Given our tendency to veer too far in either direction (stewardship or economics), and to confine our Christian duties to this or that sphere of life, the diagram is particularly helpful in demonstrating the overall interconnectedness of things.
Buried in a note in my book about the economic teachings of the ecumenical movement is this insight from Richard A. Wynia: “The Lord does not ask for success in our work for Him; He asks for faithfulness.”
This captures the central claim of Tyler Wigg-Stevenson’s book, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (IVP, 2013), which I review over at Canon & Culture. As Wigg-Stevenson puts it, “Our job is not to win the victory, but to expose through our lives the victory that has been won on our behalf.”
The wrong way of understanding this insight would be to conclude that what we do on this earth really doesn’t matter. All we have to do is be “faithful,” especially in terms of our mental orientations, and that’s sufficient. But as Gilson would remind us, “Piety is no substitute for technique.” The reality that the world is not ours to save is no excuse for pursuing good irresolutely or amateurishly.
One of the primary duties for Christians is to recognize the dignity of all of God’s creatures and to exercise our dominion over them in ways that are humane, responsible, and God-honoring. It is literally the first set of instructions given to humanity (Gen. 1:28). Yet when think of our roles as stewards of creation, we often focus exclusively on our collective responsibilities at the macro level rather than on what we can do at the micro level of individual effort. In our focus on fixing global problems we tend to forgot our responsibility to “tend the garden” in our personal interactions with nature.
Such small-scale cultivation of nature is not as exciting as proposing legislation for an environmental agenda or as attention-getting as raising money to save an entire species. But the very simplicity of the actions can help us clearly see the beauty in exercising dominion – a term that has developed ugly connotations – and lead us to a more worshipful posture toward our Creator.
An wonderful example is an interaction between scuba instructor and underwater videographer Keller Laros and a bottlenose dolphin in need of the type of help only a human can provide. After noticing a fishing hook and line stuck in the dolphin’s fin, Laros, an experienced rescuer of dolphins, works to free the animal.
In an interview with Eater, celebrity chef Alton Brown was asked how his faith and religion play into his professional life. Brown is a “born-again Christian,” though he finds the term overly redundant.
His answer is rather edifying, offering a good example of the type of attitude and orientation we as Christians are called to assume:
As far as other decisions, my wife runs the company. We try not to make any big decisions about the direction of this company or my career without praying about it. We try to listen to what God says to us pretty hard and we say no to a lot of things because of that. We’re not rich and that’s because if we don’t get a clear feeling for what we ought to be doing, we don’t do it. We turn down endorsements. We say no to things. You know, none of this is mine. For some reason I am being trusted with it and I take the stewardship of it really, really seriously.
This nestles quite nicely with the excerpt I recently shared on Christian conscience, which Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef describe as the “watchful monitor” of stewardship. Consider also its resemblance to DeKoster and Berghoef’s approach to Christian stewardship in general:
The believer, because he is a true believer, knows very well that he owes God everything: “For the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 50:12). God has first claim by right of ownership to everything each of us calls his own. To ask with the psalmist, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (116:12) can only be completely answered by the acknowledgment: “All, Lord, is thine!”…
…God makes man the master of his temporal household. Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer. For three score years and ten, more or less as the case may be, each of us is steward over those talents and those pounds allotted us by divine providence…As each has managed his stewardship, so will he be judged: “Well done, my good servant!” or, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:17, 27). The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will. The steward who does not obey the Master’s law rejects the Master’s authority and serves another. Our stewardship is the test: Do we mean to serve God or mammon, the Lord or the Devil?
Read the full interview with Brown here.
HT: Hunter Baker
I have already weighed in on the recent hubbub over whether bakers, florists, and photographers should be compelled by law to serve ends they deem unethical and in violation of their consciences.
Over at First Things, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration offers some helpful embellishment on that last bit — conscience — arguing that Christians ought to be far less blind and arbitrary when it comes to the shape and scope of their stewardship and service.
As for the case at hand (whether to attend or service particular weddings), Teetsel offers the following:
Have you prayed about it? How is the Holy Spirit leading you? Do you feel you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth? Will attending enable you to continue a Gospel presence in the person’s life? If so, then perhaps you should go…
…Individuals may be led one way or another according to their conscience. One may feel they can provide the service without endorsing or celebrating the event; another may feel the opposite. Religious freedom and the right of conscience preserve the rights of individuals to come to their own conclusions in such circumstances.
