Is Work Working For You? A Biblical Theology of Work & Vocation

Stephen Hague, Christ and Culture Seminar at Faith Theological Seminary, Nov 11, 2017
(To see the whole essay, click here A Biblical Theology of Work by Stephen T. Hague)

  • For a vast number of people today, Christians included, work is “not working” for them since they have never been taught a biblical theology of vocation. Indeed, work is often seen as the obstacle to life, the antonym for fun and enjoyment. Many people think and speak as if work itself is their curse in life, or God’s curse on them. (Hopefully you have never had employment that led you to feel this way! I certainly have).

  • Think of all the work related bumper stickers these days (above).
  • In fact, there has frequently been in modern European (and some American) literature and film the theme that work crushes the soul. (This is remarkable in light of the truly crushing load of pre-modern labor and slavery in the world in contrast to the relative ease and comforts of much labor in “developed” countries.) Yet, the main thrust of this theme is typically that work has no purpose, significance, or meaning. It is even sometimes seen to be what will destroy our person.
  • Or, as in many cultures, work was only for the lower classes, since to dirty one’s hands was beneath the elite. Ancient Greek views led to a diminished understanding of the material world, in which work was for servants and slaves; to the elite work was a degrading curse, so they sought a life of philosophy, politics, and art. Aristotle and Socrates considered leisure the goal of life. This attitude led to the pursuit of freedom, freedom especially from the necessity of labor.
  • Consider the ascetic views historically in the church: dividing secular/sacred, mundane/spiritual, body/soul(as of higher concern);  in the Middle Ages there was the widespread assumption of life divided  into sacred (spiritual workers) and secular (ordinary workers). Consider the history of asceticism in the church and its cultural separatism  –  UNTIL THE REFORMATION redressed it.
  • Consider, for example, the phrase “full-time Christian service/ or ministry” that we often hear today; this indicates we have not completely moved beyond the medieval notions of sacred and secular work.
  • Negative attitudes really blossomed in the 1960’s in the USA and Europe with the Marxist revolution that shook our world, and in large measure as a reaction against broadly biblical conceptions of work, property, and profit we have shared in the U.S. since Colonial times. In total ignorance, our generation revolted against the fruits of the free-markets and labor that have produced so much prosperity and affluence. This led to the very destructive view that work itself is exploitation and denigration of the person and the poor, and that profit and prosperity are usually the fruits of that exploitation.
  • The result: hippie communes (lame experiments in pseudo-communism where food, money, drugs, property, and men and women were shared “freely” with so-called “unconditional love.” The reality: exploitation and denigration of all those involved, since greed and laziness are the best fruits of that ideology).
  • No matter what form they take, unbiblical conceptions of work result in the institutionalization of envy, covetousness, cruelty, theft, power-mongering, and greed.
  • I believe in many ways this is the most important topic we have yet considered in our seminars at the Seminary, since I am convinced that unbiblical views of work, labor, vocation, calling, money, and economics, are at the heart of the vast majority of our troubles today, whether  personal, national, or international; whether related to meaning and purpose, or to personal finances and careers, or to psychological and social realities of marriage and family, church life, as of course in all of the workplace. The issues of poverty, drug proliferation and addictions, crime, and violence in the cities, human trafficking, and especially the enormous ideological divide in America, are all products to some degree of unbiblical views of work, money, property, vocation, and economics.
  • To see the whole essay, click here: A Biblical Theology of Work by Stephen T. Hague

The Logic of Modern Medical Ethics, or the Morality of Killing Children and Their Grandparents

The Logic of Modern Medical Ethics, or the Morality of Killing Children and Their Grandparents

Forgive me for this brief hiatus from posting pictures of our cute kittens, but in case you had not noticed, this is our world:

  • 431 people were killed by being euthanized against their will in 2015 in the Netherlands.
  • 59,115,9995 people were killed by abortion against their will before their birth since 1973 in the United States. Yes, that is millions.
  • So why are we surprised when articles in The Journal of Medical Ethics[1] propose “after-birth abortions” to “terminate” one’s children with birth defects, or that pose the evil threat of becoming an “undue burden”? The authors claim that it is morally permissible “to kill newborns in all circumstances where abortion would be.” (I wonder what they would say about teenagers who are an undue burden on our food budget?)
  • The authors did get one thing correct: there is no moral difference between an unborn child and a born child. Thus, they are forced to conclude that neither are yet “persons,” properly speaking. As they say, “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.” Even though they are both fully “human beings” they are not yet “persons,” therefore only we have the right to determine whether they will become “persons.” That’s logic, says Alice.
  • Mao-Zedong, Pol-Pol, Stalin, Hitler, and friends would be proud.

