Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Connecting Your Work to God's Work

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. 288 pp.

Every Good Endeavor is an excellent presentation on what the Bible says about work and how to apply its teaching to our job. Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City. He has written many books on the Christian faith including Reason for God. Alsdorf worked for twenty-five years in the high-tech industry before being hired by Redeemer Presbyterian church to lead its Center for Faith & Work. She writes about her experience in the foreword of the book. She notes, After struggling with her own "call to serve God in business," she was give the opportunity to help others to live out their vocational calling.

In the introduction, Keller quotes from Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart: "To make a real difference . . . [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one's own advancement" (1-2). Keller in this book seeks to recover the idea of work as a calling or vocation. Keller illustrates his point by commenting on J.R.R. Tolkien's short story "leaf by Niggle." He suggests this story shows how we can connect our work to God's work. Every Good Endeavor  seeks to answer three questions: What is your motivation for working? Why is work so difficult? "How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?"

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Keller presents "God's Plan for Work." The topics covered are work's design, work's dignity, work as cultivation and service. The second part discusses the problems of work. Two of these problems of work can be selfishness and making work an idol. The third part applies the Gospel to our work. One of the ways he accomplishes this is by connecting work to a Christian world-view. He makes three points: The whole world is good. The whole world is fallen. The whole world is going to be redeemed. One can see several conclusions from these points. God created the world. He meant for us to cultivate and develop it. Though it is fallen, we are called to work with God in redeeming it.

Every Good Endeavor is a good presentation of a Christian view of work. It shows how work can be calling and through our work we can serve others. It helps to restore the reformation view of work as a calling. It also helps us to see that there is no divide between sacred and secular. What we do in the world is God's calling as much as what ministers do in the church.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Christianity and Scholarship in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church

For the Whole Creation: Christianity and Scholarship in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church, John Stevens Paul and James old, editors. Valparaiso University, 2010.

What does the Gospel have to do with the intellectual life? What role should Christianity play in the Public Square, academic disciplines, and the Church? How should the Gospel shape the work and life of scholars? These and many others questions concerning how Christian scholars do their work are addressed by scholars from different disciplines and faith traditions. These papers are the result of a conference for the Postdoctoral Fellows Program at Valparaiso University. The four main topics addressed by these papers were: The Christian Academic and the Public Square, The Christian Academic at Home: Finding the Balance, The Christian Academic and the Professional Guild, and the Christian Academic and the Church. All of the papers are thoughtful expressions of their topic that will stimulate Christian reflection on how to pursue Christian scholarship in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church.

The essays are followed by Mark R. Schwehn's Keynote Address which title is "Embracing Wisdom." Scwehn's major text is Sirach 6:25-28:

My child, from your youth chose discipline, and when you have gray hair/You will find wisdom./ Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might./ Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get/Hold of her, do not let her go./ For at last you will find the rest she gives, and she will be changed into joy for you.

The author thinks that most academics today would object to the idea "that the quest for wisdom is the proper business of the college or university" (118). Most would think that the objective of the university is the "pursuit of specialized knowledge, or the advancement of science, or service to society through scholarship, teaching, and professional formation." Many will think that is the job of religion or that it is an unreachable goal. The author provides three reasons he thinks that Christian academics should see their work as a quest for wisdom. First the Ph.D should mean that we are lovers of wisdom. The second reason "comes to us by virtue of our spiritual/geographical location at the intersection of the ways to and from Athens and Jerusalem" (120). We are inheritors to two different wisdom traditions: Athens and Jerusalem. Both of these traditions are opposed "to the comparatively narrow tradition of scientific rationality that governs and informs so much of higher learning today" (121). The third reason for the quest of wisdom is our "sense of vocation." Dietrich Bonhoeffer "insisted that we Christians have but one call, and that is the call to follow Jesus unconditionally" (122). We are to serve our neighbor through our work. We must pursue our work at a calling. Schwehn notes, "We will and we should spend most of our time working within the narrower domains of our specialties and sub-specialties. But we must, especially in these times, be ready to stand up for the good of our disciplines, and of the larger field of higher learning of which these disciplines are parts, for, in other words, the continuing search for wisdom" (123). Despite the idolization of specialization,  the need for asking the big questions remain. Christian Academics have a role to play in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Decision Making and the Will of God

Gary Friesen with J. Robin Maxon, Decision Making and the Will of God. Multonomah Books, 2004. Revised and updated edition. Originally published in 1980. 526 pages. ISBN: 9781590522059

Decision Making and the Will of God was originally Friesen's dissertation for his Ph.D in Biblical Studies which he turned into a controversial book in 1980. It was controversial because it examined the traditional view (Bull's Eye theory) and found it biblically deficient. This edition published in 2004 is a revised and updated edition. It is a stronger book. I liked the first book, but the second book strengthens or at least makes clearer many concepts of the wisdom view. In addition, the second book uses fewer pages to describe the traditional view and more space on presenting the wisdom view. It is a much improved book.

Part one presents a brief outline of the traditional view. It includes two chapters. The first chapter presents a fictional story of seeking guidance and the second chapter describes the traditional view. The traditional view teaches that God has three wills: sovereign, moral, and individual. God's individual will includes four elements: 1. A detailed plan for all decisions in a believer's life. 2. The believer is able to find and know it. 3. Believers are expected to find it as part of the Christian life. Believers can miss it by failure to discover and obey it. The individual will of God is discovered through the Bible, circumstances, inner impressions, counsel, desires, common sense, and supernatural guidance. Often it is taught that God leads through inner impressions or experience of inner peace.

Friesen critiques the traditional view in part two of the book. He does not believe three wills are taught in the Scripture. He argues that the will of God is what is revealed in the Bible. He does not believe the Bible teaches the "dot" theory. The idea that there is only one spouse, one job, one place picked out to live. In addition, he critiques the idea that God leads us through impressions. He says, impressions are impressions, influence by many factors. He argues that "impressions are not direct revelation and thus cannot give certainty" (97).

Friesen describes the wisdom view in part three. He describes four principles: 1. Where God commands, we must obey. 2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose. 3. Where there is no command. God gives us wisdom to choose. 4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good. In part four he applies the general principles to specific decisions: Should I get married? Who should I marry? Should I go into the ministry? What vocation should I choose and others. In appendix one he provides reviews of books on knowing God's will by Henry Blacaby, Jack Deere, Tim Lahaye, Elisabeth Elliot, Charles Swindoll, Dallas Williard, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, M. Blaine Smith, Bruce Waltke, James Montgomery Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, Os Guinness, James Petty, and  Haddon Robinson. This edition includes a study guide for studying the book in a group.

Decision Making and the Will of God"s length might cause some people to avoid it since it is over 400 pages. I think it is well worth the effort if someone is willing to tackle it. A similar smaller book is Haddon Robinson's Decision making by the book. This revised and updated version has made a good book even better.