‘Reformation and Secularity’

SuspendedMy paper on ‘Reformation and Secularity’ has now been published in the Journal of Reformed Theology. The abstract reads:

Among a growing body of recent scholarship that has shown interest in the geneses, definitions, and assessments of secularism is Brad Gregory’s book The Unintended Reformation. This essay begins with a brief assessment of Gregory’s thesis. By way of response, it then offers four reflections on what are live challenges for those Christian communities committed to a refusal to withdraw from sharing and creating common life with others, and for whom the various reformations of the sixteenth century remain critical for the formation of their identities. The reflections concern (1) the character and conditions of belief; (2) the existence of the church in late Christendom; (3) the church’s worldliness; and (4) the character of faithful public life. Each of these themes has pressing implications for the ongoing life of the reformed project.

I understand that there are plans afoot to have a version of the paper translated into Spanish too. More on that to come.

Some Recent Watering Holes


Brenda L. Croft, ‘shut/mouth/scream’ (detail), 2016. Source


I haven’t posted one of these for a while. Here are a number of pages I’ve appreciated visiting this past week or so:

And this:

some friday link love

The biggest threat to science and scientific progress is not religion or religious believers, with our superstitious or supernatural beliefs, but the arrogance of those atheist fundamentalists among the scientific community who believe that science is the only legitimate and conceivable way to explain or understand the world – and who antagonise a sceptical public in the process.

Blurring visions

‘While (the Christian) vision is no longer the dominant one (in Australia), and may never have been, neither is any other at the moment. There is as yet no other vision abroad in our society which commands the same authority as ours does, the same sense of being the bottom line, the great reserve to be called on in times of real need. Many of the themes of the rallies are necessary problem solving and little more, and much in the spiritual supermarket is fair weather stuff, adjuncts to a prosperity which may now be vanishing. Unbelief, once a daring and rather aristocratic gesture, must now have exhausted most of its glamour; it is certainly no longer exclusive, or particularly rebellious. Much the same could be said of sexual indulgence, pornography and the like. Having by now surely lost most of its flavour of forbidden fruit, sexual licence has to justify itself in terms of whatever real satisfaction it can give; its utility as a bait to draw people out of traditional ways and beliefs, and if possible into new allegiances, must by now also be wearing thin. And it will be difficult at the very least, for the cult of unremitting youthfulness and physical beauty to survive in the era of aging populations which it has helped to produce. By now liberal humanism is as badly fragmented by dissension as our witness ever was, and its fiercest adherents are often covertly uneasy at its lack of gentleness, its readiness to force the facts and its desolate this-worldliness. Its unrelenting adulthood forces people onto the thorns of tragic complexity and the strange intractability of the world, and often when people who subscribe to it relax for a moment, their eyes are seen to contain an almost desperate appeal: please prove us wrong, make us believe there is more to it than this, show us your God and that Grace you talk about. We are more widely judged on our own best terms than we think, and more insistently expected to be the keepers of the dimension of depth than we find comfortable’. – Les A. Murray, ‘Some Religious Stuff I Know About Australia’ in The Shape of Belief: Christianity in Australia Today (ed. Dorothy Harris, et al.; Homebush West: Lancer, 1982), 25–6.

New Zealanders are becoming less religious

beliefSurprise, surprise: a recent survey has found that New Zealanders are becoming less religious:

‘There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows.

In a study by [Massey] University, 40 per cent of respondents say they have no religious affiliation compared to 29 per cent 17 years ago. Just over a third of New Zealanders describe themselves as religious.

Fifty-three per cent say they believe in God (although half of those say they have doubts), 20 per cent believe in some form of higher power and about third say they don’t believe or don’t know.

However, 60 per cent say they would prefer children to have religious education in state primary schools with strongest support for teaching about all faiths.

Researchers from the Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing received responses from 1000 people as part of the International Social Survey Programme.

Professor Philip Gendall, who led the research team, says the view that New Zealand is a very secular country, is supported by the relatively low levels of active involvement in religion. “The survey shows that God is not dead, but religion may be dying,” Professor Gendall says.

“There is evidence that New Zealanders have become less religious over the last 17 years; however, most New Zealanders believe in God and there has been no change in the proportion of those who say they believe in a higher power.”

“So perhaps the apparent decline in religiosity reflects a decline in traditional religious loyalties – rather than a decline in spirituality as such.”

The study found that significant numbers of New Zealanders believe in the supernatural with 57 per cent believing in life after death, 51 per cent believing in heaven and 36 per cent believing in hell.

A quarter of those surveyed think star signs affect people’s futures, 28 per cent say good luck charms work and 39 per cent believe fortune-tellers can foresee the future.

The survey also asked questions about euthanasia and 70 per cent of respondents supported assisted suicide for someone with a painful incurable disease, provided a doctor gives assistance’.

[Source: Scoop]

Mike Grimshaw on Aussie and Kiwi secularism

grimshawThis week, Radio NZ aired an informative interview with Mike Grimshaw (Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Canterbury) on the subject of Australian and New Zealand secularism. Among his claims is that ‘Religion in Australia is much stronger, and much more public, and much more of a political force than it is in New Zealand’.

And on cultural diversity: ‘Australia is struggling with a different type of diversity than New Zealand, and I think the residual Christianity in Australia (that is sitting there) and the rise of conservative Christianity in both the Catholic church and the Anglican church in Australia, and then the rising Pentecostal churches in Australia, makes it quite different, makes it more similar in many ways to America, than to New Zealand’.

And on rugby as New Zealand’s religion: ‘… [New Zealanders] get the sense that rugby is all consuming but it actually hasn’t been. What we lack is the balance of culture and tradition – other forms of celebration and identity; … [rugby] is more for Pākehā than anyone else; Maori have a whole culture that balances the role of rugby … But for secular Pākehā in New Zealand there seems to be this sort of thing that rugby is sitting there as an alternative institution; and often the claims of rugby being New Zealand’s religion are often [made] by those who are either celebrating the fact, or those who are opposed to the fact because they feel it is all-consumming. But the trouble is that it is only all-consumming in that there seems to be nothing to balance it …’.

Faith, law and democracy

In light of Rowan Williams’ recent lecture – and the reaction it brought to the surface – there’s an interesting piece in today’s Economist on ‘Defining the Limits of Exceptionalism’. Here’s a taste:

In every democratic and more-or-less secular country, similar questions arise about the precise extent to which religious sub-cultures should be allowed to live by their own rules and “laws”. One set of questions emerges when believers demand, and often get, an opt-out from the law of the land … What has upset the old equilibrium, say law pundits in several countries, is the emergence all over the world of Muslim minorities who, regardless of what they actually want, are suspected by the rest of society of preparing to establish a “state within a state” in which the writ of secular legislation hardly runs at all. The very word sharia … is now political dynamite.

Full article here. And I have written more on this here.

Also, NT Wright offers a helpful contribution to the post-lecture here in this Washington Post article.