Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Conversation with "Friend A"

I've had two really challenging and edifying conversations in recent weeks with two different brothers grappling with me on the question of work and daily activities being a meaningful part of the ministry of reconciliation. The first interaction came a few weeks back after the first brother read this blogpost of mine, Meaningful Ministry. Here's the first exchange with someone we will just call "Friend A." I'll share the "Friend B" exchange in my next blogpost. 

Hey Mike, 

 ...I wanted to respond to your Meaningful Ministry blog post. Here's what I'm hearing, and correct me if I am missing something:  

1) 2 Cor. 5 tells us that Christ reconciled us to God and now we are given the ministry of reconciliation, which is the ministry of bringing others to Christ to be reconciled to God 

2) Col. 1 tells us that Christ will one day reconcile all things to God whether in heaven or on earth as he will make all things new with a new heavens and a new earth and therefore all things in earth whether people or works or things are a part of our ministry of reconciliation.  

I'm not quite sure what you mean, though, when you say that going to work is itself a meaningful ministry or that mowing the law is itself a meaningful ministry. Could you expand on that?

"Friend A"

Here was my response:

Hi "Friend A,"

There are two books that I recommend to you, one that is out and one that is coming out: The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, by Cosden. 
This book is a bit pricey but you can borrow my copy if you want, but it’s very biblical and here are some quotes from the book:

“... when done in a way that images God and thus co-operates with him, human work in itself is Christian missionary activity. Why? Because it is largely (though not exclusively) through our work that we reflect God’s image and co-operate with him in bringing people and the whole creation to humanity’s and nature’s ultimate maturity and future…. We are saved to become together the image of Christ, and thus the image of God- and we express and develop this most directly in our work” (pp. 129-130).

“…this means that any understanding of mission that fails to grasp that in itself
human work is fundamental to God’s purpose (the mission of God or kingdom of God) for us and creation will be theologically flawed. Likewise, missions thinking that fails to incorporate this theology ultimately undermines the missionary calling of the people of God. For the majority of Christians simply cannot now, nor could they ever, measure up to the modern faith missionary ideal of leaving home and work ‘to work’ for God. For what that understanding of mission unintentionally does is marginalize and thus alienate the vast majority of Christians in the world who will spend most of their lives and life’s energy in ordinary work” (p. 130).

“Thus work is not a platform for mission or evangelism, as if it were somehow subordinate to salvation and eternity. Rather, godly work itself actually spreads by embodying God’s good news, a present experience and foretaste of salvation. For work in itself is a genuine form of life imaging God. It is an ever-open invitation to all to co-operate with God in his purposes” (p. 135).

The other book is not yet out but it is coming out this fall and it is called
Work Matters by Pastor Tom Nelson of Kansas City.

A robust biblical theology of work and of God’s purpose to redeem His creation has been largely absent among evangelical Christians for a long time now; however, this is beginning to change as in the last 5-10 years, more and more evangelical people are writing about the centrality of work to what it means to bear God’s image and fulfill His mission on earth.  Our first parents were set in the Garden to “work it and take care of it,” to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; in essence, to make beautiful the unformed matter of the created universe, thereby reflecting God’s glory, beauty and orderliness.  Sin is what brought about toil, thorns and thistles to work, but sin was a departure from the original design where worship, work and life before God were meant to be an integrated whole.

This is what the Col. 1 passage as well as Romans 8:19-21 passage points us back to, a vision of the redeemed universe where
the work itself that we do shapes the world in a way where it is more Christlike and humane.  Therefore meaningful ministry involves participating in making the world beautiful and humane in the small ways and great ways and doing it as an act of worship, in connection with our God.  To participate in the ministry of reconciliation is therefore: 1) to share Christ with people and 2) to participate in making all things (whether in heaven or on earth) beautiful once again- mowing the lawn is a small way of doing this, subduing the earth.  Finding inherent value in the work we do is as well.

I would probably reverse the order of your 1) and 2) by saying that bringing others to Christ to be reconciled to God is a part of the larger reconciliation/restoration goal God has for all of heaven and earth; while it may not be blatantly obvious in the 2Cor. 5, nonetheless it’s there.  To be a “new creation in Christ” is to share in the larger hope of
all of creation’s restoration.



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