Grounds Journal

Book Review: Our Secular Age

Grounds Journal
Book Review: Our Secular Age

I typically wouldn’t recommend books about other books. It is often much more valuable to just read the primary text, but not many people will take on the task of tackling Charles Taylor’s 896 page A Secular Age where Taylor looks at the secularization of culture in the course of the last 500 or so years. Now, 10 years after A Secular Age’s original publication, The Gospel Coalition’s Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Tayloroffers readers a useful tool to help engage with Taylor’s work. 

The collection of essays is edited by The Gospel Coalition’s editorial director Collin Hansen and includes contributions from a variety of scholars, pastors, and authors who apply, critique, and build upon Taylor’s work. Although specifically written for the Christian church, many of the essays offer an interesting perspective on the secularism of contemporary culture.

THERE IS HOPE

Hansen sets the tone well in his introductory chapter “Hope in Our Secular Age.” There, he establishes that “faith is now more difficult than unbelief”(4), but he acknowledges that this reality should not leave the believer hopeless. Drawing from Taylor as well as Timothy Keller, Hansen points out that regardless of belief or unbelief, evil does not go away, and the culture continues to desire good over evil. To this, he concludes that secularism “is not sustainable. God continues to haunt this secular age with our desire for goodness”(9). 

This theme echoes throughout the rest of the 13 chapters, as well, but gets applied in different ways, beginning with the highly academic and ending with the artistic. In between, they cover pastoral roles, church, health, and politics. Together, these essays, though individually concise, apply Taylor’s writing to many different spheres of influence. 

CRITIQUING AND REFORMING

Alongside Taylor, many of the writers in Our Secular Age critique modern ideas of the self. Specifically, they challenge the idea of expressive individualism. Alastair Roberts describes this as a time “within which each of us must forge for ourselves whatever bespoke form of identity rests most comfortably on our shoulders”(67).

However, the writers do not merely critique. They offer up a case for something that better feeds the hunger found in modernity: a deeply rooted, life changingdevotion to Christ. Each essay, with topics ranging from liturgy to Kanye West, points out the dissatisfaction of our culture. 

Mike Cosper’s analysis of Kanye’s SNL performance of Ultralight Beam does this especially well by frequently referring to the song’s hook “I’m trying to keep the faith / but I’m looking for more.” Cosper draws from this to show that a world void of transcendence (theimmanent frame, as Taylorcalls it), “is ultimately a dissatisfying place to live because it shackles the human heart inside a world that is simply too small for it”(154).

LOVE THE MODERN WORLD

In all the critiques, arguments, and analyses, readers find a collection of essays from people who deeply love the modern world and want to see it fulfill its greatest potential. As Greg Forester proclaims, “The more ardently you love the modern world, the more power you will have to reform it”(110). This is the goal of Our Secular Age. It offers a critique and a solution. It poses questions and attempts to answer them. Most of all it brings hope to those dissatisfied with our current culture, those who are looking for more. 

You can purchase the book here.

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