In the video I talk about the essential relationship between doctrine and practice, how this was exemplified by the great evangelical social reformer William Wilberforce, workplace Christians as the often overlooked engines behind the spread of the gospel today.
This is a message I gave at a Fortune 100 company recently on how to be a Christian in a secular workplace. I talk about avoiding the twin errors of spiritual weirdness (such as thinking you need to insert the gospel into every conversation, or call attention to God through strange trinkets like the “Faithbook” t-shirt I came across at a truck stop once) on the one hand and, on the other hand, thinking that our faith bears no relation to our work at all.
Then I talk about the chief way that God intends our faith to inform our work: namely, love. Love is to be the guiding principle for Christians in their work, and I show what that looks like and how even many leading secular thinkers are echoing this truth in very significant ways. At the end I talk about the results of going about our work in this way.
Update: Here’s a timeline of the message that Joshua Van Der Merwe wrote up (thank you, Joshua!):
- (3:53) Error #1 regarding faith and work: Our faith doesn’t relate to our work at all
- (4:26) Error #2 regarding faith and work: Spiritual weirdness, i.e., Work is only a platform for evangelism
- (5:32) Being boring on the Biblical doctrine of work
- (9:03) A Christian work ethic goes way beyond, “Work hard and be honest.”
- (9:57) The solution: Work matters in itself, and is a place where the gospel can spread. Your secular work matters in itself, and it can be a place where the gospel is proclaimed.
- (11:01) Love as the guiding principle and motive in the workplace
- (22:01) Seeing our work as service to others brings great meaning to our work, and serving others is the way to be most effective in our work.
- (26:30) Principle 1: Do your work as service to God, as an avenue of worship
- (28:04) Principle 2: Make the good of others the aim of what you do.
- (28:45) Principle 3: Be on the look out for good you can do. Isaiah 32:8. Make plans for the welfare of others.
- (31:29) Principle 4: Make your work easy for others to use. Care about usability.
- (33:06) Principle 5: Know how to do your work really well.
- (34:06) The effect of all this: God can use your work to change the world — this is redemptive. God is at work in our work.
- (38:15) Q&A time.
I just read a quote from someone who said that Christian values should become a vital element in the overall moral and cultural discourse of the nation. I think that’s probably true, but what are Christian values?
Most of the time when we think of “Christian” values, frankly, our thinking is pretty lame. We limit ourselves to the avoidance ethic — what we don’t want to see people doing. Christian values have become reduced simply to safety, security, movies that don’t swear too much, and “good family time.”
I’m all about good family time. But the Christian ethic is not simply about avoiding evil, but proactively doing good. And being radical and energetic in it. The question is not what can I spare to serve others and reach the world, but what will it take?
How about if we model for the world a more complete picture of Christian values, which would include things like this:
- Radical generosity. Just like Jesus, who did not merely tithe but gave everything he had (2 Corinthians 8:9).
- Love. Ditching the self-protective mindset and putting others before ourselves, making their good our aim in all things.
- Risk. Making the good of others a higher priority than our own safety, security, and comfort, and taking risks to bring benefit to them.
- Creativity. Christians are to be creative! And to be a boring Christian is a sin (that’s an implication of the term “salt” in Colossians 4:6).
- Excellence. Slack work is a form of vandalism (Proverbs 18:9). Christians are not to be clock-watchers in their work, but to do things well and with competence.
- Initiative. Taking ownership for making things better, rather than sitting around watching and complaining.
- Leadership. Instead of criticizing, leading and setting a good example.
- Humble authenticity.
- Global and multi-ethnic vision.
- Ambition. Not for our own comfort, but for the good of others.
These are all Christian values. But would the world know to name even one of these as Christian? We have a lot of work to do.
This is a great point I just came across in some of my notes, from I think the book Fearless Faith:
I’ve always wondered why we could be so quick to sacrifice our children to become missionaries but stand in the way of their becoming broadcast journalists, film and television actors, photographers, and painters. It’s almost as if we believe God is strong enough to take care of his own only as long as they stay within the safety of the Christian ghetto.
I’m all about missions and taking the gospel to unreached people groups. I think that, in addition to this, we also need to realize that the gospel also spreads through the vocations of all Christians, wherever they are (as long as we understand the proper relationship between faith and work — which most don’t!) — and that more Christians are needed in culture-shaping vocations.
In other words, the recovery of a robust doctrine of vocation is just as essential to the completion of the Great Commission as embracing the challenge of going to hard places to bring the gospel to those who have never heard.
(And, beyond that, as people come to faith through the vocations of every Christian, there will be more who in turn go to the unreached.)
Registration is open for Redeemer’s new faith and work conference, The Gospel & Culture. The conference will be November 4-5.
Here’s the gist:
The Gospel & Culture Conference represents the culmination of more than eight years of the Center for Faith & Work’s ministry targeted at equipping, connecting, and mobilizing Christians to engage the world from a gospel-centered foundation.
Drawing on the experiences of one another as well as more than 10 speakers representing various sectors, conference participants will gain:
- Sharpened discernment of God’s work in the world.
- Renewed understanding of the importance of community in cultural engagement.
- Heightened awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit in changing motivations of the heart.
- Excitement for our daily work as it contributes to building for the great City that is to come.
And here’s the agenda:
The Conference opens Friday evening, November 4th, with participants engaging the culture of NYC through “Glimpses,” events happening throughout the city which point toward evidence of God’s glory and His sovereignty over all things.
