Jeff Haanen




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?


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…


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.


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)


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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