Times Have Changed
If the thickness of a book tells the reader anything, then one only has to look at Charles Taylor’s 900-page work, A Secular Age, to know they are in for a journey of serious academic reading. Taylor aims to sketch out a historical timeline of the secular while also framing our current reality in secularism. Taylor, a Roman Catholic, and world-renown philosopher is the emeritus professor of philosophy at McGill University, has written numerous books, and is also the winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize, awarded for advancement and research of spiritual matters.
Taylor’s thesis in this mammoth work centers around his understanding that while we live in a new/ distinct time in history, the longing for transcendences is not dead. In reviewing Taylor’s work, John Patrick Diggins writes, “Taylor’s quarrel is with secularism – the idea that as modernity, science, and democracy has advanced, concern with God and spirituality has retreated to the margins of life…Taylor seeks to prove that God is still very much present in the world if only we look at the right places and allow the mind to open itself to moral inquiry and aesthetic sensibility rather than traditional theology as the gateway to religion.” In a much shorter work, James K. A. Smith helps the larger society read and understand Taylor in his book, How (Not) To Be Secular.
Smith is a Canadian-American philosopher who is currently a Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. Smith, who in his own right is a respected philosopher and multiple titled author, summarizes Taylor’s understanding of the secular age by stating, “Secularism does not equate to unbelief. It equates to the contestability of belief,”  simply put we no longer live in a world with a default belief system. Taylor argues that most secularists “believe” or want people to think that modernity has “subtracted” out God because we have been enlightened instead of the replacement of God with self. Taylor writes, “The subtraction story gives too little place to the cultural changes wrought by Western modernity, how it has developed new understandings of the self, its place in society, in space and in time. It fails to see how innovative we have been; its tendency is to see modernity as the liberating of a continuing core of belief and desire from an overlay of metaphysical/religious illusion which distorted and inhibited it.” God is here (in society and the world), but we all live with God and each other differently now. Smith again is helpful in his work, as he sums up Taylor’s idea’s he writes, “the question isn’t whether we inhabit the immanent frame (secular age), but how.” This is the question I want to close with as it relates to leadership.
Yes, we all live in a secular age, a time in which individualism is high, but the data continues to show that the next generations are seeking for more. In an era of unprecedented diversity, globalization, and complexity amid the postmodern worldview, Millennials and Gen Z (together known as the emerging generation) desire leaders who can help them locate themselves in the world while maximizing their influence. They are looking for leaders who are relational and can show them how to live or be in this rapidly changing world. Leaders who not only provide space to search out their spiritual questions but leaders who can help relieve their anxieties about the future while teaching them how to capitalize on the present. Above all, the emerging generation is looking for leaders who know how to be present in a distracted world. Ravi Zacharias says we need leaders who can know how to live in today in light of eternity. This type of leadership is what I am studying and proposing as (Re)Vision leadership. Leadership that sees/understands our need for the transcendent incorporates the personal and includes the “other” (community).
 Smith, James K. A., 2014. How (Not) to Be Secular : Reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. http://search.ebscohost.com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1058474&scope=site.
 “How Not To Be Secular”, James K A Smith, Wheaton College, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QPY6VLuEPQ&t=3700s
 Taylor, C. (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
 Smith, James K. A. How (Not) to Be Secular : Reading Charles Taylor. Eerdmans, 93.
 Barna Research, The Connected Generation: How Christian Leaders Around the World Can Strengthen Faith and Well-Being Among 18-35-Year-Olds (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2019), 124.
 Ravi Zacharias, “What Does A Person Look Like Who Learns To Live One Day At A Time With A Backdrop Of Eternity,” in Catalyst Conference 2019 (Atlanta, Georgia: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries., 2019).
7 responses to “Times Have Changed”
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As always, a good review, Mario. Given that Taylor also sees secularisation as the first fruits of authoritarianism, how do you think this generational leadership is going to avoid the traps of dictatorial authority? Can they? Or will secularism be the catalyst or excuse for tribalised allegiances to charismatic leadership in confusing times (re dark side of transformational leadership)
In a lot of Pentecostal circles, this has been/still is a problem. The good thing about the next-gen is they have a tribal/communal approach to life, and what I will propose is that our leadership should stem from our theological understanding of the Trinitarian relationship. Although to deep to get into here, I see that as always including the other into our concept of leadership.
Great post Mario, love how you tie this to your research. I also love how both Taylor and Smith are upbeat rewarding the possibilities of faith in a secular world. Thank you!
I loved your post Mario, especially how you related it to your research. I would agree that the young adults of today are looking for more and are secular but open to a religion that meets their needs. I hope you can help re-vision this leadership in the church to help address this need.
“(Re)Vision Leadership”, you did it, you came up with a pithy, communication device for your research project! ” Smith’s summarization of Taylor’s ideas, “the question isn’t whether we inhabit the immanent frame (secular age), but how.” resonates with your research and for all of us serving in our local context. Yes, this is the water we all swim in but where do we go from here? Above all, the emerging generation is looking for leaders who know how to be present in a distracted world”, what a quote, what a challenge! I am sure you are seeing and experiencing the realities of the emerging generation’s angst in your local ministry. Thanks so much for your digestion of Taylor’s ideas, your connection with your research, and finally with compelling all of us to be “present leaders in a distracted world.” Thanks again.
This is really good, Mario! I am intrigued by your connections to your research. I liked the exchange between you and Digby here because I think the next-gen folks have such a challenge with authority. It’s not the authority isn’t there, it’s that it has to be earned, it’s not freely given. I think that’s interesting considering secularism3, where everyone is given a fair shot at belief. All in all, great post!