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

Spirituality on My Own Terms

Written by: on January 19, 2018

For the past two weeks, I have pondered on what it means to be secular in America. In America, I have found that it is not a matter of if someone believes in God or has a spiritual belief system but a matter of what exactly they profess to believe in. I live in a country where many profess to be “Christians” while some would say they believe in God reject all things religion. Others would affirm that they believe in a spiritual being known as the universe. This is an age where people do not consider themselves antireligious but they will not be confined to “one way” of believing. Fundamentalists Christians would assert that Jesus is the only way to God. In these times, there are many voices who would challenge that assertion and say there are many ways in which one can connect and believe in God. For many Christians in America, they see those who do not hold the belief system the exact way in which they believe or anti-God and even secular. In our society, there are so many ways in which people understand and define what it means to be secular. It makes me consider these questions : is someone secular because they choose to work in Corporate America and not serve in a traditional ministry position within my local church (public piety expressed in vocation)? Is someone secular because they do not believe in God in the same way majority in in our American culture choose to believe? Is someone secular because they believe that there are many options and choose not to be confined to one way?

These questions and many others were topics that were discussed in Charles Taylors book A Secular Age. Within over 700 pages he explores western secularization from a historical, philosophical and theological context. This book would not make it on my summer book list. It is one that must be read and digested over time—maybe even a lifetime… LOL. Graciously, last week we were assigned How (not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James A. Smith. His book provides an overview of the key points and questions posed by Taylor in his book. Despite being able to read Smith’s book, I still find it challenging to absorb Taylor’s book. There is so much to think about and consider. Maybe it is because of the depth to which he chooses to go in his discussion? or maybe it is because I wrestle with understanding secularism within my own western postmodern American context?

In my observation of the American context, there seems to be this blurred line between spirituality and life. The historical view of what it meant to be sacred and secular as James A. Smith notes Secular1 [1]and Secular2 [2] are no more according to Taylor. It is this way of life that chooses spirituality guided by the auspices of oneself.  A spirituality that is not solely defined by the traditional religious liturgical contructs but one that says I can be spiritual in my own way outside of the church.  It is nurtured from  within their own circles and not from the outside. The outside meaning society, religion, politics, cultural constructs and norms.  Taylor made a similar observation/connection when he discussed Epstein’s “Minimal Religion” in Russia as it related to the western way of being spiritual but not religious. ““Minimal religion” is a spirituality lived in one’s immediate circle, with family and friends, rather than in churches, one especially aware of the particular, both in individual human beings, and in the places and things which surround us.” [3] He goes on in his discussion to say  that there is a freedom that remains within these inviduals who choose this “universalist” approach to spirituality even if they choose to become apart of a church. Their freedom they experienced now feels restricted within those religious boundaries and so they seek to expand beyond those restrictions. In doing so, its effect will bring unforseen shifts in religion as we know it today.  He concluded by stating that “we are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee.” [4]

Does you agree with Taylors conclusion?  Are the outcomes truly unforseen?


[1] James K. A. Smith, How (not) to be secular: reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 142.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Charles Taylor, A secular age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 534.

[4] Ibid.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

10 responses to “Spirituality on My Own Terms”

  1. Mary says:

    Christal you hit many good points but two make me want to respond right away.
    1. “is someone secular because they choose to work in Corporate America” – I had trouble with Taylor’s book right from the beginning because I see the “sacred/secular” split differently than he does. Is God the Father of everyone or not? If He is, then you are sacred. You are sacred no matter where He has called you to work. You make your workplace a sacred space because you brought Jesus there, whether you vocalize it out loud or not.
    2. “Their freedom they experienced now feels restricted within those religious boundaries and so they seek to expand beyond those restrictions.” I just finished reading an interesting on Fresh Expressions Churches. Remember those from the London Advance? Anyway they are the fasting growing churches even while many mainline churches are declining. I think you are right – how do we still worship with a community but not lose the individual freedom of expression we value? We can’t foresee the outcome maybe as Taylor says, but we can sure track the direction it is going in now and young people especially are saying, Ok, we’ll do church, but let us be more authentic.
    Very thoughtful post.

