A brass-tacks, real-world theology of work and vocation, with thanks to Tim Keller


depressed working guyThe current series of posts (starting here) has been sketching a theological understanding of work and vocation, drawing from Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf’s excellent book Every Good Endeavor. The last two posts have tapped traditional Christian understandings of Creation and Incarnation for what they have to say about this important topic. This one wraps up with the New Heavens and New Earth, and then asks what difference all this lovely meaty theology makes to how we experience our own work and vocations here in the Real World:

Heavenly-earthly work

But there is one more part of the Bible story that evangelicals have forgotten, and that prevents us from having a healthy view of ordinary work. That is the ending of the story—not in heaven on fluffy clouds with angels playing harps, but in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

“According to the Bible, this world is the forerunner of the new heavens and new earth, which will be purified, restored, and enhanced at the ‘renewal of all things; (Matthew 19:28; Romans 8:19–25),” say Keller and Alsdorf. “No other religion envisions matter and spirit living together in integrity forever. And so birds flying and oceans roaring and people eating, walking, and loving are permanently good things.”

What does this triumphant re-creation in the End Times mean to our ordinary, daily work today? It means that contrary to some popular opinion, the things we do and make and even accumulate are not “all going to burn.” True, there are no U-Hauls on hearses. Continue reading

Jesus the Incarnate Worker God


Christ-in-the-Carpenters-ShopINcarnation

In the last post, we looked briefly at the story and doctrine of Creation – what it means to us as human workers.

But we also miss the wonder and dignity of work because, although we love to meditate on the cross, the resurrection, and the salvation that comes from those events, we don’t stop to be amazed and edified by the Incarnation. If you look at the thousand years of Western medieval art, you’ll find lots of depictions of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, but neither of these is the most-painted scene of that millennium.

What was the most-painted scene? The Annunciation: the moment that the Angel appears to Mary and tells her that God is about to come to earth, to take on human form, through her own womb. This is the moment that the incredible news first comes to humanity: God is about to become Incarnate—to become part of his own creation. Continue reading

We were made to work (really! It’s there in the book of Genesis)


garden-e1372528446638Creation

At the very beginning of Genesis, God shows himself as a working God, who creates valuable things. And then right away we see that we ourselves as made in his image, also to work. Timothy Keller cites biblical scholar Derek Kidner, who notices a profound detail in the account of God’s creation of animals and humans in Genesis 1:

Only man is set apart and given a job description, “an office (1:26b, 28b; 2:19; cf. Ps.8:4–8; James 3:7) . . .” In other words, while the plants and animals are called to simply reproduce, only humans are explicitly given a job. They are called to “subdue” and “have dominion,” or rule the earth. We are given specific work to do because we are made in God’s image. (Every Good Endeavor, 48.)

So as long as the Jewish and Christian religions have been on this earth, these peoples have worked for most of the week, then set aside the seventh day for rest. Why? Continue reading

What our pastors need to know about faith, work, and economics – part 1: Getting the beginning and end of the story right


cut-up-bibleA couple of months back, I was invited to come to the world headquarters of the Wesleyan denomination in Indianapolis to talk with a group of professors from Indiana Wesleyan University’s seminary about how we can train tomorrow’s pastors better in the area of faith, work, and economics. This series of posts is from the two talks I gave there.

Introduction: getting the story right

As we start our reflections today, I think a fair question is: Why does the church today find itself needing to pour time and effort into connecting our people’s faith with their work? Shouldn’t it be obvious that God cares about all aspects of our life as human beings, and that he works in many ways through our work?

Then I read key contemporary thinkers in the faith-and-work movement, and a picture emerges. I’d put it like this:

Evangelical Christians are really, really good at “the middle part” of the grand story told in the Bible. Continue reading

Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – LAST part (14): sex, food, emotion – how should we live the “material life”


scene-of-a-medieval-banquetSex, food, emotion

Our modern way of spiritualizing of faith out of all earthly recognition is not just an evasion of the unchurched. It has rooted itself deep in Christian culture. To many, faith deals with the realms of the spiritual and does not involve the realm of the physical. The single important thing about Christ is that he was divine—his humanity doesn’t matter much.

We have perhaps not become, as some argue, Gnostics (although there is a family resemblance). We are far too fond of our creature comforts to condemn our bodies as evil, as that heresy did, even if we pretend not to be. Rather, we just now assume that those comforts are spiritually insignificant. This leaves us heedless of our bodies’ significance as the one and only “place” in which we meet God.

We do not live outside our experience of embodiedness and relatedness with other bodies. Continue reading

Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 13: Medieval people as “Homo Ignoramus”?


Flat-earthers?

Flat-earthers?

Why can’t we hear the medievals on Creation and Incarnation?

In the modern West, a crucial reason we cannot hear what medieval people actually said about the world and God’s relationship to it is that we assume, from our privileged modern “scientific” vantage point, that they were impenetrably ignorant about the world. To take just one example: everyone knows that medieval people believed the world is flat, right?

In fact, this is nonsense. The myth that “before Columbus, Europeans believed nearly unanimously in a flat earth—a belief allegedly drawn from certain biblical statements and enforced by the medieval church,” came from the eighteenth century. Its originator was popular novelist Washington Irving, who “flagrantly fabricated” evidence for medieval flat-earth belief in his four-volume history of Columbus.[1]

“The truth is,” says historian of science David Lindberg, “that it’s almost impossible to find an educated person after Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.) who doubts that the earth is a sphere. In the Middle Ages, you couldn’t emerge from any kind of education, cathedral school or university, without being perfectly clear about the earth’s sphericity and even its approximate circumference.”[2] Continue reading

Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 12: God is IN “the way of all flesh”


https://www.sculpturegallery.com/Santini/michelangelo-sistine-chapel-adam.jpgThe Crux: Creation and Incarnation

Is there a way to summarize the negative effects of our modern “immediatism gone to seed,” and the medieval balm that could be applied to heal our self-inflicted wounds? Many ways, no doubt, but I keep coming back to the doctrines of the Creation and the Incarnation – their eclipse in the modern scientific age and their potential recovery through clear-eyed and open-hearted engagement with medieval wisdom.

I believe (and Lewis observed) that the scientific revolution and its sequels—the Enlightenment—began to sap the material world of its spiritual and moral significance, and that this diminishment has only continued and intensified up to today. Lewis put the decisive “break point” just after the heyday of Jane Austen (1775 – 1817),[1] a turning point whose catastrophic effects he had already limned in his argument “The Abolition of Man” (1943) and its novelistic outworking That Hideous Strength (1945). But whenever it happened, a crucial effect of the universe’s modern disenchantment has been that we no longer recognize the spiritual importance of either Creation (God making all flesh) or Incarnation (God becoming flesh). Continue reading