DMINLGP

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

Released into the Wild

Written by: on January 17, 2020

Even before I was a pastor, I had a pastor’s heart. This has meant that when friends wrestled with faith, I wrestled with how to care for them through the journey. I’ve wondered at how to both create room for their questions while wrestling with why the answers that satisfied me, didn’t satisfy them. I’ve walked with people as they wondered how to engage with a primary faith text that is sometimes unclear, sometimes contradictory and stretches the modern understanding of truth. How do I pastor well those who doubt and yet voluntarily remain part of the church? How do I hold faithfully the tension created by freedom when it equally creates space for people to draw near to God and to move to a place of denying He exists altogether? What is my role within my broader community as an individual? As a pastor?

 

Until I dove into this week’s reading, I had somehow missed Charles Taylor’s rich contributions to social philosophy. The multi-award winning McGill professor is hailed as one of the best thinkers Canada has produced. Taylor’s Catholic faith is perhaps why he hinges the birth of the current secular age in cracks that were exposed during the reformation. He has offered key shaping to Canadian idealism as well as being one of the founding leaders of the New Democratic Party[1], characterised by democratic socialism. Incidentally he also taught the late Jack Layton. Taylor’s communitarian leanings influence his understanding that the individual can only achieve authenticity within a social context. What I have found most beautiful about his understanding of the current age is that he persists in having great hope that there is opportunity for the Christian church to flourish in the current age as he understands it.[2] Such and understanding is refreshing in an era when the church largely reproduces a defensive narrative as the vestiges of Christendom are laid to rest.

 

Taylor’s project in The Secular Age is to trace the evolution of our understanding through five hundred years of history that we might recognise the shifts that have taken place in foundational understandings and how these shifts have changed the meta-narrative from which faith arises. Taylor suggests that secular once was the difference between the work of those set apart for church work, or eternal work, on behalf of the community as opposed to those whose work was for temporal purposes. This emerged in a context where theism was part of the foundational social narrative. The second understanding of secular arose when theism gave rise to deism and then atheism. Secular then came to mean irreligious.  This understanding was a critical distinction as the enlightenment shaped a meta-narrative of reason and disenchantment in which transcendency was replaced with a contained naturalism. Finally, secular 3, is characterised by faith in God being one choice among many and is contestable.[3] This understanding of the secular highlights a meta-narrative of social pluralism. Out of this narrative, secularism is not in competition with faith, instead it is merely the conditions out of which faith must be birthed. Taylor’s generous reading of the times is encompassed in this reflection: “I wouldn’t say [secularity] won the day because I don’t see it as a competition.”[4] With faith and politics predominantly disentangled in Western democracies, faith is released to grant greater freedom. Rather than a set of ideals that one can choose to ascribe to, “[f]aith as a journey has been liberated …we need to live in our sense of unease in order to grow.”[5] He assures us that “[d]oubt is not a threat to faith”[6], or at least it is no longer a threat. By understanding this story of how we got to this current secularism we can also discover the opportunities that have arisen. For example, “[p]rior to this stance [of reason], the conditions would have yielded lament, not theodicy”[7]. The enlightenment may have replaced lament with philosophical arguments but the brokenness of the natural world and the limits of humanism to properly alleviate suffering are inviting us to remember the value of lament. If the enlightenment nurtured theological debates motivated by defending the rationality of faith, the pluralist context has recreated space for us to express faith authentically and diversely. The meta-narrative of reason and naturalism and humanism is wearing thin and its limits are being exposed.

 

Perhaps we still long for enchantment. Just when we had managed to write a version of Christianity that could exist in the post-enlightenment period of disenchantment, the Western church finds herself in a time when J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series becomes a primary signifier for an entire generation. Simultaneously, Tolkien’s Lord of the Ringsgains mainstream popularity as the literary stories are transformed into the more consumable film genre—satiating an unsatisfied hunger for magic and wonder. We are no longer satisfied by our hyper-individualised, production driven realist story. We long to receive our letter that invites us to connect with that magical place we always suspected was within us, or have our ordinariness be recognised as the much needed ingredient for a noble cause. There is so much truth in these fictional stories. So the story of a God who offers us a letter in the form of faith texts, and tells us our ordinariness becomes extraordinary when we take our place in a body with Christ as the head, all of a sudden births faith from completely changed conditions. Perhaps this is an answer to pastoring in this secular age. Invite people to consider taking this story, out of all the stories, off the shelf and finding themselves in it. To pastor today is less about reasoning people into particular boundaries and instead celebrating they are willing to journey with an ancient Companion who is unafraid of the wild unexplored edges.

