Ministering In Our Secular Age

Colin Hansen, Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor (Deerfield, Ill: The Gospel Coalition, 2017).

 

Arguably the most ambitious philosophical work in the last decade is Charles Taylor’s, “A Secular Age.” It defies simple description, but in it Taylor dissects the move toward secularism in the last 500 year of Western culture. One remarkable outcome of Taylor’s work has been its impact outside the normal circle of people who would be drawn to an almost 900 page work of philosophy. His work is having impact among other groups including pastors and ministers who are thoughtfully engaged in the shape of the world they work in.

 

The Gospel Coalition has recently released their first book published under their moniker, “Our Secular Age: The Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor”. The list of authors is impressive, familiar to many who might follow TGC. The collection of articles makes for both a broad and deep series of reflections on Taylor’s work, Christian theology, and ministry. It turns out that Taylor has a lot to say about the warp and woof of Western culture that is beneficial for a pastor or minister who is trying to be a faithful witness.

 

In its pages, the reader is introduced to several of Taylor’s influential constructs for modern secular culture and how it affects the way people view spirituality. We learn about the “subtraction story” explanation for why people pick some vague atheism over religious faith, the “buffered self” and the “porous self,” and to my thinking the all-important concept he calls the “immanent frame”. And the list could go on. A few authors outline and critique Taylor’s presentation of how the Reformation changed Western Civilization and led to secularization, but most of the articles deal directly with the book’s impact on culture and ministry.

 

There are several chapters I plan on reading several times to let the ideas sink in and actually affect the way I approach ministry. In “Preaching to the Secular Age”, John Starke does a wonderful job of discussing what it means to “speak to the longings of those outside the faith and the wanderings of those inside” (pg. 41). In “Church Shopping with Charles Taylor”, Brett McCracken challenges us with the observation “that churches perpetuating the paradigm of church shopping are setting the stage for their own spiritual demise” (pg. 78).

 

Pastors should always strive to see their culture more clearly and understand the people they minister to, both inside and outside the walls of the church. To that end, this is a wonderful tool. Several of the articles will probably stretch the average reader, but I consider that a good thing. And all of them have useful application to the work of the church and pastor in our secular age.

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