Yesterday Leadership Journal’s Redeeming Work initiative held the third of five planned conferences on faith, work, and vocation. Jeff Haanen was on the spot for the Faith and Work Channel. This is the first of three reports from him about the day’s events.
“The world was waiting for image-bearers.”
Andy Crouch, the Executive Editor of Christianity Today, addressed a crowd of 120 Denver pastors and leaders at Leadership Journal’s third “Redeeming Work” event. “Work,” says Crouch, “is a category of culture. And we lead a Christian community that has a very dysfunctional view of culture.”
Crouch shares a full-page newspaper ad on the screen. Two yellow hands covered in rubber gloves, overlaid with the words “Deliver Us From Culture.” It advertised a Christian book entitled Soul Detox. The implicit message: culture is evil, and we need to separate from it.
Far too often, says Crouch, our distorted view of culture distorts our view of work. Not only do we condemn culture as dirty or contaminated, we far too often fall into continual postures of critiquing culture, copying it in an evangelical subculture, or simply consuming culture – a never ending stream of consumerism and passive reception of everything from the latest sit-com to the latest product.
Instead, Crouch believes we need to shift from a posture of protecting ourselves from culture to being discerning and creative.
What is culture? Borrowing from Ken Myers, Crouch says “Culture is what we make of the world – in both senses.” Culture is both:
The things we make (clothes, computers, even event venues, like Mile High Station, an old steel factory where the conference participants gathered for the day)
The meaning we make (our efforts to understand the world, from math to philosophy)
What does this have to do with work? “Work is never just material,” says Crouch, “there’s always reason, logic, a purpose to it.”
For example, Crouch’s wife, Catherine, is an experimental physicist at Swarthmore. Her work has produced a more effective way for solar cells to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. Something physical. But her work is also theoretical: she has spent much of her time with complex mathematical formulas that mirror the physical work. Here is the “meaning” she makes of the physical world. “It was as if,” says Crouch about his wife’s work as a physicist, “that the world was waiting for us to come along.”
And in the Genesis narrative, that’s what we find. God creates the world in six days. On the first five days, God says that his creation is “good.” And on the sixth day, when man and woman are created, God says that they are “very good.” Man and women are called to cultivate the earth, and in so doing, Crouch says, they play a role in bringing the physical world from “good” to “very good.” The transition from good to very good is the role of image bearers.
For example, humans beings transform grain to bread through farming and baking. Grain is good. Bread is very good.
Eggs are good. But humans take eggs, add green peppers, cheese, tomatoes and ham, and make an omelette. Omelettes are very good. In each case, we take the physical stuff of the world and make them more beautiful, useful, “good.” The best biblical example may be grapes. When they ferment, after a human process, they become wine. Without humans, you get vinegar. But with humans, you get good wine.
Work is necessary to bring about the full potential of God’s creation.
Crouch encouraged conference attendees to challenge views in culture that see humans as essentially a drain on the earth. Instead, from planting trees in the British Isles that leads to a diverse bird population to going to work every day, humans are called to be image-bearers who not only condemn, critique or copy culture, but instead create it through their daily labor – just like their Creator.