A Questionable Age
A youngster in mid-West America during the 50’s and 60’s was likely to have inherited a view of the world that was unifying and uncomplicated. Whether in an urban ghetto or on the plains the path ahead was more objectified and predictable even if not easy or comfortable. It was not common for children to ask questions about many social expressions; views were adopted from parents without critical inquiry. Personally, I cannot remember questioning the value of marriage, the importance of truth, or the consequences of lawlessness. My daughter teaches 5th & 6th grade children in an inner city charter school in Cincinnati and regularly we talk about her work day over supper. She regularly shares how her students openly, physically, and verbally attack teachers. They break rules without compunction, they speak without any consistent moral awareness. They question everything which is both good and bad.
In A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor, the reader is overwhelmed by the complex social dynamics that have traversed our history, especially since the Reformation, and converged and exploded in our day to create a global fragmented social milieux in which the individual and body politic is moving simultaneously toward and away from God. Taylor calls this nexus of dynamics a “nova effect” and writes, “I’m calling the nova effect, the steadily widening gamut of new positions-some believing, some unbelieving, some hard to classify-which have become available options for us. Kindle Locations 6725-6727. This book is heralded by many who regard it as one of the most important books relating sociology and religion today. Taylor rightly presents a large point of tension, perhaps the largest tension, as he distinguishes the neo- and post -Durkeimian explanations of our situation, “There is unquestionably a tension in our time, which is the site of a battle between neo- and post-Durkheimian construals of our condition, between different forms of religion or spirituality, those which place authority first, and hence are suspicious and hostile of contemporary modes of quest; and those which are embarked on these, and may or may not in the course of searching come to recognize one or another form of authority.” Locations 8128-8130
This tension makes room for questions; gives space for questions, and the book itself stimulates many questions. The following are some of the questions that I have:
- How does the “transcendent” position view epistemology and what impact does that have, if any, on the discipline of hermeneutics?
- Taylor seems to write from an anthropocentric perspective. What would his book look like if written from a theocentric perspective? Specifically, A “post-Durkheimian society would be one in which our religious belonging would be unconnected to our national identity.” Locations 8224-8225. Would this open more easily the path towards a Kingdom perspective?
- Will globalization and “expressive individualism” find harmony, e.g. will the individualism propelled in the 60’s (note Kindle location 7528) be harnessed into a more unified movement?
- How will a secularized age, one that Taylor calls “schizophrenic” (Kindle Location 11569) impact evangelism? Will it become more people group focused and even “micro-group” focused to reach the specific diversities of society?
- What will the missionary enterprise look like moving forward? Will we avoid the ills that Taylor rightly points out that we in the west have wrought? He writes, “Missionaries brought Christianity to the non-Western world, often with the sense that they were also bringing the bases of future prosperity, progress, order, and (sometimes also) democracy and freedom. It became hard for many to answer the question, what is Christian faith about? The salvation of humankind, or the progress wrought by capitalism, technology, democracy? The two tended to blend into one. Even harder did it become to distinguish between salvation and the establishment of good moral order.” Kindle Locations 11712-11715).
- As one who focuses on discipleship, how will discipleship be carried out in relationship with the “expressive individual?” Will the discipleship ministry be adaptive to both the neo-Durkheimian and the post-Durkheimian person? That is, must the apologetic be significantly reformatted? And, further, what place of authority will the Bible take with the post-Durkheimian person?
This book stimulated more questions than it answered. That is not a negative comment, it is a positive response. Great book to wrestle with and one that will give me headaches into the future!