Category: Vocation

3-ways1How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are Christians to live and engage, create and exchange, cultivate and steward our gifts and relationships and resources here on earth? Beyond getting a “free ticket to heaven,” what is our salvation actually for?

These questions are at the center of Acton’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, which begins with a critique of three common approaches to Christian cultural engagement: fortification (“hide! hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, ok whatever”).

The framework comes from Pastor Greg Thompson’s paper “The Church in Our Time,” in which Thompson summarizes the paradigms as follows (bold emphasis added):

The fortification paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is to guard the integrity of its divinely wrought life against the assaults of the world. In this view, the basic task of the church is vigilant preservation and the basic threat to the church is the destructive character of the larger culture…

…The domination paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is to triumph over her cultural enemies. In this view the basic task of the church is to extend its own values into the world while the basic threat to the church is those whose values differ from its own…

…Contrary to fortification, the accommodation paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is collaboration with the world in the service of the larger good. From this perspective the basic task of the church is active partnership with its neighbors in the interest of social renewal, and the basic threat to the church is its own separatist tendencies.

Each stems from a legitimate theological starting point, but each also tends to falter, in part due to the typical confusions and conflations between the sacred and secular. In Thompson’s paper, he seeks to avoid these pitfalls, attempting to pave a “fourth way” forward by drawing on James Davison Hunter’s notion of “faithful presence.” In For the Life of the World, we see a similar but slightly different path, one framed around embracing a position of Christian exile and “seeking the welfare of the city.” Rod Dreher has been busy exploring yet another. And the list goes on. (more…)

thanksgiving-assortmentFamilies across the country are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, expressing gratitude for God’s overwhelming grace and abundance. And yet even as we offer thanks to God for his provision — materially, socially, spiritually, or otherwise — how often do we pause and reflect on the freedoms and channels that God uses in the process?

Will we remember that the very foods we are sure to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day required a great deal of investment, cultivation, and risk-taking? Will we reflect with gratitude on the labor it took to grow and harvest, package and ship, market and sell these items? It’s but one small window into the innumerable hands working together each and every day in service of the common good.

And will we recognize that this mysterious, creative activity is not only due to human hands, but that such dominion and stewardship mirrors that of a Creator God who so loved that he gave?

Whether we talk about this phenomenon in terms of an “invisible hand” (Adam Smith), “spontaneous order” (Hayek) “the magic of the marketplace” (Reagan), or a “great and mysterious collaboration” (Grabill), we’d do well to remember that even as we pour gratitude and honor out to our neighbors, we should be careful that we orient things before and beyond the work of human hands. “The price system is indeed an amazing creation, but of the divine mind,” ” writes Joe Carter. “It’s one of God’s means of coordinating human activity for the purposes of human flourishing.”

At Carpe Diem, Mark Perry dusts of a Jeff Jacoby column that beautifully explains this very point, and does so in the particular context of Thanksgiving. “Isn’t there something wondrous — something almost inexplicable — in the way your Thanksgiving weekend is made possible by the skill and labor of vast numbers of total strangers?” Jacoby writes. (more…)

816bkjgz2xLThe church has recently awakened with renewed interest in the intersection of faith and work, leading to a widespread movement in congregations and seminaries and a constant flow of books, sermons, and other resources (including a hearty bunch from the Acton Institute).

In a new NIV Faith and Work Bible from Zondervan, we gain another valuable tool for expanding our economic imaginations, weaving a rich theology of work more closely with the Biblical text.

Edited by David H. Kim, Executive Director for the Center for Faith and Work, and including a foreword by Tim Keller, the Bible offers a range of pathways and commentaries to assist Christians in connecting the dots between their daily work and the Biblical story.

Kim describes the Bible as a “unique and exciting combination of doctrine, application, and community experience,” with the goal of developing a theology of work that “will hopefully rewire the way you understand the gospel and how it has everything to do with your work.”

