There is no debate. It's this guy, hands down.
Jesus Creed: CS Lewis: Outside the Pale? (RJS)
... One of the comments on the last post noted that Augustine's view of the doctrine of original sin, causes the most significant conflict for many of us today. This came up again in an e-mail I received dealing with the doctrines of Adam, Eve, and Original Sin. The letter writer sent the following (and I quote excerpts with permission):
The letter writer went on to note that this "pastor is generally a model of charity and would not say what he said if he did not feel conscience-bound to do so." This letter poses the question I would like to consider today.
Is any position other than monogenesis of the human race with Adam and Eve as unique historical individuals outside the pale of orthodox Christianity?
To begin to consider this question I will lay out a few perspectives on the question of Adam and Eve within the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. ...
Okay. I'm not buying it until Temperance Brennan has a look.
The Economist: Retirement: The burdens of old age
Today we look at “Faith and Faithfulness,” the third of four parts in John Stackhouse’s discussion of “Principles of a New Realism.” (Chapter 8 in Making the Best of It.) We’ve already looked at “A Mixed Field, Mixed Motives, and Mixed Results” and “The Normal and Beyond.” “Liberty and Cooperation" will be the topic of the next post.
Faith and Faithfulness
Stackhouse identifies two important pitfalls. First, individually or as a group, we may arrogate God’s work to ourselves. Our efforts are equated with God’s efforts. Those not with us are defying God. We are unwilling to make common cause with others, Christian and non-Christian alike, who may not match up with our vision in all the particulars. Our zeal to do “the Lord’s work” can actually interfere with God’s work. We frequently we come off as pests and bullies.
Second, we may retreat from engagement with the world, while we seek pure hearts and clean hands, trusting that God will work everything out. As Stackhouse notes, “Political decisions, at least most of them, are made by those who show up.” (290) (By “political decisions” he means decision-making done in all spheres of societal life.) God is working in and through human institutions to bring shalom. We cannot be absent from them.
Stackhouse titles one subsection, “Irony, Paradox, Integrity, and Effectiveness.” Alluding to Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life as a parable, he points out how interwoven our lives are; how hard it is to anticipate how even small actions might have a future impact. Consequences of our actions frequently don’t match our intentions. We create welfare programs that encourage sloth and workfare programs that damage the innocent. Ironies are all too frequent. Yet we are called to persevere, in spite of what seems a tangled mess of paradoxes and complexities. This perseverance is key to what faithfulness means. Stackhouse writes:
But mindlessly engaging in a pattern of behavior, without regard to actual consequences, is not faithfulness. I really appreciated this passage:
Stackhouse draws on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The slave who hides and preserves his talent, and is therefore rebuked and condemned, “… is the very picture of integrity without effectiveness.” Faithfulness requires consideration of both integrity and effectiveness.
Prudence and shrewdness are other virtues we would do well to cultivate. Individually and as groups, we are limited beings with limited resources. We have to discern where we should focus our efforts within our given contexts. Frequently that means tolerating things we find objectionable and working with others whose views we may find objectionable in order to be effective.
Again, God tolerates a certain amount of evil and does not try to fix everything at once. We should therefore be more godly and less fastidious. And we can do so because we hope in God who one day will make all things new. (295)
Stackhouse closes this section with observations about hope. We undertake our work without despair or desperation. He challenges the widely held view of total destruction of this world and an ex nihilo creation of a new world. He comments on II Peter 3:7, 10-13, showing that it is not about annihilation, but rather the imagery is akin to Noah's flood that washed away what was evil and left what was good. In this case, the imagery is a refiner’s fire burning away the impurities, leaving that which is pure. “… there is great discontinuity with the world as it was, but also great continuity." (296)
He closes, writing:
Computerworld: Seattle center develops tech for poor people
Kansas City Star: Discovery: Grain storage began well before farming
Christianity Today: The Justification Debate: A Primer
Those who know me well know that I have frequently alluded to Wile E. Coyote as the quintessential metaphor for my existence. Life frequently feels like a game of anvil dodge ball.
I'm currently using this pic as my avatar at Twitter. I love this "chart."
