Thursday, March 26, 2015

How (not) to be secular?


James K A Smith engages with Charles Taylor's big book 'A Secular Age' to consider what it means for someone to follow Jesus in our time, and to communicate the message of Christ to others.

The Plausibility Problem
Once men and women looked up to the sky and it sang to them, today we look at the vast empty vacuum of space. Something has changed. 500 years ago it was plausible to believe, and implausible if not impossible to reject Christ. Today the reverse seems so. It seems thoroughly plausible not to believe in Christ, and implausible if not impossible to believe.

Confidence or Conversation
Taylor observes four forms of belief today. A grid - Immanence vs. Transcendence, Take vs. Spin.

There are those who believe in a transcendent world - there is more than you can see. Some, like Taylor do so with an openness to discussion (take) while others are less inclined to ask questions but rather incline to confident confrontation (spin) - 'the fundamentalists.'

Similarly there are those who believe in an immanent world - there is just what you see. Some, like Julian Barnes say 'I don't believe in God but I miss him' (take), while others 'the academy' (spin) are more bold and less open to discuss faith.

Spin vs. Spin can't communicate. It wont. It can't see the point. This is our experience - we talk at one another, past one another, offend one another unnecessarily, caricature one another.  But Take can talk with Take.

Cross-purposes
Taylor observes a pathway to opening up conversation through consideration of 'cross-purposes' which challenge the Immanent Spin.

What of:
1. Agency (human responsibility)
2. Aesthetics (beauty)
3. Ethics

The Immanent Spin can be deeply imaginative, creative... but does it have ground for that? Or it rejects them, but can it do so without deep impoverishment? And if I feel the looming impoverishment might that suggest their rejection is a false step, that the world might not be as it was assumed to be?

Can we re-enchant this world with a bigger picture and a deeper meaning?
Can we empathise and reach out to Julian Barnes and his instinct of a gospel-haunted world?

From Narnia to our world
Might it be that CS Lewis isn't just doing Christian allegory in Narnia but, as Michael Ward says in his PhD thesis: seeking to demonstrate the possiblity and create fresh plausibility of a meaning-drenched universe by engaging the imagination. Might being in Narnia teach us how to live better here? Might adventuring with Narnia's Christ freshly introduce us to this world's Christ.

Might truth, beauty and goodness can awaken and create a space in which a conversation can happen, a world in which men and women might begin to explore faith, where the message of Jesus might be freshly heard, freshly considered, through the background and foreground noise of this secular age.

The two years before I came to know Christ I was so disenchanted that I quit reading fiction after years as an avid reader. I lost my imagination. I felt despair. I discarded the image. I began to feel impoverishment...  Meanwhile many still imagine, dream, see (and far richly that me) - living in Narnia but forgetting that this world still exists.

We need fresh approaches. We need to think harder. There are pictures to paint. There are stories to tell. There is life to be savoured. There is beauty to appreciate. There is love to be apprehended by. There is more. And this isn't a strange thought - there are thinkers thinking about it and living it - Tim Keller, Don Carson, Jamie Smith, Robert Farrar Capon, Charles Taylor, Michael Ward, Evan Koons, L'Abri... what's the next step?

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