DMINLGP

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

Ministry in the Age of Authenticity

Written by: on February 24, 2017

Summary

Charles Taylor and James Smith have given us a detailed analysis of the secular age in which we live. Like an ideological GPS, they have shown us our chronological location in this map of secularism. From the age of ancien régime, to the age of moral order, to the age of mobilization, we are now in the age of authenticity.   The authors have also demonstrated that this secular thinking framework affects everybody, whether they are open to the transcendent or not.   They argue that a secular age is not an age of unbelief where religion has been abandoned. Rather, it is a level playing field where exclusive humanism, neo-Nietzschean anti-humanism, and those opened to the transcendent have the same epistemological challenges.  In this age, all beliefs are contested and contestable. However, through a series of arguments, they have shown that Christianity has the ontological advantage, because it gives the most plausible account of our human experience.

Reflection

The books are as dense as they are insightful. Every page is full of a plethora of ideas that would require more length to discuss than the one intended in this blog. Yet, an important highlight of the books for me was gaining better understanding of the current stage of the secular age in which we live, which Taylor calls the Age of Authenticity. This is an age that values the individual above everything else.  The ability to choose is the primary value, and tolerance is the underlying virtue (while intolerance is the forbidden sin). These views have become the perfect soil for a consumer culture, and they have serious implications for ministry. As Smith points out, “Not even orthodox Christians might realize the extent to which we have absorbed this by osmosis.”[1] There are three questions that the authors caused me to ask as I reflect on the reading.

What is my Motivation?

According to Taylor, modern moral philosophy pays little attention to the aspect of motivation in human behavior. In the search for fullness in an immanent frame, many people seek to be involved in philanthropic initiatives. Yet, the hidden motive is not one of agape, but one of selfishness. “While I am motivated to help the poor and vulnerable and even the undeserving because of their inherent dignity, I’m at the same time quietly patting myself on the back, recognizing my moral superiority.”[2] I realize that much of what happens in ministry may suffer from the same deficiency in motivation. Even the very way we present the gospel suffers from this self-centered approach. In an age of authenticity, many Christians have been introduced to Christ with a self-centered gospel. We were told that if we pray the sinner’s prayer we will no longer have to go to hell but we will go to heaven. Yet, why do we want to go to heaven? So we won’t go to hell? How about wanting to go to heaven because we love God and want to be with Him? Later, these Christians are encouraged to send their teenagers to mission trips. What for? So they will help those in need out of agape? Yes but not quite. Another underlying motivation seems to be that our teens will realize how bad other people have it; in that way they will become more appreciative and return home more mature. Then, the very pastors of these congregations sit down in meetings with colleagues to talk about the size of their churches and the numbers of baptisms that they have accomplished. They want their churches to grow, but what for? So that people in a dying world will find redeeming grace? Yes but not quite. Another underlying motivation seems to be that in doing so, these people will attend “our” church, so our consumerist ministry will acquire more clients and be more successful. Soon, the church starts a campaign with the slogan “I love my church.” In this way, they will attract more clients to this business. In an age of authenticity, there is a lot we can do in the name of God that is driven by a self-seeking motivation. Taylor makes me look deeper and ask, what is my motivation? Is it self-centered or God-centered?

What is my Message?

Taylor describes the change of perspective about personal responsibility in an age of authenticity. The spiritual has been replaced by the therapeutic, what was considered sin is now explained away as a physical condition, the weight of personal responsibility is now redefined as victimhood, the belief in transformation through conversion is replaced by faith in treatment, and the role of the religious leader is now entrusted to the therapist. This change of mindset, says Taylor, has even affected the message of Christianity; now we no longer talk about hell, only about God’s love. Taylor makes me reflect about the fine line between contextualizing the message and compromising the truth. What is the way I approach my teaching and preaching ministry? Am I going to be faithful to biblical truth even if it is not popular?

What is my Hope?

Taylor recognizes that in this age of authenticity, believing in God has some unique epistemological challenges. He points out, “conditions have arisen in the modern world in which it is no longer possible, honestly, rationally, without confusions, or fudging, or mental reservation, to believe in God.”[3] It could be easy to conclude the reading with a sense of hopelessness, as if our secular age is so far gone that it is almost impossible anymore to get a positive response to the message of the Gospel. However, it seems to me that even though the ideological conditions have changed drastically over the past centuries, the core issues remain unchanged.

The gospel sprouted in an era in which the message of the cross was considered foolishness; a time in which Christians were misunderstood, ridiculed, and persecuted (even accused of being cannibals); a time in which the god of this age had darkened people’s minds so that the light of the gospel would not shine in their lives. Yet, that was also the time in which the gospel was the δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ, a transforming power that could cut through the darkened mind and the hardened heart, bringing life to the one spiritually dead. Even in our secular age these truths remain unchanged. My ministry strategies may be shaped by a better understanding of our current ideological context, but the underlying hope in the power of the gospel remains the same today as it was yesterday.  That is my anchor as I navigate the waters of our secular age.

[1] James Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular, Kindle location 2452.

[2] Ibid, 2649

[3] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 560.

About the Author

Pablo Morales

Pablo Morales serves as the Lead Pastor of Ethnos Bible Church in Texas. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary in order to understand what it takes to develop a healthy multiethnic church.

