Posts tagged with: work

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: jballor
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
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Joseph Sunde’s fine post today on vocation examines the dynamic between work and toil, the former corresponding to God’s creational ordinance and the latter referring to the corruption of that ordinance in light of the Fall into sin.

Read the whole thing.

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Joseph employs a distinction between “needs-based” work and something else, something privileged, a first-world kind of “fulfilling” work. The point DeKoster makes is right on target; we need to, in Bonhoeffer’s words, break through from the “it” of the work to the “you” (ultimately the divine “You”) that we meet in the work itself.

The discussions of these kinds of distinctions between “hard” work and “head” work have a long pedigree. There was a philosophical dispute running throughout the ancient and medieval eras about the value of the active versus the contemplative life. But I’d like to highlight a more proximate antecedent for some of this thinking, the British controversialist and critic John Ruskin (1819-1900).

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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, January 28, 2013
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Why do we go to work, day after day, year after year for most of our lives? Sure, we most of us have to “make a living?” But is that our only motivation? Is there a better reason why we should work? Matthew Kaemingk thinks so:
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On January 18-19, over 200 Christians gathered at the Common Good RVA event in Richmond, VA, to “explore what it means to see our everyday work as a meaningful part of our Christian calling.” Barrett Clark, director of strategy and analytics for Ivy Ventures, attended the event and provided a helpful summary to On Call in Culture.

By Barrett Clark

Common Good RVAThroughout history, the term “common good” has been used in a variety of ways, taking on various meanings, often in the service of personal or political ends.

At the recent Common Good RVA event in Richmond, VA, hosted by Christianity Today and two Richmond churches, local believers were challenged to give meaning to the phrase in their faith and daily lives. As the event sought to affirm, the Common Good is ultimately God–acting through his people, by his delegation.

The conference was an extension of Christianity Today’s This is Our City series, which covers Christian-led cultural renewal efforts in several American cities, whether it be selling mattresses or providing low-cost lighting to the developing world. With a band, beards, and a program broken up by videos and tweets, the event had all the signs of a conference geared toward 20- and 30-something creatives and young professionals.

Andy Crouch, senior editor of Christianity Today, led the event, covering some of the main points from his book, Culture Making. Pointing to the current state of American Protestant church, Crouch drew parallels with 19th-century Pope Leo XIII, who chose to lead from a position of spiritual power when the Catholic Church lost a degree of temporal power in physical territory and earthly governance. In a similar way, Crouch argued, today’s American church is losing some of its own temporal power when it comes to directly influencing government, policy, and power. Once again, we are pressed to rely more heavily on spiritual power, engaging society and culture for the Common Good at lower, closer levels of human interaction and engagement. (more…)

star1In an effort to foster goodwill amid fiscal cliff negotiations, Starbucks aimed to send a message to Congress by instructing its D.C.-area employees to write “Come Together” on every cup of coffee sold.

Critiques abound, with this post from Mickey Kaus grabbing much of the attention, asking, “Is Starbucks a cult?”

From Kaus:

“Room for smarm in your latte?”Isn’t there something creepy about Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz having [in Politico's words] “asked his Washington-area employees to write ‘Come Together’ on each customer cup today, tomorrow and Friday, as a gesture to urge leaders to resolve the fiscal cliff”? Did Schultz take a poll of his employees–sorry, “partners,” he calls them–before ordering pressuring asking them to join in this lobbying effort? What if he were, say, the CEO of Chick-fil-A and he “asked” his “partners” to write “Preserve the Family” on the outside of cups and containers?

…if you go to work for a HuffPo outfit like AOL or Patch, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect. But Starbucks?  Maybe Schultz’s baristas came for the (admirable) health benefits, not because they wanted to join him in some mushy Tom Brokawish corporate budget crusade.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster says not so fast, arguing that although many businesses “don’t currently do a good job of stewarding their cultural role,” it’s largely because “we’ve spent more than half a century trying to teach businesses to pretend they’re not moral and cultural.”

For Forster, we should “set businesses free to be culture makers,” not tie them down. As cheesy, ineffective, or “creepy” as the Starbucks campaign may be (it’s all of the above, in my opinion), only when we’re comfortable with the inherent cultural purpose of business will we be able to “re-humanize” companies accordingly. (more…)

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…)