Wall Street Journal: The Climate Change Climate Change
I don't doubt that Strassel is carrying the water for certain political aims but I think her assessment is generally correct. It is intriguing to me how so many people of a postmodern bent are willing to deconstruct all types of authority but climate change scientists are Moses coming off the mountain. Science is a very human endeavor filled with people who have authentic desires to better the world as well as people with egos who desire to establish a legacies. Science is also heavily funded and influenced by government and political agendas. Furthermore, there are powerful economic interests who have stakes in scientific outcomes (positive or negative) and are willing to bend science toward there economic intrests, usually aided by plitical allies. The human/political/economic contribution to the emergence of climate change science is rarely considered.
My regular readers know I have doubts about the anthropogenic CO2 driven climate change scenario and even greater doubts about the apocalyptic impact scenarios. There is a joke that says economists have successfuly predicted nine of the last five recessions. Climate is infinitely more complex than economies. I'm much more concerned about ecological impacts that are consuming natural habitats and creating unsafe environments for humanity today. I also value the creation of renewable enegry for political and economic reasons. I hope Strassel is right ... that reevaluation is going on ... because my perception is that the climate change agenda has been driven at least as much by politics and vested interests (if not more so) as by science.
The Economist: Shopaholics wanted
Aid Watch (William Easterly): Response to MV tourism operator on “Should starving people be tourist attractions?”
We continue with the Principles of a New Realism (Chapter 8) in Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse. Monday we looked at Mixed Field, Mixed Motives, and Mixed Results. Wednesday we began our look at The Normal … and Beyond. Today we finish that discussion.
The Normal … and Beyond: Steering Societies, Converting Communities, Improving Individuals. (Continued)
We concluded the last post by noting the difference between making ethical decisions based on unwavering adherence to ethical prescriptions (deontological ethics) and making choices in an effort to maximize shalom (consequentialist ethics). Stackhouse embraces the latter … as do I with some trepidation. Having said this, Stackhouse identifies four considerations we must deal with as we reflect on these issues.
1. “The first consideration is to observe where are in the Christian Story.” (275) We do not live in Jesus’ day and we do not live in the New Jerusalem. Stackhouse takes theologians like John Howard Yoder to task here:
There is a willful dismissiveness of 2,000 years of church history. We are apparently in this for the long haul. Stackhouse is also critical of characterizing the emergence of Christendom with some “… grotesque deviation from authentic Christian mission …” Christendom was the natural result of mission. The state was merely the last social domino to fall. Did this raise a whole new set of challenges? Absolutely! But it was not a departure from the mission of the church.
One of the charges I hear made against fundamentalist Christians is their tendency to absolutize behaviors they believe are taught in the Bible (ex. Women don’t preach) without consideration for the distance of 2,000 years and changing culture. Yet some of these same critics want to absolutize the posture the NT church (i.e., Christ vs. Empire) as the absolute culturally-transcendent posture for relating to culture. That was then … this is now. I believe there are different postures and responses for different culture contexts.
2. “The second consideration therefore is to recall the creation commandments and the redemption and the redemption commandments, and their relation to each other.” (278) Too many Christians opt to obey the redemption commandments only. We are to work for the greatest shalom possible as we obey the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commandments.
Here again, he is critical of the Anabaptist attempts to disassociate with worldly powers (ex. Yoder, Hauerwas, Willimon). They will argue that the greatest shalom can be created by being a witness separate from the powers. Stackhouse writes:
He offers the last two considerations as his rationale.
3. “The third consideration, then, is to return to the Christian Story to witness God involved in violence, deception, and other contraventions of “normal” morality.” (279) Stackhouse lays out several instances in Scripture where such actions were engaged in by God or God’s people. He grants that we do not find instances of this concerning the apostles but it is also true that the biblical record does not recount events where the apostles were placed in extreme ethical dilemmas akin to the SS officer hunting Jews at our door . Thus, the only argument here is one from silence. The holiness of God, in ways that may seem mysterious to us, somehow incorporates these actions.
4. “This fourth consideration is the distinction between God’s work and ours, between what is proper only to him and what we are to do in resemblance to, and in cooperation with, him.” (280) He goes on:
Human beings are not God. We have neither the intellect or the moral wisdom to carry out God’s vengeance in the world. “Yet society does need to be protected, and to be protected by violence – legal, authorized, monitors, and minimal violence but violence nonetheless.” (282) Stackhouse goes on to write:
I quote the following because I believe this long passage ties much of Stackhouse’s thinking together:
Stackhouse elaborates using Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s dilemma between pacifism and plotting to assassinate Hitler, but I think you get the picture. I’m sure others will challenge Stackhouse's views here, but I found that I strongly identify with this passage.
