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Book Review: The Integrated Life, by Ken Eldred

  • Manna Ventures
  • July 1997
  • 226 pp.

The idea that one’s faith should be fully lived out in all of life is, unfortunately, quite rare these days, yet we find it again and again in the Scriptures. But how does one really integrate faith and work? What can a Christ-follower offer a secular business? How can we go to work with God? In The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred sets out to answer these exact questions.

Ken Eldred is a man who has spent decades discerning the call of Christ in the realm of business. His book discusses the real life implications of this calling, and he makes the reader excited to go back to work on Monday with Jesus. Among other things, Eldred discusses profit (is it wrong? is it right?), spiritual capital, business goals, and ministry. On this lattermost point, I love that Eldred puts a voice to the false assumption that ministry and working outside of the church are mutually exclusive. Eldred draws on the biblical truth that we are all called to be ministers (servants).

And really, that’s what this book does best: it encourages and equips and empowers ministers of God to enter into the world of secular work. Though most of Eldred’s examples come from the business work, I found plenty of connections to my secular workplace (a public high school), and I’m sure you will as well. Definitely pick this one up!

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Tim Keller on Preaching

In his blog article “Lloyd-Jones on the Practice of Real Preaching,” Tim Keller gleans some points from Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers. I am not a preacher, but I found that much of what I’ve been thinking lately about church and service and the gospel for all of life is addressed in Keller’s article.

Keller draws two points out from Lloyd-Jones’ writing: that people will come to hear preaching, even in our contemporary culture, but that 1) it must be real preaching and 2) it must be done over the long term.

Keller describes the allure of real preaching: “[Vistors] will be shocked at how convicting and attractive the gospel message is, and they will feel like they’ve never really heard it before (even if they have been raised in a church)”. I find that, the more I think about the gospel and seek to bring it to bear on the questions that contemporary teachers, the more they resonate with the message–even when it is starkly convicting, which of course it must be. The gospel does not need to be manipulated to become attractive to outsiders–it merely needs to be clearly communicated and applied to the questions being asked by contemporary people.

Lloyd-Jones, Keller writes, was worried about the preaching veering into either of two extremes: on the one hand, adapting it too much into the image of the culture, and, on the other hand, making it so objective that it becomes dry and intellectual. Preaching should be “profoundly life-related, [and] the preacher’s tone must not be affected and ‘parsonic’ but genuine, passionate, and transparent. If you listen to the [Lloyd-Jones]’s evening sermons in particular, you learn that he was always referring to current events and intellectual trends, often expounding Scripture in order to answer the questions posed by the culture. So the preaching must not be just a ‘running commentary’ or an overly-cognitive explanation of the text, but must have shape and passion and connect forcefully with the heart and life of the congregant” (Keller).

One final connection I made with Keller’s article is that of the need for patience if we are to become fair communicators of the gospel. To be a preacher who does real preaching, Keller commends the unpopular notion that it takes a long, steady work:

“[I]t requires many years and hundreds of sermons before a preacher becomes as good as they have the capacity to be. Some of that means the preacher staying put and becoming involved enough in the lives of the people and city so as to be able to address their questions and issues well from the Scripture. Some of that means coming to understand the Bible well enough to always make it clear. Some of it means years of repentance and prayer that creates an increasingly holy, transparent character.”

Go ahead and substitute “teacher” for “preacher” in the preceding quotation, and you’ll have an idea of what I think it takes to become an increasingly gospel-centered, excellent public school teacher.

Book Review: Doing Virtuous Business, by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

  • Thomas Nelson
  • March 2011
  • 176 pp.

Recommended. An intellectually stimulating treatment of the centrality of virtue in the workings of business.

If you’re interested in the intersections of faith and work, and if you enjoy a good romp through a business book every now and then, you’ll like Theodore Roosevelt Malloch’s Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise.

First of all, however, you need to know that this isn’t a gospel-centered book. I love books that are explicit about how the gospel changes everything in life, from the way we live at home to the way we conduct ourselves in secular jobs. Yet, Malloch doesn’t spend time explicating the centrality of the gospel to the realms of business and economics. Instead, in the book’s introductory matter Malloch clarifies who he is and who he is writing for:

I write as a committed Christian, but what I say does not reflect a narrow or specifically sectarian Christian theology. Throughout the book I draw examples of virtue and spiritual enterprise from other faiths, and I heartily believe that spiritual enterprise is often conducted from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other perspectives, and that every religion and spiritual tradition offers blueprints for building spiritual capital in its own distinctive way.

