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

Pilgrimage to a third way

Written by: on January 16, 2020

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.[1] 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.”[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] According to Taylor, what is believable has changed.[5]

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.”[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]  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.

 

 

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[1] 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.

[2] “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.

[3] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

[5] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 19.

[6] Ibid, 39.

[7] Ibid, 58.

[8] Taylor, A Secular Age, 770.

About the Author

mm

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

7 responses to “Pilgrimage to a third way”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great comments Rhonda. It is wonderful to hear that seminarians are asking those difficult questions that helps usher both their careers, and the larger church, into a new era.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Awesome post, Rhonda. I see this same shift. We just did a 2 day school of prayer with Brian Zhand and it was on this very thing. The shock to the “pentecostal” way of prayer was amazing but the feedback from practicing a liturgical way of prayer has been amazing on Facebook (after the initial shock). My pastor has been saying a statement for about a year now, “out with the old and in with the older”, meaning our let’s get back to the ancient faith (in some ways) that will change our current faith.

  3. Thanks for this Rhonda. In my post I highlighted the disenchantment point Taylor raised in his book. I know it wasn’t mentioned in Taylor or Smith, but I’m convinced this longing and angst for the transcendent is all around us still. It’s in the movies, fantasy books, games, entertainment (Disneyland), Santa Clause, etc.

    As Christian leaders, I think we need to be more proactive to link our ghostly desires to the true source of these desires, which is God. I’ll call this the new Apologetic Imaginary. [Jason keeps reminding us we’re doctoral students now. That’s why I feel justified in inventing new terms.] hahahaha!

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Really good, Rhonda. I wonder if there is a both/and at work here. We have grown in our appreciation for human flourishing in recent years rather than the total depravity of “such as worm as I.” Yet, we hold to the transcendent supernatural, the mystical. Maybe these young people are leading the way in the both/and. I wonder if post modernism with the openness to spirituality will find a way to merge reason and enchantment?

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Rhonda,
    Thanks so much for your excellent post and appreciating the lifeline Smith threw us to navigate Taylor’s A Secular Age. I love your third-way construct which I am sure you are seeing lived out in the lives of your pentecostal/charismatic students. I am the furthest point for a philosopher, but it seems we always fall into error, disappointment, and despair when we try to erect an either/or construct. Instead, it would appear the Holy Spirit is always at work in the both/and. Thanks so much for digesting Taylor’s arguments and connecting them to the hope you see in the lives of younger leaders who are both enchanted by the Holy Spirit while passionately caring for those caught up in the complex realities of our age. Really, a superb post!

  6. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    So good, Rhonda! I see this all the time! We lead a group of college and young adult aged folks at our home each week and they are mesmerized with listening prayer. And every time, they merge this idea of listening prayer with the power of the Holy Spirit and it produces words, visions, etc. They are amazed at how God shows up through this sacred space of the old and new coming together! Thanks for this reminder!

  7. mm Sean Dean says:

    I wonder if the crumbling of many of the structures in American Christianity – which were use to separate and organize – are allowing for this grand amalgamation of traditions previously separated. Some interesting thoughts. Thanks.

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