“Breaking Free of the Secular Frame”
I had the privilege of representing Vanguard University at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society held this year in chilly Denver, Colorado, November 14-17. The first night I was there some snow flurries occurred, making possible the closest thing to a white Christmas I’ll likely ever experience! The actual venue of the conference was the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel.
The theme of this year’s ETS meeting was, as this pic of the conference program indicates, “Holiness.”
Assuming you’re just dying to know all the nitty-gritty details of my particular contribution to the conference (😉), I’ve tooled out the cursory summary below. Enjoy!
In his highly lauded opus, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor laments the “excarnation” he associates with the Protestant Reformation’s emphasis on rationalism over the mysticism associated with Roman Catholic Christianity. According to Taylor, the radically secular age we currently inhabit is the ultimate result of this lamentable move.
Interestingly, despite Taylor’s critical take on the Reformation, his cultural diagnosis has been very influential even among Protestant theologians and church leaders. From James K. A. Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, to Andrew Root’s Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness, to an anthology edited by Collin Hansen and produced by the Gospel Coalition titled Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor, Protestant theologians and churchmen have interacted with Taylor’s massive tome in a critically appreciative manner, hoping in the process to help contemporary Christians in the west recognize and escape the influence of the secularity so very pervasive in the current era.
As a result, not a few Protestant evangelical theologians and church leaders have begun to encourage the recovery of a sacramentalism that, while not necessarily re-incarnated, has been re-inspired and is therefore inspiring. In other words, if Protestant evangelicals want to help church members and their cultural peers escape what Taylor refers to as the “imminent frame,” they need to do more than provide intellectual arguments for the faith, they must begin to conduct worship gatherings that are strikingly sacramental as well as evangelical in manner.
In the paper I presented at the ETS conference referred to above, I contributed to this scholarly conversation, suggesting that while evangelicals can and should cultivate a more “encounter-oriented” engagement in the church’s liturgies and its practice of the Eucharist, there’s more to be done. The pneumatological deficit produced by the scholastic reformers and still present in many churches simply must be addressed. The antidote for the secular juggernaut is not simply liturgical but pneumatological in nature.
More specifically, what’s needed is a corporate and personal embrace of “pneumatological realism.” At the corporate level, such a commitment will result in ecclesial environments that are earmarked by a sense of pneumatological expectancy (rather than presumption or indifference). At the personal level, a pneumatological realism is key to a Christian spirituality that is “I-Thou” rather than “I-it” in orientation and plays out as a lifestyle rather than a register of periodic practices performed with a therapeutic rather than God-honoring goal in mind (see Col. 1:9-10).
Ultimately, the best way for Christians not to be secular is to become realist rather than non-realist in their pneumatology, engaging in every aspect of Christian discipleship—worship, nurture, community, and mission—in a theologically real, Spirit-empowered manner that is not only personally fulfilling but ministry-engendering as well.
Obviously, this is a spartan summary of the paper I presented. If anyone reading this blog would like to obtain a copy of the paper, they are encouraged to contact me at email@example.com.
In addition, I’m happy to report that the lifestyle spirituality referred to above is the theme of a forthcoming publication, Introduction to Spirituality: The Cultivation of a Lifestyle of Faithfulness (Baker Academic, June 2023). It was an honor for me to contribute this volume to a series of academic texts collectively titled “Foundations of Spirit-Empowered Christianity.”
More information about the book and the series is available at https://bakerbookhouse.com/products/492143.
I’ll bring this blog to a close with a brief word of thanks. It was also an honor for me to represent Vanguard University, and its commitment to a Spirit-empowered Christianity, at this year’s ETS conference. My thanks to the Office of the Provost and Vanguard’s Institute for Faculty Development for the opportunity to do so.