DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

God’s initiative

Written by: on January 18, 2019

“You’re so secular”, has been seen in the Christian world as an insult and a comment that is spoken out of anger or frustration with a particular stance on a hot topic. Charles Taylor1 and James Smith2 in their books helps us understand that maybe the proper response to someone that calls me secular should be, “thanks, and so are you.” This idea that the world has shifted and secular thinking can mean the ability to journey for truth using questions and doubts.

James Smith writes,“The difference between our modern, “secular” age and past ages is not necessarily the catalogue of available beliefs but rather the default assumptions about what is believable.”3 I was recently at a meeting where there were representatives from 61 countries. Many of these people were steeped in traditional church settings and experiences. When they found out where I was living, they had many questions. The problem was the questions presupposed a context or understanding that I considered wrong. I was asked repeatedly if I pastored, what was the building like that we worked in or how many staff members, size of congregations and things that are not relevant where we live. When also talking about how we build relationships, one person asked, “how many times do I need to talk with someone before I can share the Gospel or invite them to a Bible study?” Some of my favorites were when our local Chinese would say to me, “I don’t understand the question they are asking” because it was coming from a totally different christian cultural context. I do not fault these questioners for they come not from always a different country but rather a different foundational culture. I think understanding a changing world requires a minister to be ready for our contexts to be changing as well.

“So the world is not carved up into “believers” and “secular” rational knowers. It’s a complicated array of different sorts of believers.”4 As a product of the secularism myself I find freedom in a world that has the ability to doubt and question some of the things we are taught. The journey to discover Christ in our own context makes Him more real rather than the opposite. “Taylor’s account of the secular is often an illuminating lens through which to see changes within religious communities, not just the expansion of the areligious.”5 These changes can allow those looking for authenticity in their lives can find hope that the Christian world is open to their questions and challenges.

Humans love change only when we are in control of it. This is also true within the Christian Church. Taylor writes repeatedly that we can not go back in time and live in a place we are comfortable or a time that everyone thinks like we do, looks like we do and acts like we do.6  In an interview with James Smith he said that there is a necessity for “pastors to be ethnographers… if Taylor is right, this shouldn’t be seen as a battle. Instead we should recognize all the “persistent longings for transcendence that characterize our secular age. To proclaim the Gospel in such a context is not a matter of guarding some fortress; it’s an opportunity to invite our neighbors to meet the One they didn’t even realize they’d been longing for.”7 This resonated with me that all those in ministry, even within their own home countries, should take stock of the culture they live in. True ethnographers find ways not to impose their own ideas rather to understand the culture they are focused on. In our world, we often assume we understand the contexts and even the questions that those in our realm of influence have. The church could look very different if we as leaders could take the time to study and know the communities that we are placed in. I believe even with my context, I am guilty of assumptions about what we are doing and often forget to simply listen to the common questions being asked.

Taylor writes,

Our sin is our resistance to going along with God’s initiative in making suffering reparative. We are deeply drawn towards God, but we also sense how following him will dislocate and transform beyond recognition the forms which have made life tolerable for us. We often react with fear, dismay, hostility. We are at war with ourselves, and responding differently to this inner conflict, we end up at war with each other. So it is undoubtedly true that the result of sin is much suffering. But this is by no means distributed according to desert. Many who are relatively innocent are swept up in this suffering, and some of the worse offenders get off lightly. The proper response to all this is not retrospective book-keeping, but making ourselves capable of responding to God’s initiative.” 8

Seeing some of our traditions as somewhat masking our own secularization limits our understanding of the world we live in. When we recognize that we are not the gate keepers to truth and God can handle doubts, questions and even journeys that are not traditional we are free to see all people as seeking the truth.

 

1 Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007

2 Smith, James K. A.. How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition. 3 smith 19

4 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/an-interview-with-james-k-a-smith-on-how-not- to-be-secular-and-how-to-read-charles-taylor/

5Smith, James K. A.. How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.88

6 Smith, 11
7 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/an-interview-with-james-k-a-smith-on-how-not-to-be-secular-and-how-to-read-charles-taylor/ accessed January 18, 2019

8Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007. 655

About the Author

Greg

Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

15 responses to “God’s initiative”

  1. Hey Greg, I really appreciate your intro! Sometimes I feel like I need to script the questions that North Americans ask me. I wonder if you felt like Taylor’s observations were spot on in your context, or if perhaps you see differences detrween Western and Eastern secularism.

