Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Other Six Days

In collaboration with OHMSI, we are half-way through the group study on the book Total Truth. It would be good to step back a bit and reflect on the ground we have covered so far at Halftime.

In the Introduction and First Chapter, Nancy Pearcey discussed what Newbigin called "the cultural captivity of the church" to the sacred/secular divide. As a result, "religious truth" is kept in the private sphere of faith, locked away from the public realms of knowledge and facts. For example, a Christian high school teacher told her class: "The heart is what we use for religion, while the brain is what we use for science".

One clear effect of secluding our faith in a private corner lies in how we treat
our vocation in the marketplace.

Given the huge amount of waking hours we spent at work, it seems rather strange that “secular work” occupies such a vague place amongst Christians. A graphic designer friend of mine was once told by well-meaning folks in church that he should not be involved in three types of jobs: an artist (due to widespread worldly temptation), a politician (because it’s ‘dirty’) or a lawyer (to avoid the lure of wealth).

Sometimes it seems like there is a caste system of spiritual work with missionaries and pastors at the top, followed by people-helping professionals (like doctors, teachers, nurses) and, in descending order, “barely-religious” jobs (such as lawyers, politicians and jazz musicians) close to the bottom! Although my friend enjoys doing creative special effects for movies, he can’t shake off the guilt that it is something unspiritual, if not explicitly sinful. He inhabits two separate “worlds”, shifting from an ordinary life as an “artist” on weekdays to a religious life as a Christian on Sundays. He aptly described his incongruent existence as being “schizophrenic” or “split personality”. If we are not a “full time worker” in church, does that make us only “part-time” Christians?

Even if the example is a bit dramatic, we often talk about work being valuable only as a platform that opens up opportunities to share the gospel. Indeed witness should take place naturally in the context of relationships in offices, factories and cafeteria. However, our labor itself has intrinsic God-honoring significance and dignity. It is not just a material necessity to put food on the table.

According to Martin Marty, evangelicals have typically "accented personal piety and individual salvatioin, leaving men to their own devices to interpret the world around them". So how do we liberate ourselves from our cultural captivity?

Unable to engage culture, some Christians resort to political activism, which on its own is powerless if we do not develop a full-orbed Christian worldview. A worldview is a biblically informed perspective on all reality a mental map that guides how we live and understand the world.

It answers fundamental questions of life: Where did we come from? Who am I? What went wrong with the world? Why are we here? What can we do about evil? Where are we going?

But this is not just an academic, intellectual game. It is rooted in the Great Commandment (Matt 22:38) to love the Lord with our whole being - body, emotion, mind.
Like every aspect of character transformation, the renewal of our minds can be painful and hard work. But it is also an act of devotion and service to the Lord of all life.

Pearcey offered a practical toolbox, with which we could make sense of "work" through the lens of Creation, Fall and Redemption.

Creation: At the very beginning, God Himself rolled up His sleeves and worked creatively to get the universe up and running. (Genesis 1:1) Then He graciously gave Adam and Eve their first job description as His partners in eco-management - ruling, caring and stewarding the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). As Marvin Wrong wrote, “Without a human cultivator, every field and garden degenerates into wilderness. In other words, it’s only Eden if you have a gardener. Without one, what you have is the Amazon”. Work itself is designed as part of God’s good gift of creation, not a curse.

Fall: But due to sin, work is not always fulfilling or rewarding (Genesis 3:18). It is often characterized by abuses like overwork, shirk, bribery, office politics and exploitation of others. In this fallen world, we often struggle to maintain our ethical convictions and personal integrity in the face of evil.

Redemption: Yet when Christ came to redeem us from sin, He did not abandon the creation for otherworldly pursuits. His kingdom extends not only to a private corner called ‘religion’ but to every facet of public life as well. Instead, we will have resurrected bodies in the new heaven and new earth where everything is more real than before. We won’t “lepak” around playing harps in floating clouds, but would enjoy sanctified work as meaningful expression of who God made us to be. Therefore, as His followers, the rhythm of work and rest in our lives today ought to give out hints of what that future redeemed world looks like.

Equipped with a biblical worldview, we could live with the conviction that all Christians are gifted and called to be “full-time workers” for the Kingdom in the world. That doesn’t mean that all Christians should escape “secular” work to join “sacred” ministry.

