Category: Bible and Theology

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
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pearl-and-leavenIn its 2,000-year history, the church has actively integrated evangelism and social action in powerful and transformative ways. Yet for many of today’s Christians, we feel as though we must choose between a life of ministry and cultural engagement, that our vocational paths are inevitably torn between “saving souls” and “serving justice.”

In the Bible, however, we see both calls woven together — “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). They were not meant to be taken separately, pieced apart and divided up among believers based on our individual strengths or giftings.

We are called to a life of holistic discipleship, filled with a faith that’s integrated with cultural witness. We are called to be both “a pearl and a leaven,” as Jessica Driesenga puts it in The Church’s Social Responsibility, a new collection of essays on evangelicalism and social justice.

“When we survey Christians’ posture toward the world, it can seem as though there is an either-or decision to be made: either choose to be a part of the world or separate yourself from it for the sake of the gospel,” Driesenga writes. “But these tasks ought to be seen as necessary counterparts to each other.” (A partial excerpt of Driesenga’s essay is available at Letters to the Exiles blog.)

Pointing to a metaphor used by theologian Herman Bavinck, Driesenga reminds us of Jesus’ parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to a leaven (Matt. 13:33) and a pearl (Matt. 13:45–46). “These two metaphors, mixed as they may seem, are Bavinck’s way of understanding the dual tasks given to humanity: to preserve and preach the good news of Christ and to take the world that has been given to us and make something of it.” (more…)

work-life“If all of our working and all of our resting serves the same vocation of love, why do we so often feel out of balance?”

In a recent talk for the Oikonomia Network, author and church historian Dr. Chris Armstrong offers a fascinating exploration of the question, challenging the common Christian responses on “work-life balance” and offering a holistic framework for vocation, service, and spiritual devotion.

Recounting a situation where he himself was faced with frustrations about work and family life, Armstrong recalls the advice he received from his church at the time: “You need work-life balance,” they said, or, “You just need to put God first, family second, and work third.”

Despite the popularity of such refrains, Armstrong suggests there may be a deeper tension at play, pointing to the Apostle Paul’s famous admonition to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord.” (more…)

Today at Public Orthodoxy, the blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University, I have an essay on the need for Orthodox theology to more seriously engage modern economic science. The argument would likely apply in some degree to other theological traditions as well.

I write,

Personal relationships and the monastic life have different norms than impersonal markets. This does not mean that markets have no norms, nor that the norms of markets should overrule any other concerns. But it does mean that if we wish for our economies to be more moral, whether we hail from the political right or left (or somewhere outside of that simplistic binary), we must first understand what they are and how they function.

In the article, I quote Peter Hill and John Lunn on this distinction, but it can be found in the work of Paul Heyne as well. For example, in his essay “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” citing a newspaper article about Mother Theresa (now officially recognized as a Roman Catholic saint as of this past Sunday), he wrote,

I shall conclude with two recent newspaper items. One is a short news item reporting that Mother Teresa was about to appeal to prevent the execution of a convicted California murderer. I don’t know whether she did appeal or not, but the newspaper said that she was going to call the Governor and say that this man should be forgiven because that is what Jesus would have done. Now I don’t want to get into the issue of capital punishment; I just want to point out that if Mother Teresa made that argument she was mixing different moralities. I choose Mother Teresa because I can’t think of a person for whom I have more respect; she is a far better person than I am. But forgiveness is appropriate only in face-to-face relations or for God. The criminal-justice system of the State of California is not God nor is it running a face-to-face society. A judge who forgives a convicted criminal is not a candidate for sainthood but for impeachment. The morality of large social spheres is simply different from the morality of face-to-face systems. Arguments against capital punishment must take those differences into account, and so must our arguments for revised economic policies.

This is a crucial distinction that I have come back to again and again, and one that I explore in more detail at Public Orthodoxy today. Read my full essay here.

daniel-isaacsIs it possible to be both a Christian and a libertarian?

In a forthcoming book, Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian & Libertarian, six Christian libertarians offer an emphatic, “yes,” exploring key tensions and challenging a range common critiques (whether from conservative Christians or secular libertarians). The project is currently seeking funds via Indiegogo, where you can donate or pre-order your copy.

Having already discussed the topic on numerous occasions with two of the book’s authors – Jacqueline Isaacs and Elise Daniel – I asked them a few questions about their latest endeavor, the overarching ideas, and what they hope to achieve.

How did you become libertarian Christians?

ED: I grew up in a Christian, conservative home. Because of my upbringing, I always assumed Christians were also conservatives. Growing up, I didn’t know much about libertarians, other than that they wanted to legalize drugs, so I thought there was at least some sort of moral gap between Christians and libertarians. I grew stronger in both my faith and political convictions in college. I studied economics and attended an economics seminar on free markets. It was there that I was first introduced to Austrian economists like Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. For the first time, I was thinking about economics from a classical liberal framework, and it made a lot of sense to me. During the seminar, I had conversations with students and professors who called themselves libertarian and realized some of my assumptions — like that libertarians were all moral relativists — were false. I came out of that week with serious doubts about the role of liberty in modern conservatism and more respect for the libertarian perspective. (more…)

IMG_7231When we think of the intersection of work and calling, many of us think immediately of our long-term career aspirations. Despite most of us beginning our careers in some sort of menial labor, these are not the types of services or stations our culture deems significant or inspired.

Yet for the Christian, economic transformation begins where creator and producer meets neighbor, no matter the product or service. Our fundamental calling is to love our neighbor, and that begins the moment we get our hands dirty. God is glorified in all of our labor, and that includes the work of the fast-food cook or the late-night cleaning crew.

“Loving your neighbor is not just taking them soup when they’re sick,” says Pastor Tom Nelson, author of Gospel Shaped Work. “It’s making a good hamburger.” (more…)

Untitled1Throughout our debates over foreign policy, trade policy, immigration policy, and otherwise, the 2016 election has seen increasing concentrations and divides between nationalism and globalism, each blind in its own way.

Those who promote a (supposedly) “America first” agenda, ignore the impacts to our neighbors across the globe, each created in the image of God and deserving of the same rights and freedoms we enjoy. Meanwhile, the globalists ignore the benefits of local community and national sovereignty, promoting inclusion to the detriment of distinction.

This needn’t be an “either-or” divide, and for the Christian in particular, the choice is particularly ill-suited to our basic theological vision. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
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Pieter_bruegel_il_giovane,_estate_02In recent years, Christian leaders, teachers, and pastors have put renewed focus on the importance of integrating faith and work, recognizing the eternal significance of economic activity.

Yet despite the array of resources and solid teaching on the subject, many Christians continue to struggle with feelings of apathy or ambivalence when it comes to their work. In my own discussions, it’s the most common response I encounter:

“I understand that God is glorified through my work,” they’ll say. “I understand that he’s gifted me and called me and sent me to do something important. But it sure doesn’t feel like it.”

Indeed, it’s one thing when we feel like our gifts are aligned with our callings, when we enjoy our jobs and careers, and when we believe that we’re doing something transformational in the broader economic order. But it’s quite another when we feel underutilized and unrecognized, when the work is unglamorous and unsatisfying, and when we have a sense, even a spiritual sense, that “surely their must be more.”

In a post at The Green Room, a new blog on faith, work, and vocation, Greg Forster reflects on such situations, asking what the Gospel might say to those struggling to find purpose and meaning. (more…)