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Jan 11, 2011

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Travis Greene

I agree that vocation, and a theology of vocation and creative collaboration with God is important, but people aren't their jobs. And very few people get to pick work that is creative or offers any sense of purpose or fulfillment other than the satisfaction of a paycheck earned, which I think is itself evidence of the fallen world. I agree most clergy would do a lot better to keep one foot in the "secular" world. But I don't see anything ridiculous, as the writer seems to imply, about the reconciling ministry of a pipe-fitter.

Michael W. Kruse

I’m not suggesting that people are their jobs. People are children of God. God calls each of us, individually and collectively, to the work of dominion and stewardship. D & s extends beyond just our employment in a modern economy to the daily care of ourselves and others, but our job is certainly a major component. The pipe fitter’s daily work has intrinsic value because it her particular act of obedience to the call of d & s. Even the slave working the field is exercising d & s through his work:

Eph 6:5-8

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

No question that sin has corrupted our daily labors. Some folks work at tasks that are personally unfulfilling … if not downright dehumanizing. But even the most menial work can be done as an answer to our call to d & s. (and that is not a rationalization for perpetuating dehumanizing jobs.)

“But I don't see anything ridiculous, as the writer seems to imply, about the reconciling ministry of a pipe-fitter.”

He isn’t saying it’s ridiculous. He is saying it is woefully incomplete. What I hear you saying is that the essence of the pipe fitter’s job is to provide her with a stage for doing acts of reconciliation. The pipe fitter’s work of fitting pipes has zero intrinsic value. I reject that. Each pipe fitted is her particularized response to God’s call of d & s. The mission of the church is to seek the reconciliation of the world to God and restoration of humanity to godly d & s.

In America, we pay doctors according to how many sick people they treat. In some parts of China, doctors are assigned a certain number of patients and then paid according to how many of their patients are healthy. In the church, our primary mission is not to do acts of reconciliation or evangelism. Our mission is a healthy and just world in community with God, and … while that certainly requires acts of reconciliation and evangelism in our present age … at the center of our mission is people living out their core mission of d & s in healthy and just ways in community with God.

Josh

Questions:

1) Doesn't Paul state that reconciliation is at the heart of our ministry and message in 2 Cor. 5:18-20?

2) Isn't reconciliation among the most pressing needs in our current context?

3) Aren't reconciliation and redemption two different biblical metaphors? (This post suggests they are the same. In the NT, reconciliation seems to be a relational metaphor while redemption seems to be an economic metaphor that calls to mind a slave being purchased from a slave-owner.)

4) Won't people in most vocations--even auto mechanics--have opportunities to promote reconciliation? (I do think a commitment to reconciliation rules out some vocations--that of executioner, for example.)

5) Isn't reconciliation a creative work in that it recreates a broken relationship? (Interestingly, just before his ode to reconciliation, Paul writes of "new creation" in 2 Cor. 5:17.)

6) Isn't reconciliation a work of cocreation--one that involves both creator and creatures?

7) Doesn't the language of "cocreative dominion" echo language that has encouraged the destruction of creation?

Dave Moody

Thoughtful piece... thanks Michael. Paul Stevens at Regent College has done all sorts of writing and thinking and teaching in this direction.

What might 'co-creative dominion' look like? How is this different, or is it, from Calvin's understanding of vocational calling-- i.e. being the best darn pipe-fitter one can be, to glory of God?

Thanks again for writing and leading the rest of us to think more deeply about the faith.

God's blessings to you!
dm

Kenton

"And there shall be no more death, no more pain, no more mourning, no more clergy for these things have passed away"

Seriously, though, I see that perhaps the biggest benefit of post-modernity on the church is that, more than any time in the past, the third estate is gaining an equal footing with the first. As more people - both clergy AND laity - come to understand that, the consummation of the new creation has to be around the corner.

Great post, Michael.

Michael W. Kruse

Josh, there is no question that reconciliation and redemption are key components to our mission in the world in this time between fall and consummation. I think I was rather pointed about that in my post. I don’t see them as identical but as inextricably interrelated. You can’t have one without the other. I don’t understand where you or Travis got the notion that Larive (or I) dismisses reconciliation as something that all of us do, simply because he demotes it as the defining purpose and mission for our existence.

