Religious Secularity

This post is part of an ongoing series investigating “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which the world religious approach and understand the Divine. Today’s post engages a chapter of Mark C. Taylor’s work, After God.

Map of the InternetIn this reflection, I want to focus on Taylor’s chapter “Religious Secularity,” specifically his discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity and its implications for understanding Protestant theology’s impact on the formation of the “secular” West. From the perspective of one having been trained in theological method and the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, there are a number of points that Taylor draws out in his discussion worthy of consideration. First, Taylor’s relation of the Trinitarian scheme to visions of the “interplay between God, self, and world” is fundamentally positive, and would seem to serve as an excellent starting point for Taylor’s constructive theological claims for the 21st century (139). This tri-part reality he effectively ties into conceptions of “creative mergence” (later developed by Hegel) as the source of appropriate theologies of nature, history, and culture (142).

Beginning on page 154, however, Taylor shifts from a discussion of Ancient Trinitarian thought to considerations of the doctrine in light of Hegel and Luther, subsequently tying conceptions of divine reality to the genesis of secularity from Protestant theology. While there is little to quibble with regarding this general argument, I wonder, does Taylor’s failure to explicate the implications of the Trinitarian theme throughout a broader swath of Christian theology undermine his later attempts at the construction of a relational theology? This is to say, there are forms of relational theology that exist pre-Taylor in the marketplace of Christian ideas which are not so fundamentally postmodern in their philosophical underpinnings. Though brief, Taylor does note the Cappadocian Fathers and the importance of their Christological conceptions. However, his argument concerning the appeal of his relational theology (formed in the postmodern context) does not appear to satisfactorily explain why Christians should not rely upon pre-existent forms of relational theology.

After God, TaylorA second strand of Taylor’s argument worth considering is his discussion of the Christological centrality of the Trinity, noting that “the fate of Christianity and, by extension, the history of the West” had turned on this question (141). Taylor also helpfully highlights the central claim of “Unless God becomes incarnate, salvation is impossible” (147) and the relatively positive view of humanity and the created order that find implicit verification within a fully God-fully man understanding of Christ (149). I am curious to see the Christological implications of his forth coming constructive theology, especially in light of the importance that he admits Christ has held in traditional forms of Christianity. Taylor also helpfully moves past a dismissal of the historic creeds as injections of Greek philosophy into the Jesus Movement, instead casting any apparent paradoxes and linguistic ambiguities as the early Church attempting to articulate their clear ideas concerning Christology and the Trinity through a means not precisely attuned to their purposes, writing that, “The problem with the orthodox formulations of the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity is that they attempt to express organic unity in arithmetical terms.” (152) Taylor’s discussion at this point demonstrates the relative uneasy with which Christian faith and Western reason sit with each other; not because there is any inherent discontinuity between the two, but because each system of thought relies on a different language and grammar than the other. With this in mind, moving forward it will be interesting to see how Taylor’s proposal reconciles Christological and Trinitarian claims with modern conceptions of reason, and if he does so in a way admissible to both sides. That is to ask, who is going to buy this effectively postmodern re-conception of the Trinity? At this point, while Taylor’s overarching thesis concerning the Protestant roots of Western secularity has been convincing, his set up for constructive theology has been harder to affirm.

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One thought on “Religious Secularity

  1. Pingback: The Divine Quest, East and West (Part III) | Pursuing Veritas

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