What do you think?
Next week ... Faith and Faithfulness
Tim Keel: Spiritual, But Not Religious
Keel is the pastor at Jacob's Well, a large Emergent congregation here in my Kansas City neighborhood. Brian Ellison, pastor of Parkville Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and an all around good guy, is another of the participants. Interesting dialog.
Carpe Diem: Why are MD Salaries So High? The Medical Cartel
The Mankiw post offers further food for thought.
Prof. John Stackhouse Weblog: Finding the Will of God–or–Not Getting Lost in the Forest
We continue with the Principles of a New Realism (Chapter 8) in Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse. Monday we looked at Mixed Field, Mixed Motives. Today we look at The Normal … and Beyond.
The Normal … and Beyond: Steering Societies, Converting Communities, Improving Individuals.
The underlying theme here is that the work of advancing shalom occurs primarily .... not through miracles, not through extraordinary efforts, .... but through the diligent living of everyday lives. Crises don’t come out of nowhere. They are most often the product of processes that have long been at work. Those who influence the processes exercise much control over the crises. I think this underscores the importance of Christians participating in every sphere of sociey (ex. law, business, government, military, education, art, etc.) if there is to be an ongoing influence toward shalom.
Stackhouse astutely points out that history moves neither in a circle nor a straight line. The strategies of waiting for things to come back around to where they were, or of assuming the continuation of the present trajectory of events, are foolhardy. “History is made of up of multiple lines with multiple curves with very limited predictability.” (268) The reality is that as some things seem to be moving in a bad direction others seem to moving in a good direction. Fixating on one to the exclusion of others leads us into poor judgment.
The issues involved are massively complex. Add to this that we are fallen and finite human beings. The pursuit of shalom a difficult and unpredictable, even with our best efforts.
But what about the borderline cases? Stackhouse raises the frequently used scenario where a Nazi SS officer comes to a home and asks if you hiding Jews. How should we respond? Stackhouse writes:
Stackhouse opts for the second choice and I’m with him. He fully acknowledges the danger of relativism that some will charge … it is a philosophical debate that has been going on for generations. Be that as it may, it is the ambiguous reality we live in. I agree that this is the uncomfortable tension we are compelled to live in. Frankly, I worry that both those who hold to his first option, or those who simply conclude ethics is all relative, are merely seeking a comfortable escape from the tension we have been called to live within. Instead, … empowered by the Holy Spirit … we are to trust the dynamic interaction of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to lead us, and God's grace to cover us.
Stackhouse lays out four considerations we must address when wrestling with such matters. We will pick up with those in the next post.
Wall Street Journal: Sustainable Success
Presbyterian News Service: PC(USA) records steepest membership loss since reunion in 1983
Wall Street Journal: The Left's Collapse… In Europe, that is.
We now come to Chapter 8, the concluding chapter of Part III in Making the Best of It, by John Stackhouse. This chapter is called “Principles of a New Realism.” Stackhouse begins the chapter:
There are four sections to the this chapter:
Today we begin with first section.
A Mixed Field , Mixed Motives, and Mixed Results
Stackhouse begins with Jesus’ parable of The Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13:24-30, where an enemy sows weeds in among a farmer’s wheat. The weeds must be left to grow with the wheat until harvest because uprooting would destroy the wheat. (I remember reading elsewhere that the tares looked so similar to wheat that even experts have difficulty telling the difference with the naked eye. Only when the head matures does the difference become obvious.)
Jesus explains that the field is the world. Two kingdoms are mixed together in our present reality. Referencing Augustine, Stackhouse notes that now is not the time for apocalyptic confrontation with enemies of Christ. Some may yet become his friends before the harvest.
So what does it mean to be seeking shalom in a world where “the tares” are alongside us? First, we should expect sin and plan for it.
Stackhouse is critical of both Christian liberals and conservatives who see the world in stark polarities of good and evil, and fail to truly wrestle with ambiguity that exists in our present context. This is a concern I’ve had more and more with each passing year. I understand the frustration many Christians have with cultural accommodation, particularly younger ones. But all too often the response borders on millennialism; an implied, if not explicit, belief that the Church will usher in the Kingdom of God. This unchecked idealism is the root of any number of well-intended destructive movements throughout history. The antidote to both cultural accommodation and the variant forms of idealism is a realism of the variety Stackhouse is espousing.
