Professor Greg Peters examines the “new monastics” a decade on from their emergence into Christian life over at First Things:
The new monasticism, characterized by Robin Russell as individuals and families who “commit to follow a ‘rule of life’ . . . and they immerse themselves in community life and service,” is without a doubt an important movement in the North American Protestant church, and there is much to commend in it. The name, though, in some ways obscures our impression of historic monasticism—the diverse worlds of the Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans. Though scholars and practitioners of monasticism debate, at times, the very definition of “monasticism,” there is general agreement that married and single people living in some form of close (or even loose) community, even if they follow a rule, is not quite the historic monasticism of the Christian Church, being closer to “intentional community.”
Ten years on it is worth asking why the new monastics prefer something “new” to something historical. Though only adherents can answer this question completely, I will hazard a few guesses: Historic monasticism expects/demands singleness and (by extension) celibacy, whereas many of the new monastics (including some of its main leaders) are married. “Marriage,” of course, is not the antonym of “monastic” but it is somewhat foreign to the institution of monasticism historically.
As they say, read the whole thing. For more on Protestantism’s historical relationship to monasticism, check out Dr. Peters’s new book Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life.