Review of Andrew Root's "Faith Formation in a Secular Age" (Part 10)

This is my attempt to help us see the forest of Root's presentation since we've looked at all the trees. If you need more on any of this you may reread the relevant section of my review or read the book itself! In future posts I will offer some evaluative comments. 

SECULAR 1, 2, 3                                                                                                                                                                 (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age from Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a Secular Age)

This is the world we live in:


Secular 1 (500 years ago)


                                                                                                             - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


-sacred/secular two realms on different temporal planes; not opposed to but open to each other.

-things (places, artifacts) were believed to possess transcendent powers (good or evil)

-self is porous, open to experiencing the sacred in the secular; desirous of finding the sacred in the secular; special people appointed to curate the sacred as others were engaged in doing the necessities of life.

-culturally, the door to the transcendent is wide open.

-this openness (porousness) to the transcendent (good or evil powers) dominated life.

Secular 2 (18th century on)


                                                                                                             - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Text Box: Religious Space                                                                                           SECULAR 

-The Enlightenment, with its scientific rationalism (additions), eroded the sacred realm and left us with only the secular realm (a-religious space).

-self is buffered from the experience of the sacred/transcendent by these changes and emphasis shifts to individual will constructing reality.

-people still practice religion but it is within a religious space they carve out by their own willing it. They invade the secular space seeking to make a place for religion within it. (Turf battle).

-faith here becomes about adherence to the institutions of religion (note the many adjectives prefacing faith, “sticky” faith, etc.). It is hard to define because it is unnecessary.

-the door to transcendence here is segregated into one space and partially blocked by cultural change.

Secular 3 (1960’s)

Text Box: Religious Space


-building on the additions of Secular 2 and adding more of its own, Secular 3 deepens and extends the implausibility and unlikelihood of the sacred/transcendence existing. “Secular 2’s obsession with the definition of culture and social locales, and its fight over turf through the willing of human minds, allows for the creation of a new frame to our social imaginary. And this frame crops out, almost completely, the doorway into the transcendent” – the immanent frame.

Thus, the conditions for belief have changed radically from Secular 1 to Secular 3.

-Self is more deeply buffered here and committed to the search for authenticity.

-talk of the sacred is still possible here, though negatively evaluated (silly, foolish, irrational, crazy)

-operating with faith in a Secular 2 sense (keeping people in church and believing something) and living under the gravitational pull of Secular 3 toward discounting the transcendent keeps us tied to the natural and imminent.

This is the cultural influence driving our history:


Root claims: “We are erroneously acting as though youth can save us, allowing our conceptions of faith to be seen as brand loyalty to the church over experiences of the living Christ, who comes to us through cross and resurrection, giving us his very self as the gift of faith.”

How did we get here? The postwar generation believed that a robust economy was a bulwark against the Soviets in the Cold War. Reared on duty as a chief value, they dutifully worked, spent, and accumulated. Conformity set in. Everybody sought the house in the suburbs, two kids, a good job. It was the age of the Organization Man. But the economy was robust. However, affluenza overtook us and that sense of duty eroded to a commitment and love for wealth and stuff. Those reared in the 60’s and 70’s became very consumeristic and materialistic.

Young people found their voice and niche in the 60’s. They opposed conformity with authenticity, each person seeking their own self and way in life. They sloughed off tradition and relationships in their search for authenticity. Institutions were in bad odor so they were ignored and avoided. The Youth Movement appeared fresh and vital. Ironically, marketers recognized the potential of such “youth” and made them a centerpiece of their work and vision. The rebels against conformity became the linchpin of the economy in many quarters during this time.

The church bought into this search for authenticity and identified it with the youth. Trying to appeal to the young and youthful became the hallmark of many churches, esp. in their youth ministry. Those trying to keep or replace “God pickets” in the cultural fence went full bore in this direction. Unfortunately, they bought more into the idea of youthfulness rather than actual young people, so made little progress toward their goal.

We live in an age of authenticity. It’s hard to imagine that’s going to change any time soon. The search for authenticity cannot be wholly tamped down into the immanent frame. Echoes of transcendence get through to folk from time to time and it is these echoes through which we might discover transcendence even in the immanent frame.

Here is how Faith Formation fared:

Faith Formation

Two Approaches

SUBTRACTION – the default way of approaching the context just reviewed is a narrative of loss. Crucial matter have been subtracted from our social imaginary (frame of reality).

-we’ve lost our moral compass

-we taken God and prayer out of school

-church attendance has declined

Faith formation programs are designed to me good these losses, put a finger in the dike to keep anything else from dropping out. These programs promise action to assuage our anxieties over loss.

Think of a picket fence. In this narrative, if a picket has broken and been removed, we replace the picket. We are busy replacing the pickets we imagined we’ve lost, trying to keep open spaces for our preferred pickets (like those mentioned above)

Problem: this narrative is wrong.

ADDITION – Charles Taylor narrates thus “secular age” differently, as a narrative of addition. “Modernity,” he writes, “is defined not just by our ‘losing’ an earlier world, but by the kind of human culture that we have constructed.”

There are no “God Gaps” in the picket fence we have constructed in our world. Faith, space for faith does not exist. New narratives, moral codes, and identities have been constructed with God in their purview.

 With no transcendent reality allowed, Christians live in a situation of perpetual doubt and uncertainty as a condition of their existence. The door to the transcendent is fully blocked by all we have added to our story.

STRATEGY: we assume we know what faith is, but this is the illusion of subtraction. Thus we attend to religious participation and particular beliefs of one’s tradition. The real issue is the loss of the plausibility of transcendence. “In a secular age where the self is buffered and the world is disenchanted, God is always on the verge of being reduced to a psychologically created imaginary friends.”

The real problem with subtraction stories is that they turn God, faith, etc., into concepts. Concepts make no demand on us and leave us free to pursue our authenticity. The young and youthful are often idealized for removing complexity and conceiving of life as a random bundle of concepts that can be kept or disregarded as one individually chooses.

Vicious cycle: Faith formation programs feel pushed to fight things like MTD and the “nones” but this mislocates the battle in SECULAR 2. Young people must have a robust and vigorous faith or we’ll lose them, so we give them pragmatic programs failing to realize that the gravitational pull of Secular 3 has already pushed them into a corner devoid of transcendence and the sacred.

Where do we turn now?

Secular 3, though, can’t quite block every echo of transcendence out. Our search for authenticity sometimes opens us up to more than the immanent frame and we sense a need to go further than it will allow. This is our portal to faith formation in this age – to discover how divine action and transcendence can be discovered and related to anew in our time.

And this happens when we meet Christ as our minister in our death experiences. Faith is a death experience (cross) that leads to new life (resurrection). Jesus ministers to us (raising us from death) by hypostasis (union with us), kenosis (humble self-giving), and theosis (transformation into being a minister as Jesus is a minister). In ministering to others in their death experiences we meet the real presence of Jesus.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is Secular 2’s kind of faith.

-Moralistic: about right and wrong

-Therapeutic: about feeling good

-Deism: a creator otherwise uninvolved with our lives until we have a crisis and need him

Root proposes an alternative: Hypostatic Kenotic Theosis (HKT)

-Hypostatic: real transformative union with Christ and the church

-Kenotic: self-emptying nature of God

-Theosis: God became human so humanity could become divine


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