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Christianity and the Secular.

CHRISTIANITY AND THE SECULAR by Robert A. Markus. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 112 pages. Paperback; $15.00. ISBN: 0268034907.

This book looks at the role the secular plays in Christianity. The author disdains describing social, religious, or cultural trends. Rather, "my aim will be only to contribute to an understanding of the place occupied by the secular in Christian history and within a Christian understanding of society" (p. 4). The crux of this book is that "Christian tradition has a legitimate place for the autonomy of the secular . despite the perpetual undertow of what we have become accustomed to call 'triumphalism' in Christian political and cultural attitudes" (p. 9).

Markus examines the concept of the secular in the New Testament and traces its development as Christianity emerges as a popular religion and eventually becomes the one adopted by the Roman Empire. In early Christianity, believers saw themselves as separate and distinct from society. However, as this new religion eventually spread throughout the West, Christians were faced with coping with the secular.

The difference between the sacred and the profane, writes Markus, was understood in the first century. The sacred related to the gods, cults, belief, practice, and religious institution. The profane, or pagan, was what occurred outside the religious institution, or in "the sphere of ordinary life" (p. 5). The "secular," identified by Christianity, was a new concept. It was what was shared by all of society and not necessarily antagonistic to religion.

According to Markus, Augustine of Hippo, in the fourth century, was the impetus for the idea that there is a place for the secular in the Christian idea of the world. While the secular was eclipsed by the spread of Christianity during the Middle Ages, it was rehabilitated by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council who thought Catholicism needed to be freed from its "cultural ghetto" and see the secular world as autonomous and co-extant with religion (p. 11). "With the Blessed Pope John XXIII the Church has come to embrace the secular and to acknowledge its value, its autonomy, and even, if I may add what may seem paradoxical, its sacredness or holiness" (p. 91).

Robert A. Markus, professor emeritus at the University of Nottingham, has also written The End of Ancient Christianity and Gregory the Great and His World. He has been preoccupied with the church's relation to the secular for forty years; his erudition has produced this compact, meaty, and insightful volume. This book will appeal to church historians, sociologists interested in religion, lay Christians interested in the relation of their faith to society, and theologians concerned with ecclesiology. It may also be of interest to church leaders, namely evangelists and pastors, who seek to determine the church's role in culture and politics.

Reviewed by Richard Ruble, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR 72761.
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Author:Ruble, Richard
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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