Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why It's Impossible for Worldly Success to Satisfy

by Patrick Morley

Worldly success has eluded a Christian friend of mine for his entire life. What's ironic to me is that he is as depressed that he didn't achieve worldly success as I was when I did. Two opposite circumstantial results--same depressive outcome.
There is no sin in worldly success, per se. But because worldly success is such a seductive idol, God in His wisdom has made it impossible for worldly success to satisfy--either by withholding it, removing it, or giving you so much that you gag on it.

he problem is that if you or I could find satisfaction in worldly success apart from God, we would. So to protect us from our own sinful natures, God in His grace frustrates our ambitions when they would destroy us.
And it's not really worldly success we want anyway, but the security, contentment, peace, and joy we think it will give us. By giving--or not giving--us worldly success, our Jealous God is teaching us to be satisfied in Him alone. Enjoy nice things if and when you can, but He is our security, contentment, peace, and joy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jesus Is Not Safe but He Is Good

by Perry Noble
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to tell them about Aslan, the lion in the story who is the Christ-figure. They ask if Aslan is a man, and Mr. Beaver replies:
Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That conversation is loaded. Please get the last line. He’s good, he’s the King, but he isn’t safe.
The wrong picture
We’ve done a pretty bad job at trying to paint a picture of Jesus in today’s society that is safe. His hair is always perfect. Did they really have product back then? His teeth have obviously been either whitened or capped. His robe never has any wrinkles and is always the whitest of whites. I guess the dust and dirt in Israel simply refused to stick to his clothes. And he never becomes irritated, upset, or does anything that might offend anyone, despite what we read in Matthew 12:1-4Luke 4:28-30Luke 11:45-54Matthew 23 and John 2:13-17 (just to name a few!).
Make no mistake about it. He is good, but he is not safe! Following Jesus doesn’t ever lead to a safe, comfortable, and predictable life. How in the world could we ever expect the guy who said what he did in Luke 9:23 to ever lead us towards safety?

Take up your cross
Jesus didn’t say that if we wanted to follow him, we needed to take up our mattress, but rather take up our cross! If you are going to follow Jesus:
You are going to upset some people (Matthew 10:34-36)
He will bring out changes in you (Luke 19:1-10). We cannot meet him and stay the same!
He is going to challenge you to look straight ahead and not behind, no matter how good or bad it may have been (Luke 9:62).
You are going to have to lay some things aside (Mark 1:18).
He will impact every area of your life (Romans 12:1), and you cannot pick and choose your areas of surrender when you are abiding in him.
You are going to hear his voice clearly and accurately (John 10:4).
You are going to experience abundant life, and your life will not be wasted (John 10:10).
You are going to have to stop messing around—literally (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). In fact, following Jesus may make your dating life seem quite “boring” to others.
You are going to have to surrender your wallet (Matthew 6:19-24Luke 16:10-13).
It is going to take a willingness to change the way you think (Romans 12:1-2).
It is going to move your heart to care about and reach out to people that he deeply cares for (Matthew 28:18-20). I cannot say I am a follower of Christ and be unconcerned with the things that concern him.
God is good
Sanctification is not always a pretty process and following Christ isn’t always the easy or safe thing, but it is always the right thing. With all of this in mind, do not forget that Jesus is good that's the comfort in all this.
Scripture talks over and over again about the goodness of God. When I do not understand, agree with, or even see what he is doing, I can know that Romans 8:28 is true. God is good and he works for the good of those who love him.
So what will you do today? Play it safe or follow Christ?


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let's Give Chivalry Another Chance

by Emily Esfahanifrom The Atlantic 12.11.12

It's been unfairly maligned as sexist, but women and men alike would benefit from bringing it back.
This past spring marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. On April 14, 1912, as the ship was on its maiden journey from Southampton, UK, to New York City, it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. About three hours later, it sank. Three-quarters of the women on the ship survived; over three quarters of the men, by contrast, died. In Washington DC, there is a memorial to these men. The inscription on it reads: "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic...They gave their lives that women and children might be saved."