To accomplish this, the Bible includes, among other things, (1) specific introductions to each book that highlight key lessons and applications to work and economics; (2) a “storylines” feature that serves as an introductory study for those new to the Bible); (3) essays on doctrine as it relates to stewardship (e.g. dominion in Genesis); (4) historical writings written after the Bible; and (5) real stories of application in daily/modern life. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, November 3, 2016
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imrs (2)UPDATE: Given the recent attention drawn to this post, permit me to clarify that I do NOT endorse replacing education with paid labor, nor do I support sending our children back into the coal mines or other high-risk jobs, nor do I support getting rid of mandatory education at elementary and middle-school ages. Due to the confusion it brought, I have removed “bring back child labor” from the title, as many falsely took it to men a call to “bring back” earlier laws, conditions, or jobs, which is not my argument. My recommendation here is simply that we challenge our cultural assumptions about labor at all levels, from parenting to education to policymaking, and ensure we take a more holistic approach to education that recognizes the dignity of each human person.

The abundant prosperity of the modern age has brought many blessings when it comes to child-rearing and child development, offering kids new opportunities for education, play, and personal development. Yet even as we celebrate our civilizational departure from excessive child labor, we ought to be wary of falling into a different sort of lopsided lifestyle.

Alas, as a day-to-day reality, work has largely vanished from modern childhood, with parents constantly stressing over the values of study and practice and “social interaction” even as they insulate their children from any activity that might involve risk, pain, or boredom. As a result, many of our kids are coming far too late to the arena of creative service and all it brings: dignity, meaning, freedomvirtuecreativitycharacter, and neighbor love.

Operating out of a justified fear of the harsh excesses of “harder times,” we have allowed our cultural attitudes to swing too far in the opposite direction, distorting work as a “necessary obligation of adulthood,” a gift too dangerous for kids. Working from these same distorted attitudes, the Washington Post recently published what it described as a “haunting” photo montage of child laborers from America’s rougher past. (more…)

“A religious right that is not able to tie public action and cultural concern to a theology of gospel and mission will die and will deserve to die.” –Russell Moore

In this year’s Erasmus Lecture at First Things, Russell Moore offers a striking critique of the religious right of decades past and present, pointing the way toward a renewal in public theology and a revitalization of Christian institutions:

Alas, while many the movement’s conversations have often focused on key issues and the right high-level policy aims, far too often, it has suffered from a narrow theological imagination and an increasingly cynical political pragmatism. As a result, we’ve found ourselves reaching for narrow policy wins and waging gruesome short-term political combat at the cost of clear Gospel witness and long-term culture-level action and institution-building.

As Moore concludes, a renewed religious right will require a more holistic and generational view of human flourishing and the People of God — one that doesn’t forget or neglect the heart of the Gospel or confuse it with moralism and political privilege: (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
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Does the work of a coffee buyer have an impact that stretches on into eternity? Does coffee tasting matter to God?

In a new video from Chapel Hill Bible Church, coffee taster and buyer Jeff McArthur shares how he came to see the deeper meaning of his work, both in the day-to-day trades and exchanges with his customers and community and in the relational ripple effects that reach on into the broader economic order.

“I feel like sometimes God has us in roles for reasons that we don’t immediately see,” McArthur says. “We’re helping to impact who goes into the café in the morning to get their coffee, but we’re also impacting the lives of those producing partners of ours as well.”

McArthur, who serves as Head Roaster for Counter Culture Coffee, outlines a range of areas in which simple, mundane tasks or responsibilities yield tremendous fruit, both material and spiritual. (more…)

strong-weak-chart-andy-crouch12In our discussions about politics, society, and culture, the vocabulary of “human flourishing” has become increasingly popular, moving dangerously close to the status of blurry buzzword.

Yet at its best, the term captures the connective tissue between the material and the transcendent, the immediate and the eternal, pointing toward a holistic prosperity that accounts for the full complexity of the human person.

In his latest book, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing, Andy Crouch examines the broader ideal. ‘“Flourishing’ is a way of answering the first great question,” he writes. “What are we meant to be? We are meant to flourish—not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to exist, but to explore and expand.”

In order to actually embody that answer, Crouch believes we have to grasp the underlying “paradox of flourishing.” “Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak,” he writes, requiring us to “embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty – even, at least in this broken world, both life and death.”

In truth, most of us tend to elevate one to the detriment of the other, relishing in abuse of power or pursuit of poverty. Yet as humans created in the image of God, and as citizens of an upside-down Kingdom, we are called to embrace and combine each together. Such is the path to real life and abundance, both in the now and not yet. (more…)