As the church continues to navigate the challenges of the modern economy, we’ve seen a renewed recognition of the “earthiness” of our God-given callings—embracing the mundane and material aspects of our daily work and rejecting the “sacred-secular divide.”
Yet in our earnest efforts to become more “earthly minded” for heavenly good, we face new temptations toward a different sort of lopsidedness. In an article for FULLER Studio, Vincent Bacote reminds us of this risk, recognizing the need for balance and tension in our cultural imaginations.
“The challenge is to land squarely in the midst of the ‘already/not yet’ tension,” Bacote writes, “what I think of as walking the line between detachment from our earthly lives and idolatrous (or nearly so) engagement with our lives.”
As for the tools, Bacote points us to the power of Christian eschatology. Beyond the more typical apocalyptic musings on the rapture and tribulation, how might our notions of “kingdom come” influence our daily activities—economic and otherwise?
When Jesus began his ministry after John’s baptism, he announced that the kingdom was at hand, the beginning of the end—or, really, the beginning of the new beginning…Our recognition of what has occurred gives us reason to conduct our lives now with the knowledge that God has not abandoned but has begun to reclaim his creation. This recognition of God’s commitment to his world ought to compel us to take our responsibility in this world with great seriousness; our work as one expression of the creation/cultural mandate remains.
It is also important to give attention to the future aspect of God’s kingdom. This forward gaze gives us sure hope in the face of the reverberations of the Fall that taint, impede, and sometimes thwart our aspirations for fruitful work. It also tells us that ahead lies life in the future kingdom that is greater than we can now imagine. Looking forward with great anticipation is a central and proper dimension of our faith.
When we shift our imaginations, we’re bound to see a shift in our attitudes and actions.
As for how, exactly, dwelling in the tension of the “already/not yet” might facilitate change, Bacote foresees three key implications of a healthy eschatology. I’ve paraphrased each takeaway in a sentence (my words) with excerpts from Bacote (but read the whole thing):
1. It expands our view of vocation.
An eschatological perspective can help us have a more expansive view of a word like “vocation.” Much of the faith and work conversation emphasizes vocation in relationship to career pursuits, which is indeed proper, but a fully Christian sense of vocation must include the call of God on our entire lives. Perhaps one way to think of this is to consider Augustine’s words: “. . . our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” While Augustine may not have had dimensions of contemporary holistic discipleship in mind, the great truth that our lives operate best when we are reconciled to and resting in God applies to all of our endeavors. Vocation, the call of God, is God’s beckoning us to a life reconciled to him and reoriented toward proper worship and work.
2. It helps us resist workplace idolatry.
The challenge is to resist turning God’s affirmation of our work lives into permission to transform office spaces into altars or shrines. This is particularly difficult in the types of jobs that bring a high degree of satisfaction and reward. Proper attention to task management, leadership development, innovation, and other responsibilities in various fields can morph from holistic discipleship into idol worship. We desperately need Christians to work well and lead in their fields, but a distorted vision can quickly occur. This is where we need the reminder that even our best contributions are penultimate, that we await a future reality, and that our fidelity to God far exceeds other good though lesser commitments—like work and career. The resistance of workplace idolatry also helps us distribute our time to family life, service to the local church, and hobbies.
3. It brings focus amid a culture of choice.
“Find your passion” is really just one dimension of discernment in our larger concept of vocation, and the conversation presumes a variety of options. The truth is that having an array of choices is a privilege easily taken for granted. These choices should certainly be considered with great seriousness, but tempered by walking the line between the now and the not yet. Even if we find ourselves in a vocational sweet spot where we live the dream of getting paid to inhabit our passion, no career amounts to a personal experience of realized eschatology. Our best accomplishments are penultimate.
When we embrace our full vocation, as God actually designed it, our economic activities will come into proper order. When we resist the lure of workplace idolatry, we are free to water the seeds of family, community, and culture that serve to empower our economic life. When we approach our bounty of choices through the proper lens—of privilege requiring proper discernment and wisdom—we give proper scope and definition to our notion of “economic achievement.”
In other words, as we learn to ride those tensions, we won’t just see spiritualfruits across our economic endeavors: peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control. We will also see the material fruits transform, in turn.