Vocation & economic productivity

Greg Forster, in the context of a discussion about Europe’s economic woes, makes some fascinating connections between the doctrine of vocation and economic productivity:

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive.Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

via Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

Follow the links.  (There is even one to something I wrote on vocation.)

HT:  Justin Taylor

 

Happy (belated) Gustavus Adolphus Day!

November 6 was the commemoration day for one of my heroes, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, the military genius and devout Lutheran who arguably was used by God to save Protestantism from extermination during the Thirty Years’ War.   Sometimes honored as the greatest Lutheran layman, King Gustav makes for an interesting and inspiring example of vocation.

The blog of the LCMS leadership, Mercy, Witness, Life Together, has a great post about him, including an informative sermon by Rev. Eric Andrae:  Feast of Gustavus Adolphus, King and Martyr, 1632.

 

King Gustavus Adolphus

 

HT:  Mary

You’ve been saved. Now what?

Michael Baruzzini at First Things has a thoughtful discussion of novelist Walker Percy, bourbon, and existentialism.  But it all comes down to vocation:

Will Barrett, the protagonist of Walker Percy’s novel The Last Gentleman, complains that he cannot figure out “how to live from one minute to the next on a Wednesday afternoon.” Even Christians, with a solid theological and philosophical grounding, can find the question troubling. So you believe in God, and you believe the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate and died for your sins. You’ve been baptized. You’ve been saved. Now what?

Here is where Percy’s existentialist-inclined Christianity comes in, and his famous paean to the South’s whiskey. In his essay, “Bourbon, Neat,” Percy’s literary mind was perceptive enough to find the connection between taking an evening drink and finding meaning in a daily life. The mind inclined to the questions of existentialism, like Percy’s, struggles with a particular problem: the question of how to be in a particular time and place. Percy slyly suggests that bourbon is the answer. No, not in the sense of drowning sorrows in alcoholic stupor, but in recognizing that it is in concrete things and acts that we are able to be in the world. “What, after all, is the use,” Percy asks, “of not having cancer, cirrhosis, and such, if a man comes home from work every day at five-thirty . . . thinking: ‘Jesus, is this it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?’”

No, this isn’t it, says Percy. It isn’t all just about the fatal acts of nature and the crass manipulation of mass society. It is distinctively personal acts, like having an evening glass of bourbon, that construct a life. It is this aesthetic, this incarnation, simply this way to be, which gives a glass of bourbon its real value. But this incarnation of being extends beyond evening drinks, and informs every action we make in our lives. Take affection, for instance. Husbands and wives do not merely sit across the room maintaining a cerebral love for each other. Affection is made concrete with actions. Handshakes between colleagues, hugs and kisses between friends not only display, but actually create or make real the respect and affection between people. The true value of a family dinner lies at this level: we are a family because we eat together; we eat together because we are a family. It is in this act that our being as a family is made real, not fantasy. To take what may be the most powerful example, marital love is incarnated in the marital act. The coy euphemism “making love” has more truth to it than we may realize.

Looking to the concrete helps us discover the Christian notion of sacramentality. It is in water that we are born again; it is with bread and wine that we encounter Christ in the flesh in today’s world. It is these things that make our Christianity more than an academic exercise. So Percy would answer Barrett’s question by saying: just do it. It is Wednesday afternoon and you are a Christian: sing a song of praise, or go to Mass and eat God’s flesh. You are a loving husband, so kiss your wife. You are a father: play catch with your son or help him with his homework. You are a man at the end of a day of work: make a cocktail. If you want to be these things—a husband, a father, a son of God—there are things to do to make it real.

Christians must choose, among myriad options, how to be in specific ways in the world. But how do we know what to choose? Percy’s own conversion was motivated by his reading of the Catholic realist Thomas Aquinas, in addition to the Christian existentialist Kierkegaard. Rejecting the nihilistic varieties of existentialism, Percy recognized that there is an absolute truth surrounding the multiple ways to choose to be. Some ways are in more conformity with truth and happiness than others.

