Jeff Haanen

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Theology

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Theology

Mission in Word and Deed

 

There is an old debate among Christians that no less affects those involved in faith and work initiatives: is evangelism the highest priority, or is it acts of justice and mercy?

On one side, theologians will argue that declaring the gospel and preaching the Word is most important. After all, eternal souls are at stake. The other side will argue that Jesus taught, “May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The priority is not in “other-worldly” pursuits, but in establishing God’s kingdom now through acts of justice and mercy.

Lesslie Newbigin, in his seminal The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, argues, “If we turn to the Gospels we are bound to note the indissoluble nexus between deeds and words.” For example, in the Gospel of John, there is a large portion of teaching from Jesus, but it usually follows something Jesus has done: the healing of a blind man, the feeding of the 5,000, raising Lazarus from the dead. Again, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus calls “his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and infirmity.” Yet as they were doing all this, he gave them a message to bear as well: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

If we lose either part of this formula – word and deed – we miss the message of Jesus. On the one hand, acts of justice and kindness are dumb without an explanation. In Jesus day they were misinterpreted (some of his opponents said he came from Satan), and in our day there is no shortage of justice-loving people from other faiths, or no faith at all. The message of the gospel,the actual testimony to the life, death, resurrection and Second Coming of Jesus, is what calls this present world into question and reveals “the hidden secret” (one of Newbigin’s other books) of God’s reign.

However, without action, preaching is meaningless. Words can be brushed aside as mere talk. In contrast, nearly all the great sermons in the book of Acts are in response to a question. Something had happened, and the masses were asking, “What is this new reality?”

So, should faith and work initiatives prioritize evangelism or justice and cultural engagement? Most emphasize one or the other. The ones closest to local churches tend to prioritize sharing your faith at work, and those with weaker ties to the church make faith and work programs primarily about doing good things (the latest phase is ‘seeking the common good of the city’). What makes Christian mission distinctive is that deeds of justice, kindness, and mercy are done “in the name of Jesus.” This does not need to be annoying – making every meeting into a chance to tell a Bible story – but it certainly requires not being ashamed of the verbal proclamation of the gospel when the time comes.

It should also be said that the primary “deeds” of our lives, for the majority of people, are found at work. And ministers have the responsibility to equip their congregations for deeds that reflect the kingdom of God. As Newbigin said,

“It follows that the major role of the Church is relation to the great issues of justice and peace will not be in its formal pronouncements but in its continually nourishing and sustaining men and women who will act responsibly as believers in the course of their secular affairs.”

In my faith tradition, evangelicalism, historically we’ve done well with evangelism. We’ve improved greatly in the past 50 years in the area of justice. But what about cultural engagement “in the course of our secular affairs?” Will we too find the words and deeds to do this with faithfulness?

Discussion question: In your work, do you tend to favor evangelism or acts of justice, that is, words or deeds? Why?

TheologyWork

Upcoming Faith and Work Conferences

Here are three upcoming conferences on faith and work that I’d highly recommend attending if you’re able to make it:

The Gospel at Work Banner

The Gospel at Work

When: January 11-12

Where: Gaithersburg, MD; Covenant Life Church

How much: $79 for early registration (ends Jan 7), otherwise $99

Synopsis from the website: “The Gospel at Work conference was born out of a desire to help Christians think and live differently in the workplace.  It’s designed to help Christians think biblically and theologically about their work.  What is God’s purpose for my work?  How does the gospel change my work? How does applying the truths of the gospel help me manage differently?  How does a Christian strategize and plan their career?”

Keynote Speakers: Os Guinness, author and social critic; Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church; Michael Lawrence, Senior Pastor, Hinson Baptist Church; Bob Doll, Former Chief Investment Officer, Blackrock; Eric Simmons, Lead Pastor, Redeemer Church

cgrva-logoCommon Good RVA

When: January 18-19

Where: Richmond, VA

How much: $55

Synopsis from the website: “A lot of Christians are confused about how the work they do Monday to Friday connects with who they are on Sundays. Yet the Bible views our work as central to our calling and a way that we can directly connect with the mission of God…Our city needs many more Christians who see their vocations as a way to advance the common good of Richmond. Together as lawyers, doctors, business leaders, electricians, artists, and stay-at-home parents, we will gather to explore what it means to see our everyday work as a meaningful part of our Christian calling.”

