If you are like me, every so often you come across a book that really “brings things together” for you and opens new horizons. One of those books for me is a book by R. Paul Stevens called The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective.
Two years ago I lead a book discussion group at church using this book and two years later people are asking me about questions this book raised for them. I recommended it to a friend who is nearing retirement age a few months ago. He got the book and it sat on a shelf for months before he began to read it. He pulled me off to the side after church a couple of weeks ago and explained to me how for the first time he understood what significance his work had in God’s eyes. As I relate Steven’s ideas in other settings I nearly always see light bulbs going on.
These experiences provoke deep emotions in me. First, I have struggled with issues like vocation, the nature of the Church, and the meaning of everyday practical living, my entire life. Steven’s work has clarified and connected a number of things for me and it is a joy for me to see the light bulb go off in other people’s heads as I share what I have learned with them. Frankly, I think Steven’s has a clearer idea of where the Emerging Church needs to go than most people who are lauded as Emerging Church leaders.
The second emotion that these experiences provoke in me is anger. Yes, anger. It makes me angry that the universal call of God to humanity to be creation stewards (i.e., making creation and human existence more bountiful through co-creative work with God) has been made a peripheral concern. The central mission of the Church is neither evangelism nor social justice. The central mission of the Church is an earth filled with God’s image-bearers exercising creation stewardship in community with God and with each other.
Evangelism and social action are tools toward realizing the vision of restored shalom. The institutions of the Church are temporal tools that will fade when Christ returns to consummate his work in the world and fully establish the New Creation. Yet we have moved that which is secondary (evangelism, social action, and institutional preoccupation) to the center and moved that which is central (living as stewards of creation in community) to the periphery. We have all sorts of measures for “souls saved” and justice marches attended, but where are the measures that say someone has moved closer to becoming a creation steward living in community with God and with others? In fact, some segments of the Church actually work to marginalize creation stewards. “Full-time” Christian service is what someone with credentials from a seminary does. The work of an accountant, sales clerk, delivery driver, business owner, or homemaker are all work we do that is somehow either disconnected from serving God or is merely conceptualized as a staging ground for evangelism and social action. Because of this, countless Christians are shut off from seeing the place of their daily labors in light of eternity and paralyzed from being able to help others make the connection in their daily lives.
I have decided to blog my way through The Other Six Days. I never tire of revisiting this material and I hope maybe I can encourage others to confront the challenges Stevens raises. I expect to start sometime late next week. I will do multiple short posts on some chapters instead of lengthy chapter summaries like I have done with some past book discussions. I also expect to do a post that is a personal testimony about why I think the issues in this book are so important. If you are so inclined, I you will drop in now and again for some discussion.