One of the challenges facing Christians in many contemporary contexts is how to talk about our faith that Jesus is Lord and Saviour to the people we encounter at work. There may be several basic reasons why it's difficult:
- Secularist attitudes (or even legislation) discourage it.
- We sense that it's inappropriate to share our faith using contact that arises from professional positions such as lecturing, consulting, etc.
- We don't know how to make this Gospel seem relevant to those around us.
If we believe that Jesus' kingdom really is coming and is the answer to all kinds of affliction, injustice and indeed the threat of eternal condemnation, then quietism isn't an option. But each of the above challenges needs meeting in a different way. Items 1 and 2 raise important questions about our view of secularism, while item 3 raises an even bigger question about the message of the Gospel itself.
Secularity without secularism?
As regards secularism, we need to realise that there's no neutral ground, and if Christian values are marginalised in the public square, then values from some other source must have taken their place. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Secularity itself - in the sense of differentiating the authority structure of the church from those of the state, business, etc. - surely brings blessings (according to the vision of the Christian statesman Abraham Kuyper). But those blessings expire at the point where these structures are supposed to become the sole domain of certain interests, like religious, political, or economic. Churches should be separate from the state and also not run as businesses, but faith and ideology cannot be kept out of politics or economics (as also seems clear from the Bible). We could champion 'secularity without secularism' - known in Kuyper's tradition as 'sphere sovereignty'.
What about the gospel message itself? Sphere sovereignty here means that we must never accept the easy assumption that the Kingdom of God is irrelevant to our work. If it is, we shouldn't be doing the work! Here I'm urging a broad view of why Jesus was incarnate in the first place (and I highly recommend Richard Middleton's A New Heaven and A New Earth, which I'm currently reading). I've always had some generic ways to link my ecological research to God's kingdom, but now I'm excited to be part of some projects with a Christian philosophical element - in ecology, in conservation, and in research methods. We're not preaching through these, but we are trying to work out perspectives that come from a Christian worldview. So I'm delighted when colleagues ask me about these projects, which may lead to fruitful conversations on hard secularist ground. Every so often I discover or suspect that someone I'm talking to has abandoned Christian faith earlier in life, and I pray that God may be drawing them on. A holistic gospel is crucial for such conversations.
A holistic Gospel
A while ago I was discussing with a friend how some Christian groups appear to 'go liberal'. Despite starting with a fervour for sharing the gospel alongside some other interest like humanitarian aid or Christian perspectives on science, politics or art, after some years they seem to lose the evanglistic fervour. But, speaking candidly, I suspect that the same thing has happened to me personally, if I compare my undergraduate interest in evangelism 15 years ago, as an active Christian Union member, with what I seem to do now. I don't suppose I'm alone in this...
But perhaps this is partly due to not recognising the breadth of God's claim on people's lives in the first place. His kingdom challenges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, for obedience to Christ in every area of life. So the challenge must be to conceive all of my life as meaningful response to Christ's call - whether it be filling out forms, marking, analysing data or speaking.
As 2017 begins, I need to think and pray more about seeing my daily work as genuine service in Jesus' kingdom. What can I - or you - discuss with colleagues, friends or clients about how this total lordship of Christ naturally relates to our daily concerns?