Keynote speakers: Andy Crouch, author and editor of Christianity Today; Dr. Amy Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good

TGC13-BannerThe Gospel Coalition 2013 Post-Conference on Faith and Work

When: April 10, 1-6pm

Where: Orlando, RL; Rosen Shingle Creek

How Much: $235 (this includes the entire conference, from April 8-10)

Synopsis from the website: “Tim Keller and several other leaders in the church, marketplace, and broader culture will focus on a variety of issues related to the Christian faith and its role in our work and vocation.”

Keynote Speakers: Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, author of Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

ArtTheology

An Act of Creation

 

I was supposed to be networking. That’s what normal people do when surrounded by a city’s top leaders, as I was at a recent Q Ideas Conference at the Denver Performing Arts Center. But during the break between sessions, I found myself sipping coffee, standing alone amidst the buzzing conversation, and utterly transfixed by the artwork of Jake Weidmann.

Three paintings of a lion sat on easels. The first lion’s mane was ablaze, representing God the Father, a consuming fire (Deut. 4.24). The second lion’s mane was a barbed wire, an allusion to the suffering of God the Son. And the third lion’s mane was a river, the Living Water given by God the Spirit (Jn. 7:38). As I beheld Weidmann’s arresting creativity and Trinitarian imagination, I quietly thought to myself,“We are at our best when our daily work reflects the creative work of God himself.”

Made in the Image of the Maker

When looking for a model for work, the best place to start is God’s own work. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Both the Bible and the creeds (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”) begin with the work of creation. Genesis paints a picture of the Maker of supernovas, seashores and salamanders who spawns new life and new realities through creative, joyful work (Gen. 2:2-3; Ps. 104:24-26,31).  On the sixth day, God declared his creative work was very good – and the angels shouted for joy at what they saw (Gen. 1:31; Job. 38:7).

English playwright and author Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) said that when God made men and women in His image, all he had done until that point was create.  Sayers writes,

“Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.”

God made grass seeds, and giraffes, and those in His image make gorilla glue, graham crackers, and grandfather clocks. Work is not only something we do for money, but rather it is the first expression of our spiritual, mental and bodily faculties. At its best, work is a creative act.

The word “creativity” should be broadened past associations with bohemian artists or ad agency professionals.To create is to initiate an object or a project (a definition of the Hebrew word bara). Bringing new products, ideas Lion - God the Sonor organizations into existence is all creative work. For example, Jake Weidmann brought a trinity of lions into existence from a mere thought, which now shapes me, the beholder of his art. A landscaper conceives of a beautiful garden, plants and cultivates the roses, and sees the homeowners enjoy their color and aroma. An engineer designs a more efficient hood for a commercial stove top, and works with technicians to install his new creation. Dorothy Sayers’ masterful The Mind of the Maker argues that all satisfying human work is essentially Trinitarian in that it is creative (bringing something into existence) and follows a three-part process (idea, product, and effect, which mirrors Father, Son and Spirit).  She even wonders if uncreative activities and an uncreative outlook might be “doing violence to the very essence of our being.”

Many puzzle over how to best ground a theology of work. Should it begin with evangelism, ethics, or simply a desire to do a good job? Today several leading voices are looking to creativity to understand work. Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making grounds a theology of work in both our identity as sub-creators and cultivators of God’s world. Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work spends no less than three chapters chewing on the creation narrative.  Marketing Guru Seth Godin believes the most exciting work is found in “art” – doing something unpredictable, brave, and un-chartered. Even the staunchly atheistic Ayn Rand saw the centrality of creativity to human work:

“Whether it’s a symphony of a coal mine, all work is an act of creating, and comes from the same source…the capacity to see, to connect and make what had not been seen, connected and made before.”

I work in an office. On some days, I find myself checking email every other hour, bouncing between websites, and meandering the halls of my school. I come home utterly exhausted, feeling like old Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Other days I plan my schedule, start and finish significant projects, and come home brimming over with energy for my kids. What is the difference the two days? Sustained, creative work.

Re-centering on God the Creator

Far too many churches see faith and work ministries as an optional add-on. But when viewed through the lens of the doctrine of God the Creator, integrating faith and work becomes central. We are reflections of the God who weaved together atom and galaxy, desert and DNA. Our impulse to create and work comes from bearing the image of the Maker. In a world where most work is seen merely as a means to money or leisure, the mandate to create human culture (Gen. 1:28) as a fulfillment of our very reason for being (Eph. 2:10) becomes ever more pressing. The need for joyful, satisfying work beats in the human heart. This is precisely why unemployment is so distressing. All of us, from the elderly to small children, are made to make. My four-year old daughter declares this truth when I pick her up from preschool: “Daddy, look what I painted for you today.”

