This post has been sitting in my draft box for a fair while now. The time has come, however, to post it on the wall.
What prompted such drastic action?
I am working my way through Michael Jensen’s latest book called Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology (Book review to come. You can buy the book here). He made this striking comment:
Valuing gospel work over secular work was indeed a decision for the eternal rather than the ephemeral because the “the time is short” (1 Cor 7:29). This authentically biblical theology has enormous power as a critique of a this-worldly, middle-class idolatry of careers in the hothouse environment of the university campus (Loc. 2618 Kindle).
The interesting thing about this comment is that it is embedded in a section that describes the role that campus ministry has played in developing a university and post-universtiy culture that highly values not only ministry as a ‘career option’ but also fulltime theological education.
The original reason why I was going to write this blog post was because I was asked why theological education enrollments, particularly full-time enrollments, might be dropping?
In my mind I ran through a number of possible answers. It’s expensive. It takes ages to complete. It’s really hard. ‘Languages? Seems a little excessive.’ The pay once you’re done is ordinary. Once you’re done you get treated like rubbish in churches and para-church ministries. I should stop.
While all of these are factors that must be impacting theological studies enrollments, I think however, that none of these are singularly responsible for any great decline.
This is where my original thoughts and Jensen’s come together.
I read this in The Christian Post here:
NEW YORK – Pastor Tim Keller challenged a crowd of New York City professionals Sunday to rethink how they view work and to debunk the notion that spiritual vocations matter more to God than secular work.
The article writer referred to the need to cease making the distinction between spiritual work and secular work because such labelling devalues work that does not fall into the typical spiritual vocations. This is nothing new from Keller and others of his kind. We’ve been hearing this kind of reasoning for years now.
How might Keller level the playing field. Check out this quote:
It means getting together to think, think, how does the preeminence of God reign in my field.
So, Keller validates all work (within reason, of course) by locating it within the overarching notion that whatever we do we do to God’s glory. As long as we are evaluating and carrying our the occupation according to how it might be viewed through a gospel lens, all is ok. I could have Keller wrong on this, but this is the overwhelming sense that I get from him.
Here is the rub.
In trying to eliminate the spiritual work vs temporal work dichotomy, Keller renders all work on par with each other. This is problematic and it is hurting the enrollment bottom line.
The so called ‘spiritual vocations’ do matter more to God. It is for this reason that in James we read that teachers of the Bible will be doubly judged. But why, in the same breath, are these same people worth double honour? Why are scribes or tentmakers not singled out to receive this curse and blessing? The cleaners are not going to be judged doubly based upon their cleaning effort, so in what sense is the teaching role so different that it deserves such special treatment?
In Ephesians 4 Paul in clear in drawing attention to the word gifts as vital for the church. How are individuals in the church equipped to do good works and even build the church up to maturity in Christ? Answer: by the gospel being faithfully taught. Those that do this are the people who will be judged double and rewarded likewise for their work.
But why? Why are these roles set apart for special consideration?
I’m going to suggest it is because these roles are fundamentally bound to the spiritual vitality of the church. These roles are inextricably bound to the church reaching maturity in Christ, and it is here that we connect back with Jensen. He continues:
The note of eschatological urgency was not now offered at the expense of tending to the needs of society as it had been then [the end of the 19th century]. Opportunities to do good are still reckoned by the Anglicans of Sydney to be opportunities to do good, whatever the lateness of the eschatological hour.
What drives the notion that gospel work is more valued over secular work? Eschatology. That is, the final divine state of affairs. If one’s doctrine of the local church is linked to the eschatological church then one wonders how we could relegate the ministry of the word to something on par with secular work.
This perspective, I think, does not demean or relegate secular work, but rather positively identifies which earthly Christian activities are divinely factored into God’s meta-narrative. The inverse should not be assumed, that is, that cleaning, teaching, or surf-lifesaving do not fit into this ‘lofty’ category and therefore are of no value.
Perhaps if we heed this order and stop validating all work as equal, we might see a culture develop in our churches that values theological education and also full-time ministry. Although I would argue that this is not the intent of the divine order, this outcome would certainly go along way towards building up the body of Christ – the true intent of the divine order.
Please let me know your thoughts on this if you have any. I’m keen to hear how people might take this:)