I want to press a point. The work of reconciliation requires that there be sinners to be reconciled. If the chief end of our existence is reconciliation, then God must have created sin and intended for there to be sinners. Otherwise there would be no point in creating us since our core mission is to reconcile. Furthermore, when the consummation of things comes and sin is conquered, our human existence is purposeless. There is no one left to be reconciled and redeemed. That is the case you are making. Yes? What am I not understanding?

Our core mission is NOT reconciliation and redemption. Our core mission is right there in Genesis 1. John Walton in “The Lost World of Genesis One” does a masterful job, IMO, of showing that Genesis 1 is an Ancient Near East cosmology with surprising departures from the ANE world. Like other ANE cosmologies, it is not about how things were made or in what order they were made. It is about what functions things serve and who gives them their function.

The narrative begins with a functionless earth. The first three days establishes three basic functions:

Day 1 = Night and Day that mark of TIME.
Day 2 = The vault above the earth where WEATHER takes place.
Day 3 = The land emerges and provides for AGRICULTURE.

These are the themes of other ANE cosmologies. Then God installs functionaries:

Day 4 = The sun and moon are installed to actually carry out the function of marking time.
Day 5 = The sky and sea are populated with functionaries that serve to fill the earth.
Day 6 = The land is populated with functionaries that serve to fill the earth.

But the climax of the sixth day is God creating his ultimate functionaries who would bear his image and have responsibility for all that had been created.

Gen 1:26-28
26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

As Walton points out, the earth is being portrayed as God’s temple and we are his chief functionaries in his temple. Then, in ANE fashion, God inhabits his temple and enjoys all he has made. Genesis says he rested, which can be misleading to us. He uses the analogy of getting a new computer. We get all the pieces, connect them together, load the software, and then get everything set to our liking. Then we “rest” and enjoy putting the computer to work for the purposes for which we bought it. The same is true with God “resting.”

Several things are unique about the narrative, not the least of which is that God does not emerge from some primordial chaos. God simply is. Everything in heaven and earth are functioning under his command. Second, the creation is not complete. The earth is not filled and there are is work to be done in subduing creation and bringing it to higher ends as God’s agents/functionaries in the temple. Third, ANE cosmologies offer competitive gods vying for dominance. Humans are created largely as slaves to carry out the dirty work of these capricious characters. In the Genesis narrative, humans are esteemed as guides primary agents/functionaries at work in his temple.

The biblical narrative is not one of restoration to a garden. It begins in a garden and ends in a city (New Jerusalem), the primary symbol of human learning, government, art and commerce. The human mission is the transformation of matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms in communion with God as his agents in his temple and living in life affirming community with each other and God.

As you read the Old Testament, you will note that God’s mission is not just community and relationship. It is a community in relationship to God occupying a specific land. And as we see with the Jubilee code, a key concern is that each Israelite be able to participate in stewardship of that land, in keeping with the function God has given us. With the NT, the vision becomes one where the community expands to encompass all people and the land expands to encompass all the earth. (Christopher Wright nails this brilliantly.)

Reconciliation and redemption are essential means to the ultimate goal of humanity in proper relationship with God as they serve as his agents in the world.

Travis Greene

I'm not suggesting the fitting of pipes, or laying of bricks, or whatever, has no intrinsic value. Nor am I saying jobs are just some kind of evangelistic platform. But while reconciliation/redemption (which is not something for clerical specialists, but for the whole people of God) may not be the ultimate task of the church, in this eschatological moment, it is still primary. Yes, when all is reconciled and redeemed, there will still be mission, and that could be described in terms of dominion/etc. I agree that many have lost sight of this. But we're not there yet, and anyway I doubt very much the value of separating the means (reconciliation) from the end (shalom). To exercise dominion rightly will mean to do so in reconciliation with others, the earth, and God.

If what you and the author are saying is that we need a deeper theology of work and creation, I have no objection. But I object very much to setting this in any way against the work of redemption, or even relativizing it.

