Jeff Christopherson: How Secularity and Religious Pluralism Advances the Gospel

Things aren’t always as they appear. The rose-colored glasses with which we look at our religious past often artificially and inappropriately distorts our perspective on our future. As the great philosopher Billy Joel once quipped, “The good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”[1] Our fears of tomorrow often stem from a longing to retreat back to the familiar – even if that familiarity is toxic.

So, let’s briefly retrace our disorienting past steps that have led us to our new norm, and then project a likely future. Consider these five points of reference:

1. Secular, Secularism, and Secularity

Let’s start by understanding terms. Often these three words are used interchangeably, but they actually transmit entirely different ideas. Charles Taylor[2] helped clarify the distinctions which have a profound effect on mission.

Secular. Simply the opposite of sacred, “secular” is a concept that comes from history – not Scripture – with devastating consequences to mission. Absent of sacred credentials, a devout follower of Christ seeing his “secular” workplace as his parish for mission is often diminished as an inferior spiritual vocation. This is a theological problem.

Secularism. This is when public spaces are emptied of the transcendent. This term moves ‘secular’ from a descriptive adjective to an active verb with the aim to bring society into compliance as a nonreligious neutrality.

Secularity. This is a description of the failure of secularism to remove the transcendent, and instead has created the conditions in which atheism becomes another menu alternative for belief. Secularity opened the door to demonstrate the superiority of belief, instead of closing the door to belief as many who promoted the experiment of secularism had intended.

2. Religious Pluralism as an Insult to Secularism

Instead of creating a vacuum for nonreligious neutrality, the ideals of secularism actually created a culture of religious pluralism where positions are forces to compete in a spiritual free market economy. Atheism now has to stand on its own as a competing belief – and it has become an uninteresting religious order with little compelling virtue to entice new followers.

So, what about “the rise of the nones?” Why are we seeing a greater percentage of the population in North America reporting no religious affiliation?

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Source: Christianity Today

Jeff Christopherson is an author and Chief Missiologist of the North American Mission Board(NAMB). He also serves as Co-Executive Director of the Send Institute, a partnership of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the North American Mission Board.