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What Would Taylor Say: Vocation, the Reformation, and Secular Humanism

Written by: on January 17, 2020

It’s hard to study the work of vocation without taking into consideration the deep fundamental shifts that took place during the Protestant Reformation. Luther, in his attempt to alter the “speeds”[1] or freedom[2] with which faith was exercised, ended up inspiring a reformation of faith. Luther succeeded at this Reformation while many before him had failed.[3] While we understand that the Protestant Reformation is central to the evangelical faith tradition, Charles Taylor argues that the Reformation is central to the creation of a “humanist alternative to faith.”[4]

 

Charles Taylor is a philosopher who wrote A Secular Age, published in 2007. The book centers on the idea that the age of secularism is “messier than many would lead us to believe”[5] and that there are actually three forms of secularism that have come to pass. Taylor contends that secularism is not just the separation or church and state, nor the decline of faith and practice, but also the conditions of belief and the way faith and belief arise from individuals.[6] This “secular3”[7] calls it really centers around the idea that this shift towards secularity3 is made of up “a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among other, and frequently, not the easiest to embrace.”[8] Essentially, according to Taylor, we’ve moved from a society where belief in God was virtually impossible to the idea that belief in God is one of many options available.[9]

 

As we move this understanding forward, we see that Taylor holds the understanding that the Reformation was critical to the movement of his secular3 forward. Taylor holds the idea that in the Reformation, the idea was that instead of lowering the role of clergy to that of laity, which was an unthinkable denigration, Luther brought the message that all humanity were sinners and deserve punishment and salvation can only come from the inner acceptance of this reality.[10] This, in turn, leveled the playing field of vocation. Luther argued that all Christians should be devoted in their work to the supreme work of God, and that faith in God was the source of all genuine good work.[11] However, this genuine good work was not a requirement of faith, meaning they don’t earn our salvation, but they are necessary nonetheless. Furthermore, these good works were to be carried out for the betterment of all society, not just the individual. Taylor argues that this idea of leveling the idea of the playing field in work would give way to the idea of “secular humanism”[12] which is the idea that there are ways of constructing meaning and significance that do not need to stem from God.[13] This concept of religious reformation remakes society to be called to a higher standard, which holds accountability in the hands of all people, which leads to a new understanding of social and cultural life.

 

It shouldn’t be all together that surprising then, when we pick up books on vocation written for audiences today, that we see that spiritual fulfillment comes from “a personal commitment to spiritual well-being…a personal intervention with social systems…a personal engagement with the needs of others.”[14] This is secular humanism at work in 2020. I wonder if Taylor would think that the terminology we’re using around vocation today, especially as we consider youth and college-aged students, doesn’t just stem from the Reformation but demonstrates a lived out secular3. We throw around terms like “calling” and “intersectionality” which put the power of identity development in the power of the individual. What would Taylor say?

 

 

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 77.

[2] Scott Hendrix, Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK.: Oxford University Press, 2010), 2.

[3]  Ibid., 5.

[4] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 77.

[5] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), 94.

[6] Direction Chrétienne, “Entrevue avec Charles Taylor – Interview with Charles Taylor”, 16:29, https://vimeo.com/143608489?fbclid=IwAR2JiQkmwYESR2Tgb8vlrfr8IPXmhWBeHET9-HCHR-IyP6nu5Wioi9qls50

[7] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 2.

[8] Ibid., 2

[9] Ibid., 3

[10] Ibid., 75

[11] Scott Hendrix, Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK.: Oxford University Press, 2010), 51.

[12] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), 26.

[13] Ibid., 26.

[14] David Wright, How God Makes the World a Better Place: A Wesleyan Primer on Faith, Work, and Economic Transformation (Grand Rapids, MI.: Christian’s Library Press, 2012), xvi.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

9 responses to “What Would Taylor Say: Vocation, the Reformation, and Secular Humanism”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi. A very good and brief unpacking of Taylor’s rather complex work. Good job making it fit you thesis arena of vocation. I wonder if Taylor’s focus on the clash of immanence and transcendence might be the locus of his possible influence on your thesis: immanence being the idea that we contain everything to what we know such that God becomes the events events and people around us. What would a focus on transcendence do to vocation? If you answer that, you might hear Taylor’s voice on you subject.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Dig. I appreciate your idea on immanence vs transcendence. I wonder, can transcendence become immanence? For instance, can something, like a calling or vocation, some big thing, at some point in ones life ever come near? I wonder if that’s what happens when we’re little kids, right? Like every little kid wants to do these big things and live these big dreams (transcendence) but eventually, who they are comes closer to them and it becomes a deep sense of knowing their identity (immanence). Does that work?

      I suppose if we focus all our energy on what is “unknowable” or above all, it makes the idea of being any good at anything unattainable. I think Gen Z and Millenials really struggle with that.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Great post, Karen. I agree that this new secular3 encourages the younger generation to focus on personal wellbeing. I think the shifts are still occurring and if focusing on personal wellbeing will truly end in true wellbeing remains to be seen. My feeling is many will discover that personal wellbeing comes from serving others, returning to Christian values.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks Mary! I really appreciate the kind words! I would agree with you that service really helps others step outside of themselves and see the bigger picture at hand!

  3. Hey Karen, good stuff as usual. I’m wondering about your thoughts on this: Do you think that the Reformers inadvertently created the distinction between the sacred and secular by turning the church’s attention the “solas”?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      That’s a good question, Harry. I’m not sure I’ve thought about it in this way. To be honest, I am excited to write on the Reformation (things I never thought I would say) this semester. Before this, I never entertained the thought that the Reformation would do anything but level the playing field in a good way. Prior to Taylor, it was unfathomable to me that there were downsides to that. I am excited to see how the Reformation has shaped us, both good and bad.

      To your question, I do wonder if the Reformation inadvertently helped us lose some of that transcendence, as Digby referenced. What’s interesting is that as you look at the stats around Gen Z and Millenials, they really struggle with authority and feel as though ones title really has no bearing on their leadership skills or abilities. Essentially, just because they’re labeled as a leader doesn’t mean that they actually are one. I wonder if some of that, “leveling the playing field” that seemed so good from the Reformation, has now led us to a lack of recognizing authority? Just a thought – what do you think?

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Karen,
    Thanks for a thoughtful post connecting Taylor with your vocation research and work with university students. You conclude with, “We throw around terms like “calling” and “intersectionality” which put the power of identity development in the power of the individual.” You then ask what would Taylor say circa 2020? More important to me is, what would Karen say? How do you see God leading and guiding young adults today as they discern their vocation? Thanks again.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Harry, that is the million dollar question! If I knew that, I’d have my dissertation done! 🙂

      I think service is an important key. It helps young adults today recognize something bigger than themselves, and forces them to encounter new things, new perspectives, new views on God, etc. This helps them see the true intersectionality of us all!

  5. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Great blog, Karen. Love your review of the Reformation and Luther’s influence. But I also appreciated your follow up at the end: “We throw around terms like calling and intersectionality which put the power of identity development in the power of the individual. What would Taylor say?” I would be interesting to hear Taylor’s perspective, as I agree that these terms are used for personal perspective. Thanks for your excellent blog, Karen.

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