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How the Sacred-Secular Divide Impacts the Church

by Hugh Whelchel
in Blog
An overwhelming number of Christians today live schizophrenic lives, existing as a secularist at work and in the public square, but then as a religious believer in their private lives.
It has become commonplace to say that we live in a pluralist society – not merely a society which is in fact plural in the variety of cultures, religions and lifestyles which it embraces, but pluralist in the sense that this plurality is celebrated as things to be approved and cherished (Lesslie Newbigin).

In his classic The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin helps us understand why, in our current pluralist culture, it’s difficult to present the truth that the gospel is a redemptive call to restore flourishing to God’s very good creation. One of the biggest obstacles to presenting this truth is the sacred-secular divide. Sadly, the evangelical church has bought into this idea, which has, in turn, given the idea power to be imposed by the culture as truth. Where did the sacred-secular divide come from and how is it impacting the church’s ability to be salt and light in the public square?

The Sacred-Secular Divide

Newbigin suggests that we in the West live in a “plausibility structure” that separates truth into two categories, one we call facts and the other we call beliefs. From the time of the Enlightenment, science is said to be the domain of facts. Religion, on the other hand, is a matter of values and beliefs.

This paradigm shift has produced a view that everything in our world falls into two categories: secular (things that can be proven like science) and sacred (things that have to be accepted by faith, like religion).

Why the Sacred-Secular Divide Must End

This explains one of the most significant problems in the current evangelical church. An overwhelming number of Christians today live schizophrenic lives, existing as a secularist at work and in the public square, but then as a religious believer in their private lives. They seem unaware of the Apostle Paul’s charge to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31) because they are caught up in this sacred-secular divide.

As a result, the gospel becomes only a bus ticket to heaven and, except for some private religious time, has minimal effect on how many Christians live their lives. They have lost the vision of work as a primary means God designed to bring flourishing to his creation (Gen. 1:28). They have missed the opportunity to be salt and light in the public square and help positively shape the culture around them.

It’s time we end the sacred-secular divide. Our response as Christians to our heavenly Father should be unlimited, all encompassing, and comprehensive. It should not be limited to church on Sundays and some personal devotions during the week. It should appear in every dimension of our lives.

By demolishing this dichotomy, we realize that God cares about everything we do. Our response to God’s power and glory can come from every thought, word, and action if we steward all we have to his glory and honor.

This article has been adapted and reprinted with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appeared here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit www.tifwe.org to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

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