Second, Stackhouse wants us to deal not only with the “bad out there” but “the bad in here.” What about the evil in ourselves, our families, or our churches and Christian Organizations? Stackhouse writes:
Our Constitution and foundational documents take a much dimmer view of human proclivities, carefully separating powers to avoid concentration of government with any one group or branch of government. Yet so much of evangelicalism is driven by powerful personalities in large churches with highly centralized power.
I don’t think evangelicals are alone in peculiar thinking on these issues. The Emerging Church movement is mostly anti-institutional, with most folks believing in small, highly decentralized faith communities that are only loosely connected. Therefore, one might presume a heavy sympathy for libertarian politics. On the contrary, I find considerable affinity with big government solutions to almost every problem that confronts society. Emergents often seem to be a mirror image of evangelicals, having an almost a hyper-resistance to powerful leaders in big churches or organizations while readily embracing considerable concentration of societal power in centralized governmental institutions; some virtually identify “social justice” with government action. I suspect this may be due to a reaction against the large church with a powerful pastor model, as well as the libertarian leaning nature of many evangelicals, more than a well reasoned theological response to culture.
Third, we should not despair because evil is always among us. There is fruit that is growing as well. Law will not bring about total righteousness but it can establish minimal boundaries that will allow us to flourish. (Personally, I like to think in terms of Chesterton’s language of “making room for good things to run wild.”) We can always live better than the law but we also recognize we will not achieve life as it will be in the new creation. All or nothing attitudes (left or right) toward societal engagement are usually destructive; sacrificing actual incremental improvement for idealistic principle. Picking our battles and nudging the world toward greater shalom in all we do is our mission in the mixed field we live in.
Presbymergent: A Second Life for Presbyterians (Neal Locke)
At the end of the chapter on vocation in Making the Best of It, John Stackhouse makes some important closing observations.
We’ve talked about human vocation and Christian vocation, but Stackhouse astutely notes that there is temporal nature to our lives. I don’t know who originally said it but I’ve always like the observation that time is what keeps everything from happening at once.
Reflecting on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Stackhouse points that there is rhythm and flow to life. There are onetime events, like birth and death, and cyclical activities, like planting and harvesting. There are also episodic events like childhood, school, jobs, marriage, parenting, and retirement, and so on. Each of these demands certain things of us and restricts us from doing other things. There is a time for everything under heaven. We don’t do everything all at once. I think we must always be asking “What time (or season) is it?” based on where we find ourselves.
This raised two important issues for me. First is the issue of boundaries. Stackhouse touches on the issue of particularity at places in his book. We are each unique limited beings. It occurs to me that we are not the savior of the world. And even when the savior of the world was with us in the flesh, he occasionally walked away from demanding crowds to be alone with the Father. He also spent only three of his thirty years in ministry we see recorded in the gospels. There are limits to what we can and should try to do.
When it comes to poverty, for instance, I have little doubt that we American Christians don’t do enough. Yet I get weary of the endless guilt trips and moralistic brow-beating by those who advocate justice. If I gave up everything I own, quit eating and consuming, and then died a few days later from starvation, the world would not be changed. In fact, it would likely be worse off because it would not have the benefit of the jobs that are created and sustained by participation in the economy, and it would not have the regular offerings I will give every year over the next decades to help address poverty. (These are just two factors.) There are limits on what I can do.
There are two unhealthy consequences of moralistic idealism. First, compassion fatigue. The problem becomes so overwhelming that people despair of ever having an impact. They simply live their lives and ignore the problem. Others become so absorbed in trying to fight the problem that become slothful in other aspects of human and Christian vocation. Relationships and the witness of the Church suffer as a result. I’m persuaded that sustainable healthy change comes when significant numbers of people learn to exhibit compassion and justice from within the boundaries of their own existence. I’m fully aware that this can be characterized as a rationalization for doing less than my part but I don’t think that is true. There is a tension between broad vocation and personal limitation, and I don’t think the Church has done well at helping us live in that tension. There is no formula that will answer the question.
The second issue this raised for me was pride and parochialism. How easy it is to get caught up in the thing that has lit a flame in our heart and begin to trivialize all others are not energized by our passions. Each of us is in different life stages and life episodes. God does not call us all to the same service … as Stackhouse wrote; we are all members, not microcosms, of the Church. I think each of us has to work to celebrate and appreciate the call of others, even as we relish our own particular call.