 

 

 

 

[1] Joshua Rothman, “How to Restore Your Faith in Democracy,” The New Yorker (The New Yorker, June 19, 2017), Accessed January 16, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/persons-of-interest/how-to-restore-your-faith-in-democracy)

[2] Charles Taylor and Glenn Smith, “Entrevue Avec Charles Taylor- Interview with Charles Taylor,” Vimeo (Direction Chretienne, McGill University , August 2015), Accessed January 16, 2020. https://vimeo.com/143608489?fbclid=IwAR3ZChxqFmFRzhbDXt9A8kta2k1wgPdimasGUCixd5TUfeLhN3MunXGDJM

[3] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). ePub 26-27.

[4] Charles Taylor and Glenn Smith, “Entrevue Avec Charles Taylor- Interview with Charles Taylor,” Vimeo (Direction Chretienne, McGill University , August 2015), Accessed January 16, 2020. https://vimeo.com/143608489?fbclid=IwAR3ZChxqFmFRzhbDXt9A8kta2k1wgPdimasGUCixd5TUfeLhN3MunXGDJM)

[5] Charles Taylor and Glenn Smith, “Entrevue Avec Charles Taylor- Interview with Charles Taylor,” Vimeo (Direction Chretienne, McGill University , August 2015), Accessed January 16, 2020. https://vimeo.com/143608489?fbclid=IwAR3ZChxqFmFRzhbDXt9A8kta2k1wgPdimasGUCixd5TUfeLhN3MunXGDJM)

[6] Charles Taylor and Glenn Smith, “Entrevue Avec Charles Taylor- Interview with Charles Taylor,” Vimeo (Direction Chretienne, McGill University , August 2015), Accessed January 16, 2020. https://vimeo.com/143608489?fbclid=IwAR3ZChxqFmFRzhbDXt9A8kta2k1wgPdimasGUCixd5TUfeLhN3MunXGDJM)

[7] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). ePub 77.

About the Author

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Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

6 responses to “Released into the Wild”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    This is great Jenn – there is so much possibility in the power of story. I would throw (at least in the USA) Game of Thrones into the mix as well.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Mario Hood says:

    great post Jenn. I was in a conference last year (we actually host it at our church) and the speaker Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns (she’s a leading Pentecostal scholar) spoke on this very topic. She’s writing a book on why we need enchantment back in our churches and Christianity. Falling back in love with mystery and story I think is a way forward and needed in our time of hyper-reasoning.

  3. Love it Jenn. Yes, let’s focus on telling a better story to our parishioners or to those who privileges us with their time and attention.

  4. mm Mary Mims says:

    Great post, Jenn. I love how you broke down this book. I latched on to the enchantment idea as well, especially since the Harry Potter series was on several times since Thanksgiving. It seems like it was viewed as a “holiday” classic. I believe this really points to a deeper need in those seeking a deeper truth.

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jenn,
    You said it, you are a pastor who has always had a pastor’s heart for people. Your quote, “To pastor today is less about reasoning people into particular boundaries and instead of celebrating they are willing to journey with an ancient Companion who is unafraid of the wild unexplored edges.” excited me! Your summation of your Canadian philosopher friend reminds me that our Triune God is unafraid of the “wild unexplored edges” of both lives and societies. Therefore, we need not fear or worry, but rather follow what he is already up to in the lives of the people we locally come into contact with. Many blessings, my pastor friend!

  6. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Loved your blog, Jenn. You brought out a different Taylor than what I read in A Secular Age. I got caught up in the drudgery of the book and the language. Yet, your perspective is new and refreshing from his book. I appreciated your statement that “what I have found most beautiful about Taylor’s understanding of the current age is that he persists in having great hope that there is opportunity for the Christian church to flourish in the current age as he understands it.”

    I also truly enjoyed your wrap-up: “So the story of a God who offers us a letter in the form of faith texts, and tells us our ordinariness becomes extraordinary when we take our place in a body with Christ as the head, all of a sudden births faith from completely changed conditions.” Powerful perspective! Thanks so much for sharing, Jenn!

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