A Secular Age by Charles Taylor is an exhaustive and narrative insight on what “secular” is and how we as people and planet got here. The unique mix of academic and story offers the reader a map of sorts which navigates the reader on a journey of how we became a secular society and world. The time frame that Taylor navigates is the mid-centuries of approximately 1500 through to the 21st century. This book is as much a history of humanity over the last five hundred plus years as it is a commentary on secularism. The essence of Taylor’s observation of the secularization of our is the following. Five hundred years ago, it would be near impossible to find a person or people group that did not believe in God and his place in the world. Today it is the opposite. We live in a world that not only rejects God and the concept of deity, but also lives in a way that does more than merely doubt God’s existence, it lives in a way where the concept of God is impossible to believe.
Wow, what a book. Taylor and last week’s How (Not) To Be Secular Reading Charles Taylor by James K.A. Smith have been a revolutionarily eye opening experience for me. It has caused me to question how we missed this as church, what can we do to “change the course”, and even to evaluate my life’s work and ministry. I was raise in an era of time that question the preceding generation’s commitment to sustainable change and keeping of values of a Christian church and community. We asked who in the church was asleep at the wheel when prayer was taken out of school? Where was the church on pivotal decisions such as the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade? What was the church thinking with PTL, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart? Our response was a more divided and withdrawn church, with the rise of the Moral Majority, Contemporary Christian Music, “Christian” television satellite networks, and so many “separate” entities. So how is that working for us? After reading Taylor and Smith, not well. We as a church have become more isolated from the world in order to preserve ourselves, in do so we have lost the ability to preserve the world in which we live. According to the words of Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel: we have lost out saltiness. And what good are we, except to be discarded because we have lost our reason for being, salt of the world.
My question then is: how do we as a church become salty? How do we “be” the light that Jesus desired and gave His life for us not to become, but to “be”? I do not have many or any answers, but I am on a journey. Do we leave our posts in the leading the local church and immerse ourselves in secular environments and institutions? The problem with this, is that we see little success scripturally in Paul’s life and experience at Mars Hill. The other reality is that although institutions can go “dark” very quickly they tend not to go “light” as expeditiously. Can we make the “church” as an institution change quickly or revamp her image? If Taylor is correct and our world does not merely reject God but rather lives with no reality or acknowledgement of Him, then we as the church institutional cannot change the world with a concept that the world does not merely reject but does not accept its reality.
So what is the answer? In short, I do not know. I am not discouraged, but determined, because I know the church and God’s people will prevail. My only thought goes back to how this concept of the church began. It was with one, Jesus, who recruited and invested into twelve disciples, who in turn changed the world not institutionally but relationally. The world is changed one life at a time. Maybe discipleship not a concept to “keep” the found, but to “find” the lost. Maybe transformation takes place in circles, not rows. I do not know, but I am determined.