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Archive for June 1st, 2012

Purchase: Amazon

I read this book not knowing who the author was, or his theological persuasion prior to the book, but while reading through the work I gather the guy spent time in the United States, was once a missionary to the former Eastern Bloc after the Cold War was over, and at the time of the writing of the book, was a professor who resided in the United Kingdom. The book raises the issue of whether or not every work and vocation has eternal significance, even those that are not “full time” ministry (missionaries, pastors, evangelistists, etc). In attempting to “save” our work and effort in our vocation, the author attempts to construct a theology that would be able to impart “heavenly” value unto earthly work. A big motive for the author’s project is his desire to rescue a Christian view of work that often ends up in dualism of a two class Christianity: those working in full time ministry, who are “important” while everybody else ends up in a second class Christianity doing less important things that don’t matter as much for eternity. However, I think the author’s attempt to reconstruct a theology that can give heavenly significance towards “regular work” ends up having more theological problems than it does solving existing difficulties. And the problem that arises in this book is quite serious. But to the end that the book raises concern about the “two class Christianity” when it comes to a theology of work, I find this book helpful. The best part of this work on work (a pun that I can’t help to play on!) is the author’s discussion about the nature of eternity, where he tackles head on the Christo-platonic vision that is popularly held in Western Christianity: he instead proposes the new creation model in understanding eschatology and rightfully argue from the Biblical data that eternity for the Christian after death will be wonderfully physical, and that there is nothing intrinsically sinful with the physical realm. An excellent presupposition is laid here, for the endeavor to give meaning to our work and vocation, some of which are physical in nature. This at least demonstrate that Christians cannot rule out the heavenly good of earthly work on the basis of a dualism that says anything physical is bad or meaningless. Minor complaints that I have of this work is his criticism of Luther’s view of calling as being unable to avoid the two class Christian distinction when it comes to work, I wished he could have interacted with others who are proponents of Luther’s view, and perhaps interact with the primary source of Luther himself! There was also a significant portion of the book that discussed about the implications of Genesis 1-11 towards the heavenly good of earthly work, and I do not believe the author was able to really draw much here for his view (Part of the problem is that in proving the “heavenly good” of earthly work, Genesis 1-11 does not talk much about the heavenly good of earthly work. But I have to say, the most problematic portion of this book is found in the final chapter. Here he discusses how the implication of his theology of work would shape what missions ought to look like. I must note that of all the six chapters in the book, this part of the book has the least amount of Scripture—and I think it is telling of how little Scriptural girding is for his view here. What I see as most problematic is his inclusivistic tendencies. The problem begins when he failed to define missions or how he understands the meaning of that term. This might seem like a rather trivial point if it was not for the fact that he states on page 139 that missions is something non-Christians and Christians can do. What kind of work is it that can be called missions when non-Christians can consciously participate in? One has to wonder if he is referring to the work of spreading the Gospel, that man’s sin separates us from God and is therefore guilty—but God has sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins so that we can forgiven of them! Then on page 140, the author openly state that he does not like the “us” versus “them” mentality of the current state of Christianity when it comes to doing the work of God, even giving an example of how “tragic” it is a music choir director failed to have two talented nonbelievers living together unmarried be a part of leading in worship on Sundays, and turning them away from God. However, the Bible does set an important standard for those who lead spiritually—including in the area of music, as the Old Testament models for us. Unbelief and willful disobedience to God on the part of spiritual leaders (be it in songs, pastoral ministry, etc) is not something God approves of. Similar to many who have inclusivistic/pluralistic tendencies in their theology, their theological argument draws heavily from a defective pneumatology that assumes the Holy Spirit is working through non-believers the same way the Holy Spirit does through the church, and our author here does the same thing. For the sake of time, I recommend readers to get the best theological critique of the pneumatology behind inclusivism in Todd Miles’ book, “A God of Many Understandings?” In addition, the author makes missions to be more about being a hard working Christian in the work place—which certainly begins there, but goes beyond it as well. The author sees difficulties with the idea of sending out “missionaries” to the field that is financially supported—he sees it sets up a two class Christianity of work, which is what the author wishes to get rid of. He further sees that we are all missionaries, and that the traditional idea of sending out missionaries supported by others financially is driven more from the presuppositions of a fading era of “Christendom,” and the economic conditions of the Western world being able to give out of their economic abundance. I do not think that the “traditional” model of missionaries is the result of Captialism and Christendom—because the Word of God does allow for this model. Here I am thinking about the book of Acts and the various epistles which gives us window into the missionary world of the first century. I see the New Testament model of missions allowing for financial support of missionaries sent afar, though missionaries should be willing to work with other vocations as well if the need arise. I find 3 John to be quite relevant to this discussion of supporting missionaries—for John commends other Christians to support the work of those going out to spread the Gospel in terms of their physical needs, hospitality and beyond. Missions in the book of Acts is heavily about church planting—something that is missing in the author’s paradigm of missions—in fact, his idea of missions is bigger than the church, under the guise of “the kingdom of God is bigger than the church.” Given that the book ends up making more problems than it solves, I do not recommend this book to the general Christian audience.

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