Part one asked, “What is your theology of work?”. In it we argued that as an image of God, the goal of one’s work should be to reflect God’s creational purposes and to bring about human flourishing through loving creativity within one’s particular occupation.
Relating our work to God’s big story involves not only unfolding the potential that God infused into creation, it also requires that we understand how to respond, given humanity’s fall into sin. Satan deceived Adam and Eve by persuading them that ultimate meaning and fulfillment come through rejecting God’s kingship and setting oneself up as authority (idolatry). God cursed the ground, so that work includes an element of struggle. What does it look like to be “salt and light” in an idolatrous and broken world?
the Christian Chameleon
As Dick Keyes points out, there are two extremes of worldliness that confront us. The first extreme, the “Christian chameleon, disregards, rejects, or loses interest in the theological ideas and ethical principles that jar against the accepted ideas of society, such as those concerning truth, sex, power, and money.” Salt was applied to meat to “preserve” it.
While addressing a community of Christian lawyers, Keller posed the question, What are the besetting temptations and idols of the people in your profession? The Christian is first to be a servant of justice, not just human law; and second, a servant of human flourishing, not just his client’s wishes. He said, “If you would never ever say to a client, What you want to do is legal, but it’s a really, really rotten idea; it’s bad for people, it’s bad for you, it’s bad for the human community – then you’ve made an idol out of your client.” This extreme ignores or downplays the implications of truth, because of intellectual laziness, inordinate desire for respect and approval, sinful ambition, or a fear of losing job security.
The second kind of worldliness is Tribalism, that is, hiding one’s light under a basket. Christian tribalism is “the protective containment of Christian distinctness within the Christian ghetto or subculture.” People with this mindset are overly pessimistic about culture. They tend to withdraw in fear, preferring to create a “safe” Christian sub-culture. This extreme ignores the common grace element in culture. Commentators note that salt itself is tasteless; it brings out the flavor of whatever it is in.
Tim Keller observes, “Christians aren’t supposed to go into a field and say, ‘We’re going to change the field so that only Christians will feel at home here.’ Instead, Christians are actually supposed to bring out, through common grace, the best in the culture.” For instance, take William Wilberforce, an English politician. When he fought for the abolition of slavery, he convinced even non-Christians to join his cause.
As the result of God’s common grace, they could see that it would make the world a better place. The missional response to tribalism is to incarnate the gospel in cultural institutions.
Al Wolters offers a helpful paradigm for upholding the goodness of creation, while recognizing the presence of corruption. He suggests that we distinguish between structure and direction. The differentiation of society into various spheres such as the family, the church, law, business, the arts, journalism and politics is the result of God’s creation purposes.
These structures are good. On the other hand, “to the degree that these realities fail to live up to God’s creational design for them, they are misdirected, abnormal, distorted… Direction, therefore, always involves two tendencies moving either for or against God.”
Part three will further reflect on the implications of redemption for integrating faith and work.
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