Category: On Call in Culture

In a new video from Biola University, Dallas Willard explains how “business is a primary arrangement, on God’s part, for people to love one another and serve one another.” (HT)

Willard goes on to explain how God does not wait for Christians to use business as a means for serving the needs of the world:

If God wasn’t in business it wouldn’t even be there. It has this natural tendency to reach out to the neighbor and the neighbor and the neighbor and the neighbor all around the world. That’s in the nature of business…It’s like most of God’s operations, they are running beyond the conscious motives of the people who are doing it.

Business is a primary moving force of the love of God in human history, and it doesn’t wait until Christians get a bright idea about it…It’s just there. That’s God. That’s the kingdom of God at work…We have to recognize that God is always out front of the church and he’s working in many ways.

Yet even though God doesn’t wait for us to perform his work, this needn’t lead us to throw up our hands. Rather, such truth should inspire us to be more active and discerning in the larger economy. Through the work he’s already doing, God is openly inviting us to participate.  (more…)

Row of cubiclesAs already discussed, Matthew Lee Anderson’s recent Christianity Today cover story on “radical Christianity” has been making waves. This week at The High Calling, Marcus Goodyear offers a healthy critique of one of Anderson’s key subjects, David Platt, aligning quite closely with Anderson’s analysis about the ultimate challenges such movements face when it comes to long-term cultural cultivation.

Focusing on Platt’s latest book, Follow Me, Goodyear notes that, despite Platt’s admirable efforts to get Christians “off their seats,” he often “emphasizes the great commission so much, it overshadows all other teachings of the Bible.”

Pointing to John Stott’s book, Christian Mission in the Modern World, Goodyear argues that we mustn’t neglect the rest:

[Platt’s] kind of thinking can lead us to forget that God is “the Creator who in the beginning gave man a ‘cultural mandate’ to subdue and rule the earth, who has instituted governing authorities as his ‘ministers’ to order society and maintain justice.”

According to Stott, Christians must take the original cultural mandate in Genesis as seriously as the great commission. Our approach to missions must view social justice and vocational good as more than a means to evangelism. We are called to share our faith. There is no question about that. But we are also called to more than words. We are called to work in the world today just as we were before the Fall.

Indeed, there is an unfortunate tendency in evangelicalism to prioritize short-term evangelism over long-term cultural engagement, whether in business, the arts, or even the family. Yet in addition to the negative impacts such an approach is bound to have on both our cultural impact and our evangelism, it all begins with a fundamental distortion of how we view our daily work in and of itself. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
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factory workers, monotonyDiscussions about faith-work integration are on the rise, with an ever-increasing number of related books, sermons, and blog posts (ahem) appearing with every passing day.

Over at Faith, Work & Culture, Jeff Haanen poses a challenging question to the movement, asking, “Is the faith and work movement just for white guys?” (HT):

Just a cursory glance around the faith and work landscape, and you’ll find a bunch of middle class white men (with the occasional woman or Asian). So what’s going on here? Does integrating your faith and work only matter for white professionals and not African-Americans or Latinos? (For the sake of this post, you’ll have to excuse some generalizations.)

After offering a brief history of 20th-century American prosperity and the widespread self-actualization that followed, Haanen offers his hypothesis:

Twentieth century America did not bless all ethnic groups evenly with wealth and comfort. African Americans lived under the thumb of institutionalized racism even years after the civil rights movement, and struggled for years to acquire the kind of jobs, and thus material comfort, that their white counterparts did. Today, it’s mostly Latinos who occupy the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder; they make even less than blacks per capita across age groups.

All that to say this: while white guys were wondering about their purpose in life, blacks and Latinos were just trying to survive. When I was a pastor of a Latino congregation, it wasn’t terribly surprising that questions of existential despair or vocational fit never arose. Dignity and providing for the family trumped “fulfilling the cultural mandate.” Getting a job and paying rent was a bit higher on the hierarchy of needs.

Haanen’s point about disparate shifts in the makeup and distribution of work is an important one. The minimum-wage McDonald’s worker will likely face a host of spiritual challenges distinct from those faced by the white-collar executive. Likewise, the differences in time and comfort outside of that work will play no small part in defining that struggle. As Haanen also indicates, “intangible” factors like racism are bound to transform these struggles further, even among workers in the same job type and industry.