[1] Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, Journal of Medical Ethics, May 2013, 39 (5) 261-263; DOI: 10.1136.

Don’t Be Naive: or, “judge a righteous judgment”

foolsdance“Thou shalt judge . . . . a righteous judgment”

Rom 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

διχοστασίας      divisions
σκάνδαλα          obstacles
χρηστολογίας    smooth talk
εὐλογίας           flattery
ἐξαπατῶσιν       deceive
ἀκάκων             naïve

Warnings against those who use smooth talk (rhetoric) and false logic to bring dissensions and digressions from the truth abound in scripture. For those who claim that we “must not judge” things (what others say, believe, or do), we see in this passage a strong exhortation to “keep your eye” on things contrary to the teaching you have learned. More than that, we are to turn away from them! We often think of this perhaps just in terms of smooth talking salesmen, or some such, but in this case we can understand this as anyone who persuasively in words, print, or other means presents ideas that are not true (true: in accordance with Scripture) so that we might believe in them. Many terrible ideas are being published in beautiful books and beautiful words, and many a hip preacher and teacher can get the crowds shouting on their feet for ideas that will in the end bring down the house (being built on sand). Oftentimes, the ideas will seem a bit novel, but not so apparently diverting from orthodoxy that they are obviously departing from the truth. The seriousness of falling prey to such subtly false rhetoric is a matter of disobedience or obedience to Christ. It is in this sense a matter of life and death, the necessity of having biblical discernment and assessment of people’s logic (thinking/reasonings) and their rhetoric in communicating. This necessity of discerning flattery and deceptions of many kinds requires true wisdom from God, to have skillful discernment and assessment, so that we can clearly distinguish (judge) truth from falsehood, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. Naïve, fools listen to the songs of folly and foolishness, dancing their tune, and this is the epitome of unreason and irrationality. Logic and rhetoric therefore have as their primary concerns the very Truth: what is true to reality not imaginations, what is right, and to what is true to the character of God and all who represent him. We would be wise to listen to the words of wisdom here in Paul, and thus walking with the wise (Prov 13:20) we might become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

Can we become good following Aristotle’s notion of virtue-habituation?

downloadA rather challenging and sobering insight from Steve Porter about the impossibility of becoming and being good simply through Aristotle’s notion of virtue-habituation. (BTW, this entire book is worth its weight in a year’s supply of oxygen). His thoughts remind me of the perennial assumption (in much contemporary teaching that spiritualizes and exemplorizes and moralizes biblical narratives) that the goal is to teach a “gospel of sin management” (a term Dallas Willard used in the Divine Conspiracy).

 “Unfortunately, the proposed mechanism by which practice and habituation is supposed to bring about virtue is problematic. The overarching problem is the connection between doing virtuous acts without a fully formed character and the supposed subsequent formation of such a character. That is, we can do virtuous acts for non-virtuous reasons/motives/desires and what becomes habituated, then, is not a virtuous character but a non-virtuous one. For instance, I can do brave acts, look outwardly brave, and become habituated to respond in brave manners and all the while possess a deep cowardice. Even though I am sincerely intent on becoming brave, my habituated brave acts continue to be the result of my attempt to overcome my cowardice rather than the result of an inner proclivity to respond bravely. Or, I can do kind acts towards my wife, look outwardly kind, and become habituated to respond to her in kind ways and all the while be thinking about how she owes me kindness in return. I am not in possession of a kind character. Rather, I have a self-absorbed character that nevertheless manifests itself in acts that appear kind. As these examples suggest, the outward practice of virtuous acts does not always (or even regularly?) translate into the inner reality of virtuous character. The outward practice of virtuous acts without virtuous character can just as easily habituate non-virtuous character as it can virtuous character.”  Steven L. Porter, Being Good, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012, p. 136.