Why FiSch? (4) For the Kingdom of God

Right now postgrads are working particularly hard. In the UK, masters students have about a month left to submit dissertations, and many PhD students will be working to submit 2nd-year reports, trying to complete before funding runs out, or facing that final deadline. But the urgent can be the enemy of the important. Even if you have a deadline looming, read on… the Kingdom of God needs you!Diagrams of 3 views of how non-believers relate to the kingdom of God

When Jesus said “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,”[1] he reinforced an important biblical notion for thinking about what we should do with our lives. Throughout the Bible God is represented as a sovereign ruler, and Jesus appears as a king qualified, by his unique life, death and resurrection, to rule the whole world in the age to come. A number of Jesus’ parables portray the Son of Man as a king or an employer who will hold his servants to account for their work [2]. Surely, then, it would be foolish for us to pursue our education and careers without realising that we are subjects of the world’s true King?

It seems to me, however, that this is what we typically do. Those of privileged to study at university are likely to have chosen a subject that interested us and/or was likely to give good job prospects. If we’re now pursuing more academic work, is this because we realised that we could best serve our King in this way? I hope it is, but we’ve no doubt encountered fellow-believers who struggle to appreciate this possibility. That’s because a prevalent view of how the work of believers and of non-believers stands in God’s eyes is often like that illustrated in diagram (1). In scholarship, as well as in education, business, finance, arts, media, government and so on, we easily accept the secularist dogma that religion is an inherently private matter that can only bring disruption in the public square. In religiously-neutral areas, believer and unbeliever will work in the same way, achieving the same results. Any notion of a Christian work ethic is essentially the same as what most unbelievers advocate: honesty, duty, respect and the like.

Serious young Christians are therefore encouraged to enter an area of work where everyone agrees that believers are uniquely qualified: the mission of the Church. Diagram (2) represents Christians’ prowess in such areas as evangelism, biblical studies, musical worship, youth ministry and apologetics. Theology and counselling might be more contested by the non-Christian, but they are widely taught in Bible colleges and seminaries in response to demand.

In fact, this dichotomy also reflects two streams of Christian thought. If you put every area of work – including biblical interpretation and theology – into scheme (1), you may be “liberal”. If you put every area of work – including scientific theorising and government – into scheme (2), you’ll probably be labelled “fundamentalist” sooner or later. So the easiest way to eschew these extremes is to follow a division of work like that outlined above: just be a dualist!

Is there another way? At FiSch we believe there is. Diagram (3) is meant to apply to every field of human endeavour – none of which is neutral. It represents the possibility that people who are entering the Kingdom of God – and Jesus’ parables make clear that we can’t be sure who they are – may please the King by all kinds of work done in His service. It recognises that not only today’s non-believers but even those who may never enter God’s rest can do work that honours and pleases the King (remember what God says of Cyrus[3]?). How much more should we who believe work and pray that our reasoning, our theorising, our critiques and our creativity be inspired by the Spirit of the God who might one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? [4]

[1] Matthew 6:33.   [2] E.g. Matthew 18:23ff, 20:1ff, 25:14ff, 25:31ff.  [3] Isaiah 44:28.  [4] Matthew 25:21.

Whole-life worship

I grew up in a Protestant church on the Continent, where we sang from the Genevan psalter (in a translation). The psalms cover a wide range of human emotions and situations, from the deepest depths to the highest heights. Of course some of the most jubilant psalms overflow with the praise of God (e.g. Ps. 150). But it is striking to see how even some of the darkest psalms tend to encourage the singer to put his trust in God, who protects us and is worthy of praise (e.g. Ps. 13, 42). The final chapter of Antony Billington and Mark Greene’s book ‘The whole of life for Christ’ focuses on praising God.

What kinds of things do you praise God for? Often we tend to praise God for the big events in our life: a friend becomes a Christian, or we get that grant that we applied for, or we finally submit our thesis. In the Bible, we often see people praising God for big things, but especially in the psalms, we also see God at work in the details of their lives. Take, for example, the ‘creation psalm’, Ps. 104.

It lists many things God does in nature, and how He takes care of us and all other living creatures. Or take Ps. 139, which lyrically describes the intimate involvement God has with our every move. Or, in the words of Jesus, ‘Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered’ (Mt. 10:30).

This series on ‘the whole of life for Christ’ started with a study on Col. 1:15-23, which covers the sweeping scope of God’s reconciliation of all of creation through Christ. In the psalms we discover that this grand scale of salvation is worked out in the lives of individuals. And in Rev. 4 and 5 we see several ‘psalms’ that bring the praise of all of creation to God in one great act of worship. How do you see God at work in your daily life? Do you praise him for the little things as well as the big things? For that experiment that worked this time? For the sunlight through the window? For that conference presentation that you were able to give? For the beauty of your object of study? And if you’re struggling at the moment, why not turn to one of the ‘darker’ psalms? Or join in with Habakkuk, who, in the face of terrible judgment and the threat of war and destruction prayed ‘…yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.’

If you have found this series helpful as you live all of your life for Christ, why not meet up with a few other Christian postgrads and go through the studies in the book?

Whole-life hope

It’s easy to be gloomy as an aspiring academic. Will I ever finish my thesis? Will I ever get a lectureship? And even if I do, will I end up spending my entire life chasing arbitrary citation statistics and student satisfaction ratings? Will my research and teaching make a real difference? Do I have anything to look forward to?

‘We all need hope,’ say Antony Billington and Mark Greene in The Whole of Life for Christ. ‘Jesus did. After all, it wasn’t just his love for the world that helped him through his terrible sufferings on our behalf; it was because of “the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The hope of his glorious future helped him through his earthly agony’ (p. 49).

How can a biblical hope help us through the periods of academic agony?

The passage chosen for this study is 2 Peter 3:3-14. The ‘scoffers’ saw no reason to be optimistic about the future: ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’ (v. 4).

What then is the antidote to this cynicism? Surprisingly, the answer is to think about God’s judgment, which ‘will bring both destruction (3:7, 10, 12) and renewal (3:13)’ (p. 51). This gives us something to look forward to, even when we think about our lives here on earth:

For what’s described is not the end of the earth itself, but the earth in its current state. Our hope is not for the annihilation of the world, but for a remade world, as God’s created order is renewed through the fire of purifying judgment. The parallel to the flood confirms this. Just as the destructive power of the flood did not completely obliterate the world, so the fire of judgment will cleanse the earth for a new beginning – ‘a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells’ (3:13, p. 79).

What difference does this make for academics? I suppose that all areas of academia, in their different ways, are seeking to make the world a better place: more like the promised ‘new earth, where righteousness dwells’. Is this worth the effort, in the light of the coming judgment? Billington and Greene address the question of creation care:

If a new, better earth is coming, is there any need to take care of the current one? The argument is sometimes made that environmental action is unnecessary and possibly even a distraction from more important matters. In fact, however, if God’s plan is to renew the world, then our own efforts to preserve, recycle and live simply are in line with his designs (p. 80).

Could the same be said about your academic discipline? How do your research and teaching fit in with God’s plan to renew the world? Does this give you hope that it might be worth the effort after all?