Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Language in a secular age.

Written by: on February 23, 2017

The immanent frame


Immanent frame: A constructed social space that frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) order.  It is the circumscribed space of the modern social imaginary that precludes transcendence. [1]


Immanentization:  The process whereby meaning, significance, naturalistic universe without any reference to transcendence.  A kind of “enclosure.” [2]


Charles Taylor in his book, A Secular Age, introduces several technical terms and phrases, or uses common terms in a special way.  To help readers become familiar with these terms, to be able to recall their meaning easily, I here provide a brief glossary. [3]  James Smith is who provided this resource.  It would have been incredibly helpful if the same had been at the front of Taylor’s book.


Language is such an important part of writing and introducing new thoughts and processing old thoughts.  Most of the reading we have done over the past two years has contained a glossary of words that have been redefined, super defined or a whole new construct for a word.  This process of bringing new language and using old language in a new way can be confusing or it can really be enlightening.  The English language is very flexible when it comes to using it to bring an author’s thoughts to the surface.   Even a singular word can really impact the outcome of the application.


In his book, How Not to Be Secular, James Smith brings this thought concerning even a specific word.


An introduction to a kind of elasticity to language that creates just enough openness to potentially rupture the closed take on the immanent frame.  This reenchantment of language is a direct protest against the flattening that resulted from univocity, which reduced language to designation. [4] But this can’t just hinge on words in isolation, as if the issue were just finding the right lexicon, some “neologism” that all of a sudden breaks open the brass ceiling.  Any “concentrated breakthrough in a word is only made possible through a host of others, references, invocations, questionings, against which background the performative power can act in this word.  So “the power to make us resonate builds through a whole constellation, before erupting as it may in a single word or phrase.[5]


So, my thoughts on this continue to grow.  As words are redefined they can undermine a whole thought process because they give a loop hole to the desired end.   Or they can shine such a bright light on a new idea that it sticks with the audience.


Concerning this immanent frame Taylor give this thought process. “But my whole reading here will be challenged.  I have distinguished the immanent frame, on one hand and two equally possible “spins” open and closed, on the other.  Some people will feel that the immanent frame calls out for one reading.  True, we can adopt the other view by dint of determined (and not called intellectually honest) “spinning,” but one reading is the obvious, the “natural one.” [6]


So, what does all this spinning do?


I find in this writing the same issue that Noll brought up, intelligence.  The use of intelligence can lead to clarity and significance.  Or intelligence can lead to greater confusion because of the circles that it takes around the subject at hand.  Becoming so intellectual that finding the thread of truth and the content of belief is along the lines of CWS’s.   The intellectual pursuit of describing our view on life being all the same whether we have faith (theocratic) or we are much more cosmic in our belief.  Intellect uses words to build or discredit an argument.  I found powerful words in both books and highlighted them on purpose.


Some words I find of interest.











The picture of these three words is that the scientific view is natural, the God view would be supernatural and the word miracle throws the whole thing into a classic spin.   The natural can’t explain the miracle.  The supernatural fully embraces the miracle as from God and proof of the supernatural.  Natural can’t handle the miracle because it is outside of that thought process.  The circle of a word.  Miracle would be the word that holds the power to build or disrupt.  To prove or to disprove.  One word.


Some more words I find fascinating in these books:





Religious fanaticism

Scientific shape of the immanent order




Religions not only menaces these goals with it fanaticism, but it also undercuts reason, which comes to be seen as rigorously requiring scientific materialism.  The Picture is a background to our thinking.  For some this thought process brings a response from the inside.  Or the thought that “a picture held us captive.”[7]  What is in your background does affect your viewpoint.  Overcoming a vantage point is not easy and can lend itself to your immanent frame.

So, these words are pivotal in understanding the secular age and in understanding how not to be secular.

I thought this was the best “word” picture to homogenize both authors.


You: standing on the plains and having winds pulling you to:

Now to belief

Now to unbelief


Your picture may contain religious fanaticism or it might have scientific shape and you might feel like you are being held “captive” to whatever was first installed as your background.  What will it be? Belief or Unbelief, openness or closure.   The winds of the secular age are powerfully struggling with the desire to (not) be secular and in the end which direction will ultimately win?  The incredible answer is that “YOU” get to decide.


I get to let my intellectual deviation interact with the reform master narrative to explain “my  beliefs” today.  I am pulled by the winds of belief more than unbelief.  I am attracted to the background picture of my past while trying to view other people backgrounds as valid. I believe in the supernatural more than the natural and have experienced a miracle.  My “transformative perspective” is that the view, essential to religion, that fullness requires the transformation of the human beyond mere this-worldly flourishing.  So, religion is not just a collection of beliefs about supernatural entities:  it engenders a way of life that is transformative.”[8]  So, I am going to continue learning How (not) To Be Secular in The Secular Age.



[1] James K. A. Smith, How Not to be Secular, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 141.

