In this episode of TGC Q&A, Mike Cosper and Alan Noble address the question, “How has secularism shaped contemporary Christianity?” They discuss:
- How secularism has shaped the hearts of church leaders (0:28)
- Entrepreneur-shaped models of church (1:27)
- Uncontested adoption of technologies (3:20)
- When worship feels categorically like every other experience (4:23)
- Leaning into the purposeful differences (5:19)
Explore more from TGC and these contributors on this subject:
- Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Mike Cosper: When I think about the ways that secularism has shaped the local church, the first thing that comes to mind to me is to go to the heart, the way secularism has shaped the heart of the church’s leaders. And what I mean by that is I think the problem of life in a secular age is one where there’s this core distrust of transcendence, this core condition of doubt. And as a result, what happens for a lot of pastors and church leaders is, consciously or unconsciously, they’re going, “I don’t know that I have a great deal of confidence that God is actually going to show up in this gathering. So I’ve got to make something happen. I’ve got to make people feel something. I’ve got to make them feel moved. I’ve got to make them feel engaged.” And that gives birth to a whole variety of wackiness in contemporary American churches.
Alan Noble: Yeah, that’s interesting. When I think about leadership and secularism, one of the things that come to mind is that I think for many churches the marketplace, specifically business and entrepreneurship, has sort of become the model. And because the church is seen as one force, one institution competing against a million other institutions. And so this shows up in an interesting way. So you’ll find leadership as this major theme among pastors. They’re very focused on leadership, which is sort of just coming straight into the business world, which it’s good to know leadership skills. But if you’re thinking about it, I think from from a sort of pragmatic worldly perspective I think that says something about it. But also when you think about church growth, when you think about church branding, when you think about church, events like you described.
Because in a world where there’s lots of content, whether it’s in film, music, whatever, you have to provide an event. This is what people want. They want an event. This is why they’re not buying music. They’re going to concerts. And that’s where musicians make money. Same thing happens in church. If there’s lots of churches to choose from, lots of different things, you’ve got to have an event that’s exciting that draws people in. And again, I think what’s happening is pastors unconsciously adopting the business best practices. And in the short term, I think it’s often successful in getting people into the pews. What terrifies me is if they’re drawn in by that, what happens when something else more engaging, more interesting, and that is more socially acceptable comes up?
Mike Cosper: Yeah. The adoption of certain technologies gets uncontested as part of this sort of phenomenon. Again, we’re saying like we’ve got to give people the best experience possible. So whatever technology is available, we’re going to use it in and make this more exciting. And the example I always like to talk about as image magnification. This is something that a lot of churches adopt sort of unthinkingly. Like we’ve got a big room, let’s get cameras, let’s get the pastor blown up on the screen so you can see his facial expressions. And there’s there’s a great argument to make. Oh, you see his face. And it’s more engaging. And it’s all this. And I always just asking, “Yeah, but where else in our culture are people experiencing image magnification? Sporting events, rock concerts, political rallies.” And always the guy’s face that’s being magnified is the hero. These are heroes. These are superheroes. And so when we adopt that technology thoughtlessly, it comes with a certain kind of meaning that you almost can’t divorce it from.
Alan Noble: And so how this is secular is that being in church, worshiping together in church is not this solemn sacred act where we are worshiping a living and transcending God. Because of the medium, it comes to feel like all the other events that we are involved in. So if you went to a concert last night and you saw that image magnification, you’re thinking, “Okay, this is that same kind of thing. It’s another interesting thing. It might be enriching to my life. It might give me some, truth.” But it’s fundamentally the same category of thing in the world. In order to be in the secular age, we have to say, “This is categorically different. The faith is not the same. And if it looks exactly the same, we can’t expect people to believe it’s different.”
Mike Cosper: And fundamentally what’s happening when the churches gathering is different than everything else.
Alan Noble: It should be. Yes, that’s right. That’s right. It should be. And we have resources for this. I mean, built into the liturgy, the Lord’s table, the Lord’s supper is inherently something that says, “No, we are communing with the living God.” And that’s from a secular perspective crazy. But we have to lean into that and pull away from videos advertising the men’s Bible study and things like that.
Mike Cosper: Absolutely.