While I do appreciate Malloch’s honesty–he abandons ambiguity and seeks to clarify his purpose and approach–the universal flavor of some sections of the book limits its effectiveness for Christians.

However, I still recommend Malloch’s book if one has a capacity for discernment and an eye for the goodness of God. Doing Virtuous Business is an intelligent testament to the biblical truth that God is the center and creator of all reality. Just as God made the physical world with governing principles like gravity, relativity, and atomic structure, there are principles that make up the fabric of moral reality. These principles, when applied to business, naturally create what Malloch calls spiritual capital. Upon developing this concept, Malloch spends the remainder of Doing Virtuous Business exemplifying how virtues like faith, honesty, gratitude, perseverance, compassion, and more create viable capitalistic enterprise.

For Christians who view wealth and capitalism as intrinsically against the gospel, Malloch will give you a healthy, biblical challenge. For those who work in the business world outside of the Christian bubble, you’ll find this book a refreshing and engaging look at why God’s ways work in the workplace. And for any public school teachers out there, there is plenty of useful food for thought in Doing Virtuous Business.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How does the Gospel transform my professional life?

Here are some thoughts that came to me recently on how good the gospel is for those of us in secular workplaces, and in particular those of us working in public schools.

First, the gospel frees us to pursue excellence and fail, because God’s love for us is not based on our success–it is based on Christ’s success. For a success-driven man like me who loves being praised for my accomplishments, this is freeing. It means that I don’t need to take on solely the “safe” ideas or projects–I can take on whichever projects I know will have the most impact, even if they seem impossible. If I fail at an undertaking at work–let’s say, for example, that I plan a difficult unit or project, and my students totally don’t get it–the gospel means that I no longer am broken. Dave Stuart Jr. is no longer the sum of his successes; I no longer need to constantly prove myself through my aptitude at my job. Rather, I am the sum of Christ’s redeeming love for me on the cross; I am constantly and eternally and infinitely loved by God, due entirely to Christ’s death on my behalf.

And second, the gospel frees us to be honest on the job, even if such honesty will get us into trouble or cause us to lose our jobs. This type of self-forgetting honesty is possible because of our infinite security in the gospel. If Christ was willing to die for us–and remember, the death of Christ was an infinitely expensive death–then he really will care of us no matter what. God has poured all of his resources into us. Imagine the feeling of having your boss send you to a fancy conference across the country–it feels great to be invested in. It makes you feel secure. Infinitely moreso has God invested in us with the gospel.

Book Review: The Gospel for Real Life, by Jerry Bridges

  • NavPress
  • October 2003
  • 199 pp.

Recommended. A book focused on the gospel and its practical implications for our present lives.

The subtitle for Jerry Bridge’s The Gospel for Real Life describes something remarkably uncommon in today’s church: turning to the liberating power of the cross every day. Sadly, the gospel is often presented the first step of the Christian life. It is only “Christianity for Infants.” Once you accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice as the necessary substitution the debt owed by you for your sins, you move from the “good news” of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf onto more advanced spiritual matters.

This would have been completely foreign to Paul, who refers to the gospel as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). To Jesus, to Paul, to believers across the ages, the gospel wasn’t the door into Christian life–it was the entirety of the life.

Here is where many Christians today scratch their heads–how can that be? This is exactly the question that Bridges sets out to answer in The Gospel for Real Life.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that Bridges takes seriously the “real life” part of his title. He is not writing for the minority in the church who love to read good theology texts. Instead, Bridges has taken great pains to write for everyday Christians working everyday jobs. He and his pre-publication readers have looked at his chapters–which address theologically complex topics like adoption, substitutionary atonement, sanctification, and more–and asked of each line, “Would the common reader be able to access the joy of this, or would it come off as academic jibberish?”

The Gospel for Real Life sets out to show the reader how the gospel indeed is all of the Christian life, how it radically transforms and infuses even the most mundane aspects of everyday living. I think Bridges succeeds. I recommend picking this up and using its chapters as rich food for feasting and sharing with friends.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What Do You Do When You Hear of Spectacular Student Sins?

Whether you teach on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or within the city limits of Baltimore or along a cornfield in Smallville, USA, you are bound to hear occasional reports of the self-destructive doings of your secondary students. I hate it when it happens, but, if you’re paying attention to your kids and seeking to know them better, you’re bound to come across reports of  students you love hacking away at their souls with pre-marital sex, substance abuse, or other foolish deeds. Yet, when we do, what should we do with this information?

