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#BTColumn – A reclaiming (and rejection) of secular

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by Adrian Sobers

“My kingdom just isn’t from this world.” – John 18:36

In The Evangelical within the Secular World, Hudson T. Armerding wrote, “Certainly one of the issues that besets today’s society is its rootlessness.

It has deliberately severed reference to the past, rejecting what has gone before as anachronistic or irrelevant.” His article is now over fifty years old having first appeared within the April 1970 edition of Bibliotheca Sacra.

Armerding’s words still resonate and today we pay a fair heavier price for this rootlessness, not only on our streets (no details needed), but additionally in our scholarship (especially monetary policy and political economy). It just isn’t only our streets that need cleansing, but additionally our scholarship. (But that’s one other story.)

“Informed evangelicals”, wrote Armerding, “should realistically recognize that individual salvation and its concomitant behaviour won’t bring concerning the long-term redemption of society”. Subsequently, we’re “obliged to confront the secular world with a unique view of history that in no uncertain terms responds to the query, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’”

This favourite query of scoffers through the ages (2 Peter 3:3–4) helps us to tell apart between secular (commonly understood), and secular (properly understood). Jesus gave us a glimpse of the latter within the parable of The Dishonest Manager (Luke 16).

Jesus divided humanity: “The kids of this age [Latin saeculum] are more shrewd in coping with their generation than are the kids of sunshine”. For Jesus, there are those that belong to “this age”, and those that belong to an age to come back (“children of sunshine”).

Armerding’s rootlessness is tied to the diminishing of the Christ-idea from our collective memory. If there may be one thing humans have mastered, it’s the art of forgetting. The Old Testament is essentially the story of Israel forgetting, then promising to recollect and return to God; only to forget again (Hosea 11:7).

Forgetting is in our DNA, and we’ve forgotten (daresay, fatefully so) that secular is best considered when it comes to span of time.

Secular, secularity, and secularization usually are not secular in origin. Their logic is grounded in pre-Christian Latin words that check with a span of time.

We’d like to recuperate this logic. As David Lloyd Duesenberg (The Innocence of Pontius Pilate) explains, “It just isn’t ‘pagan’ but Christian law, not civil but canon law, not modern but medieval law that first innovates on the Latin word saecularis to provide us saecularizatio.”

Secular commonly understood is a legal-political product of Enlightenment considering, a foundation on which the Apostles of Reason promise to construct a god-free (which is to say, godless) Utopia. Secular properly understood, by Jesus and Paul, is an age to be free of.

In certainly one of Paul’s earliest letters, he explains the importance of Jesus’s death, namely, to free us from the secular (“this age”). “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the current evil age” (Galatians 1: 3–4).

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he says, “the god of this world [Latin, saeculum] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to maintain them from seeing the sunshine of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Jesus and Paul consider the saeculum “this age/world” as where the glory of God just isn’t recognized.

To be secular (properly understood), is to be a fundamentalist concerning things material/temporal, on the expense of the immaterial/everlasting; namely, our soul. Certainly one of Paul’s most oft-quoted verses must be quoted much more in light of this. In Romans 12:2, Paul urges believers–within the London, New York, and Paris of his day–to “to not be “conformed to this age [Latin, saeculum]”, but to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

Contrary to what we tell ourselves concerning the supremacy of reason, the brain is lazy. Roger Martin (A New Strategy to Think) reminds us that the brain is more of a gap-filling machine than an analytical machine. It takes noisy, incomplete information from the world and fills within the missing pieces based on past experiences.

Our minds love automaticity greater than anything; and particularly greater than conscious consideration. And it just isn’t a lot that we fill the gaps, however the speed at which we fill. Psychologists call it process fluency (good marketers call it a money cow).

For the reason that brain is lazy and considering is tough work, we gravitate more easily toward loving God with all of our heart and soul (slogans and the familiar); but Jesus included mind within the list (Matthew 22:37). The renewal of the mind God calls us to is a tough, lifelong process. But called we’re.

Douglas Moo (The Letter to the Romans) cites N. T. Wright on this renewal: “If the ekklēsia of God in Jesus the Messiah, in its unity and holiness, is to constitute because it were its own worldview, to be its own central symbol, it must think: to be ‘transformed by the renewal of the mind,’ to think as age-to-come people slightly than present-age people.”

One other useful clarification from the African bishop St. Augustine: Jesus didn’t say, “But now my kingdom” just isn’t here, but “just isn’t from here.” Jesus’s kingdom is here to the tip of this world-age (saeculi). At the tip of said age, Jesus’s distinction in Luke 16 will grow to be crystal clear when the harvesters, well, harvest.

The one thing that may free us from the secular commonly understood, is to first reclaim, and be free of the secular properly understood by Jesus and Paul.

We can’t be age-to-come people and present-age people. We are going to hate one age and love the opposite, we’ll hold to 1 age and despise the opposite. Because it is with God and mammon, so it’s with this age and the subsequent.

Adrian Sobers is a prolific letter author and commentator on matters of social interest.

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