by Rod D. Martin
January 2, 2014
The following email is turning into a bit of an essay. I am jet-lagged from a week in China. It’s 3:16am (fittingly enough) and I apologize for unloading this much on you out of the blue. But I think you’ll find it worthwhile, and if not, I can certainly benefit from your correction.
I see that your ministry is beating on the “prosperity gospel,” and rightly so.
However, I’ve been increasingly disturbed by the greater and opposite tendency in the church toward a “poverty gospel,” one that exalts the lack of wealth, tends toward Liberation Theology at the edges, and robs Christ’s people of much of their purpose while infusing them with a heart of covetousness.
I see these as two sides of one sin-centered coin. Both are equally man-centric, both are equally Satan-empowering.
That being said, and I think Wayne Grudem would agree (but it is my formulation, and I take responsibility for it should it need correcting), what we term capitalism is not merely necessary in consequence of God’s laws regarding theft and covetousness (not to mention His dislike of nationalizations: see e.g. Naboth), it is something quite more: it is the societal level fulfillment of the Golden Rule. For in every other system wealth is accumulated by theft and coercion; but in capitalism, one cannot even think of making a penny without first considering someone else’s problems, creatively solving them, and then persuading them that their proposed solution is both worthwhile and worthy of paying for. I am not by this suggesting that everything which calls itself “capitalism” is right, any more than you might suggest that everything calling itself “marriage” or “worship” is right. I am simply stating both the ideal and it’s logical conclusion: that not only has God regulated the affairs of men, but that He has done so coherently, comprehensively and consistently throughout. There is no end to His wisdom.
Personally as you know, I feel quite strongly that the old idea of the Cultural Mandate is correct — regardless of eschatology — and that we are privileged to be co-creators with our Father, perhaps like five year ol’s in Daddy’s garage “helping” fix his car, but co-workers with Him nonetheless. I don’t think this is incidental: I think that like common and special grace, the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission are the common and special calls upon all flesh. I think He did not make the world idly: He had great purpose in its physical reality and not only its spiritual, and this is evidenced in many ways but not least in His repudiation of Greek asceticism and His resurrection of the body, a perfected body — like the ones lost at the Fall — which we will wear forever in glory. And He is fulfilling His physical plans for His creation as surely as He is redeeming His race of men, who through their redemption will be better and better able to complete what He began before Eden.
Having said that, I think in addition to the failings of the prosperity and poverty “gospels,” the church is prone — led by well-meaning but human clergy as it is — to see God’s work as entirely that of evangelism and discipleship, and that entirely of men called to Gospel ministry (and those they can talk into helping them, generally seen as intellectually and otherwise inferior for their lack of an M.Div). And I think this completely denies the concept of diversity in the Body: all vocations other than the inherently sinful ones are callings, and many of them do or could in theory achieve more good than the average pastor, with no disrespect toward him or diminution of his dignity. The physician is certainly such a minister; so is the inventor of the polio vaccine he uses (and this is true, as with Nebuchadnezzer, regardless of whether he intentionally serves Christ). So is the gas station owner for that matter, as well as the dot-com guy, politician or poet:
1. Their work pushes back the effects of the Curse.
2. God has made them precisely to do these works, for Himself and for His people.
3. In working successfully, they earn money which funds the church’s ministry (which I hasten to add, the church does not and cannot do for itself).
4. In working successfully, they earn money which sustains themselves — also something the church does not and cannot do — and expands their ability to serve others: whether for-profit or not-for-profit, provision of goods and services (or donation of money, goods or time) is service just the same.
5. In working successfully, they employ people who otherwise might be charity cases for an overburdened church, and as they grow they increase their ability to do so.
6. In employing these people, they have a five or more day per week ministry to them — assuming their church leaders disciple them to act in this way — that can be far more intensive and practical in scope than any church can match.
7. In thinking this way, the church gives men meaning and dignity which they currently largely lack; men begin to see Christ in all things and thus to submit all things to Him; and the Earth is filled increasingly with His Gospel, goodness and glory. Amen.
It is that last bit I (obviously) think terribly important. Men do not believe the church is providing them with meaning. It’s an age-old, painfully obvious point about which most pastors live in denial. They rail against the “idolatry” of bass boats and golf courses (which is itself problematic: no one is worshiping these things, but rather like Eve themselves; and this 1950s-esque metaphorical use of the term “idolatry” deadens the church to the real thing, which is increasingly prevalent in our nation. But this is a discussion for another day.), while failing to consider whether in fact some of them offer men very little that’s worth giving up their leisure. A “sermon” filled with Precious Moments platitudes? Bad attempts at rock music by self-obsessed musicians? If the church is nothing but entertainment, there is better to be found; and if more than that but less than applicable to real men’s lives, the men will leave church to their women as they have done for centuries past.
We need to reclaim the fullness of the Gospel, which is not less than but not only the redemption of men, but their redemption to a purpose: the reaching of the lost yes, but also the renewing of all things, the pushing back of the curse, and the alleviation of the frustration to which all Creation has been made subject by sin.
God has proclaimed everyone’s calling sacred. Why don’t we agree?
Speaking as a Christian entrepreneur, I want to address these issues, as in fact I just did while keynoting the National Creativity Forum in Beijing (they got more than they bargained for). I believe must awaken what we (too condescendingly for many) call laymen to the fullness of their callings, and awaken the church to the fullness of the resources God has given it, too often now idle, for thinking His thoughts after Him and doing them, in every sphere.
Do you have any thoughts about this? I miss you, and would greatly enjoy any comments or ideas you might have.