How on earth would young Christians ever achieve any sense of God’s vocational calling?
Pulpits are utterly silent on this.
Sunday school material contains nothing on this.
“Youth retreats” have no vision for this.
The spirit of our times includes a denigration of any activity which is done for pay. We are essentially Marxist in our hypocritical disdain for a calling which provides an income, assets, capital.
The very notion of a young Christian considering a vocational calling to operate a dry cleaning firm, or to build a business recapping automobile tires is alien. What you hear, occasionally, is a vision to establish a Christian law or medical practice, or to be a teacher, or some kind of save-the-environment work (forestry, biological research, etc). In all of these aspirations the financial requirements and outcomes are suppressed as if they were a serious case of psoriasis marring the face of a pure enterprise freed from the evil of money. As a consequence, Christians who do go into these professions lose what Christian emphasis they had because it was not founded on sound doctrine but on “emotional pietism.” A few become cynical about their earlier Christian altruism; others shift their non-working hours to some kind of “ministry” thought-form, as in church activities.
One’s vocation consumes a share of waking hours as large or larger than anything else one does, yet as far as the church is concerned it is left to happenstance and empirical information entirely.
I consider this problem to be a subset of the problems which flow from our Christian Freudianism. By the latter derogatory term, I do not mean psychobabble only. What I refer to is our fixation with the inner life. James Alexander was forever urging us to search ourselves for the sin that does so easily inhabit us, to comb through motives, to question our salvation, etc. Our present pastor is only a little better (he can actually smile and tell a joke!) For sure, without primary attention to the heart all our “righteous” deeds are worthless. Just as sure, if we only plow the soil in our heart we become navel-gazers not very distinguishable from Eastern mystics. Sometimes we need to leave our reverie and plow and sow the south 40. We need to grasp our connection to what is transpiring in the heavenly realms, yes. If that is all we grasp, however, all the tools of the life of Christians will remain rusting in the toolbox.
I believe that Christians shy away from development of the ethics of work (and other areas) because we have no instruction or practice in ethical godliness. The world is complex. Glib answers come to ruin, as witness the inane things which sometimes flow from charismatic churches. It requires practice to discern a godly path through the thickets. It is so much easier just to nestle down in the catecombs of your own heart, seeking the “deeper life” of more devotion and appreciation for the doctrines of grace. While the catecombs may at times have been foundations of large structures on the ground above them, we don’t choose to build those above-ground structures, today. We stay underground with our Christian versions of the id, ego, and superego. Sunday sermons are like a couch session with a psychiatrist. Take your archaeologist’s trowel and screen and sift through your heart diggings seeking insight. There surely is a place for this, and the presuppositions of the pulpit are far from the godlessness of Freud. But, we have to come up out of the excavation on Monday and see the rest of the world outside of ourselves.
Yesterday I began to think (in two cases, aloud with fellow church members) how much of our Christian culture has been lost on our watch and the ones just prior to it, our parents’. Divorce, fornication, greed, lying, aggression, stealing. It is not the same country into which I was born and not the same galaxy as the one in which my great grandparents were born. The church went into its self-examination mode over 150 years ago and the crops of wickedness are now overflowing. Yes, judgment must begin with the church, and with the individual heart. We have the right foundation in the Reformation. But, we have let it stop there. It has even become commonplace for Christians to think that bringing any specific biblical doctrine into the workplace or “public square” is wrong — that the world either belongs to the Devil or is some neutral arena. Reading the autobiography of Clarence Thomas, who fancies himself a Christian (Catholic, sort of) we run across the claim that he thinks it proper to divorce his faith from his work as a jurist. The enemies of God, of course, see that as a sham — one’s presuppositions are always running in the background just as Windows XP is running in the background on this computer. (Of course, the enemies of God want their faith to determine everything and solve the dilemma by denying the faith-base of their presuppositions.)
There is a helpless, hopeless apathy among Christians when on rare occasions we survey the cultural ruins about us. The “government” is seen as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Our God is too small to achieve any change here, so we abandon a Ron Paul and vote for a McCain. The economy is so complicated that we couldn’t possibly understand it, so just keep the lying fiat money and go with the bailouts of the imprudent and the greedy. The sex-saturation is so pervasive that all that we can do is to try to get young people to use condoms and contraceptives. There is so much knowledge today young people cannot be expected to learn much, so we’ll just teach them how to use computers and then the devices can think for them. About the time the Reformation went into seclusion (1800?) we had the rise of the Darbyites and others, who “solve” their concern over the cultural ruins by imagining a dispensational fire escape. Let the Devil have the world (that is, deny the creation mandate) they say. They re-make the Great Commission into an entirely spiritual enterprise. Their approach is innately gnostic. Reformed Christians may claim to be different from the religion of those who are enraptured with the Rapture, but our retirement from the material world, from the love of the heart which extends even to the work of the hands, says otherwise.
Sorry to visit all of this on you. I count it as a kind of practice in being able to describe these issues efficiently and, dare I say, winsomely. It worked yesterday for two in church, at least. Even the pastor (not one of the two) was chewing on a few of these things – the undesirable passivity which an exclusive focus on the heart produces.
“Professional” education tracks at some point drop students on their head, in the which impact we acquire some kind of brain damage and are thereafter crippled. It happens in law school when young lawyers lose any sense of the necessary connection between justice and law. I “discovered” that first. It happens in medical school when we confuse our disease models with truth, and confound our good intentions with good actual overall outcomes. It happens in schools of education when the wannabe teachers are infused with the misconception that learning must be undisciplined fun and all students are eager receptacles for wisdom. Now, I realize that the head drop also occurs in seminary. I’m still working on exactly which lobe the seminary fall most damages. It may have something to do with having a good systematic theology to usurp actual application in an existential, personal world.