    • Greg says:

      Jenn. I do think that globalization has created some common themes in the search for meaning and Transcendence. I believe how those are expressed and the paths taken in the search are different. (

  2. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Greg,

    You are right in affirming Taylor – we can’t go back. I think those of us who have experience outside of the traditional U.S. contexts are thankful for that. There is a freedom in being open to doubt and wrestling with questions that many in more traditional settings have yet to experience. Your cross-cultural experiences have altered your perspective permanently. You will never view the world in the same way. If and when you return that perspective will be used to help move other people along the continuum as you share your experiences and insights. Glad you are there.

    • Greg says:

      Dan. there are times I am challenged to come back to the states and share some of what I have learned and others that I think it would make me miserable and jaded 🙂 It is a lot of fun gathering with people that have lived overseas to talk about life. It is interesting the commonalities that come about even when we have not lived in the same places.

  3. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Greg,
    With the following statement, “I think understanding a changing world requires a minister to be ready for our contexts to be changing as well” you summed up, for me anyway, what Paul must have been thinking when he was at Mars Hill and wanted to tell the philosophers about the unknown God. We have to be able to reach outside of our own cultural context, not only in other countries but in our communities where God has planted us. Great job brother.

    Jason

    • Greg says:

      agreed. Paul does model that so well in his lesson of the unknown god. freedom to see and experience God in different ways than a westerner is comfortable gives me hope in a God that is able to speak and work in any context.

  4. Greg,

    M-ology and ethnography can both help us a lot as we consider the “persistent longings for transcendence that characterize our secular age”.

    China will experience this differently. It would be fascinating to explore that further as there is a communal culture, yet stripped of transcendence (officially). How do you see Chinese people addressing their need to embrace the mysteries of transcendence that the Party can’t provide?

    (Feel free to change this comment if I’ve said anything too inappropriate…)

    • Greg says:

      that persistent longing becomes evident as you build relationships with people here. Communal life has its advantages but is also hinders personal journeys as one that is searching has to be aware of the implications it will have on the family.

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Greg, your post was very thought-provoking for me. I often find myself balancing on the tight rope of what we feel is modern-good and what is modern-bad. There is a grace in the Scriptures, but there are also warnings. This week we are beginning renovations of our auditorium…a change that has not been made since 1964. We are installing (2) 75″ television sets; pulling out some pews; enlarging the stage; and adding replacing the old, heavy wooden pulpit with a clear acrylic one. The changes are drastic…though I am sure they fall under the line of “biblically safe.” However, there is tension fearing the response of some of the more traditional congregation.

    My point being, I know that not all modern thought is evil. Furthermore, as you have demonstrated, not all cultures are the same. The real challenge to true Christianity today is just ensuring that our worship is acceptable and proper to God. Perhaps sometimes, we psychoanalyse religion to closely and for the wrong reasons.

    • Greg says:

      Shawn, you are a radical changing the worship space 🙂 I do wish what falls in “biblically safe” would be clearly spelled out…not by modern folks. We do live in a strange and interesting time.

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this, Greg. I liked the reminder that the world isn’t neatly divided into “believers” and “secular” knowers… It is much more mixed up and nuanced than that, and even the term secular has a way of being reclaimed by people of faith (and, similarly, those “secular” folks are also on the lookout and open to things of the spirit). Strange times 🙂

  7. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    I took your quote to heart, “So the world is not carved up into “believers” and “secular” rational knowers. It’s a complicated array of different sorts of believers.” I agree!

    The spectrum of believers is dizzying, I cannot imagine what you see where you are. As always, thanks for your insights and wisdom. We need you my Brother, and I look forward to more of your writing this semester.

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Well done!

    Its intereting see how you respond to secularism being engaged in both Chinese and western culture. I was cringing hearing about the questions you and your team were being asked. In America as you know, people care about the 3 B’s, and thus the pastors respect coorerlates to that as wells!

    Budgets
    Buildings
    and Butts!

    $$, stuff, and numbers. yikes!
    Thanks for highlighting a different part of Secularism for us

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