Faith, Work & Failure 2

imgresPhil Vischer in Me, Myself & Bob recounts a sermon he once heard: “If God gives you a dream, and the dream comes to life and God shows up in it, and then the dream dies, it may be that God wants to see what is more important to you — the dream or him.  And once he’s seen that, you may get your dream back.  Or you may not, and you may live the rest of your life without it.  But that will be okay, because you’ll have God.”  And “he who has God plus many things has nothing more than he who has God alone,” Phil says, this time quoting C.S. Lewis.

Now listen to Jared C. Wilson:

“You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open a window but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?”

Faith, Work & Failure 1

imgresIn the forward to Every Good Endeavor, Katherine Alsdorf says she wanted “a gospel that had good news even” for failures.  Yet, after reading that book, I didn’t come away with a good handle on how to view my own business failures from the perspective of the gospel.

It turns out, what I was looking for was the penultimate chapter of Me, Myself & Bob by Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales.

Here’s a snippet:

[B]eware of dreams, for dreams make dangerous friends.  We all have them — longings for a better life, a healthy child, a happy marriage, rewarding work.  But dreams are, I have come to believe, misplaced longings.  False lovers.  Why?  Because God is enough.  Just God.  And he isn’t “enough” because he can make our dreams come true — no, you’ve got him confused with Santa or Merlin or Oprah.  The God who created the universe is enough for us — even without our dreams.  Without the better life, the healthy child, the happy marriage, the rewarding work.

One more:

If I am a Christian…where I am in five years is none of my business.  Where I am in twenty years is none of my business.  Where I am tomorrow is none of my business.  …   No “BHAGs,” no inspiring PowerPoint vision statements.  Just a group of people on their knees, trusting God for guidance each day.  Holding everything loosely but God himself.

Just one more:

I didn’t need to have any impact at all.  Whatever needs I had were being met by the Scripture I was reading and by the life of prayer I was developing.  My passion was shifting from impact to God.

A Theology of Work 5

imagesJurgen Moltmann suggested that “work in the Kingdom of God in some way closely relates to God’s renewing of heaven and earth,” thus giving “a transcendent meaning and value to work itself,” apart from its instrumental and relational value according to Darrell Cosden in A Theology of Work.

Cosden’s strategy in constructing his theology of work that highlights the ontological value of work, then, is “to develop the two interconnected and multifaceted doctrines of theological anthropology and a theology of nature, and to do so teleologically (building upon protological, eschatological and Christological foundations).

Theology.  Ontology.  Anthropology.  Teleology.  Protology.  Eschatology.  Christology.

Phew.  That’s a mouthful.

A Theology of Work 4

imagesWhat doctrines does Jurgen Moltmann appeal to for his understanding of work?

According to Darrel Cosdon in A Theology of Work, the first is the doctrine of creation because “God is a worker” and “human work can and should ‘correspond’ to the creative activity of God.”  

The second is the doctrine of Sabbath because “when human work truly corresponds to God’s, that is when it is actively creative but also seasoned with Sabbath, [and then] it becomes truly meaningful.”

The third is the doctrine of “the work of redemption.”  “The idea is that God is not simply the effortless creator (initial creation) but that he also is engaged in hard and painful work,” the work of redemption.  This work by Jesus, a servant of God, is “wearisome work” according to Isaiah 43:24 and 53.  Thus, “imitation of Christ’s servanthood should be the theological basis for work.”

A Theology of Work 3

imagesIn A Theology of Work, Darrell Cosden says the vocational model of work outlines the spiritual meaning of work as both “acts of personal obedience to God/God’s call, and, as outward service to others as God’s means for meeting their physical needs.”  Put differently, the vocational model “emphasises particularly the importance of work’s instrumental aspect (especially with respect to human obedience / sanctification) and its relational aspect (concerning how our work can contribute toward meeting the needs of others and the broader society).”

He cites Miroslav Volf as someone who moved from protology to eschatology as the foundation of the theology of work.  This “eschatalogical orientation mean[t]…work is perceived as teleologically directed and oriented forward toward the future new creation rather than backward toward the restoration of the initial creation.”  As a result, work becomes a type of “eschatological mandate rather than simply a creation mandate.”

A Theology of Work 2

imagesIn A Theology of Work, Darrell Cosden observes that, in the modern Roman Catholic teaching on work, “the instrumental aspect of work (here [in Laborem Exercens] primarily referring to economic function) is subordinated (metaphysically and ethically) to the relational or ‘human’ aspect….”

He traces this in part to Pope John Paul II’s view that “the essential meaning of ‘kingship’ and ‘dominion’ of man over the visible world, which the Creator himself gave man for his task, consists in the priority of ethics over technology, in the primacy of the person over things, and in the superiority of spirit over matter” (emphasis mine).  If this hierarchy is assumed, Cosden concludes, “the instrumental [aspect of work] is always subordinated to the relational [aspect].”

I find it disturbing that the head of the Roman Catholic church so bluntly held that spirit is “superior” to matter.  Isn’t this essentially a gnostic position which the church has consistently, at least officially if not functionally, refuted?

I also hear the echo of this subordination of the instrumental aspect of work to the relational aspect in how we — evangelical Christians of North America — speak about many subjects, including work.  “It’s the relationship that matters,” we may say to someone who is struggling over the intrinsic value of his work.  The intent behind those words is good.  We mean to encourage.  We mean to point out how the worker is making a difference through his being there for his co-workers.  But embedded in such a statement, at times, is the view that “what really matters is people’s souls, not what your work produces.”

Cosden would argue, it seems, such a view is not only unbiblical but unnecessary: “the nature of the ontology of work is such that it places both the relational and instrumental aspects on an equal, mutually restricting plane while it also places itself on that same level.”

A Theology of Work 1


Miroslav Volf in Work in the Spirit tries to build a theology of work in light of new creation rather than one anchored in vocation.  In A Theology of Work, Darrell Cosden seeks to provide “a more detailed unfolding of the implications of this eschatological realism for a theology of work.”

“Normative theological understanding of work is best construed threefold as a dynamic inter-relationship of instrumental, relational, and ontological aspects,” says Cosden.  

First, work is instrumental “in the mundane sense” — “a means to continued survival” and “a means for further economic expansion and growth.”  Here, “the focus is not on work, but rather its product used directly or indirectly as a way of securing more of life’s necessities or wants.”  Work is instrumental “in the spiritual sense” as well — e.g., building character, meeting other’s needs, generating profits to be given to charity in order to lessen the pain of others and spreading the gospel message.

Second, work is relational when it “refers to work’s aim toward appropriate social relationship and / or to some form of human existential realization and fulfillment.”  This could be considered “a sub-category of the instrumental.”

Cosden’s focus, though, is on the third — ontological — aspect of work.  “God created us to be workers in nature” “not as an accident of nature but because God first is a worker and persons are created in his image.”  And work is “built into the fabric of creation by God.”  As such work “is a thing in itself with its own intrinsic value apart from but of course related to these [instrumental and relational] functions.”