About a year ago, a group of today's men were tested the way that the men on board the Titanic were. When the cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rock and capsized off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, last January, men pushed women and children out of the way to save themselves. One Australian woman on board reported at the time:
The people that pushed their way on to the boat were then trying to tell them to shut the door, not to let any more people on the [life] boat after they had pushed their way on...We just couldn't believe it—especially the men, they were worse than the women.
This contrast is indicative of a larger trend—the decline of chivalry and the rise of boorish behavior among men. According to a 2010 Harris poll, 80 percent of Americans say that women are treated with less chivalry today than in the past. This is a problem that all women—especially feminists—should push back against.
After the women's liberation movement of the 1960s, which insisted on the equal treatment of women in all domains of life, feminists dismissed chivalry as sexist. They still do. A new study, published in the feminist journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, questions the entire enterprise of male chivalry, which, in an Orwellian flourish, it calls "benevolent sexism."
Chivalrous behavior is benevolent because it flatters women and leads to their preferential treatment. But it is sexist because it relies on the "gendered premise" that women are weak and in need of protection while men are strong. "Benevolent sexism," Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker of the University of Florida write in the study, "is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality." They advocate interventions to reduce its prevalence, even though, they found, chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place.
Charles Murray, the libertarian social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, summed up the study with tongue-in-cheek, writing "the bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy." He goes on to ask, "When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn't they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?"

In an interview, Connelly tells me that despite Murray's points, the problem with chivalry is that it assumes "women are wonderful but weak." This assumption of female weakness puts women down, Connelly says.
Perhaps because of women's ambivalence about chivalry, men have grown confused about how to treat women. Will holding doors open for them or paying for the first date be interpreted as sexist? Does carrying their groceries imply they're weak? The breakdown in the old rules, which at one extreme has given rise to the hookup culture, has killed dating and is leaving a lot of well-meaning men and women at a loss.

Historically, the chivalry ideal and the practices that it gave rise to were never about putting women down, as Connelly and other feminists argue. Chivalry, as a social idea, was about respecting and aggrandizing women, and recognizing that their attention was worth seeking, competing for, and holding. If there is a victim of "benevolent sexism," it is not the career-oriented single college-aged feminist. Rather, it is unconstrained masculinity.
"We should have a clear notion of what chivalry is," argues Pier Massimo Forni, an award-winning professor of Italian literature and the founder of the Civility Institute at Johns Hopkins. "It was a form of preferential treatment that men once accorded to women generations ago, inspired by the sense that there was something special about women, that they deserve added respect, and that not doing so was uncouth, cowardly and essentially despicable."

Chivalry arose as a response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances—like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society. As the author and self-described "equity feminist" Christina Hoff Sommers tells me in an interview, "Masculinity with morality and civility is a very powerful force for good. But masculinity without these virtues is dangerous—even lethal."
Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are—how elevated their status is—under the system of chivalry.

A story from the life of Samuel Proctor (d. 1997) comes to mind here. Proctor was the beloved pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church. Apparently, he was in the elevator one day when a young woman came in. Proctor tipped his hat at her. She was offended and said, "What is that supposed to mean?"
The pastor's response was: "Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat."

Some women are trying to bring back chivalry. Since 2009, for instance, a group of women at Arizona State University have devoted themselves to resuscitating gentlemanly behavior and chivalry on a campus whose social life is overwhelmingly defined by partying, frat life, and casual sex. Every spring for the past three years, these women have gathered for the "Gentlemen's Showcase" to honor men who have acted chivalrously by, for example, opening the door for a woman or digging a woman's car out of several feet of snow.
The event has spread to campuses nationwide. Its goal is "to encourage mutual respect between the sexes," Karin Agness tells me in an interview. Agness is the founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, the organization that hosts Gentlemen's Showcases at colleges each spring.

"The current framework is not generating healthy relationships," Blayne Bennett, the organizer of ASU's first Gentlemen's Showcase, has said. "I believe that chivalry provides the positive framework to maximize the overall happiness of men and women."
Women, she said, "want to be treated like ladies."

Bennett and her fellow chivalry advocates have the right idea. "If women give up on chivalry, it will be gone," Sommers tells me. "If boys can get away with being boorish, they will, happily. Women will pay the price."If feminists want to level the playing field between men and women, they should find common cause with traditionalist women, like those at ASU, on the issue of chivalry. Both groups are concerned with how men treat women. They just differ in what that means: Feminists want men to treat women as equals; traditionalists want men to treat women like ladies. Are the two mutually exclusive?
Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility. When we give up on civility, understood in this way, we can never have relationships that are as meaningful as they could be.

If women today—feminists and non-feminists alike—encouraged both men and women to adopt the principles of civil and chivalrous conduct, then the standards of behavior for the two sexes would be the same, fostering the equality that feminists desire. Moreover, the relations between the sexes would be once again based on mutual respect, as the traditionalists want. Men and women may end up being civil and well-mannered in different ways, but at least they would be civil and well-mannered, an improvement on the current situation.
Through a tragic event that occurred last summer, our nation was jolted into recognizing chivalry's enduring power. During a screening of the Dark Knight, a deranged gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, theater, murdering twelve innocent people. Three men, all in their twenties, were in the audience that day with their girlfriends. When the shots rang out across the theater, these men threw themselves over their girlfriends, saving the women's lives. All three of the men died.