But having recognized all of this, it’s also important to recognize that just because a worker hasn’t the time, resources, or energy for armchair theologizing on “vocational fit,” it doesn’t mean that meaning, purpose, and transcendent activity isn’t taking place amid the strenuous circumstances. Whether or not we are actively thinking and talking about “cultural mandate,” the basic dignity of our work and the basic activity of serving society and providing for one’s family is an integral part of fulfilling that mandate. At a certain level, “needs-based” work has a forceful way of tempering our individualistic inclinations, and at that level, I think we need to seriously reconsider how closely we’re aligning “vocation” with our own personal preferences or our end-game goals. Does God not also call us to that initial job or task that begins a longer trajectory filled with other more “fulfilling” things? (more…)

little-way-ruthi-lemingIn his forthcoming book, author and journalist Rod Dreher chronicles his journey back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana, in “the wake of his younger sister Ruthie’s death.”

After spending time in St. Francisville during the final months of his sister’s life, Dreher, who left his hometown as a teenager and bounced around from city to city in the years proceeding, was struck by the support and generosity his sister received from the community.

In a column written shortly after Dreher’s decision to move back, David Brooks summarized the key drivers of Dreher’s homecoming:

They wanted to be enmeshed in a tight community. They wanted to be around Ruthie’s daughters, and they wanted their kids to be able to go deer hunting with Mike. They wanted to be where the family had been for five generations and participate in the rituals ranging from Mardi Gras to L.S.U. football. They decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.

The book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, sets out to further explain this experience and, in the process, emphasize the importance of community. Dreher, who writes regularly at The American Conservative, is well known for his communitarian views, yet despite falling short at times on the role of the market in shaping community life, he is not overly eager to push us into a Wendell-Berry cookie cutter, recognizing that technology does have its benefits, even in community life. In a recent back-and-forth with Acton’s very own Jordan Ballor, Dreher noted that “the localism and the kind of conservatism I favor will in many cases only be feasible through the Internet.”

Finding a “balance” or “fusion” or “integration” in this wide overlap between and across economic mobility and stable community life is a tricky thing for us to understand and respond to. Based on what I’ve heard and read thus far, I trust that Dreher’s latest work will offer plenty of good meat for us to chew on when it comes to processing this and challenging our various perspectives.

In the latest Acculturated podcast, Dreher discusses the book with Ben Domenech and Abby Schachter, offering some strong challenges to modern America’s often distorted approach to flourishing. Toward the end of the discussion, Domenech asks what advice Dreher would give to a young person struggling to preserve some sense of community while contemplating things like vocation, career, and basic economic wherewithal.

Dreher’s response hits just the right notes, explaining how there’s no single path to the features he’s elevating. For Dreher, it ultimately comes down to active obedience, discernment, and attention to both individual calling and our basic human need for community: (more…)

dirty_jobsTelevision is often lamented for its propensity to exaggerate the mundane and the ordinary. Yet when it comes to something as routinely downplayed and unfairly pooh-poohed as our daily work—the “rat race,” the “grindstone,” yadda-yadda—I wonder if television’s over-the-top tendencies might be just what we need to reorient our thinking about the broader significance of our work.

As I’ve argued previously, we face a constant temptation to limit our economic endeavors to the temporal and the material, focusing only on “putting in our 40,” working for the next paycheck, and tucking away enough cash for a cozy retirement. Whether we know it or not, plenty of transcendent activity is also taking place in such efforts, whether through our service, creativity, productivity, collaboration, relationship-building, or plain-old ordinary exchange. How we think about the greater significance and spiritual potential of our efforts is bound to impact how we behave in our daily efforts, either pushing us in the direction of earthbound toil or unleashing us further toward transcendent ends.

If, as Lester DeKoster puts it, work is the “meaning of our lives,” whether we’re scrubbing toilets or selling high-priced widgets, it would seem that such a striking and all-encompassing reality deserves at least a little drama. Thus, below is a select list of my favorite TV shows that draw out some of these features (some more sincerely and effectively than others). None are “Christian” in any explicit sense, and each involves its own share of tasteless theatrics and contrived scenarios, but each nevertheless illuminates some untold truths about the significance of our work beyond the merely material.

