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

Secular to Sacred – Part II

Written by: on February 23, 2017


My Part I was concerned about the sacred becoming secular.  But greater was finding the “map” to navigate the secular back to sacred.  Taylor then challenged me again with semantics.  I had heard years ago if you want to change the culture, change the language; Taylor proved that to be true.

Taylor states that, “One obvious fruit of this sense of innate innocence has been the transfer of so many issues used to be considered moral into a therapeutic register.  What was formally sin is often now seen as sickness.  This is the ‘triumph of the therapeutic’, which has paradoxical results.  It seems to involve an enhancement of human dignity, but can actually end up abasing it.”[1]

The secular mind believes that it can rehabilitate or find therapy that will heal the broken condition that is easier to refer to as a “sickness”.  Smith answers with, “Our problem is not some penumbra of illness pressing in on our ‘good’ normal; our problem is our ‘normal’.[2]



Taylor’s epic work, The Secular Age, is divided into five major subgroups:  The Work of Reform, The Turning Point, The Nova Effect, Narratives of Secularization, and Conditions of Belief.  His book emerges from Taylor’s “Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh in the spring of 1999, entitled ‘Living in a Secular Age’.”[3]

I found some great insight in Part IV, Narratives of Secularization and Taylor’s three-part assessment of history from 1500 – the present.  Smith synthesizes Taylor and claims, “The goal is to track the move from some elite unbelief in the eighteenth century to mass secularization in the twenty-first century.  He does do by introducing what he calls, ‘Weber-style ideal types’ of religious forms at different stages.

Taylor, with Smith’s synthesis, outlines three religious forms:

  1. AR – ancien regime
  2. AM – Age of Mobilization
  3. AA – Age of Authenticity[4]

AR – ancien regime, “…we have a close connection between church membership and being part of a national, but particularly a local community; this connection was cemented in part by the coexistence of official orthodox ritual and prayer, on one hand, with, on the other, ritual forms concerned with defense, luck, warding off evil.”[5]  This brought me back to Noll’s writings.  Noll, speaking about the creeds, said, “The creeds were never intended to be a comprehensive survey of all biblical wisdom.  But by their explicit references to Scripture as revealing the great work of God in Christ, Nicea and Chalcedon do make an indirect assertion about the primary function of the Bible.”[6]  By Taylor’s implication, this would be around 1500 – 1800.

AM – Age of Mobilization.  Smith deciphered Taylor by saying, “The status quo and ancien regime having been replaced, we now realize that if anything is going to fill the void, we need to up with it – we will need to ‘mobilize’ new rituals, practices, institutions, and so forth.”[7]  Taylor said, “…we can fix the limits of the Age of Mobilization from roughly 1800 to 1950 (perhaps more exactly 1960).”[8]

AA – Age of Authenticity.  “This contemporary social imaginary is crystallized in terms of authenticity.  So the primary – yea, only – value in such a world is choice: ‘bare choice as a prime value, irrespective of what it is a choice between, or in what domain’ (p. 478).  And tolerance is the last remaining virtue: ‘the sin which is not tolerated is intolerance’ (p. 484).”[9]  Taylor believes this is the world we live in today.

These three forms/stages seem to clarify secularization’s progression and the cause and effect of how it is so widespread.  Each of the three give, credence to the digression away from a transcendent, Almighty God and the embracing of increasing humanism.  Taylor and Smith give us the “map” but also offer us the possible “cure” to keep us from the slippery slope of secularization.


Taylor’s reference to “religion” help steer me to a more holistic view of organized involvement.  Taylor said, “… ‘religion’ for our purposes can be defined in terms of ‘transcendence’…It is our relation to a transcendent God which has been displaced at the centre of social life (secularity 1); it is faith in this God whose decline is tracked in those theories (secularity 2).”[10]  I stand in agreement with Taylor’s assessment of the need of God being transcendent and His displacement from both social life and theories.

My concern is practice.  Smith said, “Taylor does affirm that there has indeed been a process of secularization; he also recognized that in much of the West, there has also been a decline in religious participation and identification.”[11]  As flawed as the local church can be, I still embrace the necessity and involvement of the corporate expression of the “body of Christ” – the local church.  My hypothesis is that the “decline in religious participation and identification” has helped to promote the secularization of the West, especially the United States.  What will the church choose to do about this present reality?  How will we move from sacred to secular?