Of course not every act of commerce amounts to an assessment of the moral nature of homosexuality. But every so often a creator is asked to use their talents for something their conscience cannot abide. It may be a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony, or a cake in a lewd shape, or a cake celebrating abortion. In those instances, the Bible fails to provide an absolute answer. What is a Christian to do? The answer is a matter of individual conscience. Not whether Christians should or should not do something, but whether they must do something.
Yet when it comes to nearly every case the Christian encounters, that first paragraph is a rather helpful introduction to the types of questions we should be asking. From setting wages and prices, to innovating new products and services, to the ends those outputs elevate, conscience is integral to rightly ordering our efforts. (more…)
Acton’s newest monograph, Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection, is now available as a free ebook download until Monday, February 17. The book, with a foreword from Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, is authored by Bishop Dominique Rey. Bishop Rey graduated with a degree in economics at Lyon and obtained a PhD in fiscal policy at Clermont–Ferrand. He served France as a financial inspector in the Ministry of Finance between 1976 and 1979. Bishop Rey earned a degree in theology and a degree in canon law at the Institute Catholique de Paris while studying for the priesthood.
The monograph critically examines the question: Is modern environmentalism compatible with Christianity? Bishop Rey provides answers to this question in this theological reflection on the relationships among God, man, and nature. The ebook can be downloaded here.
When it comes to theology of work, the church has enjoyed a healthy season of self-critique and introspection. Sermons, books, and seminars abound. Dead theologians and forgotten works are routinely remembered and resurrected, challenging a host of our modern assumptions about wealth, exchange, and the nature of work itself.
We have, as one commonly hears it, begun the process of tearing down the “divides” between Sunday-morning spirituality and grindstone temporality.
In line with such a development, bestselling author Donald Miller recently shared his own work experiences, which include plenty of transcendent purpose and edification. For Miller, however, such a worshipful encounter is offered as support for why he needn’t attend “traditional worship service”:
I learn by doing the very thing I don’t learn by hearing! My guess is because teaching is a kinesthetic discipline rather than an auditory discipline. But that’s a side note. Here’s the real question: How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model?
The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him… (more…)
We may think of gratitude … as an appreciation of the joy that uniquely comes from what is virtuous and the recognition of “what God has done or is doing.” Now we have a hermeneutic for our experience, grounded in the God-given “‘eucharistic’ function of man,” to borrow from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is not enough to simply appreciate what is given. One must submit what is given to the standard of the Good, be thankful for it to the extent that it measures up, and be critical of it to the extent that it does not. The goal is ultimately transformative: In thanksgiving we offer up to God the good things he has given to us and receive them back transfigured by his grace.
In the ancient Church, one of the common charges early Christians brought against Gnostics, who denied that the God they worshiped was the Creator of the world, was that they were being ungrateful. Whoever our Creator is, they reasoned, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Thus, in this way they recommended a eucharistic worldview. (more…)
Given the recent and wide-ranging discussion here on the PowerBlog surrounding the the minimum wage (Hunter Baker, Joe Carter, Jordan Ballor, Elise Hilton, yours truly), this short little video offers a nice overview of the seen and unseen effects of such an instrument.
To make its argument, the video assumes the worst about wage-setters, describing Edgar the Employer as Edgar the Exploiter: one who cares only about “making profit” and even dreams about paying his employees less. I have yet to meet such a miser, even in my dark days behind the McDonald’s fry vat, but surely he exists. (more…)
I certainly like where Dr. Calder ends up, but I’m not quite so sure about the argumentation he uses to get there. This short video is worth checking out: “Breaking the Power of Money” (HT: ESN blog).
Is it because students have unconsciously divinized money that they can’t bring themselves to tear a dollar bill in half? Or is there an implicit bias against the seemingly purposeless destruction of value? Perhaps they need some convincing that destroying dollar bills is an exercise in good stewardship.
Money is something powerful, that’s for sure. And the love of it is the source of all kinds of evil. So the challenge is to keep our loves for temporal goods, including money, ordinate. As Calder puts it, we do that not by destroying money, but by putting it to responsible use. Maybe that’s “profaning” money in the sense that we are taking away the purported and idolatrous divinity we ascribe to it. But maybe that’s also by “redeeming” money for godly use.