(Tip to producers: Add a concerted focus on the will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to any one of these shows, and that Emmy is a shoo-in.)

5. Dirty Jobs

Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe is passionate about “celebrating hard work and skilled labor,” and by trying his hand at some of the dirtiest jobs in the land, from coal miner to sewage sifter to animal-husbandry parts-grabber, he has drawn enormous attention to some of the less celebrated and most essential jobs around. Each has its own unique requirements and pay scale, but plenty of Rowe’s undertakings involve manual labor that we might be tempted to label “undignified” or “dehumanizing.” Yet even the persistently cheery Rowe—who is surely well paid for his toil—is rarely able to outdo the positive attitudes of these workers. These are folks who ooze with passion, pride, and an acute awareness of the pressing needs they are meeting in their local communities and society at large. (more…)

Charlie SelfAEI’s Values & Capitalism recently posted an interview with Dr. Charlie Self, professor at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and senior advisor for the Acton Institute. In the last few weeks, I’ve posted several excerpts from Self’s new book, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship, which he discusses at length in the interview.

When asked what a Pentecostal worldview adds to the “larger Christian conversation about faith, work and economics,” Self responded with the following:

…[W]hat I think distinguishes Pentecostalism is our conviction about empowerment for mission. Fundamentally, it is our belief that God the Holy Spirit is active in the world: using his people in a myriad of ways to share the good news of redemption in Christ. That includes the ongoing supernatural work of God—the delivering, healing, reconciling work of Christ. Sometimes we see exorcisms or other miraculous things. These ongoing spiritual gifts are an important part of the Great Commission.

In terms of a connection with faith, work and economics, we aren’t talking about being spooky or weird at work (trust me—that doesn’t get you promoted!). Rather than speaking in foreign tongues, it’s welcoming God’s presence and action—welcoming God’s guidance into everyday tasks. It’s welcoming God’s involvement in daily work, whether washing dishes or balancing revenue statements.

Pentecostal Christianity reminds the rest of global Christians that when the Spirit is present, a new sociology emerges. There is a new egalitarianism in terms of inherent dignity and worth—not net worth, but the importance and value of each person in an organization, from janitors to CEOs—or from professors to students to college presidents. (more…)

Over at the IFWE blog, Art Lindsley continues his series on the gifts of the Spirit, offering seven reasons the gifts of the Holy Spirit matter for our work. “Whether working in creation or regeneration, the Spirit constantly empowers us to carry out the callings God places on our lives,” Lindsley writes.

Providing some brief Biblical basis for each, he offers the following reasons:

  1. The Spirit gives us power.
  2. We shouldn’t separate “natural” and “spiritual” gifts.
  3. The Spirit helps us reach our true potential.
  4. The Spirit provides gifts when we need them.
  5. The Spirit can increase our gifts for specific tasks.
  6. The Spirit’s gifts apply to all contexts, not just spiritual ones.
  7. The gift of leadership applies on many levels.

These points connect well with those developed at length in Charlie Self’s new book, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship, in which Self explores the many ways that the work of the Spirit impacts the work of the Gospel in our churches and communities.

In his chapter on how the Holy Spirit empowers transformation of the economy and society, Self explains the role the Holy Spirit plays in moving us toward a more “creative integration” on such matters: (more…)

New RadicalsI recently expressed my reservations about David Platt’s approach to “radical Christianity,” noting that, outside of embracing certain Biblical constraints (e.g. tithing), we should be wary of cramming God’s will into our own cookie-cutter molds for how wealth should be carved up and divvied out.

In this month’s cover story in Christianity Today, my good friend Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy does a nice job of summarizing some additional issues surrounding the broader array of “radical Christianity” books and movements.

Sprouting from a diverse set of personalities ranging from Platt to Shane Claiborne to Kyle Idleman to Francis Chan to Steven Furtick, “the radical message has found an eager market,” Anderson explains, with sermons and books that “have both incited and tapped into a widespread dissatisfaction with many Americans’ comfortable, middle-class way of life and the Christianity that so easily fits within it.”

