DMINLGP

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

Introduction to The New World

Written by: on February 16, 2017

The introductions, in and of themselves, were more than enough to stimulate reflective thinking.

Charles Taylor, and James Smith as his interpreter, open to us a new way of looking at and regarding our society today, in their books (respectively) A Secular Age and How (Not) to Be Secular.

Taylor gives his research question in the first line of the Introduction: “What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age?” [1] He then proceeds, echoed by Smith, to show three ages in which we see various kinds of secularity, or stages of what it means for society to be secular.

The first state of secularity relates to “common institutions and practices,” when organizations were “…“in some way connected to, based on, guaranteed by some faith in, or adherence to God, or some notion of ultimate reality…” [2] Secularity would be understood “in terms of public spaces.” [3] A second age “consists in the falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church.” [4]

Taylor concentrates his study in a third age or sense of being secular. “This would focus on the conditions of belief.” Whereas at one time religious faith was common and generally supported by society, we have moved “from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.” [5]

This makes sense of reports from our church youth pastors who relate how difficult it is for high school teens to hold to a Biblical faith in an adolescent culture that adamantly supports a non-Biblical view of sexuality, or wherein our youth have friends who struggle with same-sex attraction. Our youth aren’t just allowed to believe, if that’s their orientation. The very choice of Christian faith is strongly challenged because segments of society have now painted Biblical morality as being “unloving” since it dares to identify some lifestyles as not being appropriate.

After identifying these three stages or ages, Taylor states his purpose. “So what I want to do is examine our society as secular in this third sense.” He sees that society has changed in that at one time “it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.”  [6]

As often happens for D.Min – LGP we hear echos in our present volume of previous reading. In his book Consuming Religion Vincent Miller writes, “A consideration of the impact of the Disney Corporation…illuminates the problem theology faces.” [7] Miller goes on to point out that modern marketing has taught our children (and adults) that life is a smorgasbord, and that we are free to walk down the line and choose or reject any food/product at will. Without getting sidetracked into a “chicken or egg” debate, as to whether this phenomenon contributed to our current Secular Age, or whether the smorgasbord is a result of the Secular Age, the “pick and choose” mentality at least seems parallel to what Charles Taylor brings to us in A Secular Age.

Taylor says of our current society, “Belief in God is no longer axiomatic. There are alternatives. And this will also likely mean that at least in certain milieux it may be hard to sustain one’s faith.” [8]

Taylor and Miller give language and concepts to frame what has been apparent for some time: it appears to be increasingly common that Christians pick and choose which portions of Scripture to obey. I illustrate this current reality with one simple example. I am personally close to no fewer than three young couples wherein the young man and/or woman were raised in the church, growing up in a context of Biblical world view, but who have chosen to live together before marriage. In this secular age, when faith is no longer easy, they have chosen which part of a Biblical life-style to adopt.

In the Northwest of the United States, a region which “boasts” the lowest per capita church attendance in the U. S, alternate spiritualities are legion. In fact our Northwest culture becomes increasingly intolerant of traditional evangelical theology. (This intolerant attitude is always cloaked in the language of “tolerance.”) One of my musings regarding Taylor’s thesis relates to the unforgivable sin named by Jesus: that of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. While the definition of this sin has been debated, I accept it as being so darkened spiritually that not only do we refuse the saving work of Jesus, but also that good and evil get switched, whereby what God would call “good” becomes regarded as “evil.” In the American Secular Age, with a plethora of choices of spirituality, we no longer have a consensus of what the Bible would assume to be “good.”

In his commentary on A Secular Age James K. A. Smith refers several times to the phrase “cross-pressured.” Of Taylor he says, “His account of our ‘cross-pressured’ situation – suspended between the malaise of immanence and the memory of transcendence – names and explains vague rumblings in the background of our experience for which we lack words.” [ 9]

Smith also says, “…I believe Taylor’s analysis can help pastors and church planters understand better the context in which they proclaim the gospel. In many ways, Taylor’s Secular Age amounts to a cultural anthropology for urban missions.” [10]

These books are confirming what I have suspected for quite some time: living in one’s own native country requires cultural intelligence , as if living in a foreign land. Smith writes, “where ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’ haunt each other in a mutual dance of displacement and decentering.” [11] At one time America may have enjoyed a Judeo-Christian consensus in terms of world view and values. If this were the case, it is no longer. Therefore those who do hold to belief in God do so in a context that becomes increasingly foreign. This is why I am designing our international learning community always to include training in cultural intelligence.
1. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 1.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 2.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 3.
6. Ibid.
7. Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion (New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005) 5.
8. Taylor, 3.
9. James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), Kindle Loc 88.
10. Ibid., Kindle Loc 108.
11. Ibid., Kindle Loc 171.

About the Author

mm

Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

9 responses to “Introduction to The New World”

  1. “Taylor and Miller give language and concepts to frame what has been apparent for some time: it appears to be increasingly common that Christians pick and choose which portions of Scripture to obey.”
    It sounds like obedience to ALL of scripture is a big thing to you. How would Taylor/Smith talk to your people about obedience? What would they say to the couple that lived together before marriage?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Aaron,

      Of course obedience to all of Scripture is a big deal to me; it was to Jesus. How I wish I consistently obeyed all of Scripture.

      I suspect Taylor/Smith would say to our people that obedience has always been hard (even when belief was axiomatic), because our fallen nature has always been the same, and there has always been temptation in the world. Now it is even harder, when obeying all of Scripture is more blatantly counter-cultural. In the third stage/age of secularization not only do we have fewer cultural supports to obedience, peer pressure has increased against a Biblical way of life. This is what I particularly see in young couples and high school kids.