Travis Greene

"The work of reconciliation requires that there be sinners to be reconciled. If the chief end of our existence is reconciliation, then God must have created sin and intended for there to be sinners. Otherwise there would be no point in creating us since our core mission is to reconcile. Furthermore, when the consummation of things comes and sin is conquered, our human existence is purposeless. There is no one left to be reconciled and redeemed. That is the case you are making. Yes? What am I not understanding?"

No, this is not the case I'm making. In agree with you about the ultimate purpose of humanity and creation. But we aren't redeemed humanity in the Eschaton, we're the church in the in between. Whatever the ultimate destiny of creation, our primary task is redemption.

It seems like you put reconciliation in the category with faith and hope, of things that will eventually be fulfilled and therefore expire, while dominion remains. But I just don't see it that way. Our core task, even in the Genesis narrative (which is obviously important but I think maybe not as normative or as having the last word as you do), our primary reason for existence isn't dominion, but reflection of the image of God. And God is a creator, so we do reflect that, absolutely, but God's primary attribute is love. Our primary mission is love of God and neighbor.

Josh

Michael--

Two things became clear to me as I read your reply to my reply:

1) You are using "our" in reference to humankind; I am using "our" in reference to the church. I suspect what had me thinking you were doing ecclesiology rather than anthropology was your use of the word "mission" ("mission" makes me think of church, "chief end" of humankind). Also, your title refers to "the people of God," not humankind.

2) I'm not sure why I would emphasize the chief end of humankind before the fall and after the eschaton, on the one hand, and relativize reconciliation in the present, on the other hand. After all, we are the church, and we do live in the time between fall and eschaton.

Michael W. Kruse

“I'm not suggesting the fitting of pipes, or laying of bricks, or whatever, has no intrinsic value. Nor am I saying jobs are just some kind of evangelistic platform.”

By what means does it have intrinsic value? I don’t see how you get there if there is no creation mandate, no call to co-creative dominion.

“But while reconciliation/redemption (which is not something for clerical specialists, but for the whole people of God) may not be the ultimate task of the church, in this eschatological moment, it is still primary.”

I wrote in the post:

“Reconciliation and redemption are essential to our Christian vocation this side of the consummation of the Kingdom of God, but they are penultimate purposes.”

You wrote:

“To exercise dominion rightly will mean to do so in reconciliation with others, the earth, and God.”

Precisely so. And I have in no way set co-creative dominion AGAINST reconciliation and redemption. Neither has Larive. However, the work of reconciliation and redemption does need to be relativized. It has been elevated to a status that thoroughly minimizes the creation mandate of co-creative dominion. The work that that is most closely identified with Jesus redemptive ministry … evangelism, study of Scripture, compassionate works, etc., … is elevated to a status to which EVERYTHING else is relativized. Thus, we have “full-time Christian service” that encompasses these redemptive activities. The flipside, of course, is that those who are not doing this work are not doing ministry. It is the profaning of what God considers holy. It is profaning the work of co-creative dominion.

What do the “laity” do? As R. Paul Stevens writes it is almost always in terms of the negative:

# Function – they do not administer the sacraments.
# Status – they don’t have reverend in front of their name.
# Location – they don’t serve primarily in the church.
# Education – they don’t have a degree from seminary.
# Remuneration – they are not paid for church work.
# Lifestyle – they are occupied with the “secular” instead of the “sacred.”
(From “The Other Six Days,” page 4)

The widely held view is that the work the laity does that corresponds with “full-time ministry” is done as the amateur (layperson) to the true Christian professionals known as clergy. Apart from this, nothing they do is of intrinsic value.

The “laity” do the work of co-creative dominion. That is their daily ministry that they do before God, even apart from one conscious act of reconciliation and redemption. It is the central task for which we were all created. But as a called community who is convicted of sin and the need for God’s reconciliation, the “laity” must integrate the need for evangelism, reconciliation, and redemption into all they do. This is not a higher calling but an essential additive calling that shapes the primary calling of co-creative dominion in this time prior to consummation. It is the pastor’s role, not to pull people out of their primary calling, but to equip them for reconciling/redemptive ministry as they go about their primary calling.

