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

The 500 year shift continues…

Written by: on January 18, 2019

Have you ever wondered how the church came to be what it is today? Or where it’s going to be in the next thirty years?  Many long-time Christians long for the good-old days where whole communities participated in regular Sunday worship services while younger generations sense the possibility for a vibrant faith that may be connected less through a denomination or local parish and more through a way of living in the world. Regardless of perspective, baby boomers, gen-Xers, and millennials who have grown up in the church have all felt a shift in the way the church and society relate.

This change in the relationship between Christianity and the West is something like the tectonic plates always moving beneath the earth’s surface, effecting the atmosphere and all that lies on the surface. The movements are unrecognizable but ever present, causing major change over time, whether by creating new land masses, bodies of water, earthquakes and volcanoes. As Christianity and culture continue to rub up against one another there is a friction that continues to take place. At times noticeable movement happens (such as mass conversions through Billy Graham crusades or mass slaughter from the Crusades) but more often than not, there is a slow evolution over time.

Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age, has dedicated his life’s work to understanding the history of the shifts in Christendom. As a professor of philosophy and Catholic who grew up in an astute Canadian family where politics were regular dialogue, Taylor’s interest in the intersection of the church and the broader Western world are embedded in his own story.

A Secular Age is, as Taylor describes, “a set of interlocking essays” spanning five hundred years of history, in which he “provides the means of conceiving how religion and specifically Christian faith are at once captive to the present age even while they shape and determine our outlook.”[1][2]

Taylor has shaped his thesis around the frame of two major questions:

1 – What makes up the secular age?

As Taylor assesses, there have been three variations of the secular since approximately 1500AD, with the West currently emerged in the third. Each of the three have been concisely defined by James KA Smith, as

Secular 1   A more “classical” definition of the secular, as distinguished from the sacred – the earthly plane of domestic life. Priests tend the sacred; butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers carry out “secular” work.

Secular 2   A more “modern” definition of the secular as areligious – neutral, unbiased, “objective” – as in a “secular” public square.

Secular 3   Taylor’s notion of the secular as an age of contested belief, where religious belief is no longer axiomatic. It’s possible to imagine not believing in God. See also exclusive humanism.[3]

The West has thus moved from a secularity that began with the separation of church and state, moved into non-religious based on the age of reason, and finally has shifted into a mode of freedom of belief based on the lack of Christian mores guiding the culture.

For those concerned that this secular age dooms Christianity, one reviewer recognized, “In the end, as sociologists have seen, a secular age does not mean the end of religion. Taylor offers a guide to the perplexed that provides an understanding that reform is inevitable, that sacred powers must be reverenced, and that conversion stands at the heart of Christianity and is tied to new life and a new way of life.”[4]

2- How are Christians to respond to the secular world in which they live?

Taylor believes that leaving Christendom has some negative associations but many positives as well. Even more, the new era the West has entered is not one to be avoided as it is already upon us. Politics, science, technology, globalism and the like are part of the world in which we live. Rather than attempt to reinstate Christendom, with a coercion of civilization into the way of Jesus by the systems and structures of the state as overtly “Christian,” Christianity has an opportunity to reveal the message of Jesus through the way Christians live among the secular culture. By living as faithful witnesses to the truth of the gospel, the church can move into the community, the sciences, politics, in ways that many do not.

Taylor remarks in an interview about his text that Christians have the ability self-define by focusing on compassion over curses, effectively going out to “see that there is some need, somebody is being left out, some whole kind of whole sensibility or some kind of deep problem is just being glossed over and you reach out and try to do something about it. That kind of action belongs center to the gospels…by the way we reach out, not by the way we react to various insults.”[5]

In addition, the third type of secularity gives Christians a healthy opportunity to challenge their faith by the faithless around them. Taylor speaks of those who come to faith from the outside, those who are converted by their own need for something more, and the journey of belief, alongside doubt in discovering the truth of the message of Christianity, without the excess burdens and expectations of Christendom.

What if in the next thirty years there was a seismic shift toward Christianity in the West, as there has been of late in the East? What if Christians decided to let go of being part of a “Christian nation” to own their faith, wrestle with doubt, and love those who are often left out? What if separation based on race, religion, class, sexuality or gender became embrace as part of God’s creation? Maybe it takes seeing oneself as part of a secular age, giving up on what was, and restarting the journey with a new way of being to get there.

 

 

[1]Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachussetts: Belknap Press of Hardvard University Press, 2007, ix.

[2] Sedgwick, Timothy F., Anglican Theological Review; Evanston Vol. 93, Iss. 3,  (Summer 2011): 510,512-514,516.

[3] Smith, James K. A. How (not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015,142.

[4] Sedgwick.

