Category: On Call in Culture

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…)

workaholicDuring an interview in support of his new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, Tim Keller recently noted the importance of submitting our work as service to God rather than worshipping it as an idol. “Work is a great thing when it is a servant instead of a lord,” Keller said.

When thinking about work as an “idol,” we may begin to conjure up images of the workaholic who spends above-average time and energy in all that he does. But although overly aggressive workers may indeed choose to put their jobs before God, family, and the rest, we should be careful not to be overly rash in our attempts to draw stark lines between “work” and “life.” Idolatry is about the position of our hearts and needn’t be defined by hours worked per week or high levels of workplace passion and devotion.

Many do, however, seek to rid themselves (and others) of “excessive work” altogether, believing quite vigorously that life would be better if we all worked less and vacationed more. Look no further than Europe’s general disdain for American busyness and the corresponding labor policies to see how deeply and decidedly many free, democratic societies choose to value leisure over enterprise.

Yet as Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues in a recent post at the Harvard Business Review blog, much of the negative research done on the “over-worked” is incomplete because it fails to distinguish between those who are doing “what they love” (or, as we Christians might say, “what they’re called to do”) and those who are working for other various reasons:

Most of the studies on the harmful effects of excessive work rely on subjective evaluations of work “overload.” They fail to disentangle respondents’ beliefs and emotions about work. If something bores you, it will surely seem tedious. When you hate your job, you will register any amount of work as excessive — it’s like forcing someone to eat a big plate of food they dislike, then asking if they had enough of it.

Overworking is really only possible if you are not having fun at work. By the same token, any amount of work will be dull if you are not engaged, or if you find your work unfulfilling…Maybe it’s time to redefine the work-life balance — or at least stop thinking about it. (more…)

Flourishing Churches and CommunitiesI recently wrote about the need to reach beyond an earthbound economics, re-orienting our thinking around a more transcendent framework that requires active spiritual engagement and discernment. Even as Christians, far too often we set our focus too strongly on temporal features like material needs, happiness, and quality of life—all of which come into play accordingly—without first concerning ourselves with what God is actually calling us to do as individuals.

Transcendent ends will only come from transcendent beginnings, and those beginnings will only be ordered properly if we take the time to identify what objective truths exist for society and how exactly God is calling us to participate within that broader social framework.

As Charlie Self notes in his book, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship, “cultural, economic, and social institutions are built on transcendent moral foundations,” and rely on spiritually transformed individuals to function and flourish toward God’s ultimate ends. By structuring our institutions around this understanding, we create more opportunity for society to reach past the mere meddling of man.

As Self explains, properly rooted ourselves in transcendent truths opens the door to a broader, fuller approach to “service” itself:

Economic and personal liberties must be united with the rule of law to nurture loving and just expressions and allow all people to flourish. Objective truths, which guide behavior and relationships, do indeed exist. There must be explicit and implicit values that ensure cohesive and prosperous living. The Holy Spirit gives discernment and wisdom, enabling Christians to engage virtuously in commerce and culture without being enslaved by the perversions of liberty caused by rebellion and sin. (more…)

The Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University recently profiled Camcraft, a Christian-run manufacturing business whose owners, the Bertsche family, seek to steward their business according to God’s purposes. “By using Biblical principles to run a company,” says Bern Bertsche, “not only is that God’s way, but it’s a very effective way to run a business.”

Watch the video below:

Camcraft orients itself around a broader mission to (1) to glorify God, (2) be a great place to work, (3) be a trusted and valued partner for customers, and (4) grow profitability. In addition to manufacturing high-precision metal components, Camcraft conducts after-work Bible studies for employees. “We know a lot of people never see the inside of a church,” says Bertsche, “but they see this business five days a week.” (more…)

One of the major focuses of On Call in Culture is to remind Christians that discipleship doesn’t end when Sunday service concludes. Yet in going about our daily work, we should also be careful that we don’t neglect the important role the church can fill when it comes to matters of vocational stewardship and daily cultural engagement.

Over at (re)integrate, Dr. Amy Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, offers ten suggestions for how the church might encourage whole-life discipleship and vocational stewardship:

1. During corporate worship services, pray for members by vocation. This could take a variety of expressions:

  • pray aloud for a different occupational group (e.g., educators or businesspeople) each week
  • invite congregants who are facing difficulties on the job to come forward during or after the service for prayer
  • pray for individual members by name and vocation

2. Visit church members at their places of work.

3. Recognize vocational achievements and awards of congregants in the church’s newsletter or on its website.

4. Offer an adult education class that helps participants discern the dimensions of their vocational power (skills, networks, etc.) and gets them talking about how to deploy that power to advance Kingdom foretastes in and through their work.

