Category: Faith and work

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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hannington1 - CopyBishop Hannington longed to see an awakening to generosity in his town of Bundibugyo, Uganda, where many viewed giving more as a matter of duty than heartfelt joy.

Yet what at first seemed like a significant challenge soon grew even steeper. After fleeing their town for two years due to the chaos of civil war, the community returned to Bundibugyo to find their homes completely destroyed.

“The houses had been torn down, the farms had nothing in them, churches had been demolished, schools had been devastated,” Hannington explains. “So we started from scratch.” With no money, shelter, aid, or resources, the people didn’t know what to do, and surely the temptation to look inward and “protect my own” pulled stronger than ever.

But then Hannington remembered: They did indeed have resources.

Rather than turn to the West or others outside their community for aid and assistance, Hannington encouraged his neighbors to look in their own hearts and hands. God had already given them what they need, and that, too, was designed to be poured out yet again.

Hear their remarkable story:

As Hannington explains, he encouraged them to connect and apply their God-given gifts to the God-given spheres of culture and creation that surrounded them:

I asked, “How soon can my people raise to the challenge of funding, not only their immediate needs, but their futures as well. I told the people at that time that God has given us everything we need to rebuild our community. And what he needed was for others to make themselves available to him and he was going to use us. And those of us who are mechanics, and those of us who are business people, they can use their gifts and trade they have to build their community.

Slowly and steadily, transformation happened. Churches and schools were rebuilt, generosity continued to spread, skills and resources were shared and invested, wealth was created, and the community began to revive.
It’s a powerful example of how transformational our stewardship can be when it’s rooted not in self-interest or self-preservation – the wisdom and pleasures of which shall surely wither and fade – but in the divine generosity of a heavenly father who so loved the world that he gave.

If war and destruction could not stop the servanthood and generosity of Bundibugyo, what’s stopping us?

Prior to opening Alabaster Coffee in downtown Williamsport, PA, founder Karl Fisher was in full-time vocational ministry. For many, that sort of transition happens in reverse, but for Fisher, moving from churchplace to marketplace amplified the scope of his service in new and unexpected ways.

“I have already viewed my life as, ‘How are we bringing the Gospel to the community?’” Fisher says. “But now, in many ways, not being a vocational pastor and being in the marketplace, there are definitely aspects of that that give me a broader platform.”

Struck by Alabaster Coffee’s culture and product, Evan Koons spoke with Fisher about his business and the ways our creative service can spread the Gospel and transform culture:

In a world of accelerating industrialization, society is learning to remember and better appreciate the dynamics of community and craftsmanship in business. As Fisher aptly demonstrates, these are natural priorities for Christians, compounded by something a bit more permanent at the root: a love for people rooted in the love of Jesus.

Christians in creative service have a call to meet economic needs, but we do so by connecting the tangible to the transcendent, the temporal to the eternal.

coffee3Though small and local businesses like Alabaster have a unique way of clarifying these things, such features are not confined to awe-inspiring coffee shops or artisan bookmakers and bakers. The call to creative service spans across culture, from factory workers to farmers, oil riggers to artists, welders to Wall Street CEOs.

“How we do our work, how it’s accomplished, the attitudes that we have to it, is very much an act of worship,” Fisher concludes. “My ability to work and the means to work — the way that I view that should absolutely be joyful and worshipful.”

For more on how creative service connects to God’s economy of all things, see Episode 3 of For the Life of the World.

JMM_18.2Our most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 18, no. 2, has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains the text of the Theology of Work Consultation symposium at the 2014 conference of the Evangelical Theological Society. The subject was “The Economics of the Theological Vocation.” The entire symposium, as well as executive editor Jordan J. Ballor’s editorial on the subject, is open access.

In addition, associate editor Hunter Baker’s review essay on Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God and Timothy E. W. Gloege’s Guaranteed Pure is also open access. In it, Baker seeks to answer the question, “Is Christian America Invented? And Why Does It Matter?”

One last highlight: We are pleased to include a republication of a rare 1941 essay by German economist Wilhelm Röpke, “A Value Judgment on Value Judgments.” Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute and a scholar of Röpke’s work, authored the introduction, “A Value Judgment on ‘A Value Judgment on Value Judgments.'”

Read the entire issue here.

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