Tag Archives: vocation

C S Lewis and chronological snobbery: “Why–damn it–it’s medieval!”


Old-books-on-shelves-001Lewis was born to save the modern world from trashing its traditions – both Christian and classical. Once he had converted from his own “chronological snobbery,” he quickly found a vocation in recovering tradition for others. This is the second post from the “Tradition chapter” of Medieval Wisdom: An exploration with C S Lewis. The first is here.

For an idea of how Lewis viewed the power of tradition, we turn to his answer to the Christian Century magazine when they asked him, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” The wording of that question is crucial. They asked not “what books did most to influence your style?” or “fire your imagination?” or “give you templates for your own writing?” etc., but rather “what books shaped your vocational attitude and philosophy of life.” As we see in the preface to Sister Penelope’s translation of Athanasius’s De Incarnatione, retitled “On reading old books” in later anthologies, and even more in his De Descriptione Temporum address at Cambridge in the Fall of 1954, nothing more triggered for Lewis “the place where his deep gladness met the world’s deep need”[1] than the modern abandonment of tradition. I mean his sense that in abandoning tradition, the modern world had dealt itself a grievous wound, which only his Christian faith kept him from seeing as inevitably fatal.

Lewis was perhaps the best prepared person of his generation for the task of appreciating and passing on the wisdom of past generations to those yet to come. Continue reading

Check out this cool conference on faith and work


faith-work-cultureJust wanted to show y’all this conference we’ve been working on here at Bethel Seminary, for Thur-Fri Oct 10-11, 2013. Come one, come all!

Think a personality test like the Myers-Briggs can guide you to your perfect career? Think again, says Fortune


phreneologyhead-graphicsfairy010bFortune magazine has recently reaffirmed what a lot of people have been saying for a long time about personality tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). When I hear someone talking about “the beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality,” it warms my heart. Yes, I am a PTC (personality test curmudgeon). Says Fortune:

One other thing, and this matters especially for anybody who thinks personality tests can guide them to a perfect career. According to official Myers-Briggs documents published by its exclusive European distributor, the test can “give you an insight into what kinds of work you might enjoy and be successful doing.” So if you are, like me, classified as INTJ (your dominant traits are being introverted, intuitive, and having a preference for thinking and judging), the best-fit occupations include management consultant, IT professional, and engineer.

Would a change to one of these careers make me more fulfilled? Unlikely, according to psychologist David Pittenger, because there is “no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation … nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types.” Pittenger advises “extreme caution in [the MBTI test's] application as a counselling tool.” Then why is the MBTI so popular? Its success, he argues, is primarily due to “the beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality and steady marketing.”

When I cite the avalanche of critical studies to career counsellors, coaches, and trainers who administer Myers-Briggs tests, they often point out that the test is not designed to match people to ideal careers. Yet many of them ignore the evidence and keep on handing them out, typically because they are still believers in it as a guide to personality types, but sometimes — I suspect — because it gives their advice a veneer of legitimacy.

I am especially concerned that people take these tests and then make major life decisions based on the simplistic self-portraits that result from them. Why? Because they are not only “beguiling” but, demonstrably, unreliable:

The interesting — and somewhat alarming — fact about the MBTI is that, despite its popularity, it has been subject to sustained criticism by professional psychologists for over three decades. One problem is that it displays what statisticians call low “test-retest reliability.” So if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category compared to the first time you took the test.

That’s not the kind of track record I’m interested in building my life on. I prefer the older, slower method of listening carefully to the people who know me well. It’s not sexy, you can’t buy it, and its answers aren’t always clear, but its relational nature matches it more closely to what we’re trying to figure out: the incredibly complex, layered mass of predilections, gifts, and experiences that make up our shifting-but-centered personalities.

You can read the whole Fortune article here.

Is it hard to be a Christian actor? This Two and a Half Men star thinks it may often be.


Modesty!, etching, published by G. Humphrey , ...