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “we are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee.”

    There are three things which should be remembered when reading Charles’ Taylor’s THE SECULAR AGE.

    1) Charles Taylor writes from a North American / European perspective.

    2) Charles Taylor is a practicing Catholic

    3) Charles Taylor was 76 years old when A SECULAR AGE was published.

    These three things factor into the above quote. As we saw in last semester’s reading of GLOBAL PENTECOSTALISM, churches are growing, especially in the global South, which do not resemble the calm, predictable Western version of Christianity.

    Mary mentioned FRESH EXPRESSIONS. In addition to this, the MESSY CHURCH movement in the UK is worth noting.

    As you know, I am a proponent of the multi-ethnic church movement in the U.S. As churches find themselves made up of members from Western, African, Asian, Latino, and other backgrounds, the entire DNA of the church will morph into something new.

  3. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes Christal, I do agree with Taylor’s statement. I think we are seeing the dissolution of denominational lines and more about recreating the church that fits for various communities. I am curious and hopeful about what our future holds for churches. I think the evolution and adaptation of church with the secular, modern age are frightening the traditional conservative churches, thus the Nashville Statement. It’s as if they are trying to bring Christians back to rigid, outdated belief systems that we as a culture have outgrown. I wonder what the church would be like if we fought evil verses secular culture? Seems we put too much attention on keeping the secular culture outside of the church while evil slips in the back door.
    Thanks for your thoughts and provocative question.

  4. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Great thoughts, Christal.
    I do agree with Taylor. The ways we are responding to culture and religion now will have unforeseen effects on the future of religion and faith. Taylor talked about many of the ways the Church actually facilitated secularization without realizing it, thinking they were protecting the faith instead. Even though I lived through the rise of neo-Evangelism in the 1980’s, it is only in hindsight that I can trace the politicization of (white) Evangelicalism that we are experiencing right now. I imagine there were those that predicted it would happen, but I’m not sure anyone saw this mess coming!

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Kristin so true! Just a thought I wonder if those who are upholding the politicalization within evangelicalism even see it as a secularization. I am sure most would see it as an expansion of religion into politics versus secularization of religion. I do not think Americans, especially, even understand secularism beyond its basic definition.

      • Kristin Hamilton says:

        I think you’re right, Christal! I mentioned last week that in the course of trying to protect the gospel, we sometimes weaken and diminish it. Living out our faith in government as individuals is a daily act of worship. Forcing others who do not share our faith to live it daily is an act of hostility that is not likely to draw others to the love of Christ.

        • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

          Yes indeed! There is nothing Christ centered about that approach nor is it “biblical”! It breaks my heart to see people portraying “Christ” in this way.

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Great post, Christal. I too agree with Taylor. The move away from the “church community” by secular people is not necessarily a move away from God or the supernatural. That is one of the huge challenges of the church today. The paradigm of “community” looks different today than it did when I was younger (okay it wasn’t that long ago!) and even more so when my parents were younger. The church was not just the place where they worshiped God with others, it was their community. For many today that is not the case, maybe because of the church, or maybe because of the way in which “community” is expressed today. For example, and something you know about—online communities of practice! The world has changed, but I do have a sense that the church is keeping up even in some ways leading the way. Enjoyed your post.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Yes Jim I do think there is a shift in the way people form community and therefore engage in it. Church as a focal point for community in the since of physical place of gathering. It will be interesting in my research to see how OCoPs may play a role in the what emerges in the unforseen future.

  6. Katy Drage Lines says:

    “In my observation of the American context, there seems to be this blurred line between spirituality and life.” Yes, I would agree with your observations, and wonder if we aren’t returning to a sense of the sacredness of all life, in all its ordinariness, apart from the sacred/secular dichotomy of the previous two ages. I’m curious to see where this goes.

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