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 618.

[2] K. A. Smith, How Not to Be Secular:  Reading Charles Taylor, (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 108.

[3] Taylor, ix.

[4] Smith, 82-83.

[5] Taylor, 440.

[6] Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 126.

[7] Smith, 84.

[8] Taylor, 471.

[9] Smith, 85.

[10] Ibid., 20.

[11] Smith, 83.

About the Author

Phil Goldsberry

7 responses to “Secular to Sacred – Part II”

  1. Garfield Harvey says:

    Great blog. You asked, “What will the church choose to do about this present reality?” I believe you answered this question regarding transcendence. However, you stated that both authors “give us the “map” but also offer us the possible “cure” to keep us from the slippery slope of secularization.” If this is true(and it is), we have a responsibility to respond, but it depends on whether we believe the religious paradigm is broken or fixable. When I hospitalized a few weeks ago, I never filled the prescription because the doctors also felt my body would heal itself, but I was very cautious with my food intake. Had I taken the medication, I would’ve eaten whatever without that fear. However, by not taking the medication, I had no clue my body would heal itself or if it was fully healed at that moment. As a church, we are sometimes in a state of confusion in identifying if a problem exists and if it’s solvable. At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to respond to our present reality.


    • Phil Goldsberry says:


      Taylor and Smith gave us the “map” and showed us what we had lost, the “cure”. My take is that we KNOW but we are not acting upon what we know. The church has moved from the “called out ones” to the ones who are trying to fit in and be like everybody else – a new normal that seems to extricate God from their world.

      We do have a responsibility to respond to our present reality….I do believe that God is a viable force in the earth, BUT HE uses us as “ambassadors”. What Kingdom are we representing is the biggest question? The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Self?


  2. Marc Andresen says:


    Reading your blog I wondered again if the secular gained more “turf” in our day because unthinking Christians abandoned realms such as the university (ala Noll). But my next thought was not to worry about that because there’s no going back. When you wrote “what will the church choose to do” I thought that since we can’t change what has happened in the past, let’s think hard toward the future and about creating/providing a road map for those who wish to find something of the transcendent that haunts our secular age.

    With a hybrid of thinking in these two directions (past and future) do you think there’s anything for us to learn from past mistakes that will help us create that map back for those who are looking for the transcendent?

    • Phil Goldsberry says:


      I sure hope so! Taylor would seem to say that we have known our demise, but failed to acknowledge it in the process….or we lulled to sleep with the song of sectarianism.

      Of great concern is that the Christian Community have “leaned” toward humanism and self-promotion versus abandonment to the one true and living God.

      I have been awed by some of the posts on Taylor as our fellow DMin students have expressed concern for even our own lives. As Jason Kennedy said, we will turn to a dr. and medicine before we even seek healing. We will get out the calculator and start looking at options before we fall to our knees.

      A lot of our recent reading has been on enlightenment – technology, refocusing on the creeds, the truth of evangelicals and what we should be versus a voting contingency in an election, etc.

      In reality, it is still back on us to take appropriate action to “be” and not just “speak”. Hope that helps.


  3. Rose Anding says:

    Phil as you share in your blog about the Age of Authenticity, “This contemporary social imaginary is crystallized in terms of authenticity,” which is an excellent focal point.

    But, do you feel that authenticity remains a basic starting place for Christians, and is often the conduit by which God works to put us into meaningful community, the church has a higher calling—it is to share in the holiness of God?
    Blessings ! Rose Maria

  4. Pablo Morales says:

    Phil, your blog adds a twist to Taylor’s thoughts. Taylor argues that the secular age has contributed to a lack of interest in the church, but you add that the weakening of the church has also contributed to the secular age. Maybe these two factors have a symbiotic relationship.

    You finished your blog with an open question. I hope that each one of us will be able to discover the answer as we attempt to bring a more relevant and authentic spiritual experience in our ministries. May our churches become the answer for the deepest longings in this secular age.

  5. What I like most about your blog is your high value of the local church. I am in total agreement with you on this. These books this week left me with a challenge to step up my local church game so to speak. Thank Phil.

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