Finally, Stackhouse reflects briefly on mission and vocation. He writes:
Keeping in mind all the above, we are to be ever asking, What will do the most for the Kingdom? What will bring the greatest shalom? What does this mean in terms of my relationships, my work, and my recreation? This is where the tetralectic (reason, tradition, experience, and Scripture) all come into play. All that we do touches on our human and Christian vocation. Therefore, Stackhouse concludes the chapter on this note:
Next week we begin Chapter 8, "Principles of a New Realism."
BuzzMachine: The API revolution
Lots of interesting graphs. Like I say, economists have successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions. While this is a severe recession, I'm still not convinced we are in for a depression.
We continue with the chapter on vocation in Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse. So far we have looked at human vocation in terms of “all, some, and individuals.” We looked at Christian vocation in terms of “all” Christians in the last post. Today we continue with Stackhouse’s observations about “some and individuals.”
Stackhouse sees the church engaging the world through many institutional means. He is not fond of the label “parachurch” organizations. These organizations are not additives to cure deficiencies. They are modes through which the church is deployed.
Furthermore, Stackhouse is not be particularly troubled by the presence of multiple denominations and their traditions. He is not necessarily excited about the performance of traditional ecumenical bodies per se (ex. World Council of Churches or World Evangelical Alliance) but he does think that the differences can be mutually invigorating to the body. They may actually enhance the witness of the church. He uses differences over pacifism as an example. He believes (and I agree) that war is a thorny issue that is not easy to resolve in terms of Christian ethics. The faithful witness of Christians in the military may positively shape how a military functions and the faithful witness of pacifists will always serve as thorny reminder to the rest of us that we dare not take Jesus’ teaching on peace and nonresistance lightly. Our ecumenism should be one of tension where there one sharpens the other not purely a lowest-common-denominator relationship that too many ecumenical bodies develop.
Concerning congregations, Stackhouse writes:
Amen! The same could be said about certain denominational structures I work with but we’re improving.
Stackhouse says we should actually be thankful, in a sense, for our personal limitations. It helps us narrow the scope of our competencies for service. Rather than being resigned to our particular situations maybe we should consider whether we have been assigned to them. We can take great pleasure in the work we are called to do and should be able to celebrate the work others are called to do. We should not expect everyone to enjoy what we do nor should we be disparaging of the work that others do.
The diversity of gifts is a good thing. Stackhouse writes that each of us a member, not a microcosm, of the church. Another important point he makes is that some people’s spiritual gifts may have nothing to do with their workweek skills (ex. a high power executive who also has a gift of hospitality). He also notes that putting people’s spiritual gifts to work doesn’t necessarily mean putting them to work in a local church. We often need to be more sophisticated in how we think about spiritual gifts.
Stackhouse notes that all too often we lavish praise on the speakers and musicians in the church but what about those who do the work behind the scenes that is so essential? Stackhouse writes:
A mark of the church functioning properly surely must be the practice of inverting the normal hierarchy of honor and making sure that every member receives the recognition that he or she deserves according to the value of the Kingdom of God. (255)
“Mission is a word that originated with the church. Business has stolen it. We need to take it back.” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard or read this recently. I heard it again during a workshop at the Presbyterian Big Tent event in Atlanta. The speaker mentioned seeing a business mission statement at Taco Bell. He quipped, somewhat incredulously, “Who knew Taco Bell has a mission statement?” He then noted that mission was an idea that originated with the church and we need to recover it within the church.
While this instance was rather benign, such remarks often are not. “Stealing back mission” isn’t just about recovering it for the church. It is about getting it out of the hands of evil. There is a strong intimation, if not explicit declaration, that the idea of mission has been co-opted by something profane. The idea that a business would have a mission statement is mocked. After all, we all know that businesses are rooted in greed. Business mission statements are ultimately disingenuous attempts to dress up sinful motives.
It strikes me that this frame of mind is rooted in a sacred versus secular dualism. Let me explain. As John Stackhouse so eloquently notes, God has given us two sets of two commands:
Creation commandments are permanent while the redemption commandments have application only this side of the consummation of the Kingdom of God. The redemption commandments are about redeeming humanity and about recreating a world where flawless obedience to the creation commandments is a reality.
