I am grateful to James K. A. Smith for writing How (Not) to Be Secular. Frankly, I am not sure I would have made it through Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age without him. Smith, an evangelical professor of philosophy at Calvin College; and Taylor, a Roman Catholic professor emeritus at McGill University, are great partners in helping us understand what it means to be living in a secular age.
One of Taylor’s greatest contributions to us is his offering of vocabulary to help guide us through secular society. Smith takes this a step further in contextualizing this new language in our current culture. Both writers take a humble approach as they discuss difficult issues such as humanism and secularism, inviting us to “dialogue with” rather than “preach at” one another. Their devotion to Jesus is clear, but they seem to recognize the value of a grace-filled approach to the issue of belief. Though Taylor’s work is a dense read, the attitude behind it is encouraging. In fact, Smith says of Taylor, “hope is his dominant posture.”
For example, even though he does not try to convince people that they’ve had one, Taylor gives permission for people to be honest about the experiences they’ve had with God. He suggests that we live in an “immanent frame” rather than a “transcendent frame” that constitutes a natural world over a supernatural world. Given this immanent frame, Taylor suggests that both believers in Jesus and non-believers wrestle with the concerns and goals of this world. Just as believers have moments of faith-doubt, so non-believers have moments of longing for transcendence that often lead to doubt of their non-belief. Therefore, Taylor explains that “secular” is not simply non-belief. It would be misguided, in his opinion, to oversimplify the secular age as a movement from more to less belief. It is not just subtraction of belief, but a reimagining of belief. According to Taylor, what is believable has changed.
I was especially intrigued by Taylor’s ideas of “disenchantment.” He suggests that through history, particularly the Reformation, the world has moved from a sense of sacred order, or enchantment; to becoming a disenchanted world. This gap of sacramentality was filled with the human effort to create order, thereby ushering in humanist reform. Smith explains it this way:
“…the Reformers’ rejection of sacramentalism is the beginning of naturalism, or it at least opens the door to its possibility. It is also the beginning of a certain evacuation of the sacred as presence in the world.”
In recent years, I have been listening to pentecostal seminarians talk more and more about their desire for an embodied Christianity. In this virtual world, they are searching for ways to connect their faith to something tangible. For many of my students, this search has led them to liturgies that celebrate faith and worship through symbols and tangible expression, which is not as familiar to the pentecostal/charismatic contexts they come from. I hear them speak of longing for this enchanted life Taylor writes about, a pathway out of an “excarnational” way of living. To satisfy this longing, these students are coupling liturgical elements with prophetic, charismatic expression. They are inviting one another into deeper challenges of spiritual discipline and increased awareness of humanity. I wonder if these young pilgrims are already finding this “third way” as they “explore beyond the boundaries” of what they have known. It may look like a curated expression of worship, but I wonder if they are stumbling upon what could be a lifeline to the doubting secularist.
 bethinking.org, “How (Not) To Be Secular – a Review,” Bethinking.Org, last modified July 19, 2017, accessed January 6, 2020, https://www.bethinking.org/culture/how-not-to-be-secular-review.
 “James K. A. Smith’s Theological Journey,” America Magazine, last modified October 18, 2018, accessed January 14, 2020, https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/10/18/james-k-smiths-theological-journey.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2018.
 James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 19.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ibid, 58.
 Taylor, A Secular Age, 770.