Secularism | Book Review


There are many ways to understand secularism. In Secularism, Andrew Copson notes that secularism can be understood as a catchall term for “non-religious philosophies, morals, and personal world views” and is thus akin to atheism or humanism (1). It can also be understood as a “political settlement” (xvii) or “approach to the ordering of communities, nations, and states” (1). Though Copson himself is a secularist in the first sense, his book is about secularism in the second sense.

In chapter 1, Copson derives a working definition of secularism from the French scholar Jean Baubérot, who identifies three components:

  • separation of religious institutions from the institutions of the state and no domination of the political sphere by religious institutions;
  • freedom of thought, conscience, and religion for all, with everyone free to change their beliefs and manifest their beliefs within the limits of public order and the rights or others;
  • no state discrimination against anyone on grounds of their religion or non-religious world view, with everyone receiving equal treatment on these grounds (2).

Chapters 2 and 3 provide a thumbnail sketch of the history of secularism in Western and non-Western societies (Turkey and India), respectively.

Chapters 4 and 5 outline the cases for and against secularism, respectively. The case for focuses on secularism as “the best religion-state arrangement to provide freedom, equality, peace, and democracy in a modern society” (47).

The case against notes Christian, Islamist, Hindu, and Communist pushback against the secularist political settlement. If the first three are examples of theocracy, loosely defined, the latter is perhaps an example of a-theocracy. The common types of argument advanced against secularism are (1) “romantic conservatism,” whereby “each person is rooted in a particular society and tradition and is bound to their fellow members of that society by culture” (70); (2) “the myth of neutrality,” which points out that secularism “explicitly favors non-religious ways of reasoning, living, and thinking over religious ones” (73); and (3) “a community of communities,” according to which “it is the group rather than the individual member of society that needs to be treated impartially by the state” (76).

Chapter 6 goes beyond Baubérot’s working definition to limn the conceptual boundaries of secularism by contrasting, among other things, “two types of Western secularism”: (1) “laicism,” which is inherently anticlerical and exemplified by France; and (2) “Judeo-Christian secularism,” which draws on both Christianity and the Enlightenment and is exemplified by the United States (80–81).

And chapter 7 identifies “hard questions” and “conflicts”: the relationship between secularism and democracy, education, blasphemy laws, religious expression (in terms of religious garb and symbols, as well as of conscience), religious diversity, and the challenge of political religion (e.g., Islamism and Hindutva, among others).

An Afterword looks at the future of secularism, concluding that it is “the best way of organizing our common life in a way that is fair to all in the context of diversity” (125).

As a Christian in America, which has no living memory of an established church, I resonated with Copson’s working definition of secularism. What he later calls “Judeo-Christian secularism” is simply the way we have done things for over two centuries. By the same token, I can understand the criticisms of secularism he outlines in chapter 5, insofar as many secularists—including Copson?—seem to argue that secularism as a political settlement ultimately depends on secularism as an ideology. I disagree with that argument because I think it’s false, because I doubt it’s neutral, and because in effect it tends to accord more and more power to the state to the detriment of other forms of power in society.

Regardless, however, Copson’s Secularism is a brief and helpful overview of the subject and well worth reading by the nonreligious and religious alike.

Book Reviewed
Andrew Copson, Secularism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

My Year in Podcasting | 2020


I host the weekly Influence Podcast. Below are the 35 conversations I hosted with a variety of Christian leaders this past year. For all episodes, visit InfluenceMagazine.com/Podcast.

And if you’re looking for past years’ podcasts, here are the links: 2019 Podcasts |  2018 Podcasts | 2017 Podcasts | 2016 Podcasts | 2015 Podcasts.

Episode 238. Diane Langberg, “Christ Used His Power Redemptively, and So Should We!”

Episode 237. Mark Batterson, “Seven Habits That Reduce Stress and Increase Productivity”

Episode 236. Gary Tyra, “The Dark Side of Discipleship”

Episode 235. David Docusen, “Becoming a Church that Crosses Racial and Economic Divides”

Episode 234. Priscilla Pope-Levison, “Eight Models of Evangelism”

Episode 233. Beth Grant and Crystal Martin, “Moving the Ministry of Women from Theology to Practice”

Episode 232. Chris Colvin and Dick Hardy, “Improving Your Preaching in the Coming Year”

Episode 231. Jeffery Portmann, “Pioneers, Settlers, and the Local Church”

Episode 230. Don Everts, “The Better Way of Neighborly Love”

Episode 229. Karl Vaters, “After COVID, What?”

