Secularism And The Christian Mission -- By: Edmund P. Clowney

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 21:1 (Nov 1958)
Article: Secularism And The Christian Mission
Author: Edmund P. Clowney


Secularism And The Christian Mission

Edmund P. Clowney

IT is easy to find in secularism the greatest obstacle to the Christian mission in our time. On the one hand, its triumph in the West has made the mission of the church worldwide in a disastrous sense, for while the missionaries of the Christian West have gone to the ends of the earth, the homelands of the mission have been progressively de-Christianized. On the other hand, secularism as well as the gospel has been spread to the ends of the earth, and there, too, it seems to be the spirit of secularism rather than the reviving ethnic religions that offers the greatest resistance to the gospel.

What in fact is secularism? One author remarks, “To describe it is like describing the air about us. No logical knife can dissect it; it is too pervasive and fluid to be captured in the net of any system of ideas. We are so completely adjusted to it that we do not mark it … .”1

However true and discouraging such an observation may be, the demands of the Christian mission require a Christian evaluation of secularism. At the outset a definition does not appear to be difficult. Loemker, who was just quoted as to the evasive and pervasive qualities of secularism does not hesitate to proceed immediately to a definition: “Secularism is practical atheism”.2 This is the consensus of a number of definitions. Georgia Harkness, for example, says, “Secularism is the organization of life as if God did not exist”.3 Goodrich C. White declares, “Secularism, as a philosophy of life or as a way of life, leaves God out”.4 Reinhold Niebuhr has said,

“Secularism is a philosophy of life and a way of living which denies the Holy, the Ultimate, the Sacred; in more explicit terms, denies God”.5

These definitions agree in using a negative form. Secularism is understandable only in terms of a denial of God, or at least, of the Holy. Gerald O. McCulloh calls attention to this, stating that, “As a philosophy, secularism has historically borrowed its frame of reference from a more inclusive world view”.6 McCulloh refers to Walter Lippmann’s demonstration of the delimitation of meaning which is characteristic of contemporary secularism.7

Most of the definitions of secularism are also agreed on the element of pra...

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