To suggest that the reconciling/redemptive ministry is first and foremost to the complete denigration of co-creative dominion is flat out clericalism. It is esteeming the work of the ecclesial-industrial complex above that of the common shared calling we have for co-creative dominion.

Michael W. Kruse

Josh, we do indeed live in the in between time of fall and consummation. But the call of reconciliation and redemption is not one of calling people OUT of the world into these ministries. We do not abandon the mission of co-creative dominion to exercise this call. Rather we are called deeper IN to the context of our primary human call of co-creative dominion and to work its redemption.

I won't repeat everything I just said to Travis above but the bottom line is that the primacy of reconciliation and redemption as the primary, if not sole, mission of the people of God has led to the complete profaning of our daily lives. Work in our daily lives is made purely instrumental and of value ONLY when it is understood to be directly related these r & r purposes. That is how we get pipe fitters leaving their jobs in order to do "full-time Christian ministry," as if pipe-fitting is not an intrinsically valuable ministry in itself.

Ministry is not defined by what we do but by who we are doing for. But incorporated into all of our ministries is the present mission reconciliation and redemption.

Michael W. Kruse

“Our core task, even in the Genesis narrative (which is obviously important but I think maybe not as normative or as having the last word as you do), our primary reason for existence isn't dominion, but reflection of the image of God. And God is a creator, so we do reflect that, absolutely, but God's primary attribute is love. Our primary mission is love of God and neighbor.”

To me, this presses toward a dualistic spirit versus matter framing. We are not spirits waiting to be released from bodies for a higher existence. We are a unified spirit and matter being. I hear you saying that our material nature, and our placement in a material world, is largely inconsequential … extraneous details to God’s real purposes.

What exactly would it mean to reflect the image of God in any concrete sense? As Robert Banks has noted koinonia, often interpreted fellowship, is always used in the NT to describe the relationship that develops from people engaged in a common mission. Relationship itself can never be the mission but it can be an essential character of mission. We love God and neighbor as we pursue common mission, not in absence of mission.

It isn’t just Genesis One that speaks co-creative dominion. The story of God’s redemption isn’t just one of God calling the Israelites into community. It is one of calling them into community in a particular land. The use and care of that land figures prominently in their mission. We talk about the Kingdom of God. For a kingdom to exist there must be a King, subjects, a code to live by, and physical domain. Jesus announces his ministry in Luke as the Jubilee, which conjured up powerful images of each person returning to his land and being able to work it in service before God unmolested by oppressors. The imagery at the end of Revelation is not one of disintegration into immaterial spirit oneness with each other. It is of a city coming down from heaven to the earth, with Christ on the throne. Jesus did not come back as material in the sense we are now but he made of a point of his bodily resurrection and that we will one day have one as well. The final picture is of the earth is as God’s Kingdom with humans as his restored functionaries in his cosmic temple, the New Jerusalem.

All that is to say that there is a theme from start to finish. We were created as material beings for life in a material world. We participate with God in our own provision and in the care for the created order. Who are we reflecting God’s image to? Certainly we are reflecting it back to each other but we are also reflecting back to creation. Genesis 1 says first of all what we are … image bearers. Then it immediately says what these image bearers do … exercise dominion over creation and bring the earth to fullness. I don’t see how the two can be separated.

John

Meanwhile there are now more Christians on the planet than ever before.
More Bibles and Christian literature of all kinds, including comic books.
More "theology" being done and read.
More Christian TV, radio,websites, DVD's and CD's than ever before.

And yet the world is becoming more insane every day. This is especially the case in the USA.

I would also argue that the leading vectors of this insanity in the USA are right-wing religionists.

Michael W. Kruse

Well if by insane you mean ...

* Global life expectancy at birth is at nearly seventy years after historically being at thirty years.

* A smaller percentage of people have died in wars over the last part of the Twentieth Century than in most in other comparable time period in recent human history.

* The murder rate has fallen to 5 per 100,000 persons in the USA, the lowest since 1964. That is half of 1980.

* The actual incidents of violent crime in the USA (not just what gets reported to police) has declined to 17.1 per 1,000 people ... one third of its 1979 high when it was 51.7.