Anderson appreciates the energy and sincerity of those seeking to subvert “comfortable Christianity,” but offers a helpful critique of the overall urgency of things, beginning with an observation of the movement’s “reliance on intensifiers”—a reality that, for Anderson, demonstrates a distinct blind spot:

These teachers want us to see that following Christ genuinely, truly, really, radically, sacrificially, inconveniently, and uncomfortably will cost us…The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity’s language. Previous generations were content singing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Today we have to really trust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches’ vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.

And the intensifiers don’t solve the problem. Replacing belief with commitment still places the burden of our formation on the sheer force of our will. As much as some of these radical pastors would say otherwise, their rhetoric still relies on listeners “making a decision.” There is almost no explicit consideration of how beliefs actually take root, or whether that process is as conscious as we presume.

This gap becomes further evident, Anderson argues, when one observes the narrow range and overly dramatic thrust of the narratives and testimonies held up by the movement:  (more…)

LecraeAt last fall’s evangelical-oriented Resurgence Conference, Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore encouraged the American church to rethink how it engages culture, urging Christians to move beyond what has become a narrow, overly introverted “sacred-secular divide” (HT):

We are great at talking about salvation and sanctification. We are clueless when it comes to art, ethics, science, and culture. Christianity is the whole truth about everything. It’s how we deal with politics. It’s how we deal with science. It’s how we deal with TV and art. We can’t leave people to their own devices. We just demonize everything. If it doesn’t fit in the category of sanctification or salvation it’s just evil…

…I believe that the reason why the church typically doesn’t engage culture is because we are scared of it. We’re scared it’s going to somehow jump on us and corrupt us. We’re scared it’s going to somehow mess up our good thing. So we consistently move further and further away from the corruption, further and further away from the crime, further and further away from the post-modernity, further and further away from the relativism and secular humanism and we want to go to a safe place with people just like you. We want to be comfortable…

…I’m not saying let’s redeem the world and create this utopian planet. I’m saying let’s demonstrate what Jesus had done in us so the world may see a new way, God’s way, Jesus’ way … the picture of redemption that Jesus has done in us. So Jesus redeems us and we desire to go to the world and demonstrate that so that others can see what redemption looks like.”

These tensions can be difficult to ride, as evidenced by the struggle in American evangelicalism that Lecrae points to. To counter this type of unhealthy dualism, Abraham Kuyper’s elaborations on the doctrine of common grace are very helpful, equipping us with a robust theology of public service and cultural engagement. (more…)

Empty marketplaceIn his latest column, Ross Douthat contemplates what a world without work might look like:

Imagine, as 19th-century utopians often did, a society rich enough that fewer and fewer people need to work — a society where leisure becomes universally accessible, where part-time jobs replace the regimented workweek, and where living standards keep rising even though more people have left the work force altogether.

If such a utopia were possible, one might expect that it would be achieved first among the upper classes, and then gradually spread down the social ladder. First the wealthy would work shorter hours, then the middle class, and finally even high school dropouts would be able to sleep late and take four-day weekends and choose their own adventures.” — “to hunt in the morning,” as Karl Marx once prophesied, “fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner …”

Yet a widespread decline in work is not just an imaginative possibility. As Douthat goes on to argue, such decline has become “a basic reality of 21st-century American life,“ but without following the typical Marxist trajectory. “Instead of spreading from the top down,” Douthat notes, “leisure time – wanted or unwanted – is expanding from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.” Despite our persistent longing for rest and relaxation, however, this trend is not viewed as a positive development for society, even for the folks at Mother Jones.

Further, as Charles Murray explains in his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, our attitudes about work have also begun shifting, again, disproportionally among the lower classes. Pointing to a General Social Survey study that asked participants what they prefer in a job, Murray points out that the leading preference across all income groups during the 1970s was a job that “gives a feeling of accomplishment.” Soon thereafter, beginning in the 1990s, this preference began to shift significantly among the lower classes, who began to put higher preference on jobs with “no danger of being fired” or where “working hours are short.” (more…)