How (not) to be a secular missionary

Written by: Jennifer Williamchild on January 13, 2019

When I reflect on my experience in Seminary, I realize that examining Christian history and theology did not offer me any answers; however fairly, made me comfortable through my inquiries. Instead of ending up being one that was certain of what she believes, I ended up being one who was not unravelled by exactly how a lot she doubts. Perhaps this is why I was captivated by what James K. A. Smith created the arrival to his book, How (not) to be secular: reading Charles Taylor. “While stark fundamentalists—either religious or secular—acquire all the push, what need to interest us are these fugitive expressions of doubt and longing, confidence and questioning. These lived expressions of ‘cross-pressure’ are at the heart of the secular.”<1>

Indeed, we are in the secular age, and also as Taylor describes, both believers and unbelievers occupy this very same area, which he calls the “brewing structure.” The impending frame “constitutes a ‘natural’ order to be contrasted to a ‘supernatural’ one, an ‘imminent’ people over against a feasible ‘transcendent’ one.”<2> This brewing framework is so common to us that it runs in the background of our consciousness, and acts as the founding point for our means of expertise the civilization. Smith explains, “the question isn’t whether or not we in habit the imminent structure, however just how.”<3>

The obstacle for us as believers in general, or for me as a missionary specifically, is to accept this fact of the secular age rather than base our engagement through the civilization on a wish that it ssuggest wasn’t so. Unfortunately, this is not what we tfinish to do. Thus, Smith astutely poses this question/challenge:

A lot of contemporary apologetics, bent on “deffinishing the faith” against the charges of the new atheists, seem to offer a transcendent “spin” as the alternate to immanent “spin.” What might a Christian apologetic look choose that supplies a transcendent “take” on our experience, even at suggest recognizing the force and also persuasive power of an immanent “take”?<4>,<5>

I think that this is one of the vital concerns that missionaries and missionary sending institutions must resolve in order to develop a process of evangelisation that is appropriate in the secular age. As Smith observes, we as Christians have the right to fail to acexpertise and validay the “difficulty of idea.”<6> When inhabit the immanent framework with a “transcendent spin,” we have the right to belittle bit or disregard the fact of those who have an “immanent spin.” Add in the fact of the “climb of the nones,” (the fact that many type of from Christian backgrounds are relocating amethod from a location of faith), and we challenge the opportunity that our very own “immanent spin” gives too rigid a framework for the inescapable visibility of doubt within the immanent framework of our secular people.

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As I sneed to think about my response to the obstacle that Smith presents here, I was reminded of somepoint I review in Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell.<7> Bell explains theology as our communal attempt to understand also God, and he explains that we have the right to either have “brick wall” theology or “trampoline spring” theology. Brick wall theology can be compared to having actually a “transcendent spin” in the lexicon of Smith. If one has actually “brick wall” theology, and one of the bricks gets called right into question then the totality point crumbles. For instance, imagine that seven-day creationism is component of one’s theology—and imagine that that perkid was challenged with undeniable proof that the earth was 14 billion years old. If the “young-earth brick” gets pulled from that wall, then that perboy believes all else—the reality of the scriptures, the life, fatality, and also resurrection of Christ, the afterlife—becomes suspect. Contrast this through “trampoline spring” theology, which permits for alters in our expertise of God to emerge as we have transforms in our expertise of the world—or in the parlance of Smith, we identify the “cross-pressure” that specifies our society. <8> A person through “trampoline spring” theology has more of a “transcendent take,” (as opposed to a “transcendent spin”) allowing for one spring (for instance, young earth theology) to come off without compromise the entire framework or basis of their theology.

Of course, this principle, as with many type of of Bell’s principles, gets dicey if taken to its extremes. A trampoline through only a handful of springs would cease to be a trampoline—it would ssuggest be a tarp. So I would certainly propose that tbelow are some immoveable springs that—like load-bearing walls—cannot be touched. But I execute think that having actually an extra flexible theology allows me to better witness to an unbeliever—and to sympathize through the “difficulty of belief.” Even more so, I recognize that such a theology allows me to stay in difficult conversations via adult youngsters that are teetering on the edges of ending up being “nones” themselves. And ultimately, “trampoline spring” theology allows me to have fellowship and also neighborhood via believers who differ from me on non-vital (non load-bearing) concerns of faith.

So possibly this is the beginning suggest for my response to Smith’s challenge.

<1> James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand also Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014). 14.

<2> Smith. 92.

<3> Smith, 93.

<4> Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular. 96.

<5> If I have actually taken properly, Smith supplies the word “spin” to define an over-confident method of inhabiting the immanent frame (the assurance that one’s method of reasoning is correct) and the word “take” as ssuggest an unchallenged method of inhabiting the immanent frame (not having considered one’s way of thinking as ideal or wrong, but blindly accepting it.)

<6> Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular, 5.

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<7> Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012).