Terry Eagleton, in Culture and the Death of God, writes that secularization begins “when religious faith ceases to be vitally at stake in the political sphere” (p.1). Eagleton is especially interested in matters of church and state, but we can appropriate his comment by asking this question: When does religious faith cease to be vitally at stake in counseling, pastoral care, and life? It is that word vitally that gets us thinking. In other words: When might I look and sound religious, but the vital link to Christ is absent? When is my own life secularized?
John Bettler, the founding Executive Director of CCEF, was the one who taught me that “nice” is a dirty word. That is, nice can be a counterfeit of growth in grace because it seems patient and kind but could exist due to one’s genetic constitution or good circumstances. I, for example, am usually nice. I don’t scream and yell. I like most people. I usually do not say kind things while thinking unkind ones. But I was nice before being regenerated by the Spirit.
Nice does not necessarily identify a vital link between Christ and how we live. So what does?
- Does my private life look like my public one?
- Do I pray for those who share their hearts with me?
- Am I never satisfied unless growing in faith, hope, and love?
- Do I delight in the spiritual growth of others?
- Is the person and work of Jesus natural in my conversations?
- Am I willing to raise difficult matters like hardness of heart and blindness to anger, and raise them with humility and love?
- Do I regularly confess sin, which means that I am identifying my mixed motives, niceness that stands in for love, and a lukewarm heart?
Most Christians who counsel agree that secularization is something we want to avoid. We want our faith to be vitally central in everything we do. And since most counselors are nice, we can agree that we do best when we consult our checklists frequently.