Sunday, February 21, 2010

A World Split in Two

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.

Related posts:

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.


Laura said...

I have never heard of Pietism until reading this book, Glynn. How fascinating that you encountered it first hand!It sounds so obvious to me that our work is a high calling. I find it difficult to believe that your class members took offense. I guess it is, as Beckett says, all in the worldview we claim.

I want mine to be Biblical. Sometimes life gets into those gray area and it's not so easy to distinguish. I understand this. But I hope when the end of my days come and I stand before the Judgement throne, I will be able to say I carried His work with me wherever I went.

Kathleen Overby said...

This really gives value to us homemakers and home school moms, etc. It makes what we're doing and who we're with priceless. In 'Stranger than Fiction" she says she wants to change the world one cookie at a time.
:) Me too. I didn't engage in this discussion because
I haven't worked at a 'job' outside. This included me.
You rock at including us all. Thx Glynn.

L.L. Barkat said...

I think I remember this story! :) Glad you told it in this context. Perfect.

Nice to be here again, reading your words.

Deidra said...

I truly appreciate this. I'm married to a minister and, while he doesn't promote this idea, others often want to put him on a pedestal simply because of the work to which he's been called.

I believe that everything we do is to be used to (as I put it) make God look good. All of our gifts, all of our work, all of our actions matter to God. They came to us from God, and can be redeemed by God for eternity.

Thank you.

Monica Sharman said...

Mm-hm, consequences like dissatisfaction, lack of contentment, bitterness, neglecting children and housework, inconsistency, and others.

The thing about skunks---they sure sharpen our senses and awareness to what's in the room!

Lyla Willingham Lindquist said...

Crazy to me that we all nod assent to the idea that we're all on equal footing with God, yet we elevate and dismiss what He calls us to based on our perception of its value.

I appreciated Beckett breaking down the origin of this type of thinking. In that context it become much more difficult to spiritualize that behavior.