The following post is the final installment in a six-part series on worldview and work taken from Darrow Miller’s new book LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day.
The modern evangelical church, instead of providing a worldview that will challenge the tragic impoverishment of the animistic and materialistic paradigms, has largely withdrawn from public life and abandoned the culture and the marketplace. In reaction to the advancement of the secular worldview into modern society, much of the leadership of the church in the early twentieth century abandoned the biblical worldview for a Christian version of an ancient dualistic worldview that divides the universe between the spiritual realm, which is good and holy, and the physical realm, which is evil and profane. The results are familiar to most of us.
The perceived split between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the physical worlds, has taken on two forms in Christian thinking about work: the “higher calling” and the “place for spiritual outreach.” The first manifestation of this dualistic thinking among Christians is a desire for a higher calling. According to this mentality, it is best to leave the secular arena and go into the spiritual arena so we can be “full-time Christian workers.” Only evangelists, church planters, pastors, missionaries, and theologians are doing full-time Christian work according to this view, because only these kinds of work are spiritual. The “helping professions” (social workers, charity workers, counselors, etc.) rank a close second to “full-time ministry.” On the other hand, accounting, carpentry, filmmaking, the arts, farming, and homemaking are secular activities and thus lower activities. They are less spiritual. So Christians will leave the workplace because their desire is to be more spiritual. When Christians don’t go out as missionaries but remain in their communities to do the “secular” work they did before they were Christians, they are often made to feel guilty.
The second concept holds that the secular workplace is a place for spiritual outreach. The idea is that if we can’t be full-time Christian workers, we should do spiritual activity in our workplaces. According to this mindset, having Bible studies and prayer meetings in the workplace justifies our existence as Christians who are not in missions. It allows us to function in this lower realm because we are bringing the higher realm into the lower realm. But this reasoning is still framed by the unbiblical dichotomy, the sense of living in two worlds. It is not only in the area of profession that Christians struggle with living in two worlds but also in the area of deployment. When we see a division between so-called spiritual and secular work, working overseas becomes the higher deployment. Working at home is the lower deployment. Many Christians feel guilty for not working overseas, because that is the higher calling. Staying home is to be a second-class Christian.
But really we can’t win. When we accept this unbiblical thinking, going overseas isn’t enough. According to some, working in the 10/40 Window or among unreached people groups is the most spiritual, while other cross-cultural missions are only second best. All of this teaching is a reflection of an unbiblical paradigm that has left individuals mere shadows of what God intends, the church largely disengaged from culture, communities mired in poverty, and nations undiscipled. There have never been more Christians or churches in the world than there are today. Over the past fifty years there has been an unprecedented push on evangelism, church planting, and church growth. In many parts of the world we have been very successful at what we have set out to do: save souls, plant churches, and develop megachurches. But to what end? Material poverty still reigns in developing countries that have been evangelized; meanwhile, moral and spiritual poverty reign in the “Christian” West.
In many parts of the world where the church is growing, the growth is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” It has forgotten its function of being salt and light in society, of bringing the kingdom of God to life and light in the everyday street and marketplace, and when needed, to be a prophetic voice. In this forgetting, the church has become largely impotent.
We are faced with this dire situation in the moment of unprecedented opportunity. Communism has collapsed around the world. The materialistic paradigm has been found seriously wanting in the West, feeding the body but not the soul, so that amidst all of our relative wealth, even luxury, there are increasing signs of human distress. Meanwhile the church is facing great challenge, even to its existence in places, and Islam is growing around the world. The world is longing for a vibrant Christianity, one that addresses the profound moral, spiritual, social, economic, and political crises facing much of the world.
Why is the church unprepared to respond? Because the Christian’s life and work have been separated both from their foundation in the biblical worldview and from the end to which all of life moves—the kingdom of God. Without a transcendent framework that speaks to all areas of life, our life purpose is truncated to dying to go to heaven. We’ve lost the larger framework in which it is understood that our lives and work are in relationship—in relationship to God through worship, to others through service, and to creation through stewardship. Our lives and work have largely been separated from their mission, and this ultimately stems from a loss of the biblical worldview. When we’ve succumbed to dualistic thinking, the majority of each of our lives—the supposedly “secular” part—is informed by the impoverishing worldviews of our culture, by elements of the materialism and animism described above, rather than by the truth witnessed to in Scripture.
How has the church of Jesus Christ, and so many of us individually, arrived in this powerless place? In the next chapter we’ll trace the roots of dualism in our Christian heritage so that we can move beyond this damaging paradigm once and for all and truly hear God when he says to us and all humankind, “Come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:3; italics added). Life—every aspect, every day of the week, personally and corporately—is found in the God who created and sustains heaven and earth and all that is in them. Dualism, as we’ll see in the next chapters and throughout this book, is antithetical to the Christian faith and untrue to reality.
We invite you to explore our new website, www.MondayChurch.org where you can learn more about Darrow’s new book, LifeWork: A Biblical Theology of Vocation, as well as discover a host of resources to help you connect your work with the Biblical worldview.