(1st Things) John Wilson–A Not-so-Secular Age

I recently received review copies of two books on the same day. The first, a galley of a book to be published by Eerdmans near the end of July, was Encountering Mystery: Religious Experience in a Secular Age, by Dale C. Allison, Jr. The second, just out from Hurst, was Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World, by Elle Hardy. The fortuitous juxtaposition was ironic, of course, but more than that, it was very close to my heart. Like you, I expect, I have seen an ever-increasing number of articles and books intimating a radical shrinkage of “religion,” ranging from Ryan Burge’s The Nones to recent provocative columns by Philip Jenkins (to mention just two examples from a vast field). And behind this, of course, we must acknowledge the enormous, though to me still unaccountable, influence of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.

I will not issue any predictions. Many years ago, the admirable Joseph Ratzinger foresaw a radical shrinkage of the church, suggesting that, difficult as this passage might be, it could be purifying. I don’t know for sure what the future, even the “near future,” holds in this respect, but I do know that—for the moment, at least—we do not remotely live in a “secular age.” Imagine my surprise when, as I began to read Encountering Mystery, I discovered that Allison himself, despite the subtitle affixed to his book, also does not believe that we live in a “secular age.” On the contrary, and how strange. Whence then the framing? Perhaps that is why the superb scholar and memoirist Carlos Eire describes Encountering Mystery as a “marvelously daring book.” It is just that, describing many experiences (a few firsthand, many recounted by others) of the numinous, the mystical, the supernatural. I hope in due course that you will read it yourself. Nor, it’s important to add, are such experiences limited to Christians; see, for example, Susannah Crockford’s Ripples of the Universe: Spirituality in Sedona, Arizona.

Read it all.


Posted in Books, Pentecostal, Religion & Culture, Secularism