Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Existentialism: The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope

C. Stephen Evans, Existentialism: The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope. Probe Books, 1989. Third Edition. Originally published by IVP in 1971 by a slightly different title. 124 pages.

C. Stephen Evans is a professor of Philosophy of Baylor University at Waco, Texas.  I have read several of his books the past year because of my studies on Kierkegaard which I continue. My motivation for studying Kierkegaard is his influence on Walker Percy who I have been doing research on for the last few years. Evans is a noted authority on Kierkegaard. It was interesting reading this early book of Evans to see that many of its themes continue in the writings of Evans.

Existentialism is divided into five chapters. The chapters discusses the following themes: death, despair, morality, meaning, and alienation. The major authors covered in this work are Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean Paul Sartre. The author says that this book is a revision of his first book: Despair: A Moment or a Way of Life. The title means is despair a place we stop at or is it only temporal, like it was for Kierkegaard.

Evans in this book relates some of the themes of the existentialist writers. He compares the writers who saw despair as continual versus those who saw it was temporal. As the title states it, The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope. The author discusses the despair in the writings of the French Existentialists and asks is there an alternative response to these writers. These French writers emphasized the "despair of morality and the despair of meaning." The authors shows how Dostoevsky concluded that without God, morality is not possible. Camus tries to discover a morality without God. He does not think he is successful. Probably, Camus does not think he is successful. The other French Existentialist, Sartre, thinks the world is meaningless.

Evans thinks that to hope "is precisely to regard despair as only a moment in human existence" (65). This is the message presented by Gabriel Marcel and Soren Kierkegaard. Marcel finds meaning in life. The author notes, "An individual who chooses to hope is rescued from the moment of despair by the call of life. She is alive, and her life comes, as Thomas Howard has said,charged with the evidence of meaning" (66). The author believes that "the call of life" is greater than "the call of death." The author sees this in, for example, the refusal to commit suicide. The author concludes in the last chapter by responding to his question: "Despair: A Moment or a Way of Life?" The author believes that "each person must choose himself and , in choosing himself, choose a framework for existence. . . a way of life. He must find reasons for this framework that is satisfying to himself. He believes that we must "choose a framework and way of life that will enable me to see my life as meaningful. Which will we choose: despair or hope?

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure

Leland Ryken, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure. Baker Books, 1995. 301 pages. ISBN 080105169x

Leland Ryken is professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author or editor of over forty books, including The Christian Imagination (editor), Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. Ryken is one of my favorite modern authors and I have read many of his books over the years. I have never been disappointed in reading a book authored by Ryken. Redeeming the Time is one of my favorites. Few books seek to apply biblical principles to both work and leisure in the same work. This is the only book I have read that gives the same attention to both work and leisure in the same work. It is beneficial to seeing the relationship between work and leisure in the same work.

Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure is separated into five parts. The first part is "understanding work and leisure." In chapter one Ryken describes different ways people look at work. Some of these are work as a means to provide for our needs, work as toil or a curse, "work as a means of production," and work as service. Chapter two looks at different view-points about leisure. Ryken notes, "Leisure is not ethically neutral. It flourishes only when people believe in the goodness of pleasure and human fulfillment" (33). People usually favor one over the other, work over leisure, or leisure over work.

In part two Ryken discusses problems with work and leisure. One of the problems is the affect of technology. In chapter three he discusses some of the negative results of the technological revolution on work and leisure. The author thinks that it is not true that we have more time with the advances of technology. In chapter four he discusses how secular attempts at getting meaning out of work has failed. It has tried to get too much out of work and not enough. It is either a panacea or a curse. One of the problems that Ryken recognizes is the loss of the concept of work as a vocation or a calling.

Part three provides a historical view of work and leisure. The view of work in the classical age was that it was beneath you. In the Middles Ages there were the secular/sacred divide. Calling was only for those called to the service of the church. In chapter eight Ryken debunks certain myths about the Puritans and the Protestant Work Ethic. Some of these fallacies are: Work should absorb nearly all your time; self-interest is the motivation for work; getting rich is the goal of life; people can be successful through their own efforts; and others. In the second part of the chapter he discusses what the Protest view of work as vocation was really about. He notes, that the Protests "advocated work . . . because it was God's appointed means of providing for human needs" (101).

