Still Bearing Fruit

In recent years there have been a number of books published on the topic of aging, dying, and the Christian faith.  No doubt, this is to meet the needs and to answer the questions of an aging church in the West and to help those in the latter half of life respond to spiritual concerns about growing older.  While there are other books that examine the spirituality of the second half of life (Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward readily comes to mind), R. Paul Stevens takes a more unique approach in that his book relates primarily to the question of what one’s calling is in later life, and especially after one retires.

The book is broken up into three sections and the first part deals solely with calling.  The first chapter is notable for it’s argument that retirement is not a biblical concept, in that in the ancient world one had to work as long as one was able.  After a brief history of how retirement came about, the chapter one looks at how retirement can be a catalyst for growth and of a broader and more biblical concept of calling. While Stevens does not suggest we should not retire, his emphasis is that the idea of idling one’s remaining days in self-leisure is not a Scriptural notion and that one can still contribute to society, even if one is not receiving remuneration.  This last point is addressed in more detail in the second chapter as the concept of calling is explained and some guidelines on late-life calling are provided.  And the third chapter takes a closer look at some Scriptural examples of those who lived out their late-life calling faithfully, with special emphasis on Abraham and Jacob.

The second part of the book reflects on the spirituality that comes with aging.  Here, I felt the book had some similarities to Richard Rohr’s book, especially in chapter four where midlife is viewed as a time of transition from doing to being, and from living to accomplish much to living into a more contemplative lifestyle.  Stevens lists a few ways that aging provides opportunities for us to grow spiritually.  The next two chapters detail the potential vices and virtues that arise as one grows older.Aging Matters

The third section looks at how one’s calling affects others beyond one’s death in what we refer to as “legacy”.  Chapter seven is about different facets of one’s legacy, including factors to consider when bequeathing a monetary legacy.  There were two things that stood out for me in this chapter that are not talked about often enough: one’s non-monetary legacy, to include out investment in other people and how that affect our relatives for good or bad even after we are gone, and the importance of writing a living will.  The next chapter, chapter eight, is about preparing for death by reviewing the life we have lived and along that review to enable us to “finish well”.  And the last chapter looks forward to what we can expect in the life, in the new heaven and new earth, and does so by way of clearing some misunderstandings on the nature of death and on Scripture says about our life after death.

Overall, this was a welcome book to the growing bodies of literature on calling and on aging.  While some, perhaps much, of it was already familiar to me, I think Stevens did a great job at exploring the intersection of calling and the spirituality of aging.  He draws upon and interacts with some interesting thinkers in this area, some of who were familiar to me, including Catholic Richard Rohr and Jewish Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and some who were unfamiliar, such as psychiatrist Paul Tournier.  I think one of the best features of the book was the Scripture studies at the end of each chapter.  One of the studies that impacted me most was Jacob’s blessing of his grandchildren upon his deathbed.  Having practiced vision divina with an artist’s rendering of that scene and knowing Jacob’s history, as one who stole his brother’s birthright and blessing, made it a very impacting study on aging, calling, and gaining wisdom from one’s mistakes.  Ultimately, Stevens, who has written a number of books on calling and the workplace from a faith perspective, and who is also in the third third of his life, draws upon a lifetime of wisdom and experience.  To the extent that this book passes on his accumulated wisdom to the next generations, I would say he has embodied the generativity that he wrote about in this book.

Why I Didn’t Go to Seminary

If my last blog post could be summed up in the phrase, “He is there and He is not silent”, then I would summarize this one with the phrase “All truth is God’s Truth.” After I was exposed to the notion that all of reality is imbued with the presence and glory of God, it began to sink in that if there is any truth to be found, no matter where it is from, then that Truth is from God.  While the false dichotomies from the last blog post include the Sacred/secular, another false, but common dichotomy, is that of Faith versus reason.  Often, Scripture is maintained and believed in although it seems to conflict with what reason and science tells us is really the case.

It is important to recognize that Scripture affirms truths from the natural world.  As Psalm 19:1-3 testifies, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge.  There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard.”  Similarly, Romans 1:20 reveals that the truths of the natural world communicate something about God’s nature when it states that “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made.”  From these passages it can be concluded that the truths in the material world of nature, science, human relations, and behaviors does not ultimately conflict with Scriptural truths, but rather confirms (and is confirmed by) Scripture.

But if God has spoken through the natural world in what is often called general or natural revelation, then that means that truth discovered in this realm is just as important as theological knowledge or the truths found in Scripture.  While truths discovered through nature and reason may not be able to tell us about God and how we should relate to Him, hence the reason that God provided knowledge of Himself through Scripture and preeminently in His own incarnation through Jesus Christ, the fact that God created the world in an orderly and knowable fashion implies that He meant for us to discover the delights of the universe and delight in such truth.

So we can be assured that not only has God revealed knowledge of Himself through Scripture, but as the Creator of everything in existence we can also affirm that all truth about the natural world comes from Him as well.  All truth is God’s Truth, whether it be found in the natural or social sciences, in business and economics, or the arts and humanities.  Therefore, apparent contradictions between Scripture and reason need not be occasions for a crisis of faith as we can rest in the knowledge that there is a consistency between Scripture and the natural world, even if such reconciliation takes some time and intellectual work.

