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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Proffitt

Podcast: A Secular Age with Terry Feix

What does it mean to live in a secular world? How do we navigate this world as Christians? Charles Taylor addresses these questions in his book A Secular Age. Due to the size and complexity of A Secular Age, a helpful and more readable companion book is How Not To Be Secular by James K.A. Smith

Defining “Secular’

There are many different definitions for the term secular. One deals specifically with politics; church and state must be kept separate. The second deals with the public square, which must also be kept separated from religious faiths.

In both definitions, “secular” is completely removed from religion and is based purely on rational thought. It is free from overt religious commitments.

Finally, the third definition (and the one Taylor uses in his book), is where the conditions of belief have shifted in society from belief toward unbelief. Religion is viewed as an option rather than as a necessity.

How Did We Get Here?

A secular society results from attempts to explain the world without reference to God. The existence of other options that attempt to make sense of the world does not mean those options are true. This leads to the “evolution” of psychologically satisfied atheists who are content with non-religious theories about the world, whether true or false.

The Porous and Buffered Self

Taylor introduces the concepts of “The Porous Self” and “The Buffered Self”.

The Porous Self describes the permeability between the inward life of an individual and the outside world. This understanding of self relies on supernatural explanations such as demon possession and is vulnerable to the spiritual realm. Outward realities play a large role in determining inward realities.

The Buffered Self is removed from the supernatural, not subject to spiritual forces, and possesses clear and distinct boundaries. This view focuses on what is happening inside an individual. External realities do not dictate what happens inwardly.

The Porous Self absorbs the social norms of the community. The Buffered Self imposes individual social norms onto the community.

The Buffered Self is reversed through the gospel. The gospel brings an individual into a community of believers in the Church who are called to serve one another, live openly, and be held accountable.

For more detail on this topic, this article offers good insight with an excerpt from A Secular Age.

The Immanent Frame

Immanent means very close or nearby. The concept of the immanent frame is the idea of living in a completely bound world. Everything people go through can be fully defined within the frame of human experience. We can make sense of the world by that world alone. Nothing exterior is needed to explain my life and world.

This view misses the fact that in order to make sense of our world, we need something beyond this world. Our own little worlds as individual human beings can never fully answer questions about life. We need something transcendent and outside of ourselves.

What Can We Do?

Though he can be difficult to read, Charles Taylor provides language and conceptual frameworks to understand the world we live in. This is a secular age; Christianity is just one option among many, and it is now easier not to believe than it is to believe.

Christians should take advantage of the cracks within the foundation of the secular worldview. Much of this can be done through sharing the Christian faith in a one-on-one setting. We can plant truth-seeds. Worldview change takes place over time and this requires longevity and patience.

Be bold. Share the truth. Stand firm for the sake of Christ and His truth permeating the hearts of those who ascribe to a secular worldview. We ought to live boldly for Christ so that secularists wonder what makes us different.

Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas and is a writer and content manager for So We Speak.


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