Posts tagged with: work

Over at AEIdeas, James Pethokoukis challenges our attitudes about work and leisure by drawing a helpful contrast between economists John Maynard Keynes and Deirdre McCloskey.

First, he points to “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” in which Keynes frames our economic pursuits as a means to a leisurely end:

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.

Then, he draws the contrast, relying on Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. In the book, McCloskey quotes Studs Terkel, who eloquently describes a job “as a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” (more…)

Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller

In a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Tim Keller discusses the major themes of his new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, which aims to properly orient our work toward worship and service (HT).

In the interview, Keller argues that we live in a culture that has misplaced its identity in work, rather than pursued it as part of a deeper, more sacred commitment:

When you make your work your identity…if you’re successful it destroys you because it goes to your head. If you’re not successful it destroys you because it goes to your heart—it destroys your self-worth… What you need with faith, is faith gives you an identity that’s not in work or accomplishment, and that gives you insulation against the weather changes. If you’re successful, you stay humble. If you’re not successful, you have some ballast. So, basically, making your work your identity, kind of an idol, to use Biblical terminology, is maybe the big sin of New York City.

There is, of course, a balance, and much of Keller’s book is devoted to uncovering this balance. As he goes on to explain in the interview, “Work is a great thing when it is a servant instead of a lord.”

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As a part of our evangelical outreach at Acton, we have commissioned four primers from different evangelical traditions on the intersection of faith, work, and economics. The books will be written from the Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Reformed traditions and will be released throughout this coming year.

The first book released is the Baptist primer written by Chad Brand. Chad is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY as well as the associate dean of Boyce College. He has served as pastor of three Southern Baptist churches and interim pastor of several others.

In Flourishing Faith, Dr. Chad Brand shows how by examining key issues of the history and theology of political economy: work, wealth, government, and taxation with its various implications. Brand then explores the philosophy of how government relates to political economy and highlights how Baptists have contributed. Insightful, provocative, and generous.

Regarding Flourishing Faith, Dr. David Allen, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary says:

Chad Brand has helped to fill a lacuna on the subject of work, economics, and civic stewardship in the Baptist tradition. Serving as something of a primer, Flourishing Faith examines key issues related to political economy such as vocational calling, wealth, government, and taxation. Interesting, informative, historically and biblically based, Chad’s book is an important and helpful addition in this sometimes neglected, but currently crucial area of our national life.

Christian’s Library Press has published this book and it is available here. Acton will be exhibiting at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting next week. This book along with others will be available for discounted purchase at Booth 121 in the Exhibit Hall.

I recently wrote about Hobby Lobby’s billionaire CEO, who, in a recent Forbes profile, made it clear how deeply his Christian faith informs his economic decision-making.

This week, in Christianity Today, HOPE International’s Chris Horst profiles another Christian business, Blender Products, whose owners Steve Hill and Jim Howey actively work to elevate the practices of the metal fabrication business and, above all, operate their business “unto the Lord.”

Their company’s foundational verse? Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

“The metal fabrication business is extremely cutthroat,” says Hill. “Workers are given a singular task, and maximum output is demanded. They’re simply a factor of production. As a general rule, they have no access to management. There is very little crossover between guys on the floor and guys in the offices.”

Hill and Howey aim to subvert the us-versus-them mentality. Many days they walk the shop floor, engaging their workers as peers. Employees on the floor are treated as importantly as the managers, undermining the adversarial culture simmering in many manufacturing businesses.

“The company has tried to abide by a simple philosophy concerning our employees,” Steve said. “Pay them well, provide great benefits, and invest in lives…The guys in our shop… know that I’m a human too. I have many of the same struggles they do. Showing humanness to people is key to disarming those stereotypes.”

And the employees aren’t the only ones who benefit:

The very work that Blender employees accomplish benefits a broader community. On the shop floor, talented metal artisans convert stacks of sheet metal—what looks like an oversized stack of paper—into massive fans that improve the efficiency of machinery by mixing airstreams. Their proprietary mixing designs decrease pollution, reduce machinery fire risks, and improve ventilation wherever they’re installed. Fastened in hospitals, schools, office buildings, and factories, they silently make buildings and machines work better and safer.

But although Hill and Howey’s Christian values inform the way they conduct their business and treat their employees, the approach has impacted far more than employee paychecks, customer satisfaction, and environmental stewardship:
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In his Acton Commentary today, Jordan Ballor writes,

All work has a spiritual dimension because the human person who works in whatever capacity does so as an image-bearer of God. “While the classic Greek mind tended to scorn work with the hands,” write Berghoef and DeKoster, “the Bible suggests that something about it structures the soul.” If we derogate work with the hands, manual and skilled labor, in this way, we separate what God has put together and create a culture that disdains the hard and often dirty work of cultivating the world in service of others. The challenge that faces the church and society more broadly then is to appreciate the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work, to celebrate it, and to exhort us to persevere in our labors amidst the unavoidable troubles that plague work in this fallen world.

This point—the need for a renewed appreciation of “the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work” and “manual and skilled labor” in particular—reminds me of the following story that I recently reflected on elsewhere from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Abba Agatho was asked: “Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or the guard over the inner man?” The Abba said: “Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner man is like the fruit. Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered with beautiful leaves, the bodily discipline.”