Episode 228. Jason Sniff, “Taking Your Small Group to the Next Level”

Episode 227. Scott Sauls, “Outrage Culture vs. Gentle Jesus”

Episode 226. Joshua Chatraw, “A Better Way of Doing Apologetics”

Episode 225. Eric Kniffin, “Where Is the Supreme Court Going with Religious Freedom?”

Episode 224. Mark DeYmaz, “The Multiethnic Church as a Solution to Racism”

Episode 223. Mark Entzminger, “How to Make Your Church Spiritually Safe for Kids”

Episode 222. Alex Bryant, “What Racial Reconciliation Requires”

Episode 221. Tim Enloe, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”

Episode 220. John Davidson, “How to Relaunch Your Church”

Episode 219. Chuck DeGroat, “The Narcissistic Leader”

Episode 218. Jay Kim, “After Digital Church, What?”

Episode 217. Don Everts, “Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors”

Episode 216. Alan Ehler, “How to Make Big Decisions Wisely”

Episode 215. John Davidson, “How to Lead When Your Church Is Closed”

Episode 214. Jason Thacker, “What Christians Should Know about Artificial Intelligence”

Episode 213. Joe Dallas, “When Someone You Love Is Gay”

Episode 212. Dr. Brandon Crowe, “A Biblical Approach to Productivity”

Episode 211. John Mark Comer, “How to Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry from Your Life and Ministry”

Episode 210. Meghan Musy, “How to Read Proverbs for Preaching”

Episode 209. Dan Busby and Warren Bird, “What Effective Board Governance Looks Like”

Episode 208. Tommy Barnett, “The Power of ‘What If?'”

Episode 207. Doug Clay, “What’s Happening in the Assemblies of God Today?”

Episode 206. Amy Farley, “Ministry in the Aftermath of Sexual Violence”

Episode 205. Matthew Kim, “How to Improve Your Preaching in 2020”

Episode 204. Scott Wilson, “Setting Your Church’s Agenda with Prayer”

Christ Used His Power Redemptively, and So Should We! | Influence Podcast


“Jesus uses his power to protect, to expose, and to restore dignity,” writes Dr. Diane Langberg in her book, Redeeming Power. “He calls his people to be in the world using our power under his authority, displaying his character by speaking truth, shedding light, and tending and protecting the vulnerable. How does this become a reality in the lives of individual Christ followers?”

That’s the question I’m exploring with Dr. Langberg in this episode of the Influence Podcast, the final episode of the 2020 season. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Diane Langberg is an internationally recognized psychologist and experienced counselor. She directs her own counseling practice, cofounded the Global Trauma Recovery Institute at Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and serves on the board of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment). Her most recent book is Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, published by Brazos Press.

P.S. I reviewed Dr. Langberg’s Redeeming Power here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Becoming a Church that Crosses Racial and Economic Divides | Influence Podcast


Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”

King said this about race in 1963, but it is still largely true today. According to sociologist Michael O. Emerson, a multiracial or multiethnic church is one in which at least 20% of attendees do not belong to the majority race or ethnicity. In 2019, just 23% of churches crossed that threshold.

And there is evidence of a growing class divide in church attendance, with working class Americans less likely to attend church than middle class Americans, at least among whites.

The questions pastors and other church leaders need to ask themselves is this: Does this concern me? And what can I do about it? Those are two questions, among others, that I am asking David Docusen in this episode of the Influence Podcast.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

David Docusen is author of Neighborliness: Finding the Beauty of God Across Dividing Lines. A credentialed Assemblies of God minister, he has 20 years of ministry experience as a pastor, church planter, and community developer.

SPONSOR COPY

The Better Way of Neighborly Love | Influence Podcast


“While the divisiveness of our current moment in the United States may be regrettable and fatiguing, it also represents an incredible opportunity for Christians,” writes Don Everts in the current issue of Influence magazine. He goes on to say, “As church leaders, our job is not only to help Christians recognize the temptations we’re facing, but also to highlight another way: a way of neighborly love that can cut through all the yelling and point others to the beauty of the gospel.”