5. Encourage the church’s small groups to incorporate regular times of discussion and prayer focused on members’ work lives.

Read the rest of her suggestions here.

To join the On Call in Culture community, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

david-mccullough-02Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough is author of popular biographies such as Truman and John Adams, and at 79 years old, he’s still going strong. When asked by Harvard Business Review whether he is ready to retire, McCullough offered some interesting perspective on how he views his work through the American founders’ understanding of the “pursuit of happiness” (HT):

I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning. To me, it’s the only way to live. When the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they didn’t mean longer vacations and more comfortable hammocks. They meant the pursuit of learning. The love of learning. The pursuit of improvement and excellence. I keep telling students, Find work you love. Don’t concern yourself overly about how much money is involved or whether you’re ever going to be famous. I’m giving a talk at Dartmouth this week. It’s called the Hard Work of Writing. And it is hard work. But in hard work is happiness.

As I’ve examined before, defining happiness can be an elusive task, yet McCullough seems intent on pushing for much more than rainbows and lollipops. Indeed, his understanding of ultimate human fulfillment meshes quite easily with Lester DeKoster’s focus on work as a process for finding “meaning.” Arthur Brooks’ emphasis on “earned success” also comes to mind. (more…)

Foxes spoiling vineJoe Carter has done a marvelous job of outlining the details surrounding the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate. In a recent cover story for WORLD Magazine, these details are brought to life through a series of snapshots of real businesses and non-profits facing a real choice to either violate their Christian consciences or become economic martyrs.

Thus far, Hobby Lobby has received much of the national spotlight—due in part to their visibility in the marketplace and corresponding outspokenness. In the WORLD article, we begin to see the bigger picture, beginning with Chris and Paul Griesedieck, brothers and owners of American Pulverizer, a small, 105-year-old, family-owned manufacturing company, which could face fines of up to $5 million per year if the owners choose to be guided by Christian principles above economic penalties:

Like Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs, the Griesediecks filed a lawsuit against HHS. They say the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a law designed to protect against government infringement of religious freedom) and their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. The brothers made a simple argument based on Christian principles: “It would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.”

…Frank Manion—an attorney at the American Center for Law and Justice—represents the Griesediecks, and says the federal government is imposing a stark choice on his clients and all Christian employers who oppose the mandate: “Abandon their beliefs in order to stay in business, or abandon their business in order to stay true to their beliefs.”

Abraham Kuyper famously wrote that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” This view may seem uncontroversial to some, yet it is increasingly seen by our scrupulous government overlords to be irrelevant to First Amendment protections: (more…)

Over at Fieldnotes Magazine, Matthew Kaemingk offers a good reminder that in our social solutions-seeking we needn’t be limited to thinking only in terms of market and state. By boxing ourselves in as such, Kaemingk argues, Christians risk an overly simplistic, non-Biblical view of human needs and human destiny:

When presented with almost any social problem (education, health care, poverty, family life, and so on), today’s leaders typically point to one of two possible solutions—a freer market or a stronger state. But in opposition to these rather myopic solutions, I think there is a more complex and biblical lens through which leaders can consider the social eco-system and the people who move around in it.

Instead of simplistic descriptions of human beings as either clients of the state or competitors in the market, the Christian Scriptures present humanity in a refreshingly complex way. We find a complex creature with a wide variety of gifts, abilities, interests, aspects, loyalties, and solidarities. Created in the image of God, human beings in the Bible are anything but simple. They are musical, communal, religious, artistic, familial, charitable, scientific, literary, moral, athletic, fun, and funny. The robust anthropology found in the Bible depicts a creature that could never be fully defined, controlled, content, or nourished by the market or the state alone—thank God.

This perspective ties in well with Rev. Robert Sirico’s final chapter in his book, Defending the Free Market, where he criticizes the popular notion of homo economicus, from which plenty of bad economic policy and market decision-making has been generated:

Any man who was only economic man would be a lost soul. And any civilization that produced only homines economici to fill its markets, courts, legislative bodies, and other institutions would soon enough be a lost civilization. Familial love, voluntary dedication to philanthropy and faith, the creation of art and music would be at their most minimal level, and whole sectors of life would completely vanish. Focusing the whole of life on the acquisition of quantifiable goods does not bring true happiness or peace, as almost everyone knows. We all have material appetites, but we do not (pray God) always feed them…Human beings find ultimate fulfillment not in acquisition but in developing, sharing, and using their God-given creative capacities for good and giving themselves to others. (more…)