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The Church in an Age of Secular Mysticisms

Why Spiritualities without God Fail to Transform Us

series: Ministry in a Secular Age

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Post-Christian life and society do not eliminate a desire for the transcendent; rather, they create an environment for new and divergent spiritual communities and practices to flourish. We are flooded with spiritualities that appeal to human desires for nonreligious personal transformation. But many fail to deliver because they fall into the trap of the self.

In the last book of the Ministry in a Secular Age series, leading practical theologian Andrew Root shows the differences between these spiritualities and authentic Christian transformation. He explores the dangers of following or adapting these reigning mysticisms and explains why the self has become so important yet so burdened with guilt--and how we should think about both. To help us understand our confusing cultural landscape, he maps spiritualities using twenty of the best memoirs from 2015 to 2020 in which "secular mystics" promote their mystical and transformational pathways. Root concludes with a more excellent way--even a mysticism--centered on the theology of the cross that pastors and leaders can use to form their own imaginations and practices.


"Brilliant, genre-defying--part philosophical history, literary analysis, and a new postmodern apologetics--Root playfully illustrates how we have become trapped in the present by way of the past, and neither heroics nor introspection nor ourselves will save us. Instead, he posits an enticing, ancient transformation in confession and surrender to something beyond ourselves. A balm for those guilted by Instagram and self-help, Root's book is both illuminating intellectual history and an essential guide for spiritual leaders navigating secular mysticisms."

Erin Raffety, writing faculty, Princeton University; empirical researcher, Princeton Seminary

"Andy Root has penned a theological gem. This book is a primer on spiritual theology and philosophical theology that inspires readers to recover and reconsider traditions of confession and surrender. Root balances wit and humor with intellectual depth. His theological musings not only touch the mind but set the soul on fire. This thought-provoking book is an important read that challenges mainline pastors and congregations striving for relevance in the secular age."

Kermit Moss, faculty, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary

"Once again, Andrew Root manages to bring together lighthearted story and reflection with a remarkable mastery of philosophy, theology, literature, and art to help us make sense of how emerging generations think about God and the spiritual life. A gifted practical theologian, Root invites us to wrestle with the nature of historical and contemporary mysticism in the Western world so that we might resist a spirituality that essentially ends in the self and respond to the transformative invitation to Christ-centered relationships. Ministry leaders seeking to understand and connect with the youth and adults they serve will benefit greatly from Root's practical wisdom that invites us to open ourselves to the God who reaches out to us and calls us into the world."

Angela Reed, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of practical theology, Truett Seminary, Baylor University

"Root's final book of the Ministry in a Secular Age series is like a good farewell speech: full of reflective storytelling and festive comments on the past--here in the form of memoirs. Most importantly, the book passes on a legacy: the mystery of how a theology of the cross paradoxically offers a path for transformation of the self. At the end of his secular pilgrimage, Root becomes a mystical guide, pointing passionately at how transcendence may be found in the receptive life--a life of passive surrender and confession."

Bård Norheim, professor of theology, NLA University College, Norway; coauthor of The Four Speeches Every Leader Has to Know

The Author

  1. Andrew Root
    Caroline Yang

    Andrew Root

    Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Faith Formation in a Secular Age, The...

    Continue reading about Andrew Root


"With this volume, Andrew Root completes the 'Ministry in a Secular Age' series. . . . No contemporary ecclesiologist is as prodigious or profound. . . . . This concluding volume, as well as the entire series, is the most important and practical modern ecclesiology we have."

Philip J. Reed,

Presbyterian Outlook