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 wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. This post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis moves on from the first of the “principles of mastery”–passion–to the third–discipline:
Holiness is not optional, and it requires effort
All this talk of passion may make us think that what is required it the single big, heroic action: casting ourselves into harm’s way for the sake of our loved one. But wise teachers of the spiritual life have reminded us of something we have sometimes forgotten: our lives as Christians are not all about single crisis experiences—single events that change our lives. The imagery of sawdust-trail conversions and emotional “altar calls” may sometimes lead us to think in that way, seeking a sudden, emotional experience as the solution to all our ills—but it just ain’t so.
John Wesley, to take just one example, reminded us that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the “porch” or the “door” into the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness. Wesley had a favorite phrase to explain holiness. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Bible, C S Lewis, Dallas Willard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, discipline, grace, holiness, John Wesley, monasticism, prayer, sanctification, spiritual disciplines
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
This is the third in a series of posts on the Resources for Radical Living course(s) and book by Mark Van Steenwyk and me (Chris Armstrong). The first post presented the original version of the course. The second presented the revised structure of the course and book.
This third post presents the revised list of case studies.
Even more important, this post asks you, dear readers, to comment on these case studies and suggest any primary or secondary readings that you think will help Mark and me as we work on these new case studies and our students as they plunge into this challenging area of “radical Christian living.” Continue reading
Posted in Resources for Radical Living
Tagged African-American Christianity, base communities, Benedict of Nursia, Benedictines, Bethel Seminary, black church, Catholic Worker Movement, communal life, compassionate life, Daniel Berrigan, devoted life, Dorothy Day, Ernesto Cardenal, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, John Chrysostom, John Wesley, liberation theology, Mark Van Steenwyk, Martin Luther King Jr., Methodism, pacifism, penitential life, Philip Berrigan, poverty, prophetic life, slavery, the poor, war, Wendell Berry