One option is to ignore it. “I’m not a counselor,” we might rightly say, and then we move on with our instructional duties. This is true; we aren’t counselors. But, as Christians, we have the Wonderful Counselor residing within us; we have a constant communication link to the counselor who makes the most highly-paid counselors of our era seem like doddering fools. I don’t think that, as Christians, with access to the infinitely wise Creator of our students, we can simply ignore reports like these, though it surely may be a way to protect ourselves from emotionally draining information.

Another option is to laugh to ourselves or with a colleague. “These kids,” we might say. Using humor to cover up the intense hurt that our students are doing to themselves is just another form of self-protection.

A common option in these situations is to gossip about it. Gossip is the telling of unpleasant truths. Any time we share information about a student’s self-destructive exploits with someone besides the student or someone who can help the child, we gossip. Alarmingly, I find myself participating in this far too often. Just like the previous options, this is a form of self-protection. By telling someone, I get it off my chest.

Ultimately, this is a moral decision that cannot be joyfully made apart from the Gospel. Christ makes moral decisions both incredibly easy and infinitely challenging. He tells us that the first law is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We go to God with these disturbing tales; we seek and receive true comfort from our talks with Him, not the counterfeit comfort that comes with the thrill of sharing a dirty secret with a colleague. And the second command, Christ says, is similar: we are to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

But our students are not our neighbors… right? Asking “Who is my neighbor?” in response to Christ’s second command is as old as the command itself—and Christ responds with the parable of the good Samaritan, which effectively says, “The person right in front of you is your neighbor, whether they are of the same class, job, status, gender, or whathaveyou.” Our students are our neighbors, and we are to love them as we would want to be loved if we were them.

So, when we hear these secrets and are tempted to either ignore them or divulge them to colleagues, we can simply “put ourselves in their shoes.” If we were the student, making similarly terrible decisions, yet knowing deep down that these decisions were destroying us, what would we want done? First of all, I wouldn’t want someone to ignore or laugh about it; at least, deep down I wouldn’t. And second, I certainly wouldn’t want it spread around fruitlessly. What good would all of my teachers knowing my sin do for me? Nothing except do what I find teacher gossip most often does: create a tiny voice in the teacher’s head that says, “That student is unreachable. Move on to someone else.”

No, I wouldn’t want that. Instead, knowing what I know now, I’d want two things: first, for the teacher to pray for me; second, for the teacher to prayerfully pull me aside and ask me how things were going, perhaps even confronting me in a humble-bold manner.

The next time we hear of a stomach-churning, debaucherous deed done by one of our students, let’s put off the temptation to ignore it or laugh about it or gossip, instead turning to God with joy that we are able to be part of the redemptive work that Christ’s infinitely powerful blood and resurrection have made possible.

What do you do in these situations? What do you do when a colleague comes to you and begins gossiping about a student’s sin?

Three Passions all Teachers Must Possess

To teach well, three passions must exist in the heart of an educator:

  1. A passion for the content, be it English or Math or History or Science or Physical Education.
  2. A passion for students–one must enjoy and care about the people one aims to teach.
  3. A passion for the art of teaching–a perpetual researcher, a perpetual seeker of better and more effective ways to teach.

Problems arise when one of these is missing or out of order:

  1. When content is your sole passion, you tend to blame the students for not loving it. You become less and less able to comprehend why students aren’t excited the second they see Shakespeare or quadratic formulas or owl pellets. Sometimes, you may believe that you simply aren’t passionate enough about the particular unit you are teaching, so you may make changes to the unit that undermine the overall school’s goal of having a shared curriculum.
  2. When students are your sole passion, you become frustrated when they, who you care so much about, do not seem to care about the content you teach. They are happy to call you friend, but they merely bear with your insistence on teaching them. Slowly, you can begin to think that what is most important for the students is your relationship with them, not the content or thinking skills you have to teach them.
  3. When the art of teaching is your sole passion, you can become addicted to change. A hurricane of factors come together to tempt teachers and districts to worship innovation for innovation’s sake: the slew of research being done each year, the loads of money that publishers and educational consultants make each year by selling a new silver bullet, and the few teachers who yearly pull out the same worksheets and lesson plans with no desire whatsoever to  adapt to research-based strategies.

Obviously, I don’t hold this trinity of passions as the highest necessary loves of a teacher: above them all must be the Gospel. When Christ’s death on our behalf is the teacher’s central unifying principle, he is able to make his passion for his content subservient to the needs of his school; she is able to love students even when they are difficult to love; he is able to change his teaching when sound research supports such change.