Monday, June 18, 2007

FAQ: I'd rather do evangelism than my course

This will look like a follow up to The Heart of Art and the seminar I've been asked to teach, but actually it's not. I started writing it a month ago. I put it out now as a potential sketch of the issues and for your interactions... Very much a first draft.

Luke Wood wrote:
"...what about the actual studying? Not to suggest that any of the organisations mentioned above would discourage students from their studies; but when they carry a message so thrilling and an ideology so engaging that my degree frankly looks boring, my question has often been "how can I get enthusiastic about my degree?" ...It would seem that being able to engage through service with an amazing mission actually gave me impetus for my degree, without necessarily the time to do it."
Pulling this thing together is a vital thing. I've been trying to get students to think about what studying Speech Therapy, History, Film Studies, Biochemistry and other things to the glory of God looks like. How does 'studying for Jesus' fit into 'living for Jesus. speaking for Jesus'? I think it fits mostly in the first part but also effects the latter.

A Christian Study Ethic? This must be a minimum. Carl Trueman warns in the area of 'Christian' studying that we're probably asking a middle-class question - humility covers much of how we study, work, live etc. Humility averts laziness and disrespect in the workplace. This we know, from Ephesians 6, models the gospel by displaying the Christian's submission to a greater master. Likewise the Christian supervisor/manager displays Christlikeness in their work.

Luke argues that for some, evangelism seems more compelling. I wish that was the case for everyone... It's important. It has an obvious eternal value. And it has an obvious way of bringing glory to God. Piper is right : missions exist because worship doesn't. Doing evangelism leads to more worshippers and so more glory given to God by them. But, can study (and other work) also do that? Is it possible to study to the glory of God? Is it possible to work to the glory of God? If evangelism is the only godly activity then why don't we do it all the time? Sleep seems a waste of a third of my life not to mention all the other things that crowd my day.

For some evangelism might be more compelling because God actually has it in mind for the rest of their life as a primary activity. That doesn't make their degree worthless but it might make it a little secondary. In such a situation it remains that it's not much commendation to the gospel if being a Christian is an excuse to be a slacker - perhaps that attracts students but it must annoy the life out of lecturers. Christian and non-Christian alike. I know for myself that sometimes the compelling nature of evangelism was an excuse for my academic slackness (in addition to my pride that refused to seek the help I needed).

Most Christians are not called to be full time evangelists. The church doesn't have the budget for that, for a start. And - it's pastor-teachers, evangelists and apostles who equip the church for ministry.This seems to imply that they are a few within the body rather than the norm.

Is work just for paying for evangelists? Well that actually does need to be part of it - no-one else is going to pay, and the OT and NT seems to authorise the setting aside of some by God's people to serve the body. But if that's it it seems a bit peculiar. Partly because it makes a very strange relationship between the church and their servants. And partly because it makes the whole thing very odd - the church spends its time in the workplace persuading non-christians to pay them money so that they can go and pay Christians to tell them to be there and do it. Dissolving the whole thing would save a lot of hassle. Also, it's evident that we don't really believe this - otherwise we'd employ a whole lot more evangelists.

There has to be a bit more to it. So is work just a way to meet non-Christians? Well, it is where most of the population spends about a quarter of every week, and if there are no Christians in the workplace that's going to radically slash the opportunities for evangelism.

But again, if this is all it seems strange. Employers don't want evangelists they want employees. Integrity demands that a Christian's primary reason for being in the workplace is to work. If Christians only want to do evangelism at work then Christians are going to find themselves unemployable.

Something more? Rewind to Genesis 1 - God tells us to fill the earth and subdue it from their base in the garden he planted for them. That basically seems to be about creating a global-eden, a global temple in which God is glorified. To achieve this man must form and fill the earth just as God has done with all creation. This is our creation mandate. In all the disputes over Genesis 1 it's tragic that we miss this. Subduing and ruling the world has to include work.

I don't think it's incidental that early chapters of Genesis tell us about Jubal the musician, Tubal-Cain the metal-worker, Noah the Wine-maker etc. These occupations are creative. That's hardly surprising because the definition of human being is as an image bearer of God. God is creative. Human beings will be creative. God is also speaking and relational, so we should expect these to be par of human life. Adam is a gardener. We can surely expect scientists to explore and label God's world as Adam begins to. The arts and scientists exist as part of work in God's creation.

Work happens before the fall. And it continues past it. Post-fall the divine-image is marred. Farming is cursed. Child-birth is going to be hard. There will be illness and death. We already need people in agriculture, healthcare and undertakers. When people gather they organise themselves in idolatrous ways - we need godly politicans. God confuses language though communication was already marred so we'll need speech therapists, linguists and educators.

None of these occupations is a means of gaining eternal life but they do restrain evil just as the law did for the nation of Israel. And they are ways of repairing the creation that God will renew. Bible teachers work to see the divine image renewed in people... so we do in our work to renew creation. God will complete both when the new heavens and the new earth are formed and filled with people from every tribe and tongue around the throne of Jesus. A vast crowded enjoying God's new creation.

What does that mean at University?
Studying is work for a start. It needs to be done in submission to lecturers, working hard with honesty and integrity. That applies to every subject. Much study is a lesson in perseverance, doing something now so that future opportunities will be available. A fresher may not be able to do cancer research, but study enables that down the line. My Maths lecturers loved to tell me that what we studied had no applications unless we got as far as post-doctoral research. If I'd valued the prize that should have helped me run the race.

And then there are the specifics of different disciplines...
We said that science and arts are basic acts of investigating and labelling the world, and living out God's creative image. That gives them fairly straightforward godly applications. Other occupations apply the arts or sciences to the effects of the fall. Heathcare professions such as nursing and speech therapy are needed to combat the pain and problems that sin has introduced. Reducing pain, enabling communication. Philosophers, Historians, Geographers... Politicians, Economists... Teachers, Engineers, Muscians. All will experience futility and emptiness in work (see Ecclesiastes for example) but each should be able to find ways in which their work will restore life to people.