Jesus, the Center, and the Myth of "the Secular"
In the second part of Dr. Wright’s three-part series on Colossians 1:15-20, he reflects on Paul’s proclamation that all things hold together in Christ: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Wright believes the reality of this passage has some bearing on the philosophy of existence on a fundamental level. That is, this passage reveals what contingent creation is by reference to who Jesus is: Jesus, as the eternal Word (Logos) of creation, gives the universe its form, its shape, and its very existence. And this existence has no life, form, or shape without holding together in its center – Jesus Christ. If the way Dr. Wright interprets this passage is correct, it is difficult to imagine a reality in which nature and grace are mutually exclusive. It is not as though the world has existence in-and-of-itself apart from Jesus. If Christ is abstracted from the center of creation, there is no creation to speak of! That is why, as Dr. Wright says, “the secular never was separate from God; nature never was natural but always a gift.” But in a world “of a technical reason that fragments, disassociates, and pulls apart,” we are tempted to speak of a “secular” realm that confines Jesus “to an orb within human beings called ‘the religious.’” But if Jesus is holding all things together at the center of creation, there really is no such thing as “the secular” at the fundamental level of existence. How could there be? If Jesus is the center, the cornerstone, and the eternal glue of contingent reality, there can be no extraction of the sacred from the natural world. And this is precisely why we can do science as Christians; this is why Stephen J. Gould’s notion of the “non-overlapping magisteria” – the separation of “religious” and “scientific” domains – is, at the level of fundamental existence, a myth. Since creation is always already “graced” by Jesus Christ, there can be no such thing as “pure nature,” nor could there be a fundamental separation of “the religious” from “the natural.” As the late Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac would put it, everything in creation is already sacred. The consequences of separating “the secular” from “the religious” are dire: “The center becomes drawn at the intersection of the relationship between the two different orbs. We can become prone to protect the newly created ‘center’ by arguing for its superiority (and thus ours) from others who articulate the center of the relationship in their own way. The body of Christ fragments with the loss of a common center, just like ‘the secular’ has been created by reductionist reason that itself fragments our lives into various discrete realms of experience.” When this fragmentation occurs, we replace Jesus with a human-constructed center, constituting idolatry. And when Christians lose the common center of Jesus and become dogmatically protective of their own created centers, the body of Christ fractures and ceases to be recognized as distinctively Christian. We are especially wont to do this when discussing tough issues like evolution, the origin of humankind, global warming, homosexuality, and the like. We should remember, however, that as we pursue the truth of these things together, Jesus holds it all together. As Dr. Wright concludes, it is in our worship that we find this center. Indeed, it is there that we realize, cognitively and bodily, that the Truth is not a category or a position or a human-constructed center. Rather, the Truth is a person. Stay tuned for a reflection on part three of Dr. Wright’s series.