Ideas have consequences. But I didn’t know that a question I was asked when I was teaching an adult Sunday School class had its roots in the Pietism movement in the 17th century.
For two years, I attended a lecture and study course called Salt and Light taught by Jerram Barrs of Covenant Theological Seminary. Barrs, who had studied with Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri, was teaching about culture and faith, and that the gospel was the transformational message for all of life, and all of creation, including the arts, education, the environment, the public sphere, work – everything that is the world we live in.
When I finished the series, a pastor at our church asked me to teach the material in an adult Sunday School class, and I readily agreed. The class was well attended, and things went fine until we hit the lesson on work, and I repeated what Barrs had emphasized again and again, that God saw work as another area to be redeemed, that we were to live and be our faith in the work place, that God saw all work as holy, and there was no difference between a pastor’s work, a missionary’s work, an accountant’s work, a salesman’s work, a writer’s work – it was all work in God’s eyes.
You would have thought I had just lobbed a live and very angry skunk into the middle of the room. The reaction was surprise. I was asked if I meant what I said. The reaction went to shock when I said yes.
Everyone was polite, but some people did not come back to the class.
The idea that full-time ministry or missionary work is “higher” than any other work came from, among other ideas, the Pietism movement in the 1600s, which, as we find out in John D. Beckett’s Loving Mondays: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, started a good thing but evolved into the kind of two-tiered reality envisioned by Plato. This was a division between the material and spiritual world, with the “spiritual” being on a higher plane than the “material.”
And that was what prompted the question in the class – what was thought to be Biblical turned out to be Platonist, or cultural. And it’s defined a lot about how Christians view the world they live in.
Ideas have consequences.
Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’re discussing Beckett’s Loving Mondays. The discussion is led by Laura Boggess. This week, we’re focused on chapters 8 through 11 (the chapters are short and easy to read), covering the cultural and philosophical background of a Biblical understanding of work. Check here for last week’s discussion.
Lyla Lyndquist at A Different Story: Just Another Piece of Pie
L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone: Chocolate Bread and Stripey Cookies
Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God: Jesus Was More Than Hands On
Update: Jerram Barrs' newest book, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, was today named by Outreach Magazine as book of the year in the evangelism category.