At the time, Hanna Rosin noted that what these men did was "deeper" than chivalry. It was heroic. I agree. But heroism and chivalry share a basic feature in common—the recognition, a transcendent one, that there is something greater than the self worth protecting, and that there is something greater than the self worth sacrificing your own needs, desires, and even life for. If we can all agree that the kind of culture we should aspire to live in is one in which men and women protect and honor each other in the ways that they can—and not one in which men are pushing past women and children to save their own lives—then that is progress that women everywhere should support.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Biblical Perspective on Men and Women

by Sheldon Vanauken (author of A Severe Mercy)

“I do not for a moment believe that men are superior to women—only different. To me, one of the God-given joys of this life is the radiant, forever intriguing, complementary difference of man and woman, not just superficially sexual but deep and awesome.
Man and woman are equal, yes, but equal in importance and value; and not, thank God, identical. Equal in importance as a nut and bolt are entirely equal in importance without being identical—and doing a job that neither two nuts nor two bolts could do, holding something together.
Man and woman do what two men or two women cannot do: they hold humanity together. A man and a little pseudo-man won’t do it either. A man and a woman. I can fall on my knees, figuratively at least, before the mysterious wonder of womanhood, even as a true woman sees a splendor in manhood. Masculinity—that which initiates and leads, as the eternal masculinity of God does—needs femininity, feminine response, to complement and complete it. Helpmeet is the biblical word: a suitable or fit help, a completion. Thus man and woman together in that awesome mystery of one flesh is what our Lord ordained for us.”
(From the article “Uni-sexism” in The Intellectuals Speak Out About God, pp. 325-326)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Gospeled Man

by Jared Wilson
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Tim 6:11-12

As I view what it means to be a man through the lens of this instruction from Paul to Timothy, I am reminded again of the holy activity of true masculinity (and true personhood, generally). Flee, pursue, fight, take hold. Paul is nothing if not verby. I am struck, though, by how often I fail at these things. I am busy about things that so often don’t matter and passive about things that do. I am lazy. I can’t be bothered. And when I look for where I ought to get the oomph of holy pursuit from, I see Paul couching the masculine imperatives in the masculine indicative: “O man of God.” If this is what I am, this is what I can do. Furthermore, I see the importance of “taking hold of the eternal life to which I was called” for the other actions.
The godly man is a gospeled man. He has seen who he is in Christ, he is moved by what God has done for him in Christ. If I don’t get this part, all the rest will just be a self-salvation project, an exercise in self-righteousness.
I need a better vision. I need a better vision than simply that of myself as a “manly man” going about some religious busywork. I need a vision of the conquering, saving, loving Savior who has done all these things for me and covers my failures at doing them myself.

If biblical manhood is about denying excuses and taking responsibility — and I think it is — I begin to think of all the excuses the God-Man could have made when it came to loving and saving me. He could have shaken his head and cataloged my list of deep unworthinesses:
Father, he’s so sinful. He’s always struggling with lust and he looks at pornography.

Father, he’s so lazy. He doesn’t deserve all this effort.

Father, he’s so unspiritual. He won’t even pick up the Word to read a few lines.

Father, he doesn’t treat his wife the way she ought to be treated.

Father, he’s not the kind of guy who could set the world on fire, is he?

Father, he’s so passive. He’s so timid. He’s such a coward

Father, he’s so prideful. He enjoys praise too much and he’s selfish.

Father, he’s short-tempered. He leaps to defend himself too much.

Father, he’s such a failure, a nobody, a loser. He’s a stuttering wimp, just like that girl in the 5th grade said he was. He is what he always feared his family thought he was. He doesn’t deserve a second glance like those bosses at his first job proved. He is what his critics say he is, worthy of scorn and derision and unworthy of forgiveness. He is what the Accuser says he is, only as good as what he has failed to do and deserving of eternal condemnation.

But with his atoning sacrifice Jesus doesn’t say any of those things about me. He says “Father, this man is your son and you’ve set your affections on him. So I am pleased to die for him.”
So I write this today not as a perfect man, but as a gospeled man, because I have taken hold of Christ having taken hold of me (Phil. 3:12). I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and now by God’s grace I am empowered to love well and serve well and husband well and daddy well and pastor well. And so can you, men of God, if you will but lay hold of it.
Take hold of this precious truth. The Son of God has set aside all the charges against you, all your sins and failings, and has taken them to the cross, killing them by dying with them, leaving them dead as he himself raises to new life — your new life, which is eternal and into which he is calling you.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1
Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and the author of the books Your Jesus is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness, Gospel Deeps and the Bible study resources Abide and Seven Daily Sins.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chivalrous Manhood

If, says C. S. Lewis, we want to understand the old notion of what it means to be 'chivalrous' (or what we would say today it looks like for us men to man up),
"we cannot do better than turn to the words addressed to the greatest of all the imaginary knights in Malory's Morte Darthur. 'Thou wert the meekest man,' says Sir Ector to the dead Launcelot. 'Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in the hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest."