Business is a critical component of living out the cultural mandate. Economic activity is largely about transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful states into more useful states. This activity is integral to bearing the image of God. But like every aspect of our human existence, business has been corrupted by sin. It is true that the mission statement for some businesses is a bit like putting pearls on a pig. But in my estimation, those who pejoratively dismiss the idea of businesses having a mission betray their own dualistic mindsets. For them, mission is confined only to the redemption commandments ... spiritual and relational matters. To the degree that mission does touch on business or economic matters, its role is one of prophetic denunciation, restraint, and suspicion.
Greed has been present with humanity throughout recorded history. It is present in our modern economies as well. But at its core, business is not about greed. Business is about people creating goods and services, and then participating in endless win-win exchanges. It is about people irrepressibly exhibiting the image of their creator. The idea of businesses being intentional and focused in their mission as they corporately reflect the image of God (which they do despite their intentions) should prompt affirmations and encouragement from the church. Sadly, for all too many church leaders, it merely elicits ridicule and scorn. It is viewed as the defilement of something sacred.
Last week we began looking at vocation as discussed in John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It. We’ve discussed human vocation. Today we turn to Christian vocation.
The biblical narrative tells us that humanity has rebelled against God. God is now on a mission to redeem us and creation from this broken relationship. To this end, God has “called out” a people for himself to give witness to who he is and the new creation that is to come. He calls us to repentance. But here, Stackhouse makes a critically important distinction:
A couple of pages later he writes:
Failure to understand the redemptive call as a call within a larger call is, in my estimation, one of the single biggest dysfunctions in the life of the Church. On the one hand are those who have all but lost any sense of God’s redemptive call, especially in terms of personal transformation, and on the other hand those want to make the redemptive call all there is. Stackhouse’s clarification on these issues is very helpful and absolutely crucial.
In this subsection, Stackhouse goes on to talk about the witness of the church. He notes that there are three modes in which we are a witness.
Stackhouse points again to the win-win-win dynamic of our call. Caring for others contributes to our sanctification and brings pleasure to God. There is a synergy in holistic witness that spirals upwards toward greater shalom all the way around.
Also, Stackhouse explicitly connects the dots between our obedience to the creation commandments as integral to our obedience to the redemption commandments. The tangible expressions of the Kingdom will come in our daily acts of “dominion” and practice of the great Commandments. While human and Christian vocation cannot be confused with each other, neither can they be separated.
We have seen what Christian vocation means for “all.” Next we look at his reflections on what it means for “some” and for individuals.”
Christian Science Monitor: TV crews flee Hollywood for...Hoboken?
Wall Street Journal: Delay the Minimum-Wage Hike
May take, based on what I've read, is that minimum wage increases can be a benefit for low-income workers who already have a job and some work experience. But the minimum wage is a detriment to unskilled inexperienced workers trying to enter the work force. It may not directly destroy that many existing jobs (though it does in some cases) but it does have a stifling affect on the emergence of new jobs.
The Economist: Solar-powered manned flight: Flying for ever
The Economist: Netbooks: Small but disruptive
Aid Watch: Rulers, communities, and revolution
SFGate.com: Kiva to make microloans inside the U.S.
John Stackhouse, in Making the Best of It, talks about "human vocation" and "Christian vocation." Today we are looking at human vocation.
All human beings are called by God to fulfill the creation commandments [Cultural Mandate and Great Commandments], as we have seen. We are to worship God, see each other’s best interests, and care for the rest of creation. … There are no “netural actions (Mt 13:48; Eph. 4:29 NASB). One is either making a contribution toward shalom or one is not. (223)
Stackhouse has already made clear that we will not see perfect shalom until the consummation of the new creation but here he takes aim at complacency … everyone remaining in their “station” and preserving the statas quo while we wait for “pie in the sky by and by.” The world is deeply marred by the fall but substantial movement in the direction of shalom is possible.
Like the seeds of leaven of Jesus’ parables that are diffused and then influence all around them, Christians must quietly, steadily, and sometimes dramatically effect change – as Christians have, whether in the development of constitutional government, the rise o f science, the abolition of slavery, the empowerment of women, the recognition of universal human rights, and more. (224-225)
The challenge is discerning what shalom looks like and having a robust appreciation for how all the particulars of human action contribute the flourishing of creation and shalom. Everyone has a legitimate role to play in moving things in the direction of shalom.
