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Several years ago I read a book From Rome to Home: Why You Think the Way You Do by Glenn Sunshine. It was one of the 10 most influential books I’ve read recently. Two pages of that book intrigued me. I wanted to hear more, so I contacted Glenn and he was generous enough to let me interview him. Almost everything in this article is what Glenn said to me, in other words, this is mostly his material, not mine. I hope you it.
TIM: Glenn, I believe that the Christian and the secularists have different ideas of the purpose and function of work. Can we start out by defining secularism?.
GLENN: We need to define our terms. Secularism can mean several different things. For some people, secularism means philosophical materialism. In other words, the only thing that is real is matter and energy, the things that can be observed and analyzed by science. In this view, human beings are just highly evolved animals and there is no purpose or meaning. What is purpose? Is it matter or energy? It is neither, and so it does not exist. The same thing is true of meaning, and for that matter of good and of evil. None of them exist, because they are neither matter nor energy.
In contrast, Christianity states that humans are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei). This means they are created with a purpose. Humans have intrinsic value in and of themselves because of being created in God’s image.
The secularism I want to talk about, for the sake of the discussion on work, is the idea that religion, if it exists at all, is a matter of personal and private life. It has no public function and needs to be kept out of the public square. Religion becomes purely privatized.
TIM: So how do we tie these two ideas of secularization and Christianity to work?
GLENN: In our culture, we have a love/hate relationship with work. The reason for this is that today people identify with their work. It becomes a part of who they are, or who they believe they are. Recent studies however are showing that most people can’t stand what they do. They are almost in this bizarre schizophrenia with the way they look at work. They see it as a part of their identity, but then hate it, swinging back and forth.
TIM: So for the Christian, my first identity is, or should be, in Jesus. Ephesians 1 says about a dozen times that we are in Jesus or God. Our primary identity should be in God, which means that our primary identity is not in our work.
GLENN: Correct, so for those who don’t find their identity in Jesus, who see themselves as strictly material, they often find their identity in work. The Christian could have this mindset as well. The reaction of identifying with work is perfectly understandable because of this.
Now what we need to understand is that work is not evil. It is a positive good. God worked in Genesis. He called His work good, and then of course, He rested. God was also the One who gave Adam work to tend the garden and name the animals.
There’s something interesting going on in Genesis 2 when God asks Adam to name the animals. God is not just asking Adam to randomly name animals. In Hebrew culture, names reflect the character of what’s being named; it is to reflect and identify its nature. This is part of why God changes the names of some people when He calls them to Himself. He is saying, your nature and identity have changed. So for Adam to name the animals, he had to study them first to know their nature so he could give them their proper names. This is a mandate to do science.
He is not only naming, but he is creating culture itself. Culture is not just practical, but beautiful. If you look at Genesis 2, when Adam is asked to tend the garden, we see in verse nine that after God planted the garden, “God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” So Eden is described first as beautiful, and then as a source of food. That means that when God tells Adam to tend the garden, he is telling him to cultivate beauty as well as food. In other words, this is a mandate to do both art and economic production.
Now God creates and forms the world. What He does next is asks Adam to continue in the endeavor of cultivating the garden. Not in the creating sense, but in the cultivating sense. What God is asking Adam to do is to make culture. So the idea of being human not only involves working for work’s sake, or for practical use, but to create our culture.
The interview with Glenn Sunshine continues in Part 2.
SOME BOOKS BY GLENN SUNSHINE: Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home; The Image of God; Portals: Entering Your Neighbors World
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.