Why Work Matters – and the Liberation of Conversion

November 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Conversion, Faith, Work

I recently watched An Interview on Why “Work Matters” by Justin Taylor from The Gospel Coalition (a fellowship of evangelical churches). In the interview, Justin discusses the book Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship with Monday Work with its author, evangelical pastor Tom Nelson.

What a great interview. Of course, I’ve never met either one of these guys, but I just like them. It would be fun to sit down with them and discuss the topic further. I’m encouraged that the topic of integrating faith and work is getting more play these days – it’s an incredible opportunity!

Pastor Nelson appears to be a genuine, good-hearted individual. I was deeply impressed with his humility, as he says the book was “born from his own inadequacy.” Looks like we both wrote books on this topic partly as a result of making plenty of mistakes!

He also speaks of his desire to “build a really solid theology of vocation.” This phrase hit me between the eyes. I had wanted to see what good things evangelicals were doing in the area of integrating faith and work, but this reminded me – again – why I’m so grateful to be Catholic.

One of the most liberating aspects of becoming Catholic was recognizing that I didn’t have to act as judge and jury on various issues. I don’t have to “build a theology” of anything. It’s already built, and it’s magnificent!

Prior to entering the Catholic Church, my Dad was a Presbyterian minister, and a Clerk of the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. One of the challenges he faced was the need, like Pastor Nelson, to constantly evaluate theological beliefs. He recalls major moral and faith issues being decided at General Assemblies, based on a simple majority vote. The problem – and this seems all too evident – is that a majority vote in favor of something doesn’t make it right or true. This is a fundamental problem in reformed traditions, where an enormous amount of effort is invested in theological wrangling over issues that are quite settled for faithful Catholics.

I poked around The Gospel Coalition site a bit. They are obviously very sincere and good people, and have done a nice job documenting what they’re all about. Unfortunately, I ran across zingers like “…we often see the celebration of our union with Christ replaced by the age-old attractions of power and affluence, or by monastic retreats into ritual, liturgy, and sacrament.” Oh, my.

Allow me to dream for just a moment – for Pastor Nelson and so many of our good non-Catholic friends, wouldn’t it be awesome to share with them the riches of sacramental worship, the intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist, the obedience to Christ’s call to unity, the escape from having to be the judge, on and on it goes. Please ask that the Lord might open hearts to see what we Catholics have and inspire us to offer it with love to others.

I feel for Pastor Nelson when he speaks about each pastor needing to “really look at the scriptures” (as if this will lead to consistent interpretation) in order to equip people to integrate faith and work. What an extraordinary responsibility! His toolbox doesn’t include the rich treasury of Church documents such as Christifideles Laici or Laborem Exercens, nor the legacy of people such as St. Josemaria Escriva. He speaks of both Luther and integration in the same interview… this strikes me as deeply ironic. Hasn’t Luther’s legacy produced its share of dis-integration? Not that Catholics are without culpability too, of course. But just think of the joy we would cause among the heavenly host if Christians were truly united.

I’m sure Pastor Nelson has written a good book, I may even pick up a copy since it’s such an important topic and our non-Catholic brothers and sisters add valuable insights to the mix. Having said that, I continue to pray for Christian unity – and the liberation of the Catholic Church for good people like Pastor Tom Nelson. As one of my favorite quotes by St. Josemaria Escriva goes (that I feature at the bottom of my web site) “Conversion is the task of a moment, sanctification is the work of a lifetime.” I hope Pastor Nelson’s book does well, but in business parlance, aren’t some of these theological gymnastics non-value added activities suitable for reengineering? I wonder if he’s ever considered becoming Catholic… it’s liberating!

Note: Autographed copies of Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck are now available for pre-order with free shipping!

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