A renewed commitment to teaching about God the Creator can also give deep hope to so many who despair over their jobs.  Again Sayers writes,

Far too many people in this country seem to go about only half alive. All their existence is an effort to escape from what they are doing. And the inevitable result of this is a boredom, a lack of purpose, a passivity which eats life away at the heart and a disillusionment which prompts men to ask what life is all about.

When people hate their work, or perceive it as a necessary drudgery that gets them to the weekend, they go about “half alive” and often fall into a trap of boredom and meaninglessness.   But the biblical story is founded in a Creator who works for sheer delight, and is making all things new. When Lion - God the Spiritthis narrative is applied to writing lesson plans or building clinics, a renewed motivation for culture making can bring about a deep happiness to even the most mundane task. It may even bring about the cultural renewal.

As I came out of my trance staring at Jake Weidmann’s three lions during a break at the Q Conference, I took a look outside the window. The rising sun lit up the Rocky Mountains in the distance, and sprinkled its warmth on the flock of cars filing into Denver. As I sat at my table and prepared for the next presenter, I quietly wondered what life would look like if we viewed work not as a job, but as an act of creation.

 

 

CultureTheology

Between NPR and K-LOVE

I often find myself divided when driving in the car. Should I turn my radio to NPR or to K-LOVE? Most days I find myself compelled to listen to both.

NPR (National Public Radio) is my daily connection to the world. News, author interviews, Science Friday – to me, the life of the world is beautiful, and immensely important to God. Whether it be education (my own field) or the latest research in brain research (certainly not my field), this is where real human life is found.

But if I listen to NPR exclusively, I become worn out, feeling kind of thin, like old Bilbo Baggins, “like butter scraped over too much bread.” The sad secular monks who fill the airwaves of NPR have knowledge, but most don’t have hope, a reason to dance. Frankly, most days I need a reason to dance.

So, I turn to K-LOVE. The praise and worship songs (most of them, anyway), give me hope. Christ is resurrected from the dead, and the song of the redeemed spurs on the people of God. Yet if I listen only to K-LOVE, I begin to wonder what’s happening in God’s world, the world that he so loves (John 3:16).

And so I flip between NPR and K-LOVE, knowing my home is in another country, yet I’m called to this world at this time and in this place. It’s this tension that leads me to yearn for a way to bring K-LOVE into NPR, that is, to bring the gospel into fields like education, science, politics, and art.

But how might we actually do that?

My favorite author, Lesslie Newbigin, believes this intentional equipping of the saints to serve well in their secular work is a part of the mission of the church.

“The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world. The preaching and teaching of the local church has to be such that it enables members to think out the problems that face them in their secular work in light of the Christian faith. This is very difficult…There is need for ‘frontier groups,’ groups of Christians working in the same sectors of public life, meeting to thrash out the controversial issues of their business or profession in light of their faith.”

One way we can intentionally live on the “frontier” between the private world of religion (K-LOVE) and the public world of politics, education, art and business (NPR) is by joining with small groups of Christians who can work out the problems of their field in light of the gospel. In these small groups conversations are hosted that can help to heal the public/private divide, and can help to unify our commitment to the gospel with our commitment to the life of the world.

Discussion questions: Do you prefer NPR or K-LOVE (or something else)? Have you ever met in a “frontier group” that discusses the problems/opportunities of your field in light of the gospel? If so, how did it go?

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Theology

Work and Ecclesiastes

The author of Ecclesiastes understood work. His career was an unparalleled success, yet half way through his life, he came crashing to earth. His lessons from the top are just as applicable today as they were 3,000 years ago.

Many believe King Solomon to be Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes.

Many believe King Solomon to be Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes.

Qoheleth (“the teacher” of Ecclesiastes) did some of the most significant work of his day:

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees…”

From public works to sprawling homes, Qoheleth was a builder. Yet he found his work utterly meaningless.

“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

He hated life, despite enormous professional success and wealth. What could lead to this gnawing despair? He goes on to explain:

“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.”

After amassing wealth and professional success, he realized that all he had accumulated would be left to someone else – gardens, homes, money, flocks, all of it. His work led to despair because he originally saw it as a means to accumulation. Working only for money, homes, or public prestige led to despair when he began to consider his looming death. He could not take all his money with him after death; what had he ultimately gained?

Qoheleth, however, recognized there was another way of looking at work that led to happiness.

“People can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil. This, too, I see is from the hand of God.”

There are two view of work operating here, one that leads to despair, the other that leads to life.

(1) Work is primarily a means to accumulating wealth. We work for big 401(k)s, new cars, second homes, and flat screen TVs. These are the real goals, why we take certain jobs and work overtime.

