Monday, August 01, 2005

Creation, Redemption, and Good Work

Back in July at the Jonothan Edwards Institute's Trinity Conference, I attended the first two parts of a seminar entitled "Callings and Vocations: In Pursuit of Coherence, Vitality, and Excellence." Dave Westervelt, an EPC teaching elder, led the discussion, focusing mainly on ideas from Nancy Pearcy's Total Truth and Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. His opening seminar centered around the false division between secular and sacred work, and the erroneous elevation of the latter. He traced the history of the idea from medieval Catholicism to the present, and discussed its Gnostic roots. He contrasted this with the Biblical narrative of Creation and Redemption, reminding us that Christians have been appointed as God's agents in the world (reminding me of Tolkien's idea of sub-creation). And, because Christ's work on the cross will ultimately redeem ALL of Creation, Christians are called to participate in redemption through our vocations, whether as a businessman, electrician, mother, artist, engineer, or teacher. All callings are sacred callings. Westervelt fleshed out his discussion with nods to Calvin and other Reformers, as well as Niebuhr's work, with the idea that we are God's agents of reform (stemming from Luther's "priesthood of all believers"). He encouraged us not just to engage but to transform culture by doing whatever it is we do excellently. I returned from this conference very refreshed and excited about beginning my new job in a few weeks-- by teaching excellent literature excellently, I will be participating in God's redemption of good books. (For more on culture, art and literature, etc. see this page and read "Why the Mona Lisa Will Be in Heaven.")

Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when the speaker at the Sunday night service at our church began a three-part series on the exact same topic! Admittedly, Tyler Thigpen (whose name always makes me think of Shultz' Pigpen) organized his talks a bit better than Westervelt, framing his ideas in the context of "Creation," "Fall" and "The Renewal of All Things." I have been delighted to listen to this entertaining youth pastor draw from Scripture and writers like Nancy Pearcy, Os Guinness, C.S. Lewis, and others (he even cited an article from N.T. Wright!). He began by addressing the first command from God to Man: "Subdue the earth and fill it" and explained how God created work to be GOOD and that Eden was created with the potential for growth, not as a static "perfect" entity.

It was extremely refreshing to hear him echo ideas that had so recently been brought to my attention, as well as include a nice good bashing of Gnostics both ancient and modern (praise ponies!) as well as what Paul Marshall calls "lifeboat theology." (The world is going to be burned up anyway so we might as well get our ticket to heaven and bring as many people as we can with us.) Instead, Tyler called for the church and individual Christians to actively engage the world and participate in the renewal of all areas of the earth, including social justice, the environment, and individual vocations: to make disciples "as we go" and draw others into the journey with us. Tyler also discussed the guilt many Christians feel when called to work in fields that are not considered "full-time ministry" (similar to Westervelt's recollections of his own journey within the business community). "You mean evangelism, gospel-sharing, winning souls for Christ, and 'getting sentences into their heads' is not the only thing Christians are supposed to pursue?! What? I can actually take pride in my work and glorify God by being an excellent lawyer or business owner or ballet dancer?" Yep.

Last night, in the concluding presentation, he examined the scriptures concerning "the renewal of all things," adding stressors on "all things." As he reminded the congregation, the New Heavens and the New Earth will not be "new" in the sense of starting over from scratch, but will be re-newed as the God revealed in Christ fulfills his eternal plan of redemption. Christ's death on the cross and His resurrection served not only to save the souls of those whom Christ calls, but also the entire Creation-- cities, trees, animals-- the whole kit and kaboodle. Yay for his emphasis on complete redemption!

Basically, the guy preached a sermon series too rarely heard in evangelical circles. I'm glad some Christians are realizing they don't have to reinvent the wheel-- these ideas have actually been around for hundreds, even thousands, of years. (Thank you Irenaeus! Thank you Protestant Reformation!)

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