Abba Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, July 26, 2012
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In today’s “On the Square” over at First Things, Leroy Huizenga reflects upon “the technopoly” of our daily lives, where so much of our time is captivated by staring at a computer screen, clicking links, reading posts, checking updates, and so on. Huizenga writes,

I worry about becoming a functional Gnostic, plugged into this new matrix, this new pixelated irreality. My reality easily becomes the screens, and the interactivity of hyperlinks means I can go where I will and create my own personal submatrix thereby. (more…)

Blog author: aknot
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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That’s the question asked at the “Economics for Everybody” blog. The answer? A resounding yes:

Work is important to God. It’s so important that He put Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it.” God took His creation and assigned it to Adam “to fill and subdue.” That sounds like work to me.

So, what does this have to do with economics?

The Bible shows us economics begins with work. God demonstrated this with His own creative action, then told Adam to follow His example. But it’s not work for work’s sake, or even work for Adam’s sake. It’s work for God’s sake.

This is the point of God commanding Adam to do specific things. Theologians often refer to these initial commands as the “creation mandate.” They are binding for everyone in the world. You could say the creation mandate is pressed into our DNA. We were designed to follow God’s commands. It’s our purpose in life.

Now when you follow someone’s commands, it means you’re ultimately working for them. In other words, with the creation mandate, God made us stewards of the creation. According to Genesis 1 and 2, our primary job as stewards is to have families and manage God’s property for their provision, all the while enjoying a close relationship with Him.

The article goes on to note that stewardship necessitates choices, and choices are foundational to economic thinking. Be it naming animals, investing, farming, or leading a family, daily tasks of stewardship are marked by the choices they demand. These choices require a broadened sense of economic thinking and force us to reckon with economics as a serious field of thought and study in the created world.

The article concludes:

This means economics starts with work, is driven by choices, and is guided by God’s commands. We could sum it all up by saying ‘economics is the study of the choices we make while using our limited resources in order to be good stewards before God.’

Complete article here.

EcclesiastesThe Preacher says that God “has set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV). This is within the broader context of his discussion of the paradox of exploring the wonder of God’s creation and the vanity of human striving in a fallen world.

But the more immediate context is a discussion of work. In verse 9 he asks, “What do workers gain from their toil?” A bit earlier he discusses the meaningless of work, but concludes that “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.”

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is an excellent primer on relating human happiness to material and spiritual goods. These sections on work and satisfaction are some of the most significant along these lines. For as the Preacher continues, such “satisfaction” in work “is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”

So work is both significant for our satisfaction but no substitute for eternal things. This resonates quite well with the picture of work we get in Lester DeKoster’s book on the subject. It also brings to mind some of Arthur Brooks’ work on the social science of happiness and “earned success.” One caveat, or at least necessary frame of reference for the discussion of earned success, it seems to me, is this idea that our enjoyment of things on this earth is to be properly oriented to and subjoined under the higher things of God.

If, as Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord,” then whatever happiness we derive from work, earned success, and everything else “under the sun” must be appreciated as the gifts of God that they are and properly valued as such. Such a perspective helps keep us from confusing heaven and earth, so to speak, and turning work, happiness, or anything else in the created order into an idol.

This week, 40 pastors and church leaders are gathered to discuss important ideas of integrating faith, work, and vocation into our daily lives. Vocation is integral, not incidental to the missio Dei, the work that God has called us to do each day. The pastors and church leaders represent a diversity of evangelical traditions and geographic locations in the US.

Over the next year, this group will meet for face-to-face retreats, field trips and a few webinars with the goal of each pastor and church developing an infusion plan to infuse these important ideas into the DNA of each church. The churches represented here are on different places on this journey and it is our hope this community will truly be a learning community where pastors and leaders can learn from each other and immediately incorporate those ideas into their congregations and use them in their infusion plans.

Joining me on the community’s leadership team are Amy Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute, Steve Garber, director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, and Stephen Grabill, Director of Programs and International. We are looking forward to thoughtful discussions and infusion plans to integrate these ideas and concepts throughout this next year.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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In my Acton Commentary this week, “Good Work Never Ends,” I look at the example of two local personalities, John Izenbaard of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Fred Carl Hamilton of Wyoming, Michigan, to argue that “the good work of service to others ought never end as long as we live.”

Izenbaard in particular is a striking example of perseverance in serving others. The 90 year-old Izenbaard has been working at Hoekstra’s True Value Hardware for 74 years, and has no plans to retire.

During his conversation with Rev. Sirico at Acton University last week, Michael Novak observed that at the heart of every business is an idea, some new good or service that is produced. In my talk on “The Church and God’s Economy,” I outlined what I call the 4 P’s of God’s economy. The P for the realm of work is that of “production,” precisely in the same sense used by Novak. Work is the realm of productive service of others. When work is defined in this way it causes us to rethink from the ground up the worldly notion of retirement.

In this week’s piece I also refer to the formula “from success to significance.” As I point out, a good way of understanding this formula is not necessarily as a temporal transition from career into retirement, but rather as a shift in perspective. On that score, we might also talk about moving “from success to service,” or even defining success in terms of productive service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a helpful insight into what this might look like in relation to the challenge of being faithful in the midst of the daily grind:

The unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day, is found because finding the You of God behind the It of the day’s work is what Paul means by his admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). The prayer of the Christian reaches, therefore, beyond the time allocated to it and extends into the midst of the work. It surrounds the whole day, and in so doing, it does not hinder the work; it promotes work, affirms work, gives work great significance and joyfulness. Thus every word, every deed, every piece of work of the Christian becomes a prayer, not in the unreal sense of being constantly distracted from the task that must be done, but in a real breakthrough from the hard It to the gracious You.

I also note Lester DeKoster’s fine book on work in the context of this week’s piece, and his argument helps us realize that the dynamic of serving others and serving God is not an either/or proposition. As he writes, work “gives meaning to life because it is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others, and thus to God.”