Well, it’s been so many weeks since I posted on this topic that you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little bit vague about where I left off last time.
But I think I can work it out. We’d discussed the general state of vagueness that exists in evangelical circles towards how everyday life (which, of course, includes the arts but a lot of other things as well) ties in with the Christian life. In my second post on the subject, I spoke about how we seem to have inherited a couple of big errors in our current thinking: 1) The Greek idea that matter is somehow inferior to thoughts – which in Christian terms equals to dividing the world up into spiritual things vs secular things. 2) The Enlightenment thinking that tried to throw God out of politics, science, etc. which has now morphed into a vague idea that God was never really interested in these things to start with.
So what does the Bible say?
I won’t go into horrendous detail about this one, because there are lots of good resources out there if you want to look into this issue. One book I found quite helpful was The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton. There are other books and articles, which are helpful, but I think these are the main points that I would want to get across.
1. When God created the world, he created man to have dominion over the world (Genesis 1). Now I know that has been taken to mean that we can shoot as many animals as we want and cut down all the trees, but let’s not be silly. It’s pretty clear from the context of the passage that what God is talking about is the idea of stewardship. Man (as opposed to the animals) has been given the responsibility of looking after this planet.
If you think about the myriad number of tasks that go into looking after the planet, the animals on the planet and man himself, nearly all forms of work are covered in that original command from God. This is a huge command, and I’m not sure why we never hear it talked about nowadays.
Now two chapters later in the Bible sin entered the world, and I think we have a couple of misunderstandings about what the implications of that were. By Adam’s sin, the world was cursed, death entered the world, and Adam’s work became a lot harder.
However, some people have taken that to mean 1) that God suddenly ditched the whole taking dominion command which he’d given to man and 2) therefore because of the curse, everything man did would be pointless.
I don’t believe there’s any biblical support for this idea. Certainly, the ground was cursed, and work became harder. And, also, now because of sin, man started to do crazy things like living for idols, to please other people (and in our day and age, working for money). But there is no indication that just because life became hard, and man’s motives became mixed up, that the stuff that makes up ordinary life (work, family, etc.) became any less important to God.
All through the Old Testament, we see clearly God’s concern that man obey him in all areas of life. A quick look at the laws he gave to Israel indicate quite clearly that God considered everything from their family arrangements, their system of government, the way they handled their toilets, the way the prepared food, etc. to all be important.
2. The second great motivation for thinking that all areas of God’s life are under God’s jurisdiction and that all types of work are applicable to him is the work of Jesus Christ. First of all, in his earthly ministry, as well as preaching and teaching, Jesus spent plenty of time healing people of their physical illnesses. He spoke on several occasions about how we treat the poor and needy.
Jesus nowhere gives us any indication that serving Him was meant to be a “spiritual only” thing.
3. Furthermore, Christ’s work of redemption is described in several places in the New Testament as being the work, not just of reconciling man to God, but all things. For instance, in Ephesians 1:10, Paul talks about God’s will (or plan, if you like) which he purposed in Christ “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” So,just in case the original dominion mandate wasn’t enough, our work now becomes a model of Christ’s redemptive work – redeeming creation.
4. The fact that every one of Paul’s letters end up giving advice to husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, slaves and masters is another indication that God is interested in much more than just our “spiritual” lives (reading the Bible, going to church, etc.) In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no distinction made between “spiritual” and “other” parts of life at all. All of life is meant to be service to God.
I could go into more detail about this, but I think most people would be better served by having a read of their Bibles (Old and New Testaments) to see what type of God is described there. Is Jesus just interested in spiritual things? Or is his agenda bigger than that?
Find out for yourself, and I think you’ll come to agree with me.
In the meantime, if you want to hear something really thought-provoking (and possibly controversial), I’d highly recommend this talk that I heard a couple of months ago at the 21C Conference (it’s a conference for young leaders in the Presbyterian Church). The speaker was a Scottish gentleman named Andrew McGowan from Highland Theological College (in Scotland, believe it or not). We weren’t sure what to expect with this talk, which was going to address Christianity and the Nation: Challenges and Opportunities. McGowan made the jaw-dropping statement that Christians were called not just to be leaders in their churches, but leaders in the nation as well. Politics, arts, you name it.
I’ll let you listen for yourself and see what you think. Would be fascinated to hear you comments.
When I get back to this topic, I’ll try to address some common questions that I hear about the supposed clash between “ordinary work” and “ministry work”. Talk to you soon!