But lest we become fixated on productive labors, Stackhouse reminds us that there are “other generic human activities that deserve Christian affirmation” (226) … sports or art, for example. That some have too highly regarded these activities is no justification for the denigration of them. As Stackhouse notes, “god is interested in more than productivity and spirituality.
Human beings function in groups and Stackhouse lists a couple dozen examples ranging from nation states, to families, to banks, to sports teams. As evidenced by this assortment. human institutions were not established by God merely to restrain evil but they exist as avenues to pursue a flourishing world. Modernity may have contribution to the multiplication of such groups but they have always been with us.
But human institutions consist of fallen human beings. They are not benign.
One of the great useless emphases of our time, to reiterate, is the championing of community over individualism, as if the former is good and the latter bad – indeed, as if the former is a kind of cure for the latter. (228)
Communities do great harm as well. It is time to end the false dichotomy of personal conversion and social change. Both are in need of transformation yet transformation from either angle will not usher in the Kingdom of God.
When it comes to groups, we must become more intentional and precise in how we see them contributing to shalom. Like individuals, groups get lost in their focus and we must be consistently asking how our institutions measure up to the standard of shalom.
Such a question ought to energize and direct a group, neither asking of it an impossible ideal nor releasing it to ethical complacency and thus to either stagnation or rapacity. (229)
Stackhouse also makes this important observation:
Furthermore, a Christian ethic recognizes that governments are not families and governments and families are not business, and business are not charities or families, and so on. It is a mark of ethical confusion in our time … which gives rise to the rueful (and confused) protests that you don’t fire your family members or refuse to help them if they’re in any trouble. Yet it is not only all right for business to fire people but essential that they do so. It is not only all right for businesses to fire people but essential that they do so. It is not only all right for hospitals to put patient care above fiscal efficiency but essential that they do so. … Differentiation, and thus ethical clarity, is essential for the proper functioning of each kind of group. (230)
Human vocation sanctifies our work. It makes it holy and a pleasure to God. However, while we all share this vocation it does not mean that our work will always seem rewarding and fruitful. There is sin in the world and there are oppressive economic forces as work. Stackhouse writes:
Stackhouse also reminds us that none of us can do everything and each of us is limited by abilities and interests when it comes to work. We all like some endeavors and not others. After listing several topics he has no interest in, Stackhouse writes:
A point I would add in addition, is that we should be slow to denigrate fields of study or areas of work that don’t match our proclivities. The work that is done in other fields that we consider silly or less noble may be a source of great pleasure to God and the people he has called to work in those areas. Clearly there is work that does not honor God but I often wonder how closely my boundaries approximate God’s.
The bottom line for Stackhouse whatever it is that we do, it is imperative that persistently ask what will most increase shalom.
Today we begin Chapter Seven in John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It. This chapter deals with vocation.
Work is vocation – Especially true of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity where “vocation” is a call to a religious career … monks, nuns, priests and such. Others are sometimes said to have “secular priesthoods” … for example, medicine, law, or education.
Call of Christ to every Christian – Work is not vocation. Our call is to particular Christian activities (like evangelism or charity) that are disconnected from either an entire life pattern (like being a priest) or to economic labor.
Stackhouse was raised in this tradition and says there were only practical pieces of guidance for him:
Sounds like Stackhouse and I have similar backgrounds.
Work is part of vocation – The root word from which get “saints” means “to be set apart for special use.” “…Each us are set apart by God for service.” Stackhouse notes the pervasive tendency to make distinctions between heroes and ordinaries, religious and secular, or saints and non-saints. The Reformation took aim at these dichotomies. He writes:
In case you hadn’t noticed, Stackhouse is embracing option number three.
Another pairing that immediately comes to my mind is “clergy” and “laity.” Back in the fall of 2005, I wrote a post that addressed this issue. In short, the adjective “laity” (laikos) is not in the Bible. The word has the connotation of being from the profane common masses. It was a synonym for idiots, meaning nonprofessional … it is also the word from which we get idiot. :-) “Clergy” comes from the word kleros. It means “inheritance.” Whenever it is used it refers to the entire people of God (laos tou theo). The entire community is God’s inheritance, not a select specialized few. There are no “clergy and laity” or “clergy and the people.” There are only the people who are the clergy, and from among the people some are called and gifted for leadership.
Okay. I’m off my soapbox now and we can move into Chapter seven.
Christianity Today: Global is the New Local