Category: Faith and work

Working For Our Neighbor“If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor.” –Martin Luther

Christian’s Library Press has now released Working for Our Neighbor, Gene Veith’s Lutheran primer on vocation, economics, and ordinary life. The book joins Acton’s growing series of tradition-specific, faith-work primers, which also includes Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Reformed perspectives.

Veith, who describes Martin Luther as “the great theologian of vocation,” believes Luther’s approach is distinct in approaching vocation as a manifestation of “the spiritual and the physical, transcendence and incarnation, ascent and descent, faith and love, love of God and love of neighbor.” Luther’s theology “shows the interconnections of faith, work, and economics not just theoretically, but practically,” Veith writes, “and discloses how the ordinary, seemingly secular activities of everyday life are essential dimensions of Christian spirituality.”

Beginning with a hearty critique of Max Weber’s classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Veith argues that the Reformation’s influence on capitalism has long been mischaracterized and misunderstood. Although Weber properly identified a variety of psychological and cultural factors, his analysis of the theological and spiritual connections fell remarkably short. (more…)

“The twin tracks of work and wage do not meet, and cannot be scientifically related. They are bridged by morality, not by mathematics.” -Lester DeKoster

executiveLow-wage workers continue to picket and protest around the country, demanding an increased minimum wage, improved access to benefits, and better working conditions. The political rhetoric has followed accordingly, with Bernie Sanders calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and Hillary Clinton arguing for $12 (due to differing magic potions, no doubt). Simultaneously, widespread angst over “excessive” executive compensation continues to fester.

But alas, prices are not play things, and we do society no favors by trying to distort market signals according to our own arbitrary whims (whether $12, $15, $100, or otherwise). Given the history and trajectory of the American economy, we ought not be stuck in the mire of such minimum-mindedness, seeking to control and micro-manage our way to peace and prosperity through top-down mechanistic means. The path to prosperity is one of creation and contribution, planted with seeds of service and opportunity, where new wealth is a natural byproduct of access to the pond.

Yet throughout all this, “market signals” are simply signals, the discernment of which requires human conscience before and after and throughout. When we think about the intersection of work and wages, “listening to the market” is not where it stops, as critics of the free market wrongly assume. The baseline of actual prices in a complex economy is where things begin, and the Christian wage-setter must be careful and attentive to how things ought to proceed.

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores these “twin tracks” of work and wage, noting that the proper bridge will not be built by arbitrary government edict, but by the art of “executive stewardship,” driven by God-given responsibility and God-directed conscience. “Work and wage draw together at the point where conscience functions,” he writes, “that is to say, work and wage tracks coalesce in persons making executive decisions.” When we inhibit the freedom of the human conscience, an inhibition of the economic order is sure to follow.

DeKoster devotes an entire chapter to this topic, an excerpt of which is available at the Oikonomia blog. Those who set wages have an “awesome obligation,” DeKoster writes, and their conscience must balance a host of factors, all pushing toward a variety of goals, including (1) the best product, (2) the best working conditions, (3) the best wage for everyone involved, and (4) “reflecting the best efforts at every job, to be sold at the lowest price compatible with the requirements.” In balancing all of this, the executive also heeds transcendent signals, whether through ethics or spiritual discernment. (more…)

In Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he marvels over the cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — a complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated. 

In a short video from economist Alex Tabarrok, the same lesson is applied to Valentine’s Day roses:

“Behind every Valentine’s Day rose, there’s an extensive network of people from all over the world,” says Tabarrok, “from the farmer to the shipper to the auctioneer to the retailer—all cooperating to produce and transport roses from field to hand in a matter of days.”

But though these countless creative partners are surely acting out of some degree of self-interest, and though (in this case) they are working to enable and empower what we presume to be “loving” exchanges, there is something deeper going on throughout the activity. (more…)

umpFor many evangelicals, 2 Chronicles 7:14 has become a predictable refrain for run-of-the-mill civil religion, supposedly offering the promise of national blessing in exchange for political purity.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

If the nation returns to golden days of godliness, we are told, blessings shall abound and the land shall be restored. If policy follies are fixed and rampant rulers remedied, the garden will once again grow. We are to “take our country back,” saith the Lord, if grace and mercy are to enter the scene.

Yet as Russell Moore reminds us, to apply the verse in such a way amounts to little more than “theological liberalism” – “whatever one’s political ideology”:

This verse is a word written to a specific people – the people of God – who were coming home from exile. They were coming home from a time in which they were dominated and enslaved by a foreign power. At a time when they needed to be reminded of who they were, who God was and what he had promised to do, this passage was given to them to point them back to Solomon’s reign, reminding them of what Solomon did when he built the temple, the house of the Lord, the place of the gathering of the worship of God…

… When God said to them, “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means.

God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people and would see the future God has for them.

But what future does God promise us?

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UntitledA generation of Christians has been inspired and challenged by James Davison Hunter’s popular work, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World 1st Edition. Published five years ago, the book promotes a particular approach to cultural engagement (“faithful presence”) that stirred a wide and rich conversation across Christendom.

Its influence continues to endure, whether in stirring individual imaginations or shaping the arc of institutions. To reflect on that influence, The Gospel Coalition recently rounded up a series of essays on the topic, including a range of voices such as Collin Hansen, Al Mohler, Hunter Baker, and Greg Forster. Titled Revisiting Faithful Presence, the collection is available for free as an ebook.

The responses vary in praise and critique, uncovering new insights, posing new questions, and exposing lingering cracks and gaps. In doing so, they’ve inspired me to once again return to the book myself.

Though each offers its own compelling angle, it was Greg Forster’s essay (“To Love the World”) that stuck with me the most, reminding me of some of the key areas I initially wrestled with, particularly Hunter’s lopsided elevation of common grace and the embedded materialism in his framing of culture. (more…)

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships. (more…)

money-abstractWhen it comes to economic stewardship, Christians are called to a frame of mind distinct from the world around us.

Though we, like anyone, will sow and bear fruit, ours is an approach driven less by ownership than by partnership, a collaboration with a source of provision before and beyond ourselves. This alters how we create, manage, and invest as individuals. But it mustn’t end there, transforming our churches, businesses, and institutions, from the bottom up and down again.

In some helpful reflections from the inner workings of his own organization, Chris Horst, vice president of development for HOPE International (a Christian microfinance non-profit), opens up about the types of questions they wrestle with as a non-profit. Through it, he demonstrates the type of attentiveness we were meant to wield across all spheres of society.
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