Wisdom from Babylon
What does it mean to provide leadership for the church in an increasingly secular context? When religion is privatized and secularism reigns in the public square, Christians are often drawn toward either individualist escapism or constant cultural warfare. But might this context instead offer a fresh invitation for the church to adapt and thrive?
Gordon Smith is passionate about the need for capable, mature leaders to navigate and respond to a changing society. In this book, he draws on his extensive experience as a university president, pastor, and international speaker to open a multidisciplinary conversation about the competencies and capacities essential for today's leaders.
After analyzing the phenomenon of secularization in the West and charting common Christian responses, Smith introduces four sources of wisdom to help guide us through this new terrain: the people and prophets of Judah during the Babylonian exile, the early church in its pagan environment, contemporary churches across the Global South, and Christian thinkers in post-Christian Europe. From these resources he identifies practices and strategies—from liturgy and catechesis to mission and hospitality—that can give shape to faithful, alternative communities in such a time as this.
In cultures fraught with fear and division, Smith calls for leaders who can effect change from the margins, promote unity and maturity among Christians, and provide a non-anxious presence grounded in the presence of Christ. Educators, church leaders, and those seeking to understand the times will find this book to be an indispensable resource for cultivating distinctively Christian leadership.
"To be in but not of the world. Drawing on a lifetime of careful study, Gordon T. Smith brings together spiritual theology, sociological analysis, church history, and cultural critique in his new book, Wisdom from Babylon. Having apprenticed himself to the church's most trusted teachers whose wisdom still shapes the life and labor of faithful people centuries later, he is at the same time attentive to the contemporary complexity of this task, thoughtfully engaging the tensions of being the church in the globalizing, pluralizing, and secularizing world that is ours. A master teacher whose thinking is marked by unusual clarity and depth, this book is for all who long to make sense of honest faith in the twenty-first century."
"Wisdom from Babylon is a masterful guide for Christian leadership amid the upheavals of our secular age. Global in reach, thick with scholarship, Gordon Smith's work gives us the wherewithal to gain a footing for the journey that besets us. He offers not retreat but presence. This book is hope for anyone asking, 'How can we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?' (Psalm 137:4)."
"God is calling the church to a new reality. Of course, the reality of a spiritual community that cuts against the grain of secular liturgy has always existed. We just need to draw upon this ancient wisdom that speaks to us with new intensity. Gordon Smith proposes that we are not merely the church gathered but the church dispersed and present in the world, in particular as lived out in business, education, and the arts. Wisdom from Babylon reminds us that we can and should lead from the margins, even as we live as a nonanxious presence in a world full of anxiety. Don't look to this book for techniques and prescriptions. Whether in Babylon or our twenty-first-century world, it's always been about encountering Christ in real time—a reality that is at once deeply profound and highly practical."
"This is a timely book for an age increasing in information yet lacking in wisdom. By exploring diverse streams of Christian thinking, Gordon Smith reveals a deep need to revisit our emerging secular age with fresh eyes. In addition to historical insights, Smith's underlining emphasis reveals that all future leaders will require wisdom shaped by the Scriptures, awakening our courage to lovingly engage with a changing world."
"Wisdom from Babylon is the book of wisdom that is needed for every leader in a Western context. In a moment when people listen to comedians and laugh at politicians, when they are unwavering in their commitment to political ideologies but skeptical of their faith, leaders need a radical reframing of what it means to lead the people of God. Gordon Smith gives us just that: a framework of ancient wisdom translated through practices that every leader can adopt for the present moment. If you're a leader who is feeling lost and reactive, this book serves as a compass pointing us toward the King and the kingdom."
"I just love how Gordon Smith does theology. His views are evangelical, ecumenical, catholic, orthodox, and justice-hungry, with that wild concoction all put in service to a small but scrappy university in Alberta. We need more leadership like his, informed by theology like his, expressed as lovingly and wisely as this."
Introduction: "The Times They Are A-Changin'"
Part I: Reading and Understanding the Times
1. Secularity: An Interdisciplinary Consideration
2. Four Contemporary Responses to Secularity, Part 1
3. Wisdom from Babylon: Attending to the Exilic and Postexilic Prophets
4. Perspective and Wisdom from the Early Church
5. Learning from Historic Minority Churches
6. Christian Voices from Secular Europe
7. Four Contemporary Responses to Secularity, Part 2: The Options Reconsidered
Part II: Forming the Alternative Community: Competencies and Dispositions
8. Cultivating the Capacity for Liturgical Leadership
9. Cultivating the Capacity for Catechetical Leadership
10. Cultivating the Capacity for Missional Leadership
11. Ecumenism in a Secular Age: A Theological Conviction, a Practical Necessity
12. Cultivating Interiority: Spiritual Practice in a Secular Age
Conclusion: Hospitality, the Gospel, and Leadership in a Secular Age
Essential Reading List for Leading the Church in a Secular Age
Name and Subject Index