"The important thing about this ideal is, of course, the double demand it makes on human nature. The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth."
--C. S. Lewis, 'The Necessity of Chivalry,' in Present Concerns (Fount 1986), 13

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blind Spots and Lane Changes

By Thabiti Anyabwile

Nearly every driver has had the experience. You look in your rear view and side view mirrors, hit the signal, and begin to drift into the next lane of traffic. Those routine procedures give you a sense of safety, so you turn your mind to the things ahead of you. Then suddenly, you hear the loud horn blast. Your heart jumps into your throat, you swing the car back into your lane, and you make apologizing motions to the driver in the car you did not see.

The problem with blind spots is you don’t see them .Blind spots make lane changes surprisingly dangerous. It happens in leadership, too. Leaders have blind spots. I know I do. We don’t often discover them until we’re making a change, adjusting course. You’re cruising along, changing lanes, and sometimes someone has to honk the horn real loud. Have you ever had that happen? I have. So, here are a couple lessons I’m learning as I lead with blind spots.

1. I have more than one blind spot. They’re on both sides. Leaders can sometimes act as if they have a good view of themselves, a solid assessment of strengths and weaknesses. But if our assessment is limited to self-perception, chances are there will be some gaping holes in what we see. So, it’s really vital to have others contribute to our assessments.

2. I really need to signal well in advance. Others are around me. They’re trying to keep speed and match movements with the pace car. Leaders have to communicate changes in direction, even changes as gradual and gentle as lane changes. Lane changes can crush other drivers. They need to know what I’m thinking and where I’m headed before I actually make the move.

3. I need to look over my shoulder. Mirrors are helpful, but alone they don’t eliminate blind spots. My driver’s ed teacher taught us to always take that backward glance over the shoulder. In leadership, looking back to find others traveling with you can help immensely. How many of us have charged hills with breakneck speed and reckless abandon only to look back and see the troops still in the camp. How do we look over our shoulders? Ask the people who follow our lead what they see that we seem not to notice. Ask them, “What are my blind spots?” “How is my leadership affecting others around me in ways I appear to overlook?”

4. I need to heed the honks. Horns are fabulous pieces of equipment. They can be loud and obnoxious (hooonk!!) and sometimes light and chimey (beep, beep). Like leaders. When it comes to blind spots, leaders need to know something about honkology, what the horns are signaling to us. Some of us live in cultures where horns are used for everything–lane changes, greetings to pedestrians, and musical accompaniment. Some of us live in countries where horns are only used in emergencies, to alert others to dangers. Interpreting horns depends on where you live and how they’re used. We have to interpret the feedback we’re getting. Is the driver simply honking to constantly communicate, or is he laying on the horn because he’s angry? Is he signaling that the lane change is okay, or is he protecting his space?

5. Finally, I need to adjust the mirrors. We know we’re heeding the honks and adjusting to reality when we adjust our mirrors. Again, mirrors alone won’t help you see everything. But they’re still useful. Leaders, we need to compensate by including the perspectives of other, growing from feedback, and expanding our view. We can’t include all the feedback at once. But the incremental adjustments of the mirrors might just widen our field of view enough to keep our lane changes safe and keep the traffic flowing with us.

Thabiti Anyabwile is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Purpose of Work

by Gene Edward Veith

"We work to have leisure, on which happiness depends." So said Aristotle, quoted by Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting to explain "What Work Is For" in a recent article for The New York Times. Luther countered this medieval view of work---which is coming back into style in our consumerist culture---with his doctrine of vocation.

To be sure, as Gutting says, we celebrate Labor Day by not working. We work so that we can save up money to take a vacation. We spend most our lives in the work force so that we can retire. Or as the British rock group Hard-Fi says, we are "Living for the Weekend." We work in order to not work.

For Aristotle, contemplation is the activity in which human beings reach their highest fulfillment. For that, we need leisure. In our culture today, though, most people probably do not use their leisure to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful. Our leisure is filled more with entertainment than contemplation.

