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
I am about to post my grad-school summaries and comments on the Nine Discourses of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, which the Moravian founder gave at London’s Fetter Lane Chapel in 1746. Before doing so, I thought it would be good to say (or rather, steal, from Wikipedia; and it looks like the data here is good) a few words on the Fetter Lane Society: nerve center of British Moravianism in the mid 1700s:
Fetter Lane Society
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Fetter Lane Society was the first flowering of the Moravian church in the UK, and an important as a precursor to Methodism. A short time before the great Methodist revival of the 18th Century in England, Moravians were avidly ministering throughout London. Peter Böhler, the London Moravian leader, and his followers established the Fetter Lane Society in May 1738 for the purpose of discipleship and accountability.
They began with the purpose of meeting once a week for prayer and fellowship. Most of their members consisted of Anglicans, most prominently John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. John Wesley records in his journal for 1 January 1739: Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Aldersgate Street, Charles Wesley, Emanuel Swedenborg, Fetter Lane Society, George Whitefield, John Wesley, London, Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Methodism, Moravianism, William Blake
Back at Christian History, we were working for a while on getting a series of “Christian History Minutes” together for airing on a certain network of Christian radio stations. The deal never went down, but today I stumbled across the small series of “minutes” that I wrote at that point as a demonstration of what we might do. I’ll post a few of these today. Here’s the first, on a key moment in John Wesley’s career:
As all of us do, John Wesley one day faced a “moment of truth.”
I’m Chris Armstrong, editor of Christian History magazine.
The founder of Methodism had broken precedent by preaching outdoors. He had pioneered the “class meeting”—ancestor of today’s small group meetings. He had encouraged laypeople to travel as preachers.
But now some of those wanting to preach and lead class meetings were women. And John Wesley balked. This had never been done in England.
Then, he watched the ministry of class leaders like Mary Bosanquet. And he saw that the Holy Spirit was gifting these women. So, against his day’s prejudices, he decided to give their work his blessing.
An army of woman leaders and preachers filled England. And Wesley watched his beloved evangelical revival explode. He knew, despite often violent criticism, that he’d made the right decision.
Do ecumenism and culture-engagement lead to a loss of the gospel? Let’s put this to a historical test (article previously posted at Christianity Today’s history blog):
Ecumenism, education, culture-engagement and the “slippery slope” argument
The vision of John Comenius and the story of the Unity of the Brethren give us a good way to test a hypothesis.
by Chris Armstrong
History is a great place to go to test “slippery slope” arguments–claims that “Questionable Belief or Practice A” will inevitably lead us to “Horrifying Situation B.” One way to answer the argument is to appeal to precedent: “Let’s look back and see whether things like ‘A’ have led to situations like ‘B’ in the past.”
These days evangelicals with a heart for (1) ecumenical dialogue, (2) liberal education, and (3) cultural engagement are being told by fundamentalist watchdogs that they are leading good, faithful, Bible-believing people straight down the road to “liberalism.”
Let’s put this to a historical test. Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Christ and culture, ecumenism, education, fundamentalism, John Amos Comenius, John Wesley, liberalism, Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Moravianism, the Royal Society, Thirty Years War, Unitas Fratrum, Unity of the Brethren