As a young girl I used to attend Sunday school and church every week, outfitted in a fancy dress and shiny shoes, with my hair combed and parted more-or-less straight down the middle. I watched and listened as godly gray-haired women shared, via flannel graph, stories about Old Testament patriarchs and of Jesus and his disciples. I snacked on animal crackers served on brown paper towels and Hawaiian Punch served in Dixie Cups. And I thought every other child spent Sunday in exactly the same way.
Imagine my surprise in learning some of my friends didn’t even go to church. Ever.
When I was a college student, I thought it important to connect with fellow believers on campus in order to continue to learn and grow in my faith. I wandered from one campus fellowship group to another, usually motivated by which one had the coolest music or the best-looking guys. I blame my lack of maturity and discernment in these matters on being young, immature, and lacking in discernment.
Despite my motivations as a young, self-absorbed college student, I was fortunate to have wandered into the midst of rich teaching about the idea of connecting faith, work, and every area of my life. I found myself among a group of college students taught by a young campus minister who wove all my familiar Sunday school stories into a single narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. He introduced me to ideas about calling and vocation and the ways Christians can, in any field of work, participate in this grand story. When I graduated from college, I assumed all mature Christians instinctively understood and believed these things.
Imagine my surprise when I learned otherwise.
For the past few weeks, I have been participating in a conversation at The High Calling about these same ideas as articulated by Tim Keller in his book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. Byron Borger, owner and bookseller at Hearts and Minds Books today concludes the discussion about Keller’s book, and I find myself wanting the conversation to continue. There is so much packed into these last four chapters, and I’ve been reminded of how novel these ideas sound for many within the church.
After having considered God’s good plan for work which was woven into creation, and the problems introduced by the presence of sin in the world, the final section of Keller’s book turns to the good news of the gospel which is able to transform our work into participation in God’s work of restoration. The gospel, says Keller, provides a new story for understanding one’s work. Viewing all of life from within the story of God’s work of redeeming and restoring all things allows one to look squarely into the reality of the way things are, and then imagine what can and will be. However, says Keller, “If you get the story wrong, your response will be wrong.”
During the recent Jubilee Conference, I listened as Nicole Baker Fulghum, founder and president of The Expectations Project, described how the gospel story shapes her work within the field of public education. Fulghum rattled off a disturbing, but not surprising, list of statistics regarding inequities which persist among low income and minority students. “Schools,” Fulghum said, “are full of kids with thwarted purposes.”
Rooted in the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, Fulghum believes hope exists for a different possibility, a different outcome for these children. Through her work with Teach for America, Fulghum witnessed the difference a teacher can make by believing in the potential of each child created in the image of God. She invites followers of Christ to participate in God’s work of casting a better vision for public education, laboring among these young image bearers, and advocating for the good of all students.
I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to be introduced to these ideas during my college years, and to have attended the Jubilee Conference to hear stories of those who put these concepts into practice. I wish this conversation about Keller’s book wasn’t coming to an end. I need to revisit this conversation often because I continue to struggle with putting these ideas about faith and work into practice. Even as I type this post I find myself battling my own idols, wondering about the value of my efforts and how they might connect to God’s work of advancing his kingdom.
Fortunately Keller concludes his book with a description of practical steps his church has taken to lead its members toward integrating their faith and work. Perhaps others will read his words and be moved to continue the conversation.
Click here for more reflections on Tim Keller’s book over at The High Calling.
Related: Be sure to check out this post by my friend (and Jubilee roommate!) Laura Boggess–about meeting Byron Borger. And although the above link leads to Keller’s book listing on Amazon, might I encourage you, if interested, to purchase a copy from Byron at Hearts and Minds?