Acts 2:42-47 while also finding ways to serve those in need around them.
Some of the key Biblical principles behind New Monasticism include:
- A call to radical discipleship. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and his instructions to his disciples emphasize leaving behind worldly wealth and status to follow him. New Monastics see this as a call to a life centered around Jesus and his kingdom.
- A focus on Christian community. Passages like Acts 2 and 4 and 1 Peter 2:9 emphasize the importance of the church as a community that shares resources, cares for one another, and worships together. New Monastic communities seek to recapture this sense of togetherness.
- A concern for social justice. The prophets and Jesus consistently speak out against inequality and oppression, calling God’s people to defend the vulnerable. New Monastics aim to respond to issues like poverty and injustice.
- A desire for spiritual growth. 1 Timothy 4:7 instructs Christians to “train yourself for godliness,” while Philippians 3:10 longs to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” New Monastics share this focus on spiritual disciplines and following Jesus.
These core Biblical values lead New Monastics to build communities centered around prayer, hospitality, care for the poor, intentional living, and serving the wider community. They see this as a contemporary way of following Jesus’ call to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
The New Monastic movement emerged in the late 20th century through the writings of thinkers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jacques Ellul, and Ivan Illich who called for new ways of being church. But it really gained steam after the publication of Rutba House founders Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s “New Monasticism What It Has to Say to Today’s Church” in 2008.
This book documented attempts like Rutba House to live communally, share resources, and serve the poor. It set forth 12 marks that defined the budding New Monastic movement:
- Relocation to the abandoned places of the empire
- Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy
- Hospitality to the stranger
- Lament for racial divisions within the church
- Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church
- Nurturing common life among members of intentional community
- Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children
- Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life
- Care for the plot of God’s earth given to the community
- Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict
- Reconciliation within the body of Christ
- Prayer and spiritual disciplines to sustain communal life
This book galvanized many young Christians to found similar communities all aimed at living out the 12 marks. So within evangelicalism, New Monasticism came to describe groups that share life together, redistribute wealth internally, open their homes to strangers, pursue racial reconciliation, care for creation, work for justice, and commit to spiritual disciplines together.
Since its inception, over 200 groups have joined the New Monasticism movement. Here are a few prominent examples:
- The Simple Way (Philadelphia): Founded by author Shane Claiborne, this community lives in the impoverished Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. They run a thrift store, community garden, and neighborhood bike shop to benefit locals.
- Rutba House (North Carolina): This was one of the original communities described in Wilson-Hartgrove’s book. They lived among the urban poor in Durham, NC before dissolving in 2008.
- The People’s Seminary (Seattle): This community-based program offers classes, city retreats, agriculture training, and events all aimed at teaching how to live justly in community.
- The Open Door Community (Atlanta): Founded in 1981, this long-standing community offers food to the homeless and advocates on behalf of the poor in the inner city.
- Urban Expression (UK): Started in 1998, this movement seeks to plant new monastic communities in deprived areas of London and across the UK.
In addition to specific communities, the New Monastic influence has also given rise to broad networks and organizations that connect and resource similar groups. These include:
- The Rutba Network: A network of over 20 communities started by graduates of the original Rutba House.
- The Mission Year program: A one year urban program for college students wanting to live communally and serve the city.
- The Ecclesia Network: A network of over 50 communities and individuals seeking to live into the New Monastic vision.
- St Lydia’s Church (NYC): A dinner church community organized around New Monastic principles.
- The Simple Way’s annual Conspiracy Conference: A gathering that trains followers of Jesus in New Monastic living.
However, New Monasticism is not without its critics. Some argue that it goes too far in withdrawing from mainstream society. Others say it reduces the gospel to material relief or social justice instead of spiritual redemption. Some evangelicals have accused it of embracing a “liberal” or social gospel that dilutes biblical truth. Yet proponents argue that it represents a necessary rebalancing in response to a consumeristic, individualistic church culture focused on numerical growth.
Most acknowledge that New Monasticism faces challenges. There is a lack of ethnic and socio-economic diversity within many communities. Some struggle to sustain communal living for the long haul or burn out from pouring themselves into demanding ministries. Questions remain about how groups can maintain financial solvency. So the movement continues to adapt and evolve.
But on the whole, New Monasticism represents an attempt to recapture a radical way of discipleship focused on living out the full implications of Jesus’ call to his followers. It prioritizes incarnational ministry to the marginalized, simplicity and justice, and the disciplines and delight of life together. And it offers an exciting, if imperfect, vision of what it could look like for Christians to be the salt, light and city on a hill Jesus envisioned.
The New Monastic impulse reminds the church that Jesus’ teachings apply fully in every generation. It calls Christians to think carefully about how their lives, resources and choices either align with or contradict the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. It recognizes that how we live together as the body of Christ matters tremendously, even in an age dominated by individualism and compartmentalization of faith. New Monasticism dares ask: What if Christians took the radical lifestyle Jesus modeled and commanded seriously? What could it look like if people lived as if God’s word shaped all aspects of life? The New Monastic conversation continues to capture the imagination of those dissatisfied with casual, cultural Christianity and longing to follow Jesus to the fullest.
In summary, the New Monastic movement is an attempt to rediscover the radical community and activism of the early church in the 21st century. By living communally, sharing resources, serving the poor, and fostering spiritual growth, New Monastics hope to model dependence on God and demonstrate Christ’s love in abandoned places. This call to reimagine Christian community has sparked over 200 communities and numerous networks since the 2000s. While facing criticism and challenges, the movement continues to gain steam among a generation seeking an all-encompassing faith. New Monasticism serves as a bold reminder that Christ’s love compels his followers to live differently together for the sake of the world God loves.