Recognizing God’s Active Presence in a Secular Age: Recovering a Theology of Common Grace for Christian Spirituality

By David Brisben.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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In the beginning of his epic work, The Secular Age, Charles Taylor claims that in our present secular society, a person can be engaged fully in public life without ever encountering God, that is, without coming to an unmistakable awareness of the crucial importance of the God of Abraham for this whole enterprise called Western Culture. Apart from those few moments of private ritual or prayer, such an unmistakable encounter is lost. This would have been inescapable in earlier centuries in Christendom (2007). My 20 years of experience teaching college students in a university setting who primarily identify with the Christian tradition largely supports Taylor's assertion. Many of my students not only have learned to navigate through our secular age oblivious to the presence of the God of Abraham in public life, but, apart from a few vestigial rituals of prayer and corporate worship, acknowledge this loss. In response to this perceived loss, I developed a course of study in which students are taught to recognize the active presence of God in culture, in creation, and in human conscience. These three areas, culture, creation, and human conscience are emphasized not only because they touch virtually every aspect of public life, but also because they are the areas emphasized in Christianity's historic understanding of common grace. In this essay I present 8 case studies involving 40 students that illustrate how the recovery of a theology of common grace expands a person's awareness of the active presence of God in public life.

Keywords: Secular Age, Active Presence of God, Common Grace, Public Life

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.1-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 759.334KB).

Dr. David Brisben

Professor, Division of Biblical and Religious Studies, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas, USA

Since 1991, I have been a professor of religious studies at John Brown University, where, for the past 10 years, I have also served as the Chair of the Division of Biblical and Religious Studies. Prior to my tenure at JBU, I served as a cross-cultural missionary for 8 years working in community development and theological education with the Presbyterian Church of the Huasteca in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Before that, I was in pastoral ministry in 2 different parishes in Atlanta, Georgia. I grew up in the Carolinas, received my M.Div. from Erskine Theological Seminary and my Ph.D. in spiritual theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.