Greg: Charles Taylor believes humans are naturally ordered toward the good, which means they will always feel a religious impulse. Yet partly due to the influence of what he calls “Reform” he believes the social imaginary has become so secularized that our fundamental religious impulse is interpreted in non-religious ways.

Reform is fundamentally “the attempt by élites to make over society, and the life and practices of non-élites, so as to conform to what the élites identify as higher standards.” Reform is not a strictly Protestant affair, although Taylor considers Protestant Reformation its culmination. Reform attempts to standardize Christian practice by countering idolatry and paganism, or rather, forms of Christianity deemed to be too syncretized or insufficiently orthodox. It is also an attack on popular religion.

Horizontal disenchantment, then, corresponds to the production of a uniform group of Christian practices and believers that remove syncretized forms of Christianity along the way. This is what Taylor sees happening in the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reformation, especially in France. He also finds it occurring in Latin America after Vatican II.

I find myself willing to go only part of the way with Taylor’s narrative. It is certainly the case that many efforts at reform within the western church have been imposed from the top down. The effect has been to criticize and sometimes crush popular religiosity. But this is only one aspect of the story.

The reformation unleashed in the late eleventh century was first and foremost a movement in popular religion. It began with an effort to reform monasticism with the great monasteries like Cluny reaching out to other houses and then spread to the papacy. This reformation on the ground continued to challenge the institutional hierarchical while maintaining a hierarchy in the various orders of creation. It also unleashed a spirituality of love that had a counter in the emergence of courtly love and literature. Chretien de Troyes, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Hugh of St. Victor were not so very far apart. In this important sense, there was a preservation of the erotic dimension of Christian charity through an ecstatic encounter with the divine that had a humanizing effect on popular life. One can still see the effects of this movement in the thirteenth century Franciscans and the Beguine writers like Mechthild of Magdeberg.

This is the same terrain within which evangelical revivalism thrives. Not only Wesleyans but also Reformed figures like A. T. Pierson or A. B. Simpson of the Christian Missionary and Alliance church. Pentecostalism comes out of this part of the evangelical movement. It is a horizontal form of enchantment that maintains a strong sense of the presence of divine power in and through the orders of creation. It is also a movement that seeks to renew the churches, but not by way of doctrinal conformity.

Highlighting this form of horizontal enchantment brings me back to our exchange about spiritual gifts like tongues. At the end of the day, most within Pentecostalism see the gifts as manifestations of divine power at work in the world. This is the same way in which many medieval writers understood the gifts and the miraculous. Critics of gifts like B. B. Warfield seem to fit Taylor’s spirit of Reform in their desire for a more uniform version of evangelical Protestantism that looks as little like the Catholic Church as possible. I do not think this a viable way forward, for it at times traffics in the dis-enchanting kind of reform Taylor rejects.

Where evangelical Protestants can come together on a program of enchantment is around the theological affirmation that divine power is at work in the world within the structures of creation and salvation. We also agree that at its best the church seeks to cooperate with this power to renew itself and society. I take this to be a Kuyperian affirmation as well as an affirmation that any Wesleyan or Pentecostal could make. We may disagree on the forms of divine power and precisely how to understand the relationship between these different modes of grace, but we should agree on its presence. I would also add that we might begin by working toward a common Christian culture that acknowledges the benefits popular religiosity rather than attacking it as hopelessly “heretical.” If we learn nothing else from Taylor, we should learn that.

Header image: Flickr/Daniel Silliman

Articles by Dale M. Coulter

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