Modesty!, etching, published by G. Humphrey , London, 7th June 1821, (Caroline of Brunswick, wife of King George IV, at a theatre in Genoa, with her secretary and constant companion Bartolomeo Pergami) Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Museum number: S.51-2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What I would say to a person who is firm in their faith and wants to go into an acting career: It is such a difficult thing to do without compromising your beliefs. Even though you are just pretending, if you sign the contract and agree to do what they are doing, even if your character is not evil or doesn’t compromise your belief, you are in a world similar to that of Alexander the Great. Everything the Greeks did was to promote their own worldview, their schools, their theater, their religion, and their sports. You are either in the world or with God. Committing yourself to some kind of job that isn’t committed to God is going to bring so much trouble into your life. It’s not good and not something I would suggest that someone seek.”

So says Angus T. Jones, the 19-yr-old star of Two and a Half Men. Now, I would have to agree with Jones that this particular show, which has for years made Jones himself one of the wealthiest child star on television, has few if any redeeming qualities. “Filth” may not be too strong a word. But he is raising a larger question here: Is it possible to be an actor and a Christian?

The 3rd-century Roman Christian Tertullian thought not. And he had some good reasons: “The Shows” of his time included nudity, sexual acts, and violence–including gladiatorial contests and the public execution-by-wild-animals of many Christians. They also took place in settings explicitly dedicated to idols. Here is Tertullian, in his de spectaculis (“The Shows”): Continue reading

AUDIO LECTURES: Which 10 books most influenced C S Lewis?


cs-lewis-pensiveI just read that I’m now a “distinguished guest speaker.” Checked quickly in the mirror: doesn’t look like I have any more grey hairs . . .

Anyhow, the Madison C S Lewis Society has just posted the audio of a tremendous series of nine top scholars, plus me, speaking at their Oct 2012 conference on the ten books that most influenced C S Lewis. I’ve got to say this was the most stimulating conference I’ve attended in a long, long time.

These were the books Lewis listed toward the end of his life in answer to a question from the American magazine The Christian Century about which books had most influenced his “sense of vocation and philosophy of life.” My assignment: to discuss how Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, of which the medievalist Lewis said, “To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalized in the Middle Ages,” influenced the Oxford don.

Appropriate to my activities these days in Bethel Seminary’s Work with Purpose initiative, in this talk I pay particular attention to the question of how Lewis saw his own vocation as a public intellectual attempting to preserve and recommend the Old Western Christian tradition.

The link is here. (In my bit, the talk is around 40 minutes; the lively Q&A at the end is perhaps the most interesting part: you may just want to skip ahead!) And here is the full list of books and speakers:

The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto presented by Dr. Adam Barkman from Redeemer University College. 
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell presented by Dr. Paul Tankard from the University of Otago, NZ. 
Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour presented by Dr. Charles Taliferro from St. Olaf College. 
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius presented by Dr. Chris Armstrong from Bethel University. 
Phantastes by George MacDonald presented by Dr. David Neuhouser from Taylor University 
The Temple by George Herbert presented by Dr. Don King from Montreat College. 
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton presented by Dr. Donald T. Williams from Toccoa Falls College. 
Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams presented by Dr. Holly Ordway, Houston Baptist University. 
The Aeneid by Virgil presented by Dr. Louis Markos from Houston Baptist University. 
The Prelude by William Wordsworth presented by Dr. Mary Ritter from New York University. 

Is everyday work spiritually second-class? Not according to these Christian thinkers


Refocused Vocation

Thanks to Leadership Journal for asking me to write the following. It’s now up at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/
winter/refocused-vocation.html
.

Refocused Vocation

Over the centuries, it’s been distorted, but history also sharpens our view of every Christian’s calling.

Chris R. Armstrong

In the first history class of each new year at Bethel Seminary, I have my students talk about their sense of calling. Many of them tell a similar story: “I quit my job to go into the ministry.” What drove them to this decision was a sense of frustration and meaninglessness in their daily work. They didn’t see their workas pleasing to God or useful in the kingdom. The frequent assumption is that ordained ministry is where people are really working for God.

