A Better Starting Point for the Faith and Work Movement (Part 2)
In my last post, I mulled over all the times I buzzed around the topic of faith and work with pastors, only to bump into the screen door of misunderstanding time and time again. Sometimes I felt like a fly; other times like a mime trying to get my message across with frantic hand gestures.
Either way, I’ve concluded that the best place to start conversations around faith and work with pastors is this: Jesus’ death and resurrection begins the redemption of all of creation.
This doesn’t seem all that controversial, and yet I do think it’s unique. Many of the theological voices I respect the most in the faith and work movement start with either Genesis 1-2 or Revelation 21-22. Their thinking starts with regaining a knowledge of God as a Creator (and our identity as sub-creators and workers) or the fact that aspects of human culture (and work) will be in the renewed heavens and earth. What’s central, they say, is to recover the “book ends” of Scripture.
Both of these themes and biblical passages are hugely important. We need to recover the grand biblical narrative.
But at the center of Christian faith is neither Genesis 1- 2 nor the renewed heavens and earth described in Revelation. The center point of Christianity has always been the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I share any common point with all pastors (and all Christians), here it is.
We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ death and resurrection primarily in terms of substitutionary atonement. And rightly so. But we are less likely to think of the events of Passion Week as a glorious beginning.
Let me try to explain myself by breaking the above statement into three parts:
(1) “Jesus death and resurrection begins…” On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, as the morning sun dawned Mary found the tomb empty. She mistook Jesus for the gardener. But in a sense, the resurrected Christ was just the original Gardener: He was taking Mary back to the Garden of Eden. N. T. Wright makes the case that John’s account of the resurrection in John 20 is trying to point us to the creation narrative.
Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the dark primordial chaos of Genesis 1:1-2, so the world was coming apart on Good Friday as dark clouds filled the air. And just as God spoke the universe into existence, so Resurrection Sunday is the beginning of the new world, the new creation. First century Jews expected the resurrection to happen at the end of time, but in Christ, here is the resurrection in the middle of time. In Christ, the restoration of the created order has begun, and his followers now are a part of that new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) in this age, in this fallen world.
(2) “…the redemption…” In Al Wolters slim classic Creation Regained, he makes the case that the New Testament is loaded with words that begin with the prefix “re-,” such as redemption, reconciliation, restoration, renewal. Each has the connotation of going back to a prior healthy or whole state. Redemption is the recovery of freedom after having been enslaved; reconciliation is the making of peace between former friends who had become enemies; and restoration is the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition. Jesus’ death and resurrection, therefore, means salvation is far wider and broader than my personal soul and spiritual destiny. He is the redeemer of the entire world (Colossians 1:15-20).
(3) “…of all of creation.” Sin has infected everything: our hearts, our relationships, our work, our neighborhoods, our cities, and the physical world itself. But if sin is found in all these areas, then Christ is in the business of bringing his resurrection life to all these areas as well. “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” From golf course management to conservation efforts to the formation of government leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Church, which worships on the first day of the week, lives continually in light of the resurrection today, with a great and glorious hope hidden in our breasts, but soon to be revealed (Romans 8:19).
So what about work? If we think about “creation” in terms of plants, water or mountains, we’ve missed it. Creation is not just where we go hiking on Saturday. Taking the example of plants, how do humans principally interact with plants? (1) Agriculture, and feeding the world. (2) Manufacturing – from pharmaceuticals to plastic bottles. (3) Conservation efforts from Brazil to Africa. (4) Gardening! At each point, for better or worse, work is our human act of creation.
The arena in which humans participate in, shape, and form creation is principally through work.
It’s a simple idea, but for those of us inside the faith and work movement, I think it’s important to make the case that our message is central to the gospel itself.
If we can do this, we can ask bigger, broader questions about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our calling, our work, our jobs, our neighborhoods, our economy, and all the industries, individuals and institutions that make up human civilization. We may even convince more pastors to work together on sermons, songs, or Sunday school classes related to theology of work and calling.
In so doing we can continue the project that generations of Christians before us have begun – which today we now simply dub “the integration of faith and work.”
Featured image from “The Empty Tomb” by George Richardson