Part four looks at "inadequate solutions" to the modern problem of work and leisure. The last part presents the author's Christian view of work in leisure. In chapter 13 the author looks at work and leisure in the "created order." Since i have emphasized work, so far, I will discuss leisure in this part. The author believes leisure to be a "creation ordinance." In the first few chapters of Genesis, we have "rest as a commandment." The author notes that we have a "nonutilitarian creation." The Christian view of beauty is discussed by the author in this section. He says, that beauty is even "an attribute of God."

There are many other points I could mention about this book. He has an important chapter about time. He argues that we do not have time to do everything. We must make choices. In addition, the author speaks of higher leisure, for example the development of our mind. Ryken does a good job in presenting a Christian view of work and leisure. I highly recommend it to others.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Calling & Vocation

The Theology of Work project produced an overview on calling & vocation.


What do Christians mean when they talk about calling and vocation? This article states that we usually mean, "Is God calling me to a particular job, profession or type of work?" This is an important question because all of our life belongs to God. I am rereading Leland Ryken's excellent book, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure. In this book, Ryken states that our work, leisure, and play are all important to God. All of our life must be lived in his presence.

This article does an excellent job in giving an overview of calling and Vocation. It discusses the following topics

  • how to discern God's calling or guidance in the area of work
  • the community nature of calling
  • the calling to church vs. non-church work
  • callings to the creative and redemptive work of God beyond the paid workplace
  • the importance of how you work at whatever job you have, and
  • the ultimate freedom that Christians enjoy in their work

What does the Bible have to say about these topics? The authors note, "In the Bible, the word 'call' is used most often to refer to God's initiative to bring people to Christ and to participate in his redemptive work in the world." In other words, the primary call is to become a Christian. In our calling as a Christian, "our work must be an integral part of our participation in Christ himself." All of our lives belong to God and we are to live for his glory.

The authors believes that God created people to work. God is the supreme worker. He placed Adam in the garden to work. There are many passages in the Bible that commands us to work. For example, "six days you shall labor and do all your work."

God's calling is broader than our work. The authors state that work should not be "limited to paid work." The authors offer the following examples of unpaid work: "The work God leads us to may be unpaid work, such as raising children or caring for a disabled family member or tutoring students after school." Ryken states in his book that calls us even in our leisure. I like this point made by the authors: "God probably doesn't call many of us to jobs that would prevent us from also serving others through unpaid work." For example, I went into library work because I believed it would allow me time for study and family life.

The next point the authors make was outstanding. "Even if you have a paid job, the most important work God calls you to may be outside your job. Your job may meet your need for money--which itself fulfills part of God's command to work--but it may not fulfill all the other purposes God has for your work." For example, you might have a talent for writing, acting, music, or other kinds of work. It might not be your job, but God has gifted you in this area. 

Another point made by the authors is that we should not "let work dominate the other elements of life." WE should not let work crowd out family life, leisure, rest, and worship.

The authors addresses several other questions. Does God call us to a particular work? How does God call us? The article lists three ways to discern our calling: needs of the world, our skills and gifts, and our desires. I would add opportunity. These are excellent ways to discern our callings. It is important to seek to discern our callings in a community of faith. The authors believe that call us to both church work and non-church work. They do not see these as different callings.

The article asks an important question at the end of the article: "If God leads or guides people to their work, could it ever be legitimate to change jobs?" Martin Luther argued against changing jobs in the 16th century. Their world was vastly different from ours. John Calvin allowed for changing job, but he saw it as a temptation to the station God called us. The authors note, "Miroslav Volf has written that since the factors by which God guides people to work may change over the course of a working life, God may indeed guide people to change their work." It is legitimate to change jobs, but often people change jobs because they get itchy feet or experience difficulties in the job. So, I think we should think hard and long before changing jobs.

This article is an excellent overview of vocation and calling. On the website, there is a short video about calling and vocation. It is worth watching.