On Luther, more later. But now another challenging question arises in our complex, post-Christian workplaces full of real, fallen people:
- Does practicing the virtues demanded by the working life (such as industriousness, self-control, service to others, obedience to rules and leaders) reduce us to drones or pawns in exploitive structures of modern work? Or, Does becoming a good Christian worker mean sacrificing social conscience for placid obedience—prophetic witness for financial security?
To help us answer this, we turn to our second past leader, England’s 18th-century evangelical pioneer, John Wesley.
Anyone remember the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics? As the spectacle started, before millions of worldwide viewers, England’s pastoral island paradise rose slowly into view from below ground, to the wafting strains of British composer Edward Elgar.
But then – suddenly – the paradise was shattered.
Like missiles from silos, belching smokestacks shot up to dominate the landscape, accompanied by violent drumming and harsh music. The Industrial Revolution had arrived. Legions of laborers overran the green land, marching and working rhythmically under the watchful eyes of black-coated capitalists. TV commentators gleefully quoted the Victorain poet William Blake, describing how the Industrial Revolution’s “Satanic mills” had brutalized the landscape and crushed workers. The ceremony’s creator, they told viewers, had titled this section “Pandemonium,” after the capital city of hell in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
This dramatic vignette sets the stage for our second question about whether Christians are capitulating to immorality if they lend their labor to the industries of a secular world. Certain historians have leveled exactly this charge against one of the most active British Christian movements during the time of the industrial revolution: the Methodists. These historians have argued that the early Methodists simply capitulated, like sheep and slaves, to the worst of the Industrial Revolution, perpetuating its abuses when they should have stood against them.
Methodism was born in the late 1730s—when the steady industrious virtue of the old Puritans and the new capitalist habits of long-term investment were beginning to build the commercial machine that would drive Western economic growth in the centuries to come.
After a hiatus, I’m back. Sorry friends – it’s been a crazy life this past year or more. If anyone ever asks you to start an entrepreneurial initiative at a conservative religious college, maybe think a couple times before saying “yes” . . .
So, on the question above: “Can we find Christian vocation in the “secular” world of work?”
First I should say (but you know this already): It ain’t easy. It ain’t obvious. And for a lot of us, we’re just not sure it can ever really happen.
The other day I was at Upper House – a Christian study center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison – and I talked about this with a group of marketplace folks & pastors. Thought you might be interested to see the four stories I told to answer the question. [If these help you, or confuse you, or you think they’re bunk – unleash a comment or two. I’m always happy to engage.]
For those in a hurry, here’s the nutshell:
(1) This question is important to me personally
(2) There are (it seems to me) at least four questions lurking behind this question for many Christian folks
(3) Being a historian, I rooted around in the cellar of history and found four folks who I think can help us out with those questions
(4) Spoiler alert: Their names are Gregory, John, Charles, and . . . well . . . Clive.
OK, here goes, in five linked posts (my intro + the four guys & their answers):
Posted in Work with purpose
Tagged Charles Sheldon, CS Lewis, economics, ethics, faith and work, Gregory the Great, John Wesley, modernity, morality, secular culture, secularism, secularization, vocation, work
We all know medieval people were ignorant, gullible bumpkins who didn’t even understand the gospel message of grace, right? After all, they believed in a flat earth, salvation by works, and a monastic life completely shut off from culture and society. Uh . . . no.
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Augustine, Augustine of Hippo, Christ and culture, economics, Enlightenment, grace, hospital, Medieval, Middle Ages, monasticism, prayer, the Enlightenment
Just 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!
[The following is reposted from the Acton Institute’s blog:]
In a lecture at Acton University titled “Business and the Common Good,” Dr. Scott Rae of Biola University examined the role of business in serving the common good.
Rae began by examining some of the common criticisms lobbed against business, namely, that it promotes greed, inequality, and consumerism. As Michael Miller often notes, these are human vices, not economic ones, and thus business, properly understood, is not immoral in and of itself.
On the contrary, business has great potential for serving and contributing to the common good. Though some believe profit-seeking enterprises are only valuable insofar as they can “give something back” out of what’s leftover, Rae emphasized how business advances the common good right from the get-go.
Rae offers four primary ways this occurs:
- By peaceably providing needed goods and services that allow human beings to flourish and enhance their well being
- By providing meaningful work that allows human beings to flourish and enhances their well being
- By facilitating wealth creation and economic growth
- By enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty
By leveraging business, we not only yield profits that can be used for the glory of God outside of business, we can serve our neighbors in the here and now. “God is not just redeeming individuals,” Rae concluded. “He is redeeming all of creation. He is redeeming the marketplace.”
To listen to Rae’s lecture, you can purchase “Business and the Common Good” here.
Purchase Rae’s book, Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace
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A couple of months ago, Seattle Pacific University held a conference centered on a new book by Indiana Wesleyan University Provost David Wright, How God Makes the World A Better Place: A Wesleyan Primer on Faith, Work, and Economic Transformation. I was invited to introduce a couple of the meetings at the conference with some remarks tied to David’s work and to Wesley’s thinking on work and economics.
This is what I said at a breakfast event with a roomful of eager SPU school of theology students and fellow-travelers:
Where can we learn from Wesley in the area of work and economics?
Theological first principles
The focus of this primer is “Work as cooperation with God.”
“In the Wesleyan view, godly work is not defined by what one does, but by the way one does it,” says David. I think that’s fair to say, and I would add, not only the way one does it, but the motivations and character out of which those actions flow. In examining the motives behind John Wesley’s extraordinary lifelong dedication toward bringing material as well as spiritual flourishing to the poor, Duke’s Richard Heitzenrater argues that it comes most fundamentally from a Christian virtue ethic, not an ethic of obligation.
An ethic of obligation sets the rules and laws for behavior, and then lays down the imperative: Go and do it! A virtue ethic recognizes that despite what Nike would tell you, you can’t “Just do it.” You have to “be it” before you can “do it.” Ethical behavior flows from ethical character. And ethical character is not a matter of gritting your teeth and performing a series of actions. It is about having your heart changed. Continue reading