The Christian answer to the dilemma of how to be lies in the concept of grace and vocation. Here is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Vocation is the Christian call to be in a specific way in the world. It is a call to truly be, in a concrete way, who God has called you to be. It is not to be a robot obeying a program; it is to be an eagle joyfully choosing to fly or a mole enthusiastically choosing to dig, because that is what you are, what you are good at, what you love. It is an existential choice, but one that is grounded in God, outside of the isolated self.

via Walker Percy, Bourbon, and the Holy Ghost | First Things.

Vocation Day

This blog has, for a number of years, been engaged in a crusade to co-opt the secular Labor Day and to get it on the church calendar as a holiday that celebrates the Christian doctrine of vocation.   I think it is working.   I’ve been hearing people making the connection.  (Did you hear that on Sunday?)

Remember that vocation does NOT just mean your job, which is important for the over 9% of Americans who do not have one.   Our calling from God also and even more importantly has to do with our positions in our families (as son or daughter; husband or wife; father or mother), the church (pastor or “hearer”), and the state (ruler or citizen).  All of these are estates to which God stations us to live out our faith in love and service to the neighbors that each office brings into our lives.  “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).

The reason we celebrate Vocation Day by NOT working, even though we are honoring economic labor, is to give recognition also to our other vocations:  our families (by spending time with them) and our country (to share in a national holiday doing cultural-specific activities such as grilling out and thinking about sports).

We will honor Vocation Day on this blog by not posting about our horrible problems.  We’ll go back to that tomorrow.  In the meantime, today is about celebrating all of your different callings.

 

Pleasure in toil as God’s gift to man

Your theme for Labor Day, I mean, Vocation Day:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12)

Make a good shoe

A while ago I blogged about Tullian Tchividjian–Billy Graham’s grandson and the successor to William Kennedy as the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church”–and his reaction to Lutheran novelist Bo Giertz.  (He offered a clarification to that post:   “I didn’t say that Giertz caused a Copernican revolution in my preaching but that the conversation between Henrik and Linder described the Copernican revolution that took place in my preaching a number of years ago.”)

He since has written an interesting post about vocation:

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

In becoming a Christian, we don’t need to retreat from the vocational calling we already have—nor do we need to justify that calling, whatever it is, in terms of its “spiritual” value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards—and with a renewed commitment to performing our calling with greater excellence and higher objectives.

One way we reflect our Creator is by being creative right where we are with the talents and gifts he has given us. As Paul says, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Corinthians 7:20,24). As we do this, we fulfill our God-given mandate to reform, to beautify, our various “stations” for God’s glory–giving this world an imperfect preview of the beautification that will be a perfect, universal actuality when Jesus returns to finish what he started.

For church leaders, this means that we make a huge mistake when we define a person’s “call” in terms of participation inside the church—nursery work, Sunday school teacher, youth worker, music leader, and so on. We need to help our people see that their calling is much bigger than how much time they put into church matters. By reducing the notion of calling to the exercise of spiritual gifts inside the church, we fail to help our people see that calling involves everything we are and everything we do—both inside and, more importantly, outside the church.

I once heard Os Guinness address a question about why the church in the late 20th century was not having a larger impact in our world when there were more people going to church than ever before. He said the main reason was not that Christians weren’t where they should be. There are plenty of artists, lawyers, doctors, and business owners that are Christians. Rather, the main reason is that Christians aren’t who they should be right where they are.

“Calling”, he said, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything w eare, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction.”

via You’re Free To Stay Put – Tullian Tchividjian.

I urge you to go to the site and also consider the discussion in the comments.  Some people pushed back against the doctrine of vocation, insisting that spreading the Gospel is the only way we truly serve God, with others citing the influence of Lutheran theology on their evangelicalism (contrary to an earlier discussion about how that doesn’t happen much!).

By the way, do you see anything missing in this particular account of vocation?


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