If that’s true, where does that leave the vast majority of Christians, who by the end of their lives will each have spent an average of 100,000 hours in non-church work? Can they see secular jobs as a holy vocation? Can non-church work be a means to serve others, giving cups of water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (Mt. 25)—which (for example) parents do every month, whether through a paycheck or in the work they do in the home? Those in secular work often feel like only those doing things of significance in ministry positions will get to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This sense that ordinary work is spiritually second-class isn’t so much taught as caught. Continue reading

Have you ever thought of what a truck driver goes through to get your Amazon package (etc.) to you?


DRIVER_IN_THE_CAB_OF_A_LARGE_CATTLE_TRUCK_IN_COTTONWOOD_FALLS,_KANSAS,_NEAR_EMPORIA._SUCH_VEHICLES_AND_HORSES_ARE_THE..._-_NARA_-_557044.tifI’d like to share part of a fascinating article (thanks to Drew Cleveland of the Kern Family Foundation for bringing this to my attention) on the special “body knowledge” and skills required of the long-haul truck driver. It’s called “Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification” and is by Benjamin H. Snyder. I find it eye-opening, compelling, even moving. It is an excellent specimen of the journalistic species of the “creative nonfiction” genus.

The article sure made me stop and think of the ease with which I hit that “order” button in Amazon.com. I sure don’t think about what the truck driver will quite possibly go through to get that package to me, or indeed the indignities he will suffer as he does so. Here’s a taste of the article, which is from UVA‘s Hedgehog Review. For the whole thing, go here.

3:32 a.m. Over the last hour and a half, we have stopped at three more truck stops and one rest area. They have all been completely full. We pull into another truck stop—a fifth attempt at parking tonight. Yet again, it is full. Alvaro tries to remain optimistic. He turns to me with a wry smile and says, “looks like we’re going to Little Rock, man!” Continue reading

Business as Mission (BAM) – 12 key facets


Business as Mission Global Think Tank logo

If you’re interested in the new global movement of “Business as Mission,” Mats Tunehag is your guy. He is Senior Associate on Business as Mission for both the Lausanne Movement and for the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission, and founder and co-leader of the first global think tank on Business as Mission (now in its second multi-year session). Recently on his blog, and re-posted on the Bam Think Tank blog, Mats gave us a pithy but penetrating run-down of 12 dimensions of BAM.

In case you haven’t run across the term before, before I share a summary of Tunehag’s piece, here is how BAM is defined at http://www.businessasmission.com: Continue reading

Tim Keller on how faith matters to our work


every-good-endeavor-picRedeemer Presbyterian NYC’s famous pastor, Tim Keller, has blogged a reflection on his new co-authored volume (with Redeemer Pres’s Faith and Work Center’s founder and former Silicon Valley executive Katherine Leary Alsdorf), Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. People have been glancing at the book’s subtitle, says Keller, and asking: “OK, so, in a nutshell, how does God’s work connect to our work?” He answers in four pithy points, which I summarize as a list here. To see what Keller does with each point, check out the full post here.

Here are Keller’s four ways God connects with our work: Continue reading

Pietism, Calvinism, and vocation – reflections from Bethel’s Chris Gehrz


Chris GehrzPlease, talk among yourselves as we at Bethel University engage in a little love-fest.

My colleague in the College of Arts and Sciences, historian Chris Gehrz, always provides lively insights on his Pietist Schoolman blog. Today, triggered by my post here on the divine value of secular vocation, Chris said some nice things about me on that blog. Then he mused a bit on Pietist (lack of?) contribution to thought about vocation, and some of his favorite sources on the same topic, which happen to be Reformed.

I’m skipping the encomiums (but thanks, Chris!) and moving to the latter part of his post:

Where I talk with students about vocation, I have to admit that I’m drawing chiefly on the Reformed tradition: from the section of John Calvin’s Institutes (on being faithful to one’s divine calling) that is my favorite thing to teach to the first-year students in our Christianity and Western Culture course to theFrederick Buechner sermon on calling that I discuss with our department’s seniors at the end of their capstone seminar. It’s no surprise that, when I started talking about vocation in my initial tenure interview, our then-provost (now-president) chuckled, “For a Pietist, you sure sound like a Calvinist.” Continue reading