But it does mean that if you are a software designer, you are an “ordained software designer”. You have been summoned by God to serve Him in that specific sphere of activity. Or, if you are an “ordained lawyer”, you are called to prayerfully explore how your discipline shows signs of rebellion against or submission to Christ’s Lordship. An “ordained environmentalist” ought to read the Scripture not just devotionally, but actively apply the biblical mandate for creation care in his work.

Whatever our vocation, we need to learn to think and live “Christianly” in areas specific to what we are called to do – media, education, politics, business or the arts. In humility and boldness, we should creatively integrate the biblical worldview with our occupations . It is not easy in practice. Ultimately, every single job (even missionaries!) has its unique challenges in the form of temptations, ‘dirty’ politics and/or money. That’s why we are “in but not of the world”.

That has profound impact on how we go about our work, life and relationships. With God’s grace and other Christ-disciples, we could embrace a congruent, integrated and holistic “faith that works” (James 2:22). Don’t settle for a fragmented existence torn between the secular and sacred “worlds”.

Personally I found the "toolbox" helpful and it reminds me of what Os Guinness said:

"Christians simply haven't developed Christian tools of analysis to examine culture properly. Or rather, the tools the church once had have grown rusty or been mislaid. What often happens is that Christians wake up to some incident or issue and suddenly realize they need to analyze what's going on. Then, having no tools of their own, they lean across and borrow the tools nearest them.

They don't realize that, in their haste, they are borrowing not an isolated tool but a whole philosophical toolbox laden with tools which have their own particular bias to every problem (a Trojan horse in the toolbox, if you like). The toolbox may be Freudian, Hindu or Marxist. Occasionally, the toolbox is right-wing; more often today it is liberal or left-wing (the former mainly in North America, the latter mainly in Europe). Rarely - and this is all that matters to us - is it consistently or coherently Christian.

When Christians use tools for analysis (or bandy certain terms of description) which have non-Christian assumptions embedded within them, these tools (and terms) eventually act back on them like wearing someone else's glasses or walking in someone else's shoes. The tools shape the user. Their recent failure to think critically about culture has made Christians uniquely susceptible to this."


Rachel Loo said...

Don't have to look very far -Singapore Bible College treats their part-time students as "part-time" christians. Therefore, "SBC cannot be responsible for them." quote Dean of Students !!!!

Wei Hao said...

i wonder whats the context of that phrase...

does it mean that some part time students come in, go for class and leave without personal interaction w lecturers and other students such that the seminary has no knowledge of how authentic their walk with Christ is like?

Rachel Loo said...

What the DOS is trying to tell it's part-time students is this : "since part-time students are mostly not in the ministry full-time, they are not important enough for SBC to take care of them. They are more concerned about the full-time students. Therefore, part-time students take care of your self. Don't expect SBC to take care of you ! "

It was in the context of hostel. Anyway, the DOS is a real pain in the ass. It just shows that not everyone in a seminary is "enlightened".

Global South said...

Interesting thots. Just to add to the conversation, from a Lutheran perspective the concept of Work and Gospel.

The word “vocation” literally means calling. Prior to Luther, vocation typically referred to a special calling to religious life, as a priest or as a member of a vowed order. Such a vocation was understood as a higher calling, set over against life in the household and in civil society.

Luther’s understanding of the gospel as God’s free gift led him to reject monastic life as an expression of a higher and more meritorious calling. He also rejected the division between sacred and secular spheres on which the medieval church’s understanding of calling was predicated.

In so doing, Luther broadened the concept of vocation from a narrow ecclesiastical focus to describe the life and work of all Christians in response to God’s call.

Luther insisted that “every occupation has its own honor before God, as well as its own requirements and duties.”

“Just as individuals are different, so their duties are different; and in accordance with the diversity of their callings, God demands diverse works of them.” (by Kathryn Kleinhans)

Rachel Loo said...

Brother, the next time you see Albert Ting can you please convey that most "enlightened" message to him.

Maybe you have more persuasive abilities than me. We lawyers tend to just "hantam" and don't know how to "give face" lol.

You know the problem with "generation gap" in chinese families has been extended to the asian seminaries. Many of our spiritual leaders are still very much influenced by their cultural upbringing.