On Saturday, November 5th, all attendees convene at St. Bart’s for a full day of interacting with practitioners from across various sectors who will showcase their work in ways that highlight God’s work in the world.
Speakers include Tim Keller, Richard Mouw, and many others.
William Wilberforce, the great social reformer and evangelical, in A Practical View of Christianity (1797):
Nor does [the Christian] churlishly refuse to associate with the inhabitants of the country through which he is passing; nor, so far as he may, to speak their language, and adopt their fashions. But he neither suffers pleasure, not curiosity, or society, to take up too much of his time; and is still intent on transacting the business he has to execute, and on prosecuting the journey which he is ordered to pursue.
DA Carson has a helpful article on a biblical notion of individualism in last fall’s issue of Themelios.
The proper kind of individualism stems from the biblical reality of absolute truth. Standing for truth, in spite of the social pressure to do otherwise, is a manifestation of the right kind of individualism.
This leads to Carson making an interesting connection between absolute truth and a free society. It is often alleged that belief in absolute truth is what leads to tyranny. Ironically, it is actually the opposite — relativism leads to tyranny because it leaves the individual with no ground to stand on in opposing the abuse of power. Here’s a helpful quote he cites on that matter:
The reality of the situation is just the opposite of what we have been led to believe. Put simply, tyranny is not the inevitable outcome of an absolutist view of truth, but is, rather, the direct product of relativism. Likewise, tolerance arises not from relativism but from the very thing that our society anathematizes — the belief in absolutes
It’s a helpful article and it’s worth checking out the whole thing.
Tim Keller has a great article at Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work on Christians, work, and cultural renewal. It’s very helpful because, among other things, he shows that there is a connection between the way we do our work and the renewal of culture.
I’ve taken the article and turned into an interview of sorts in order to highlight some of the things I’ve found the most helpful.
Should Christians seek to change culture?
I am often asked: “Should Christians be involved in shaping culture?” My answer is that we can’t not be involved in shaping culture.
So not to shape culture is to shape culture–in support of the status quo. Can you give an illustration?
To illustrate this, I offer a very sad example. In the years leading up to the Civil War many southerners resented the interference of the abolitionists, who were calling on Christians to stamp out the sin of slavery. In response, some churches began to assert that it was not the church’s (nor Christians’) job to try to “change culture” but only to preach the gospel and see souls saved. The tragic irony was that these churches were shaping culture. Their very insistence that Christians should not be changing culture meant that those churches were supporting the social status quo. They were defacto endorsing the cultural arrangements of the Old South. (For more on this chapter in American history, see Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.)
This is an extreme example, but it makes the point that when Christians work in the world, they will either assimilate into their culture and support the status quo or they will be agents of change.
How does this apply to the world of work?
This is especially true in the area of work. Every culture works on the basis of a ‘map’ of what is considered most important. If God and his grace are not at the center of a culture, then other things will be substituted as ultimate values. So every vocational field is distorted by idolatry.
Christian medical professionals will soon see that some practices make money for them but don’t add value to patients’ lives. Christians in marketing and business will discern accepted patterns of communication that distort reality or which play to and stir up the worst aspects of the human heart. Christians in business will often see among their colleagues’ behavior that which seeks short-term financial profit at the expense of the company’s long-term health, or practices that put financial profit ahead of the good of the employees, customers, or others in the community. Christians in the arts live and work in a culture in which self-expression is an end in itself. And in most vocational fields, believers face work-worlds in which ruthless, competitive behavior is the norm.
It seems that, as Christians, we don’t always do a good job of addressing these sorts of issues in our various fields. What would you say are the main errors that we are most likely to fall into?
There are two opposite mistakes that a Christian can make in addressing the idols of their vocational field. On the one hand they can seal off their faith from their work, laboring according to the same values and practices that everyone else uses. Or they may loudly and clumsily declare their Christian faith to their co-workers, often without showing any grace and wisdom in the way they relate to people on the job.
That makes sense. What is one of the primary ways that we should seek to relate our faith to our work?
At Redeemer, especially through the Center for Faith & Work, we seek to help believers think out the implications of the gospel for art, business, government, media, entertainment, scholarship. We teach that excellence in work is a crucial means to gain credibility for our faith. If our work is shoddy, our verbal witness only leads listeners to despise our beliefs. If Christians live in major cultural centers and simply do their work in an excellent but distinctive manner it will ultimately produce a different kind of culture than the one in which we live now.
So doing our work well and for God’s glory is not only good in itself, but can also be a means of transforming culture?
[Yes,] but I like the term “cultural renewal” better than “culture shaping” or “culture changing/transforming.” The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good. The monks in the Middle Ages moved out through pagan Europe, inventing and establishing academies, universities, and hospitals. They transformed local economies and cared for the weak through these new institutions. They didn’t set out to ‘get control’ of a pagan culture. They let the gospel change how they did their work and that meant they worked for others rather than for themselves. Christians today should be aiming for the same thing.
What is our ultimate hope and assurance in this?
As Roman society was collapsing, St. Augustine wrote The City of God to remind believers that in the world there are always two ‘cities,’ two alternate ‘kingdoms.’ One is a human society based on selfishness and gaining power. God’s kingdom is the human society based on giving up power in order to serve. Christians live in both kingdoms, and although that is the reason for much conflict and tension, it also is our hope and assurance. The kingdom of God is the permanent reality, while the kingdom of this world will eventually fade away.