Human trafficking

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
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Christian Responsibility Towards the World: Withdrawal or Involvement?

_DSC0430Oftentimes, I have been blindsided by attitudes in the Christian community that react to Christian efforts to seek justice, or to right wrongs in this world; it is an attitude opposed to those who work for righteousness and truth and love in the various avenues of social, political, educational, artistic, medical, and economic concerns of people in the world. On one hand, it may be from an understandable fear of diluting the gospel of Jesus to a “social gospel,” and on the other hand from a culturally separatist (otherworldly) attitude that believes we are only supposed to “preach the gospel” and get people on the bus to heaven. In both cases, I think there is a failure to understand the nature of the gospel-promise along with the gospel-responsibility: the promise of a new creation shows God’s love for his creation, that Christ is presently Lord of every atom, every grain of sand, and every galaxy in his creation, and that he is going to restore his entire creation at his return. Thus, all our activities and responsibilities in this world have spiritual significance; we are not just preparing people to get on and off the bus! We are to make disciples (of all the nations); that is, people who live in this world as the light and salt of this world, bearing good and lasting fruit, preparing us to live on the earth renewed forever. There is no such dichotomy between do we “preach” the gospel and/or rescue people from trafficking/slavery, brutality, or injustice in the courts . . . , etc. Rather, the gospel rescues us from both spiritual darkness and the darkness of human injustice and cruelty. Christ is deeply concerned with both the salvation of the soul and the body, he redeems the whole person within the entirety of his creation. “God so loved the cosmos . . .” (Jn 3.16). As Paul tells us, “The whole creation groans in travail . . .” and yet, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.21-22).

In regards to this question of the relationship of Christ to the world, Christ and culture, John Stott summarizes most beautifully and profoundly the confusing tendencies in the Christian community to “withdraw from the world,” in what he calls various forms of modern Pharisaism.


CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST. Responsibility: Withdrawal or Involvement? John Stott, IVP, pp. 182-188. To read the whole selection go to Stott, John.CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST.
Christ’s fraternization with outcasts was interpreted by the Pharisees as an inexcusable compromise with sin; they did not see it for what it really was, an expression of the divine compassion towards sinners.

The attitude of Christian church
Leaving the first century and entering the middle of the twentieth, it is necessary to ask what the attitude of the contemporary church is towards outsiders, outcasts. Is it Pharisaic, or is it Christian? I fear that it is often Pharisaic. That is, the church tends (has always tended) to withdraw from the world and leave it to its own devices. Evangelical churchmen have by no means been free of this tendency, although indeed it is a denial of their true character. Many examples could be given, illustrating different causes of the same general attitude. Let me try to enlarge on what I think are the four commonest.

  1. “plain, unvarnished, Pharisaic self-righteousness”
  2. “the withdrawal of the church from the world is a genuine if mistaken fear of contamination”(a monastic type of self-absorbed isolationism)
  3. an unbalanced understanding of the relation between evangelism and social concern that can go in to both extremes: “The ‘evangelical’ thesis in its extremist form is that God’s chief concern is the salvation of individual souls; that the church’s sole responsibility is the proclamation of the gospel; and that therefore social action being the first cousin of the ‘social gospel’ must be firmly eschewed.”
  4. that “we stand aloof from the world is plain laziness and selfishness. We do not want to get involved in its hurt or dirt”

“Underlying these four causes of withdrawal there lurks a false view of God. The God revealed by Jesus Christ is a God who cares. He loves people who do not deserve to be loved. He makes His sun rise on the evil as well as the good, and sends rain on the unjust as well as the just. He made us body-souls and cares for us as body-souls. And He has taken action — sacrificial action — to supply a remedy for our sin. He has got Himself deeply involved in our predicament. So Jesus Christ Himself did not remain aloof, or refuse to get involved, or hide away in the safe immunity of heaven. He entered our world. He assumed our nature. He identified Himself our humanity. He exposed Himself to our temptations, sorrows and pains. He made friends with outcasts and was nicknamed ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’?13 He humbled Himself to serve people in their need. He washed His disciples’ feet. He never drew back from any demanding situation.”

To read the whole selection go to Stott, John.CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST

Oppression and Slavery in the Ancient Near East and the Bible

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To read entire presentation click here: Oppression and Slavery in the Ancient Near East and the Bible by Stephen Hague

At our recent Fall Seminar (see resources at FTS website[coming soon]) on oppression and slavery at the Seminary, I presented the introductory thoughts on the subject of slavery in the ancient world and the Bible.

Slavery and oppression have been a ubiquitous part of the human experience practically since the beginning. The question I ask is simple: how does the biblical gospel address this? It is my thesis that if the Bible is used as a source for the justification of human enslavement and oppression, then if we honestly and carefully examine this it rather actually contains the seeds of its own undoing. That is, in contrast to those who claim that the Bible justifies human enslavement (and the forms we had in Europe and America), I suggest that the Bible and its laws contain the very ideas that eventually brought about the outlawing of slavery in most parts of the world today.

BC_sex-trafficking-portraitAt the seminar, we covered the three major historical periods of human slavery that have logical connections between them: in Part I, I discussed briefly some of the A.N.E. and biblical context as background for considering the modern Atlantic slave trade (that only became illegal only in the nineteenth century). In Part II, other presenters addressed  the Christian role in fighting to outlaw that trade and human enslavement in England and America. Both subjects set the stage to consider in Part III the grim realities of human oppression, trafficking, and slavery today that continue relentlessly in our own back-yards.