Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book Review: God At Work

In evangelical Christian circles, you might often hear the encouragement to “do everything to the glory of God,” an exhortation taken from 1 Cor. 10:31. But just what this means or how this is to be done more often than not goes unsaid and ends up coming across as a meaningless platitude. While Christians should indeed pursue the glory of God in everything they do, how to go about doing this can sometimes remain a mystery.

In God At Work, Gene Edward Veith seeks to help Christians in understanding what has been called the doctrine of vocation, crediting much of his writing to Gustaf Wingren who in turn wrote on Martin Luther’s stance on the doctrine. It would be safe to say that this book is largely about how Christians interact with their culture and how indeed Christians find the presence of God in the ordinary, everyday activities of life.

For example, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” Veith writes sensibly that in meeting this provision, God does not simply rain down bread from heaven, although this certainly isn’t impossible as was shown during the Israelites’ journey from Egypt. Rather, God provides our needs by the hand of the farmer who grows the wheat, the baker who put this and other ingredients together to make the bread, and the many other people involved in the process. Or when we are sick and pray for healing, while God may indeed choose to miraculously heal us without any human intervention, the more common method is using the knowledge of physicians to diagnose and treat the illness.

Vocation then, according to Veith, is seeing how we and those around us interact with one another through roles God has placed us in and how God is honored when we do so. Veith rightly and quickly points out that while our relationship to God is not based on how we live out our vocation, our relationship to our neighbors is. He quotes Gustaf Wingren in saying “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

Chapters discuss how a person goes about determining what his or her vocation is, how we are to live within the vocations we have been given, and what certain vocations look like, namely in the family, in the citizenry and in the church. Veith provides an excellent discussion on how Christians interact with the culture around them in each of these areas, bringing it back to showing just how this does indeed bring glory to God.

Two areas are worth mentioning in detail, one good and one not so good. First, Veith excellently points out that the work that a Christian does most often will not look any different than the same kind of work a non-Christian does. As he puts it, “There is no distinctly Christian way of being a carpenter or an actor or a musician. Christian and non-Christian factory workers, farmers, lawyers, and bankers do pretty much the same thing.” The key to recognizing the difference between the Christian’s and the non-Christian’s vocation is that “Spiritually the Christian’s life is hidden with Christ in God” and that “just doing our jobs” is found in “ordinary men and women expressing their love and service to their neighbor.”

The not-so-good detail is that in one section of the book, Veith argues that our vocations are not our choice and are out of control, yet later seems to imply just the opposite. I can understand that our backgrounds and capabilities (physical, mental, etc) control our options as well as the desires of others (in other words, I can’t marry a girl who wants nothing to do with me!). The problem is that he then carries this forward to an illogical and incorrect assumption that ALL choices are outside of our control.

This last point aside, however, this is a great book for providing a framework in viewing how we as Christians interact with the world around us. Veith aptly points out that we are not called to be Christians who sit in a monastery, isolating ourselves from the world, but that it is our responsibility to reach out and serve those around us.

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