(2) Work has inherent value, and can be enjoyable in itself. Here, we work to make something beautiful, excellent, and worthwhile – to meet a real need of our neighbor.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who spent time in New York City. “In New York,” he said, “People live to work.” People move to New York to work – and achieve. In Denver, however, the attitude is different. “Here people work, but mostly just in anticipation of the weekends. This city, so in love with the outdoors and the mountains, is based on recreation. Work is just what we have to get to the slopes (on the 10k race) on the weekends.”

In NYC, work itself can become an idol – a source of meaning and identity. In Denver, work more closely approximates the view that led Qoheleth to despair. Work is a means for accumulation, in our case, to recreate on the weekends.

The biblical story tells the story of a God who does 6 days of joyful, satisfying work, and rests on 1 day. We find our peace at work when we work hard, and do work of inherent value (not just monetary value), for 6 days, and yet never make it an idol by obeying the command to cease work for a day.

Discussion question: Which view is more prevalent in your field: work as a means for accumulation, or work as inherently valuable?

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Theology

Mixing Faith and Work

every_good_endeavor_sm2_thumbAmericans spend more hours working per week than any other developed nation. Work defines many of us. Yet it’s rare that churches will intentionally talk about work on Sunday. Tim Keller wrote a new book on this topic that I recently reviewed for Comment Magazine. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Dutton, 2012) is theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom. Here’s the first section of my review:

When British missionary Lesslie Newbigin returned from the mission field in 1974, he was often asked, “What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?” He always responded, “The disappearance of hope.” During the forty years he spent in India, the West had lost a sense of direction. The idea of progress, so strong in the 1930s, now seemed cliché. Adrift in a sea of pluralism, many youth became little more than isolated individuals pursuing personal gain. Ministers and academics began to question how to address this hope-starved generation. American sociologist Robert Bellah proposed a humble remedy: “To make a real difference . . . [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.”

Today a renaissance of the idea of vocation has planted seeds of hope throughout Western cities. There have been few more integral to this movement than Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Since 1989, Keller’s writing, preaching, and teaching have impacted thousands. Now Keller, arguably the most culturally influential evangelical alive, has published his masterwork on faith, work, and culture. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work is theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom. Drawing on decades of study and ministry, Every Good Endeavor may soon become one of the most important contemporary books on faith and work. Continue reading…

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Theology

Made in the Image of the Maker

Dorothy Sayers, one of the 20th century’s most profound thinkers on the topic of theology and work, once wrote: “Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.”

We are made in the image of God the Creator, and we share a creative impulse, the desire to work and ‘make things,’ with God himself.

Most theologies of work tend to focus on  the three “e”s: excellence, ethics, and evangelism. But the heart of work is not any of these: it is creativity. At least that’s what I argue in a recent sermon at my friend Mike Wright’s church in Littleton. Here’s a link to my sermon.

PoliticsTheology

Strangers Next Door

ImageWhat’s the best mission strategy to reach the nations for Christ? J.D. Payne, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says your best bet is to reach migrants. I recently reviewed his book Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission for the October print issue of Christianity Today. Here’s an excerpt:

David Boyd, a pastor from the suburbs of Sydney, sat on the floor of a smoke-filled room in rural Nepal, and spoke to the village elders through his interpreter and friend Gam. Peppered with questions about the “Jesus way,” he marveled at the opportunity to share the gospel with this unreached people group, a privilege denied to previous missionaries. How was this unlikely door opened? It wasn’t through a short-term missions trip or a Western missionary, but through Gam, a Nepalese migrant who became a Christian at Boyd’s church in Sydney.

J. D. Payne, professor of evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wants to show the West that God is orchestrating the movements of migrants like Gam to help fulfill the Great Commission. Whereas other recent books about immigration have focused on political or ethical debates, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission (InterVarsity) instead seeks to educate Westerners about the tidal wave of migrants coming to the West, and so challenge them to reach one of the world’s most important (and overlooked) mission fields.

The statistics of migration alone are enough to give pause for reflection…(more)

Theology

Book Review of Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters

I recently published a short book review in Christianity Today of Thomas McCall’s Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters (IVP Academic).

ImageJesus’ lonely cry on the cross—”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—has bewildered Christians for centuries. Does this mean the Trinity was broken at Calvary? Or worse, did God kill his own Son? Tackling tough topics ranging from determinism to divine wrath, Thomas McCall denounces contemporary theologies that pit God against God in favor of solidly biblical and Trinitarian views of the Atonement. As a collection of systematic theology essays, the book doesn’t dazzle, but its brevity, clarity, and balanced perspective make Forsaken worth reading.

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