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Everts about how Christians can be good neighbors in a divided culture. This conversation arises from his Influence cover story, “Neighboring for the Common Good,” which is based on his forthcoming book, The Hopeful Neighborhood, published by InterVarsity Press.

Don Everts is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and associate pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.

After COVID, What? | Influence Podcast


“With the massive disruptions we’re facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 and beyond, the problems could not be more disruptive or obvious,” writes Karl Vaters. “From the lockdowns, to the unspeakable pain of the illness and death of loved ones, to the colossal financial upheavals, it is likely that we’ve never faced such a long-term disruption in our lifetimes, possibly even surpassing those that resulted from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Karl Vaters about what churches—especially smaller churches—can do to recover from the massive disruptions of the COVID pandemic. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Karl Vaters is teaching pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California; a small-church leadership guru; and author of The Church Recovery Guide, published by Moody. (He’s also a longtime friend and fellow Assemblies of God minister.) He blogs regularly at KarlVaters.com.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Multiethnic Church as a Solution to Racism | Influence Podcast


The death of George Floyd has sparked a nationwide conversation about racism. As our fellow citizens talk about how to reform public policy, it’s also important for the Church to look inward and see how we can better embody the truth of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Mark DeYmaz about how the multiethnic church offers a solution to the problem of racism. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

One of the architects of the contemporary multiethnic church movement, Mark DeYmaz is the cofounder, CEO, and president of Mosaix, “a relational network of pastors and planters, denominational and network leaders, educators, authors, and researchers alike, that exists to establish healthy multiethnic and economically diverse churches for the sake of the gospel throughout North America and beyond.” This October, Fortress Press will release a new version of his classic book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Radiant Life Sunday School curriculum.

As a leader, it can be frustrating when you don’t have the tools your teachers need to engage students in the Bible. Radiant Life Sunday School curriculum is designed to be engaging and easy to use for any teacher, so that leaders can create a thriving ministry that changes lives. Radiant Life is also available in Spanish.

Visit RadiantLifeCurriculum.com to learn more.

Compassion and the Mission of God | Book Review


Compassion and the Mission of God has two purposes, which Rupen Das articulates in the book’s Introduction, the first as a statement and the second as a question. First, the statement: “This book will revision some of the biblical narratives to try and understand where the poor and the broken fit within the economy of God and why” (15–16, emphasis in original). Second, the question: “Why does God care for the poor, and as a result, why should we?” (16, emphasis in original).

Chapter 2, “Issues That Frame the Discussion on Compassion” (17–41), examines “four foundational issues that influence different perspectives on whether compassion is a fundamental biblical value and whether the church should respond to poverty and other social issues. These are: (1) how is Scripture read and understood, 92) can theology be contextual, (3) the exact nature of the mission of the church, and (4) how one views the poor” (18).

Chapter 3, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Old Testament” (43–71), examines what the Hebrew Bible teaches about the cause and cure of poverty. Das argues that the Wisdom tradition largely sees poverty as the result of “laziness and lifestyle choices” (71), the legal and prophetic tradition took a more systemic view of the matter. “A social-scientific and historical approach to the study of poverty in the Bible helps explain the history and the social, economical, and political contexts that created and entrenched poverty in Old Testament society and which then are the reason for the teaching on the issues of poverty, care of the poor and of justice” (70). Obviously, these two explanations—bad choices, unjust systems—continue to characterize the contemporary debate over poverty.

Chapter 4, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Gospels” (73–86), focuses on “the socioeconomic context of the Gospels rather than an analysis of the teachings on the poor and poverty” (73). Das argues that the causes of poverty in Jesus’ day were the same as in the Old Testament, though with different elites. “The causes of poverty continued to be exploitation by the ruling business, political and religious elite” (85).

Chapter 5, “Teachings and Practices of the Early Church: The New Testament and Church History” (87–103), address three topics: (1) “the context within which the early church lived” (87); (2) “the practice of charity by the early church and its impact” (88), showing that “Christian and Jewish charity”—which Das sees as one thing, not two, so perhaps Judeo-Christian would be the better term—was “a completely new departure from existing [i.e., Greco-Roman] values and practice” (92); and (3) “the teachings of the early church fathers” (88). Das argues that the early church clearly valued charity, but also notes that the justice theme of both Old and New Testaments is not as prominent. Regardless, “The Central truth through all the teaching was that the only way one could demonstrate that they were true followers of Christ, was if they showed mercy and compassion toward the poor” (102–103).

