Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness

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Andrew Root
Ministry in a Secular Age
  • Ada, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , October
     2017.
     240 pages.
     $22.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780801098468.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Andrew Root’s Faith Formation in a Secular Age is the first of a three-volume series titled Ministry in a Secular Age that considers faith formation (2017), the pastor (2019), and a yet-to-be-published volume 3, all drawing from Charles Taylor’s seminal work A Secular Age. For Root, the crux of the matter is Taylor’s observation of a shift from belief in God to an easy and even inescapable nonbelief in God (ix-x), which Root describes as a seismic shift comparable to the introduction of a “new calendar” (x). He contends however, that we focus overly on what has been lost as opposed to the new, and in the case of this first book, he explores “the age of authenticity and triad of secularities” with the aim of following “the path in the age of authenticity that codes towards a consumer mentality, exploring how this particular coding has been a challenge to the church and the forming of faith” (xi). Root writes that we will “discover a dialogue on faith through a discussion with Pauline theology and with the Finnish interpretation of Luther and through an interactive discourse with hypostasis, kenosis, and theosis [HKT]” (xii), with hypostasis referring to one’s personhood remaining intact while “in” the person of Christ (137-139); kenosis referring to self-emptying (162-163); and, theosis referring to becoming like God through his enablement (171-178).    

The book is divided into two sections. Part 1 considers a history of the age of authenticity that poses a challenge to faith formation, while part 2 introduces the apostle Paul and proposes meeting the youthful spirit of the age with a spirit of ministry. Before embarking on these, Root describes a concern of contemporary church leaders regarding the loss of young people from the church—among others, the “Nones” (referring to persons unaffiliated with any organized religion)—and the evidence of a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) type of faith by those who remain—namely, “a kind of individualized, consumer mentality” Christian faith (xvi). Root also questions the wisdom of discussing faith as a purely natural and social reality studied sociologically as opposed to a divine action understood theologically.

Part 1 delves into a history of authenticity. He describes the transition from a medieval enchanted world that included transcendence to a post-Enlightenment world focused on one’s own individual experience. What followed was the influence of a group of 19th-century intellectuals who had turned away from the church because it repressed “their authentic human selves;” the use of sex, drugs, and rock and roll to free the individual from repression; the arrival of MTD; and the link between authenticity and youthfulness. Then, Root unpacks the history of youthfulness and American culture’s obsession thereof, including its influence on the church.

The more technical part 2 considers faith formation within our current secular age. Root argues that the focus on what has been lost, as opposed to the focus on the seismic cultural shift, is an oversimplified response. He unpacks three secularities: 1) sacred versus secular planes (secular 1); 2) religious versus a-religious spaces (secular 2); and 3) the negation of transcendence (secular 3). In secular 1, transcendence exists as a duality of the eternal and temporal; in secular 2, it is reduced to spatial locales locking it into the religious space; and in secular 3, the age of authenticity is walled by the immanent frame. Thereafter, he focuses on Saul-to-Paul’s faith, describing it as “a transcendent experience born out of negation (death, brokenness, and longing) . . . [and of] the encounter of Christ through the negation of the cross” (119). For Root, Paul’s faith is the mystical union of being in Christ. Root concludes this section stating that “faith then is always participation in the narrative arc of Jesus’ cross and resurrection by having your person ministered to and ministering to others” (149).

One section that particularly grabbed my attention was Roots’ unpacking of the song in Philippians 2:6-11. He contends that Paul sees an “although [x] not [y] but [z]” (167) structure in the hymn, and this is Paul’s structure for faith formation. This “xyz structure” points to the interplay of hypostasis (shared personhood), kenosis (self-emptying), and theosis (ontological transformation). In summary, “theosis means being a minister who shares in hypostasis through kenosis” (178). Root contends that the remedy for MTD is HKT—“hypostasis, kenosis, theosis.” The practical example of “xyz stories” provided at the end of the book (208-210) drove this concept home—from my head (cognitive) to my heart (will and emotions) to my hands (action). The book was worth reading if only for this truth.

Did the book succeed in achieving Root’s aim, namely to “discover a dialogue on faith through a discussion with Pauline theology and with the Finnish interpretation of Luther and through an interactive discourse with hypostasis, kenosis, and theosis” (xii)? In my estimation, most certainly, and therefore is highly recommended.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Shaun Joynt recently completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Date of Review: 
April 23, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrew Root is Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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