[5] https://vimeo.com/143608489?fbclid=IwAR2UD3wlo–hefTThkIIWSpF-0nACkky2QYWF_gGL1IaxAHJby-gS0MIX_4

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

15 responses to “The 500 year shift continues…”

  1. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trisha,

    I too look forward to seeing what the future will bring in regard in faith experience in the West. I am certain of one thing, the Church (or churches) stuck in modernism probably won’t make the jump and find themselves less and less relevant (if that is even possible). But, if it is able to embrace a more inclusive and less divided community I believe emerging generations will be captivated by the genuine community that is so lacking in the wider culture. How do you anticipate the Church making the necessary adjustments in order to be more inclusive?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Dan, I pray the church will be more inclusive but am unsure if we will, especially when I read Jean’s post (just so mad!). To me it seems that if we don’t get outside of ourselves and go be real agents of love and hope in our communities and wider world, especially to those who need it most, our churches will eventually die or become a false front for Jesus. That may seem extreme but it’s just obvious that the church will become fully irrelevant if we don’t actually love our neighbor. This is why the secularity3 can be hopeful to me.

  2. I like how your analysis of secularism brings you to a hopefulness for broader inclusion in the church. I’m concerned that the churches that are trying to establish a “Christian nation” may be undergoing thier own change–but one that does not resemble the broken and consumed body of Christ. It could be interesting to put Kavanaugh in conversation with Talyor.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Yes, Jenn Kavanaugh would be a good mash up with Taylor. I wonder if those who want a “Christian nation” generally have thought through the implications of that idea and what it would mean for the church. I too think there is a shift happening inside those communities as well. Time will tell…

  3. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Trisha! Great recap of secularism and I loved your final thoughts…in addition, the third type of secularity gives Christians a healthy opportunity to challenge their faith by the faithless around them. As a country we’ve claimed our “nation of faith” vs. owning our own faith, and subsequent behaviors. Imagine if each of us owned this faith and rejected oppression, violence, racism (and every other ism)…? I’m hopeful that our current climate will lead to Christians standing up to unGodly hearts and overcoming the hateful rhetoric. Do you believe we are headed in that direction?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jean, I tend to think of the wide and narrow path and that the way of Jesus will be narrow, especially in a secular age. There are so many who claim Jesus but their actions resemble little from the gospel in the way of loving neighbor or enemy or freeing the oppressed or fighting the isms. I am ready for Christendom to end so we can move on to getting back to the center of who Jesus is.

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    I love the way you see hope in secularization. I see it as an opportunity for Christians to have true faith, not faith of their family but a real relationship with Christ and then to be unleashed to love the world as he has called us to.

    Thanks
    Jason

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha, great job. I was raised in the church, being taught by my preacher father about the “great falling away” that would take place before Christ comes. We read about Paul warning both Timothy and Titus about watching their flocks because false teachers would come in. I think the threat of secularism has been around for so long that the church stopped watching for it; then BAM…there it was. I agree that we will never see the elimination of Christianity, because God will always overcome; however, I do believe the diminishment of the church is inevitable and if the church is not careful, this fight against secularism is going to very costly in regard to people leaving the church.

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hi Trisha,
    Very clear analysis and reporting on this book! Nicely done and helpful to read. This is such a big topic, but one that probably touches on many of our group’s various research areas. How does this most affect what you are working on?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Dave. I think this topic relates to my research in that the church, notably the Wesleyan Tradition, has emulated what is secular rather than owning its own theology of equity for all people. Although abolitionists and in favor of women in leadership from the beginning, we never embodied it well in our policies, language, and discipleship and leadership development. Thus, there is much that has been written but little diversity or equity within the tradition as a whole. It’s like we have this huge foundation from which to build but then moved on to other areas of interest and never did the hard work to create a structure that would last or lead us into the future.

      Thanks for helping me think about this through this lens. These books so overwhelming, and in the first week of the semester, that I could barely even get to the place of considering my own topic.

  7. Greg says:

    Trisha.
    I really appreciated the different definitions of secular. This really helped me understand Taylors point of view. (Btw your such a mom of preschoolers with the “butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers”…comment :-). Made me smile.

    Your blog had me thinking of the ever changing understanding of the Gospel. How as we read theologians of the past our perspectives are so different from theirs. I have often heard preachers use quotes in sermon and wondered if that was the original intent of the author or our modern understanding of their thoughts. It is a bit scary for some to see Christianity as a fluid entity (a living one) but also exciting.

    Your last paragraph questions makes you a radical….:-). I like it! What if….what would this world look like and what would Christianity be seen as? I think it is fun to dream big…even if we are called secular while doing it!

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Greg, thanks for thinking of me as a mom but I was just quoting Smith- he was the cutsie one. 🙂

      Cool, I am good with being a radical. Maybe more than ever before. I am done with this nonsensical middle space of keeping the church going but without loving our neighbors in ways that are actually loving. What’s the purpose of that? The old 1 John 4:7-8 song is running through my head…now I am being a mom to a pre-schooler! Oh my. Maybe I am just getting more earnest.

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Good job Trish. That would be an interesting 30 years if Christians were more accepting of doubt and more comfortable not having it all figured out. your angle reminds me a lot of “the soul of doubt” that we read last year.

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