Chapter 6, “Theological Challenges” (105–121) looks at three theological debates that have divided Protestant Christianity, affecting how it ministers compassionately to the poor: (1) the nature of the gospel, whether Jesus’ “kingdom of God” or Paul’s “justification by faith”; (2) the nature of “righteousness,” specifically whether it is “moral perfection” or “obligation”; and (3) the nature of the Millennium, where some interpretations effectively separated “evangelism and discipleship” from “justice and compassion.”

Chapter 7, “Healing the Divide” (123–134), surveys the history of the modern missions movement regarding the relationship between “the verbal proclamation of the gospel” and “addressing social and physical needs” (123). Das examines the great century of Christian missions (the nineteenth), which practiced both, though without “a clear theological understanding of whether social issues should be addressed” (123). In the nineteenth century, if Liberation Theology and the World Council of Churches swung to the extremes of social concern over evangelism, evangelical missiologists (led by Donald McGavran) swung the other way. The Lausanne Covenant brought evangelism and social concern back into relationship for evangelical missions, with evangelism still considered “prior” in some sense. The integral mission of the Micah Declaration, Das argues, “finally provided the right balance between the verbal proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of its reality. Neither operates independently and each has significant implications for the other” (134).

Chapter 8, “Transformation or Witness: The Challenge of Transformation” (135–163), asks: “Does the compassion of God focus on only meeting immediate needs through charity or is God concerned with the underlying issues that cause poverty and in the transformation of the world?” (135). It answers affirmatively. However, it adds: “But it is God who transforms and he invites us to partner with him. God is already in the process of redeeming human beings and creation, and will transform us all when created time melds into eternity” (161, emphasis in original).

Chapter 9, “Transformation or Witness: Being a Witness” (165–179), takes up the flip side of the coin. Christian mission involves both transformation and witness. This call to conversion is a hallmark of evangelical missions in particular. However, missionaries who combine evangelism and social concern must face several challenges: (1) “there should be no conditionality in the assistance that is provided” (175), and “there is no conditionality and proselytism to force individuals to change their social group and religious affiliation” (179). Bearing witness is the Church’s work. Converting people is God’s.

Chapter 10, “The Face of Compassion” (181–195), outlines “three dimensions of compassion” that God exemplifies and that his disciples should exemplify too: (1) “God seeks to bless human beings and his creation”, (2) “He defends and protects those who are the victims of evil,” and (3) “God desires his creation to be restored to him” (186, emphasis in original). These three dimensions—blessing, justice, redemption—should also characterize the people of God.

Chapter 11, “Conclusion: A God of Compassion” (197–202), rounds out the book with this strong statement: “The ministries of compassion and social justice are in effect prophetic ministries because they embody the values at the core of the kingdom of God. Most people encounter the invisible kingdom for the first time through these ministries and realize that maybe there is an alternative to the realities of the world they live in. This opens them to the possibility of a God who is compassionate” (201). And, “To be compassionate in the midst of a culture which robs people of life is what it means to be the people of God in the world that we live in” (202).

Book Reviewed
Rupen Das, Compassion and the Mission of God: Revealing the Invisible Kingdom (Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2015).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

How to Relaunch Your Church | Influence Podcast


After weeks of being closed by state and local public health orders, many churches are beginning to reopen their doors for ministry to their communities. Rather than merely reopen, however, the present moment offers churches an opportunity to relaunch. We’ll explore what relaunching your church might look like in this episode of the Influence Podcast.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. My guest today is Dr. John Davidson. He is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors.

Over the past few weeks, CMNLead.com has published—and will continue to publish—resources to help local churches respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish. One resource you’ll want to look at particularly is the Church Relaunch Kit, which we’ll talk about in this conversation.

The Narcissistic Leader | Influence Podcast


“While it seems as if the church should be the last place narcissism shows up,” writes Chuck DeGroat, “it does indeed—in ordinary laypeople, in clergy across all theological spectrums, and in systems that protect narcissistic people and foster abuse.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking with DeGroat about what narcissism is, how it deforms both individuals and systems, and how churches can heal from the emotional and spiritual abuse that come in narcissism’s wake. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Chuck DeGroat is professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He’s also author of When Narcissism Comes to Church, published earlier this year by InterVarsity Press.

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