Why Our “Secular” Age Is Still Deeply Spiritual

J.D. Greear | February 7th 2023

For more than a century, atheists have prophesied the coming of a brave, new world where belief in God is no longer necessary. Religious decline, they say, is the inevitable result of scientific progress, and soon religion will be enshrined in the museum of historical artifacts along with the sundial and the gasoline engine. The Beatles’ John Lennon captured the growing consensus back in 1966 when he said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right.”

It’s just that someone forgot to tell the Millennials.

Despite the best efforts of John Lennon, Ricky Gervais, and the New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and so on), Millennials and Gen Z-ers have just not been able to imagine there’s no heaven. A recent Washington Post article notes that as knowledge of science has grown, religious fervor has grown right along with it. That growth is not always reflected in “traditional” religious affiliations, but it’s there and it’s unmistakable. The future seems bright for religion: demographers predict, based on current trends, that the 21st century will be more religious than either the 19th or the 20th.

In the end, we need more than spirituality that resonates; we need truth, because things that aren’t real will eventually fail us.

In that article, Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, concludes, “Sociologists jumped the gun when they said the growth of modernization would bring a growth of secularization and unbelief. That is not what we’re seeing ... People need religion.”

The spiritual side of existence still resonates with us, even in our “secular” age.


What is not growing, however, is confidence in institutionalized religion. And so, growing side by side with our increasing thirst to engage with the spiritual is a movement called “deconstruction.”

The basic idea behind deconstruction is that religious claims are often thinly-disguised power grabs—leaders leverage religious institutions to maintain power. And sadly there is plenty of evidence to support this theory: organized religion has been used to justify and perpetuate bigotry, slavery, systemic racism, misogyny, genocide, and many other societal evils.

Religion has proven, in fact, to be a quite potent political tool. The media now uses “Christian” and “Evangelical” primarily as political classifications. So it’s hardly surprising that many assume that Christianity’s primary function in our society is the protection and propagation of Western, white, suburban, middle-class values.

For others, Christianity is less about power or politics and is instead about personal fulfillment—in the end, it is little more than a self-help strategy, a way to become a better and more fulfilled you. Skim through the titles of the most popular Christian books of the last couple decades and you’ll find ample evidence of this, too.

The spiritual side of existence still resonates with us, even in our “secular” age.

For these and many other reasons, deconstruction is not an altogether bad movement. It’s hard to dispute the claims that religion has often been commandeered to serve the interests of the powerful, to further a political agenda, or to cater to the existential felt needs of the consumer.

Deconstruction’s purpose, however, ought to be to recover the truth behind the artificial constructs. Deconstruction’s goal cannot be to deconstruct everything. If everything is deconstructed, eventually you’ll be left with nothing, and nothing is a great place for power-grabbing “strong men” to thrive. As C.S. Lewis said in his book The Abolition of Man, written in 1943:

“You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque ... a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” 

In other words, the purpose of sweeping out the lies is to get to the truth. Healthy deconstruction means separating truth from the unhealthy, artificial constructs that so often surround it.

Healthy deconstruction means separating truth from the unhealthy, artificial constructs that so often surround it.

Now, in saying that, I certainly don’t mean to imply that every religious institution is corrupt. Full disclosure: I’m a pastor, and so I lead a “Christian institution.” I just want to acknowledge that some of the energy behind the deconstruction movement is legitimate, and that our institutions have sometimes been an impediment to truth rather than the conduits of it. Having run up against the shadow-side of such institutions, many truth-seekers have felt forced to look outside of them for authentic spirituality. All of us need something to make sense of life and give it purpose.

In the end, we need more than spirituality that resonates; we need truth, because things that aren’t real will eventually fail us.

The Search for Authentic Spiritual Experience

But is there a way to know the difference between authentic and artificial spirituality?

And if institutions have failed you, is there a place you can still look to find truth?

What is real Christianity? And who gets to decide?

After all, Christianity sometimes has a “31 Flavors” feel. Conservative, liberal, Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, evangelical, non-denominational, high church, low church, Anglican, Baptist, etc., etc. If Christians can’t even agree among themselves on what Christianity is, how can you be expected to know which version is “correct”? Where should you start in your quest for authentic spiritual experience?

I want to help you navigate those questions, in a book organized not around my thoughts, insights, and experiences but around what the architects of Christianity said about it. A book about Christian essentials, back before all the institutions, hierarchies, protocols, and politics. What the Bible-writer Jude called “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3): The core. The essence. For those first Christians, the Christian faith was not a philosophy or an experience that merely “worked for them.” It did work for them—it made sense of life, and gave purpose in life, and gave peace about eternity—but the reason it worked was because it was true.

This is an extract adapted from Essential Christianity by J.D. Greear. Drawing on passages from Romans 1 to 12, J.D. Greear unpacks the essential aspects of the Christian message, showing both secular and religious people what the gospel is and how it addresses our most pertinent questions.

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