* Literacy continues to sweep the globe.

* The percentage of people living on less than $1 a day has shrunk for 40% to in 1970 to almost 15% today.

I can go on and on.

I'm not saying that all this has to do with particularly Christian efforts. A core tenant of Christianity is recognition of the mistakes and sinful shortcomings of those who claim to be Jesus' disciples. There is always good and bad mixed together. But to suggest that we are descending into a global dystopia doesn't square with reality.

Josh

No doubt many people, including Christians, see their vocations as purely instrumental--a way to pay the bills. I do doubt, however, that this utilitarianism has been caused by the church's focus, dating back to Jesus and Paul, on reconciliation. In fact, when Christians see their workplaces as mission fields where they are called to be reconcilers, they may come to value their vocations more.

For reasons I don't understand, there seems to be a fair amount of testiness in this thread. My final thoughts will be these: (1) I agree with much of what you have written; (2) I don't like the phrase "co-creative dominion" (and I suspect it will also rub many of our fellow mainliners the wrong way); and (3) I think a better title for this post would have been either "Reconciliation Is Not the Core Task of Humankind" or "Reconciliation Will Not Be the Core Task of God's People in the Future."

Michael W. Kruse

"For reasons I don't understand, there seems to be a fair amount of testiness in this thread."

For my part, it probably stems in part from the Chiefs losing in the plays offs, shoveling nine inches of snow, and a phone that wouldn't quite ringing today. :-) It's the first serious post of the year and my snarkosity tends to diminish after a couple of posts.

I did almost use a different title for the post ... something along the lines you wrote. But in the end I think it is important that we do not fall into the trap of thinking that when we become Christians we are called OUT of the ministry of what I've been calling co-creative dominion. We are called to infuse reconciliation into the daily mission God has put before us. It is in that sense that, even for Christians, I maintain that co-creative dominion is at the core of the ministry we do on a day to day basis.

You may be right about mainliners and dominion. The age old question of whether to redeem a tarnished word or abandon it. Dominionism has spoiled a perfectly good word.

Also, I think one of Larive's interesting points is a turning point that was brought on by the impact of the Plague in the 1300s. I don't think the notion of reconciliation has been consistent for 2,000 years, and I do think there have been eras that have been closer to the perspective I'm articulating than we are now. Western/American Christendom has too often had a tendency to minimalize daily labor while elevating things like "full time Christian ministry." It is particularly interesting in light of a book I read about "Capitalism and the Jews" that highlights that the Jews never developed this ambivalence about work, finance and business, that has been so prevalent in Christendom.

Any way, thanks for the dialog.

David

Great converstion and I can not add too much to what has been said. I think however that there's an issue with who we are and what we do regarding R & R. We are all called to do whatever we do to God's Glory. That in it's self is a ministry and R & R comes out of that and within that context.

Some are called to not just be fishermen but to be fishers of men. We all are called to lose our lives to gain them. It's in this that we are invloved in R & R.

Travis Greene

I don't believe in "the laity", or the "the clergy" for that matter, so you'll get no argument from me on any of that.

And, again, I don't deny a "creation mandate". But I would relativize that mandate under our core task of reflecting God's image. That includes collaborative dominion because God creates and orders the world. But God creates because God loves, because God is Trinity; God is inherently relational. Relational love, which is what I would put reconciliation under, precedes creative dominion. Or maybe I would say that both reconciliation and co-creative stewardship flow out of our core task, which is to love God and neighbor.

Anyway, I just think you're overstating the centrality of the creation mandate, though I agree it is a needed corrective.

Travis Greene

"I hear you saying that our material nature, and our placement in a material world, is largely inconsequential … extraneous details to God’s real purposes."

No, that isn't what I'm saying at all.

Michael W. Kruse

I don't like the whole laity and clergy thing either, thus my placement of laity in quotations.

I don't think we are terribly far apart but I disagree about the image of God. Rather than take it further with comments here, I'm contemplating a follow up post on the topic.

You've stirred up some helpful thoughts. Thanks for the great exchange.

Travis Greene

"You've stirred up some helpful thoughts. Thanks for the great exchange."

Ditto.

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