Gutting recognizes that leisure can degenerate into idleness and boredom. We should use our leisure, he says, for "productive activity enjoyed for its own sake." Some things are good in themselves, Aristotle says. Other things are good because they lead to things that are good in themselves. For example, money has no intrinsic value---it is just dirty paper---but it is an "instrumental good" because it allows us to buy food so that we can stay alive, provide for our family, help others, and other human purposes, all of which are valuable in themselves. In Book 7 of the Politics, Aristotle argues that work is such an instrumental good.

If the "productive activity" enjoyed in leisure can be good in itself---say, writing poetry or building a birdhouse or reading a book---it would seem that similar exercises of human creativity and rationality occur in the workplace. But the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental goods is useful. What is missing, though, from Aristotle is other people.

Love and Serve

According to Luther, the purpose of every vocation is to love and serve one's neighbor. The farmer tills the ground to provide food to sustain his neighbor's life. The craftsman, the teacher, the lawyer---indeed, everyone who occupies a place in the division of labor---is providing goods and services that neighbors need. This is God's providential ordering of society. But for a Christian, the service rendered can become animated with love.

For Luther, vocation was far more than economic activity, including also our callings in our families, the church, and the culture as a whole. Each of these vocations calls us to particular neighbors whom we are to love and serve. Husbands are called to love and serve their wives, and wives are called to love and serve their neighbors. Pastors love and serve their parishioners, who love and serve each other. Rulers are to love and serve their subjects, and citizens love and serve each other for the common good.

Notice, vocation is not primarily about "serving God" for Luther. He was battling the high view of "contemplation" found in monasticism, which required the rejection of the vocations of marriage and parenthood (the vow of celibacy), the vocations of economic activity (the vow of poverty), and the vocations of citizenship (the vow of obedience, which replaced the authority of secular law with that of the church). Luther denied that "the contemplative life" of monasticism was more spiritual than "the active life" of ordinary Christians living in the world.  The problem with the former was that it tended to isolate Christians from their neighbors, at worse becoming a retreat into oneself. The monasteries claimed to serve God---indeed, to allow for salvation by works---but God in Scripture commands that we love and serve him by loving and serving our neighbors.

"God does not need our good works," Luther taught. "But our neighbor does." Our relationship with God is established solely by his grace in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. But then he sends us out into the world to live out our Christian faith in love and service to our neighbors.

Furthermore, God himself, in his providential care for his whole creation, is working through our human vocations. God gives us our daily bread by means of the farmer, the miller, and the baker. He protects us by means of lawful magistrates. He creates and cares for new human beings by means of fathers and mothers. He proclaims his Word and administers his sacraments by means of pastors. He creates beauty by means of artists and musicians.

To use Aristotelian terms, loving one's neighbor means to treat other human beings, particularly those we meet in our vocations, as intrinsic, not instrumental goods; that is, we see them as being valuable in themselves, and not just for how we can use them. This holds true for the way husbands and wives need to treat each other, and for the way a Christian business owner treats customers. Luther's neighbor-centered ethic requires self-denial---bearing the Cross, which is not just suffering but sacrificing oneself for others. Thus, wives submit (an act of self-denial) to their husbands, who "give up themselves" (an act of self-denial) for their wives---thus, in their callings embodying the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5).

What Transforms Our Work?

Gutting goes on in his essay to criticize capitalism for its view of work. Though Luther's doctrine of vocation played a major role in the rise of free market capitalism, as many scholars have shown, his focus on self-denial and service to the neighbor give it a different ethical dimension. The free market, according to the Enlightenment, is governed by individuals all pursuing their rational self-interest. Luther would no doubt recognize economic laws as part of God's ordering of creation. He would acknowledge that fallen human beings do not usually act in selfless love and service to others, but are instead motivated by selfishness and the desire to be served rather than to serve.

Nevertheless, God providentially works through vocation so as to bless others despite the sinner's evil motives. (A business owner may have selfish motivations, but unless the business meets people's needs, it will not be successful.) For the Christian, on the other hand, ordinary labor and ordinary relationships can be transfigured, as faith discerns the presence of God, who is active in the humblest of callings. Our vocations become the arena for the Christian life, where sanctification happens, the site of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

The economy can indeed be a dog-eat-dog, Darwinistic, self-obsessed struggle, which we yearn to escape---whether on a weekend, a vacation, or retirement. But even the leisure, bought at such a cost, may still keep us trapped within ourselves. The doctrine of vocation, properly understood, frees us from our sinful selves through the gospel as our love for God overflows into love for our neighbors.  Our very work becomes transformed not in its substance---Christian workers mostly perform the same tasks as non-Christian workers---but in its meaning and in its value.

Gene Edward Veith is provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.