A thoughtful piece by Rory Shiner about the differences between nominalism and secularism and how the worshipping church responds differently to each.
The observation that nominalism (people who identify as Christian without meaningfully following Jesus, while following a form of traditional church observance) and secularism (people who don’t identify as Christian or followers of Jesus, while having no knowledge of the Gospel or the actions of the church) are quite different and require nuanced expressions of church life and behaviour to help people understand the Gospel and where they are in relation to Jesus +gasp+ is helpful in thinking about church corporate practice.
Part of Shiner’s article:
The post-war generation was fighting a crucial battle. They saw the threat nominalism posed to the gospel.
But today, it would not occur to the average younger Christian that reciting the Lord’s Prayer might be inauthentic, precisely because no one they know outside the church knows the Lord’s Prayer at all. Going to church in a building that looks like a church doesn’t illicit a PTSD response in the under-40s. They find it at least neutral, maybe even attractive. They are not shadow boxing with nominalism. In fact, they’ve often never met a person who is nominal. By the time you’ve bothered to say you’re a Christian in this culture, chances are you are serious about being on Team Jesus.
Currently, the great threat to the gospel is not nominalism, but secularism.
The fact that the wider culture is in some ways interested in Christian practices is fascinating. It’s a vote against the listlessness, the disorder, the aimlessness, and the sheer loneliness of secularism.
In 1950s Australia, Christianity gave our culture a rhythm of work and rest. We had a universally observed Sunday, an expectation of shared family meals, and a deep sense of connection with the local neighbourhood or parish. Now we live in a world of 24-hour shopping. Sunday looks suspiciously like Every Other Day. Secular life is disordered life. You can be watching cat videos at 2pm on a Monday in your office, and replying work emails from the bath at 10pm on a Saturday.
Productivity literature is now full of advice that sounds suspiciously Sabbatarian. Young urbanities choose walkable neighbourhoods. They want to know their locality, buy from the same shop, know the name of the grocer, and so on. My grandma would find it all strangely familiar.
Or consider the rise of atheist churches in London. Young, secular Londoners gathering in churches to sing bad John Lennon songs and share fellowship. They have turned on its head our assumption that people like Jesus, they just don’t like the church. It would seem the other way around. They like church, they just don’t like Jesus.