Truth Project 11: Labor (Created to Create)

My group finished the Truth Project two weeks ago, but I’ve still got a couple of tours to review. This one is on Labor, and the last one is on Community.

Del begins this penultimate tour by asking what the fourth commandment is. Anyone who knows the Ten Commandments would probably call it the Sabbath command, but Del calls attention to the fact that it begins with a command to work for six days (Exodus 20:9-11). He calls it instead the “labor command.” He goes on to say that the reason why God gave this command is because of his own nature: he rested on the seventh day and made it holy.

The world’s view of work, according to Del, is that it is a “four-letter word.” It’s just something people do because they need the money. He says that “we’re seeing an increase in a negative view of work, corporations and this whole sphere.”

Del then asks if God is concerned with economics, and whether he has spoken in this area. He refers us to James 5:4, which says, “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” He also refers us to Proverbs 22:29, which says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings…”

Next Del turns to the historical example of Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press – arguably the most significant event of the last thousand years. Gutenberg worked, and his work changed the world. The world has certainly used the printing press and other inventions for evil, but the kingdom has been advanced by this and other inventions as well.

Then Del returns to the Bible. In the early chapters of Genesis, God is depicted as the original worker, who placed Adam in the garden and told him to work it. This, says Del, shows that work was not originally a negative thing. Now it is often seen that way. What happened? Del’s answer is the curse of the Fall. His image of work before the Fall is of us in a canoe, paddling downstream. Now we are asked to paddle upstream. Work is still a good thing, but it is harder.

Del stresses the importance of this sphere, but says that we (as Christians) don’t talk about it much. He gives us a general economic model in the style that he introduced to us in Tour 7: a circle with three actors in it. In the economic model, God is at the top, below and to the right is the steward, and at the bottom are material things. The important thing to remember in the general economic model is that God owns everything, and people are asked to take care of material things for him.

After introducing us to the general economic model, Del lays out seven economic principles:

1: All things belong to God (Ps. 50:7-12)

2: God appointed man to be a creative steward of his goods with “ownership” rights. (Gen. 1:28) Under this principle Del defines economics as “management of the property that ultimately belongs to God over which He has placed a steward and over which that steward will be held accountable.” He also gives us a picture of the labor sphere: the Owner at the top, the worker below and to the right, and material things at the bottom. He refers to Ephesians 6:5-8 (“Slaves. obey your earthly masters…”) in this connection.

3. Theft of another’s goods is wrong, (Ex. 20:15) and coveting another’s goods (like class envy and demand for redistribution) is wrong (Ex. 20:17).

4. Skills and abilities to work come from God (Ex. 35:30-33)

5. Work is profitable, good, and to be pursued; laziness is not (Prov. 14:23, 2 Thess. 3:10).

6. Love God and not your goods (Matt. 6:19-20).

7. Be compassionate and generous with your goods to those in need (Lev. 19:10). Del says that one of our responsibilities is to the poor: not to give them a handout, but to employ them. After quoting the verse in Leviticus, he says, “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are the gleanings of our work?'” He says that the poor need a job. Where do those jobs come from? Not from the state, but from the sphere of labor.

Del then shifts gears and starts talking about the arts and media. The presence and power of the arts and media are overwhelming, and Del quotes Francis Schaeffer as saying, “Whoever controls the media controls the culture.” Del asks whether truth applies to this area, and answers with an emphatic “yes.” If it doesn’t, he says, we will continually find ourselves persuaded by what is vile. He shows an interview with Gordon Pennington of Burning Media Group, who says that we ought to pursue truth in the area of the arts and media. We ought to approach work the way J.S. Bach approached his: at the end of most of his manuscripts, even his “secular” work, he wrote the initials SDG – Soli Deo Gloria, “For God’s Glory Alone.”

Finally, Del shows an interview with Makoto Fujimura, an artist who argues that all art forms belong to God and urges Christians to leave behind their suspicion of the arts and pursue creative fields.

I found this tour a welcome change from the previous tour, on the United States, in which I thought Del made some major errors. I think Del is correct in thinking that many Christians do not think about their work as Christians, and instead see it as just a way to earn money. Del’s call for Christians to devote more attention to the sphere of labor, and to think about work in terms of calling, is something that the church needs to hear.

I also liked it that Del stressed Christians’ responsibility to the poor, not just to give them a handout, but to give them meaningful work. I was challenged by his question, “What are the gleanings of our work?” That is, what are the areas in which we can refrain from maximum wealth production for ourselves and instead provide the poor with work?

I didn’t like Del’s implication that the relationships within this sphere are Trinitarian – but then, I expressed that objection during his tour on Sociology, so I don’t need to repeat it here.

I also didn’t like it that Del laid the problems of this “sphere” at the feet of the world. Non-Christians are not the only ones who make work into a four-letter word. In fact, there are many non-Christians who love their work so much that it becomes an idol. I thought that Del was making a vast oversimplification here in saying that the “culture” thinks work is a bad thing. Some do. Some don’t. Del doesn’t help us relate to our neighbors when he paints with such a broad brush. Instead, he encourages us to think in caricatures.


3 thoughts on “Truth Project 11: Labor (Created to Create)

  1. 42elysium July 17, 2009 / 7:50 am

    nice review! I just finished the truth project and am totally challenged to change my own career!
    I’m especially intrigued by Pennington’s thoughts. Where did he come from and what is his faith like?

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