      It would be interesting to get Kevin’s take on the peer pressure on kids not to obey all of Scripture.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Marc for a great blog,
    How is dogma different from a set of axioms and postulates? They are basically the same things except that we use one for religion and ideology while we use the other two for science and math.
    Ironically, the Indian world view that treats all human experiences as part of a single integrated domain is closer in many ways to the world view of the early Christians than is the sharp division we make between the sacred and the secular.

    Do not let the world squeeze you into its mould.” – Rom 12.1 This manifests itself in various ways including the continuing debates about the place of faith in our schools. But secularism creates a tension for the Christian because it requires that we be shaped by the world’s mould, that we allow our faith to impact only certain areas of life.
    It’s nice sharing with you Rose Maria

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Rose Maria,

      Thank you for the insights.

      “Don’t let the world squeeze you…” is so important and so challenging. It is difficult in any age and in any culture: seemingly even more in Taylor’s secular world.

      In the tension created by secularism, living in the cross-pressure Smith describes, the pressure to be conformed is immense. I suddenly think that sometimes it may seem like that place could feel like we’re being squeezed by a vice (the workbench tool, not an evil vice).

      I am not convinced the tension “requires” that we be shaped by the world’s mold. But I would say that it feels virtually impossible NOT to let the secular force us not to fully live-out our beliefs.

      A current, very personal tension for me is in the life of one of my nephews. His brother in law is gay, and he and his partner now attend our annual family Thanksgiving dinner. They are, of course, welcome, and are a part of the family. But if, during a family dinner, someone directly asked me my view of homosexuality, I would be in that vice. I know that if not handled well my answer could cause irreparable damage in the family.

  3. Claire Appiah says:

    Mark,
    Thanks for your very keen reflections and discernment in this blog. Your blogs are always so informative and a delight to read. I never knew that the Pacific Northwest “boasts of the lowest per capita church attendance in the U.S., and alternate spiritualities are legion.” It is great that you are designing a much needed international learning community which includes cultural intelligence. It is brilliant to conceive of the need to develop cultural intelligence in one’s own indigenous context as well.

    The foregoing got me to thinking about young people not only in the Pacific Northwest, but all over the world—about the spiritual legacy that we are handing down to them. It has been my contention for years that it you want to know what drives young people in any era, look at the family/community culture that shaped and impacted their worldview, identity, and morality. In other words, before trying to locate where they are on so many planes, we must look at ourselves FIRST. We evangelicals need to assume some degree of responsibility for our contribution to the depravity we are witnessing among young people. Young people today are the collateral damage of our failure to exercise the power of voice against the strategic forces of darkness in the media and elsewhere that have been increasingly having a strong influence on their thinking, inclinations, and lifestyles. I’m appalled at the language, actions, and messages that are antithetical to Christian orthodoxy that believers deem acceptable for their home environments, and also take their families to similar atmospheres. With this embedded in their consciousness, how is it then that we expect our young people’s conduct to reflect Christian norms?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Claire,

      As always, you are filled with grace and kindness.

      To clarify, my use of the word “boast” is probably more literary device than literal. However, Oregon, Washington, and sometimes Nevada do record the lowest per capita church attendance in the U. S. Interestingly, Oregon was also the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide.

      Sadly I think you are accurate in indicating our generation and family/church systems must take responsibility for some of what we see in today’s young people. For people who are our age, we can look back to the 1960s and how our lives were affected by world events and attitudes then. It may well be that today we are seeing those changing/changed cultural values bearing fruit.

      And, yes, even within my own home, what have my children (now in their 30s) learned from my choices in television viewing? Plus, even the viewing choices of the younger people means that most of their values are being formed by the media, not the Bible.

      I was incensed and offended when George Bush moved into the White House after Mr. Clinton. I read great enthusiasm (with a Republican president) and calls for 24 hour prayer for him. My immediate reaction was, “Where were you for the last eight years?” If you don’t like what Mr. Clinton did, then we who failed to pray own some responsibility for that.

      I am sure that this secularization is so complex that it requires nearly a thousand pages to begin to unravel it.

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    Marc,
    You are so right regarding the complexities of secularization. If we Christians do nothing else we can pray without ceasing.

  5. Aaron Cole says:

    Marc,

    Great insight! I really agree, especially that living in our native country today requires “cultural intelligence”. You have much more minsitry and pastoral experience than me and probably anyone else in our group. You have also walked through a change in you own denomination, the rest of us belong to denominations that are much younger and therefore will most likely walk where you have. My question is: in light of you experience and our readings what advice would you give a young pastor, say 30 years of age, starting out today?

    Aaron

  6. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Aaron,

    Perhaps my answer will be my third book that I need to write. I think the title will be “Things They Never Taught Me In Seminary.” Or the book could be “Things They Couldn’t Teach Me in Seminary.”

    But seriously:

    1. Number one priority is to maintain an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. All of life and ministry flows from that.

    2. Exegesis: exegete Scripture, history, and current cultural trends.
    We are grounded in Scripture, we need to understand history in general, of the Church, AND of the particular congregation, and we need to be analyzing and understanding current cultural realities and trends. Taylor obviously affects how we make the Gospel interesting in today’s culture.

    3. Read the books we’ve been reading. A young pastor would benefit from what we’ve read through our program: Taylor, Miller, Noll, Kets de Vries, etc.

    4. Peer relationships: BE in an accountability group of total vulnerability and honesty. I need to know there’s someone looking out for me AND looking over my shoulder. Find a seasoned pastor who can be a sounding board and mentor. Once a pastor reaches middle age, make sure there’s a twenty-thirty-something person close at hand (on staff) to access as a window to current culture.

    5. Make sure the church and the success of the ministry isn’t about you. We don’t get to misuse our churches as a means to feel good about ourselves.

    There’s a start.

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