Praxis: where belief becomes behavior

Remember your Creator during your youth: when all possibilities lie open before you and you can offer all your strength intact for his service. The time to remember is not after you become senile and paralyzed! Then it is not too late for your salvation, but too late for you to serve as the presence of God in the midst of the world and the creation. You must make take sides earlier—when you can actually make choices, when you have many paths opening at your feet, before the weight of necessity overwhelms you.

Jacques Ellul, Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes

A long time ago now I read those words while working on the book, The Fabric of Faithfulness,and when the book was being born, I wanted those words in it, prominently placed. Wonderfully, through many printings and a couple of editions, they still grace one of the first pages, and have been seen by a lot of people over the years.

IMG_8041I recently came home from the Praxis Academy, being held near Boston, and I saw them again, printed in the book which had been produced for the week. A reflection from the mind and heart of Ellul after his reading of Ecclesiastes, they are words worth repeating, perennially true as they are for everyone everywhere.

Ellul was one of the 20th-century’s great human beings. A resistance-fighter against the Nazi’s as they overwhelmed France in World War II, he spent most of his life teaching sociology at the University of Bordeaux, writing many books, perhaps chief among them The Technological Society. A brilliant man, he was also a good man, and wrestled with the meaning of a good life for the whole of his life. The book, Reason for Being, from which the quote comes, is a profoundly-formed window into his thinking about who we are and how we are to live, even and especially so in the wounded world that is ours.

That the Praxis Academy leaders chose to offer Ellul’s words to their young fellows only deepened my respect and affection for them. Dave Blanchard, Jon Hart and Josh Kwan are very good people doing very good work. Though best-known for their strategically-imagined Praxis Labs, the Academy is their first try at engaging the undergraduate world with the vision of entrepreneurial vocations, in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Students from schools all over America came: Harvard, Gordon, Yale, Princeton, Bucknell, Penn, Villanova, Grove City, Messiah, the University of Virginia, Oglethorpe, Florida State, Covenant, Mount Vernon Nazarene, Taylor, Wheaton, Lindenwood, SMU, Baylor, Westmont, Stanford, and more. And not only Americans, but Ghanaians, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Chinese, Koreans and Costa Ricans too. Over 100 thoughtful, motivated, hopeful, eager young men and women found their way to Boston for a week of intense pedagogy, and to a person seemed surprised at two things: 1) how wonderfully well-done it all was, and 2) that there were others in the world who dream dreams like they do.IMG_8035

I gave a couple of plenary presentations; at the request of the Praxis leaders, each one was formed by books I have written– so one from the Fabric book and other from the Visions of Vocation. They have taken them both into their hopes for what is learned in and through their curricular vision. Not surprisingly, seeing that our commitments and instincts are so much the same only deepens the sense of collegiality between us.

The visionaries behind Praxis long for a renewal of life and the world, and think that vocation is integral to that vision. Common grace for the common good, one more time. In a word, they want human beings to flourish, and believe that it is in the “praxis” of life where creeds become convictions, where worldviews becomes ways of life, where beliefs become behavior. Years ago, Ellul saw it that way too– and before him, the writer of Ecclesiastes. Knowing what matters most, matters, but working that out in life matters even more.

IMG_8047“You must make take sides earlier—when you can actually make choices, when you have many paths opening at your feet, before the weight of necessity overwhelms you.” Yes.

(The pedagogy of Praxis is very mentor-intensive, and so most of time is spent in very conversations with a few people, thinking through the concreteness of questions that matter for people who want to work out entrepreneurial visions. This week two dear friends, Evan Loomis of TreeHouse and Jena Lee Nardella of the Blood:Water Mission took part in the program, as did Will Haughey of Tegu Toys.)

(One of those invited to speak this week was my dear friend, Jena Lee Nardella, whom I first met when she was a senior in college. For ten years now she has been at the heart of the Blood:Water Mission, and several years ago was invited into the Praxis Labs as one of its early Fellows. With passion and eloquence she reflected on her own entrepreneurial life, from 22-32.)

Originally published at the Washington Institute site.

About Dr. Steven Garber

Steven Garber has a classroom among many people in many places. As the Founder and Principal of the Washington Institute, the heart of his own calling is that people understand the integral character of faith, vocation, and culture. Author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (2007), and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (2014), he writes frequently for Comment and Critique, and in addition was a contributor to the volumes Faith Goes to Work: Reflections From the Marketplace, and Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue, as well as to the Mars Hill Audio journal, “Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing: The Life and Work of Michael Polanyi.” For many years he taught on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program, and then became the Scholar-in-Residence for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He serves as a board member for Ransom Fellowship, the Blood:Water Mission, A Rocha, and the Telos Project, and as a consultant for the Wedgwood Circle, the Murdock Trust, the Demdaco Corporation and the Mars Corporation. A native of the great valleys of Colorado and California, he is married to Meg and is the father of five children whose own callings have them scattered around the world.


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