Yesterday I posted a cut from the introduction to What’s Best Next on how it relates to Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and similar books. In yet another version of the introduction, I actually continued discussing that theme further, going into how What’s Best Next also relates to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and Tim Keller’s Reason for God.
I then discussed how, even beneath that, the great theologian Jonathan Edwards and the great evangelical social reformer William Wilberforce lay at the foundations of the book. Both of these individuals show the essential relationship between deep doctrine and lively practice in the Christian life — a vision which we need to recapture today.
Here it is:
What’s Best Next also relates to other recent helpful books. For example, I find Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life to be very helpful. But how do you translate your purpose into your everyday life of emails and meetings and your kids messing up the house every 15 minutes? This book shows you more detail on how to do that.
Likewise, Tim Keller’s Reason for God is a very helpful recent book on Christian apologetics — that is, making a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. I’d love to write a book on apologetics one day. But in the meantime, equipping ourselves to be more effective in the culture, in connecting with others in the everyday, and being a useful person, enables us to contribute to the ultimate apologetic — namely, living a life of love for others.
Beneath Piper and these other books, the ultimate vision for this book comes from two industrious Christians from about three centuries ago: Jonathan Edwards and William Wilberforce. Both exhibit the twin convictions behind this book, which are often disconnected in evangelicalism today.
Edwards is known mostly for being an utterly devoted theologian. Wilberforce, on the other hand, is known mostly as a model for Christians in the practical realm, having ended the slave trade in Britain while also all throughout his life having initiated multiple initiatives for good.
What is less known about these individuals is that Wilberforce’s practice was utterly grounded in theology, and that Edward’s theology led him to be utterly practical. In fact, Edwards’ book Charity and Its Fruits goes just as deep into the practical side of the Christian life as his other works delve into the doctrinal. And Wilberforce’s lays out the theology (which was just as Calvinistic as Edwards) behind his practice in his book A Practical View — which was also responsible for transforming the moral outlook of Britain.
Wilberforce and Edwards each demonstrate the radical connectedness of doctrine and practice in the Christian life. This conviction lies at the heart of this book: if we care about doctrine, we must also care about living that doctrine out in the affairs of everyday life. And if we care about living our faith in the world, we must care about doctrine because doctrine is the fuel and foundation of our practice as Christians.
Both Wilberforce and Edwards undergird this book in another way as well, for they show that productivity is really, at root, a matter of love. In other words, you cannot disconnect personal productivity from love because productivity is actually about loving others. The ultimate reason we seek to be productive is so that we can serve others. As Paul says, “let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Likewise, since love seeks not merely to intend to do good to others, but to actually do good for others, love leads us to learn how to actually be effective in our service. Love, in other words, must care about the practical. And this is especially true in our current environment, where it is so easy for the best of intentions to be swallowed up by the tyranny of the urgent.
Personal effectiveness, then, is an expression of love, and thus a Christian understanding of productivity needs to be informed not only by all the passages on work and diligence and planning and fruitfulness, but most of all by all the passages on love. Hence, books like Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits and his sermon “The Christian Duty of Charity to the Poor,” as well as, in more recent days, Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy and Gary Haguen’s Good News About Injustice have greatly shaped my thinking.