Scripture itself provides an account for the origin of such apparent inconsistencies when it describes the fall of humans from their proper relationship with God.  We have sought to go our own way and the result has been that our cognitive faculties have been impacted as well.  We are not always able to discern truth from falsehood without the grace of God and the general activity of the Holy Spirit to keep humankind from completely abandoning reason altogether.  Therefore, our understanding of different areas of life and academic disciplines can be subject to false theories and interpretations.

However, as I began to grow in the idea that all truth is God’s Truth and that knowledge from the natural world is just as important as the knowledge that God gave to us through His Word, I started to become convinced that a life engaged in pursuing truth in business and other disciplines can be just as fulfilling as studying truth from God’s Word.  In fact, as we interact with ideas in different disciplines through the lens of a biblical framework, not only does Scripture provide a redeemed perspective of that discipline, it also transforms our understanding of Scripture and human flourishing.

Let me give you one example from my own academic area of study of business and economics.  We all know that the purpose of business is to make profit, right?  That is a common theory in business: the main reason for the existence of business is to create jobs and return a profit.  As Jeff Van Duzer, author of Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to be Fixed) summarizes, “In most business schools today and in most corporations…the sole legitimate purpose of business is said to be maximizing profits for the sake of the shareholders”.2  This perspective of the purpose of business is very utilitarian.  I suggest it stems from a Darwinian perspective of survival of the fittest in which businesses with the most money continue to survive, and to some extent, this is the way businesses work.  Receiving a return on investment is critical for the survival of businesses.  But as is noted in an article Van Duzer cites from: “To turn shareholders’ needs into a purpose is to be guilty of logical confusion, to mistake a necessary condition for a sufficient one.”3

In the book an alternative view is presented in that “as stewards of God’s creation, business leaders should manage their businesses (1) to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and (2) to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity”.4  This is a subtle difference.  Profit is still necessary, but it is not the end goal, the telos, of business.  Rather, helping communities to flourish by meeting tangible needs and providing meaningful work is the primary goal.  Not only is this approach more Scriptural in that it views the person, creation, and institutions more holistically, it also impacts our theology.  God is not separate from our work and, in fact, our work is to be a means of being co-laborers with God as we work to create a more flourishing society and culture.  This doesn’t always happen, but that is why we need a view of business that lifts it up above the mud and mire of greedy and corrupt business-men and women.

So what does this have to do with my not going to seminary?  Well, it began to occur to me that I don’t have to go to seminary to learn truth.  Of course, we need those who will expound on the truths found in Scripture.  But we also need those who have the vision of applying those truths to the rest of life as well.  If we fail to do so, we will continue to live with a dichotomous view of truth that bifurcates reason and belief, and of reality which splits into sacred and secular.

When I came upon the opportunity to go to seminary, I had already graduated with an undergraduate degree in business.  Although seminary appealed to me and my love of learning theological truths, I could not envision a life beyond that.  Neither the role of pastor or pastoral counselor or urban ministry leader or what-have-you was something I felt called to do.  Rather, the challenge of living out my faith in the everyday working world alongside those who do and do not hold my view of the world held more promise and excitement for me than feeling segregated among those who more or less think the same way I do, aside from debating the finer points of theology.  I do not wish to minimize the role of those called to full-time ministry.  We need such people to follow their own callings.  But I was able to discern, however subtly, that such was not my path, making it no less a calling from God.

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1 I couldn’t remember where the statement, “All truth is God’s Truth”, came from.  I thought it was from the late Reformed theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer as it seemed similar to the following quote from him which was used by Nancy Pearcey as the epigraph to her book: “Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital ‘T.’  Truth is about total reality, not just about religious things” Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2004), p. 15.  After doing a quick online search, I discovered it is either a direct quotation or a summary of Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest thinkers in Christian thought.  I also discovered a number of web pages that are critical of the statement, which came as a surprise to me, but from what I read their criticisms seemed to be aimed more at the way in which the quote is appropriated by some Christians to justify adherence to theories or beliefs they disagree with rather than take issue with the idea that God is the source and origin of all truth.

2 Jeff Van Duzer, Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to be Fixed) (Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2010), p. 45.

3 Charles Handy, “What’s a Business For?” Harvard Business Review 80, no. 12 (2002): 51, cited in ibid., p. 46.

4 Ibid., p. 42.

“You Also”

Vineyard Workers near Rüdesheim am RheinSpend a few minutes with the above photo.  With this picture, you will want to expand it by clicking on it.  What do you notice?  What are your eyes drawn toward?  Notice the vines.  The workers.  The containers.  The retaining walls.  What might God be trying to say to you through this image?

In the Good News of Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard workers.  He compares the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard, where the landowner went to a marketplace several times during a day and invited those without work to work in his vineyard.

“Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them” (Matthew 20:5-7).

Reflect on that passage for a moment.  How does it speak into your life?  How does it change your view of the photo above?  How might the knowledge that “you also” have been invited to join in the exciting promise of God’s kingdom affect how you see your Monday mornings?

A little later, as Jesus continues his parable, the vineyard “told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first'” (v. 8).

I like to think of “the last” as being “the least”.  Seen in that way, how might the knowledge that you also have been called impact how you treat the least in your life?  At work?  At church?  In your home?