[2] Smith, 141.

[3] Smith, 140.

[4] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (London, England: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 758.

[5] Taylor, 760.

[6] Taylor, 550.

[7] Taylor, 549.

[8] Smith,143.

About the Author


Kevin Norwood

My name is Kevin Norwood and I have been in youth ministry for the past 34 years. On February 14th, 1994, 27 years ago, we moved to Owasso OK and wow what a ride. My wife, Ann, is an RN and specializes in Clinical Documentation working from home. Maci is a my 21 year old daughter and she loves and shows horses. Her horse's name is Charlie. She is currently working with animals and loves to go on trail rides with her horse. London is my 10 year old son and he keeps me young. He absolutely loves life!! Golfing, baseball and Hawaii is his latest adventures. He skied for the first time in Colorado this year. I have started a coaching business for pastors at www.kevinnorwood.com and it is exciting the doors that God is opening. I earned my Doctorate in Leadership and Global Perspectives from George Fox on Feb 10, 2018.

10 responses to “Language in a secular age.”

  1. Phil Goldsberry says:

    The construct of “words” does challenge our belief system. Taylor and Smith challenged us with present reality and reality of 500 years ago.

    You made a statement:
    Any “concentrated breakthrough in a word is only made possible through a host of others, references, invocations, questionings, against which background the performative power can act in this word.

    You mentioned how the power of our past affects our understanding of our present. What do you believe is the narrative that needs to be in today’s world that will help reverse the onslaught of secularization?


    • Phil,
      I believe our Christianity must become so authentic and real that it is attractional. The one thread that I didn’t write about this week is that all of these books have addressed quickly pentecostalism because it is the one thing that is making a difference in spiritual and in social culture. So I hold on to the thread and the remnant that being spirit filled is what leads us to continue to follow an alive and active God.

      The words that God gives me to speak is so vital. I must be his mouth piece so I believe all of this education toward the secular is shaping my language to express hope to a lost or secular age. There is a way to express hope and for all of this religious thought there is still a contact that happens between helping and hurting humans.


  2. Garfield Harvey says:

    You had a very unique approach to the book. You suggested that the “elasticity to language creates just enough openness.” This is very important because when we think of the Oxford Dictionaries Online, it adds approximately 1000 new words each year, after gathering independence evidence that would make each word acceptable to the larger population. Living in a lingual flux, words constantly gets added, dropped and the meanings sometimes change. We have to ensure that we remain relevant in this secular age or else we’ll disqualify ourselves from having meaningful conversations.


    • Garfield,

      Did you find both of these books incredibly wordy? Words that could have been made up or created and I wouldn’t have known what was going on. I had to go look up words. I thought the glossary by another author to help understand Taylor was helpful.

      It stretches my brain to understand all of their intellect but how to translate all of this high language to currently connective conversation. This was once again a highlight to how do we communicate in this secular age? With God’s words that he gives us.


  3. Marc Andresen says:


    You wrote, “As words are redefined they can undermine a whole thought process because they give a loop hole to the desired end. Or they can shine such a bright light on a new idea that it sticks with the audience.”

    I think the word “immanence” has been stolen from theology because immanence is core to the in-creation presence of our transcendent God, in the incarnate person of Jesus. Do you agree? Why do you think “immanence” and transcendence” are not mutually exclusive words, but rather work together to give a preferable view of reality?

  4. Aaron Cole says:


    Your best blog! I loved how you synthesized the materials and used their terms, both defined and redefined, to construct your perspective. Two questions: 1. Do you think this personal choosing of truth based on one’s own discovery has always existed? 2. Or do you think that the pluralistic secular age we live in has created this you pick truth concept?


    • Aaron,

      #1 I believe it has always existed.
      I believe the difference with truth is that it used to be a completely closed subject and now in this day and time it is a completely open subject. Think about things that just in our lifetime that were not discussed openly and now they are. So questions about faith are much more openly discussed today.

      Now this issue is to decide what to be publicly vocal about. Where is the stand at in this day and time.

      Questioning truth is something that I believe has always existed so that is static.


  5. Jason KENNEDY says:

    Great blog. With language in mind, how would you describe imminent frame, contestability and even secularism to a younger generation?

  6. Jason,

    I address the issue of the secular age all the time with out students. They are fighting a stacked deck but they can overcome that by finding relationships that are open to the gospel. Fighting the entrenched students who are secular might just be a waste of time but reaching out in love to those who aren’t looking for a fight but for love is the difference.

    I talk about the fact that you don’t have to fit in a box. You can and should live outside any box that others would put you in. Love again is the elevation outside the box. It breaks down the barriers. Our culture is something that we guard because it is one of acceptance for all types of students and we don’t try and place people inside a box. I how that is as clear as mud but love and acceptance is the overriding language.


  7. I agree with AC, this is probably your best blog. I like your creative approach to writing about the books this week. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you during our Zoom.

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