8 responses to “Ministry in the Age of Authenticity”

  1. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Pablo,
    You cited three key things in your post: motivation, message, and hope. You then pointed out that the core issues remain unchanged. This is important for us to understand that the message of the Gospel can still thrive in a secular world, even if as you stated, “the spiritual has been replaced by the therapeutic.” I was looking on online today for words that either has been dropped from the Oxford Dictionary Online or words that have embraced new meaning. Since the secular age is not debunking religion, we should ask ourselves, “why do people think differently from my interpretation?” The answer could reveal that the core remains, but we’ve embraced a new understanding or interpretation. However, your challenge of us asking for our motivation will better determine for how we (Christians) behave in this secular age.

    Garfield

  2. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Pablo:
    Convicting post. How can we talk about hell? If it is not a place that we want to go, then how do we create a causation effect that will cause people to understand the severity of it? Sure we need “agape” as the motivator, but the truth of Heaven and the truth of hell are reality.

    Our secular age has “Disneyed” hell and made Heaven an island in the Caribbean. We have lost the reality of not only God, but the reality of the end of man. Has that added to our secularization?

    Is it possible that we have lost all the reality of the transcendent and His eternal affects?

    Phil

  3. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thank Pablo for taking us to the authenticity aspect of ministry; but according to Charles Taylor, our secular age is the age of authenticity. Our culture expects a “what you see is what you get” experience and insists that the most heroic thing we can do is to be true to ourselves. The greatest offense is, therefore, being inauthentic.

    That being said, we can see how virtue of authenticity, or “being real,” is both one of the greatest needs for the church today, and its greatest threat. We live in a time when the church’s testimony regarding Jesus, salvation, and truth, is scrutinized largely by how well we display this claim to redemption.
    Do you think the threat authenticity poses for the church is that of settling into a defeatist mentality? Let’s look at the other hand, it may just be that the most heroic thing a Christian can do is to live out of their identity in Christ. By developing holy habits and surrendering ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we can truly become a holy people, and this transformed life is the kind of authenticity our world needs to see.
    Bless you for giving us an authenticity perspective view. Rose Maria
    Rose Maria

  4. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Pablo,

    You wrote, “However, through a series of arguments, they have demonstrated that Christianity has the ontological advantage, because it gives the most plausible account of our human experience.” I agree 100%

    If/Since this is a true statement, what is your theological explanation for so few people accepting the Christian view of ultimate reality?

    “Why do we want to go to heaven?” I have been convinced for a long time that no one comes to Christ for altruistic reasons. I think everyone comes to Jesus for personal, selfish reasons. And what’s wrong with a person (selfishly) not wanting to go to hell? I suppose part of our sanctification problem is how slowly we leave behind selfish motivations. (Thankfully I am able to say that today I want to go to Heaven not as an escape from punishment, but because I want to be in the unhindered/unveiled presence of God.)

    Often I think I am no less a selfish person than I was fifty years ago. I see a troubling absence of true empathy (and action) for the poor and oppressed. Part of my motivation for pursuing a D. Min. is selfish. Even in the final days before my brother’s death the Lord confronted me with whether I wanted him to be saved for his sake, or so that I would feel good about him being saved. I am not looking for an answer here; just using the blog as a confessional, responding to what you wrote.

    You wrote, “My ministry strategies may be shaped by a better understanding of our ideological context, but the underlying hope in the power of the gospel remains the same today as it was yesterday.”

    Well said.

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Marc, my theological explanation is wrapped up in mystery. I do not know why some people respond to the gospel and why others reject it. In my pastoral experience, however, I have noticed that the majority of American Christians that I interact with do not have the habit of sharing the gospel. They are either not equipped, afraid, or simply believe that conversion is just a personal business. I am intrigued by how difficult it is to change this mindset. At Ethnos we been very intentional in creating a system for evangelism and to train people (See video here. https://vimeo.com/168266274). Yet, the majority still do not do it even after being trained. The ones that have embraced it are some of the new believers. It is refreshing to see their desire for evangelism. If faith comes by hearing, then I believe that the church at large has failed drastically in making the gospel known intelligently in our own back yard.

      I agree with you. I believe that selfishness will not be completely eradicated from us until we are glorified. So much of our Christian experience will be tainted by hints of selfishness. Yet, I also feel that we have contributed to this problem by the way we have approached Christianity in our consumerist culture. Salvation is reduced to an insurance against hell. Then Christians relate to God as the genie in the bottle. We even sing, “like a rose trampled on the ground he took the fall and thought of ME above ALL.” We are the center of our universe. This results in an unspoken conviction that God exists to fulfill our purposes and when He doesn’t we grow resentful. That’s why many people walk away from God when they are hit by suffering. There is not place for suffering in their theology. God failed them.

      I see that an important aspect of our role as leaders must be to train our sheep to have a change of paradigm. God does not exists for our purposes, but we exist for His. Loving God is the supernatural result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the greatest command. In fact, it is the one thing that God desires from us the most: To love Him with all our heart and soul and strength. He wants us to “agapao” him because he “agapao” us first. Before we can serve Him with devotion, we must first begin by loving Him.
      Pablo

  5. Aaron Cole says:

    Pablo,

    Preach! Preacha! That was convicting, conscise, and right to the point of where I live. Your reflections on motivation and message were spot on. In attempting to be culturally relevant in ministering to people today and keeping in accordance with the Gospel we can loose our way. My question is, is it even possible to attempt “relevant” ministry with the inherent pitfalls that you describe and I believe are there? Or does it all boil down to motivation of ministry?

    Aaron

  6. Thanks Pablo. Your post reminded me of James 3. 13ff. I am happy to say your life and writing reflect wisdom and humility that is pure. Keep going for it.

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