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FAQ: I'd rather do evangelism than my course

This will look like a follow up to The Heart of Art and the seminar I've been asked to teach, but actually it's not. I started writing it a month ago. I put it out now as a potential sketch of the issues and for your interactions... Very much a first draft.

Luke Wood wrote:
"...what about the actual studying? Not to suggest that any of the organisations mentioned above would discourage students from their studies; but when they carry a message so thrilling and an ideology so engaging that my degree frankly looks boring, my question has often been "how can I get enthusiastic about my degree?" ...It would seem that being able to engage through service with an amazing mission actually gave me impetus for my degree, without necessarily the time to do it."
Pulling this thing together is a vital thing. I've been trying to get students to think about what studying Speech Therapy, History, Film Studies, Biochemistry and other things to the glory of God looks like. How does 'studying for Jesus' fit into 'living for Jesus. speaking for Jesus'? I think it fits mostly in the first part but also effects the latter.

A Christian Study Ethic? This must be a minimum. Carl Trueman warns in the area of 'Christian' studying that we're probably asking a middle-class question - humility covers much of how we study, work, live etc. Humility averts laziness and disrespect in the workplace. This we know, from Ephesians 6, models the gospel by displaying the Christian's submission to a greater master. Likewise the Christian supervisor/manager displays Christlikeness in their work.

Luke argues that for some, evangelism seems more compelling. I wish that was the case for everyone... It's important. It has an obvious eternal value. And it has an obvious way of bringing glory to God. Piper is right : missions exist because worship doesn't. Doing evangelism leads to more worshippers and so more glory given to God by them. But, can study (and other work) also do that? Is it possible to study to the glory of God? Is it possible to work to the glory of God? If evangelism is the only godly activity then why don't we do it all the time? Sleep seems a waste of a third of my life not to mention all the other things that crowd my day.

For some evangelism might be more compelling because God actually has it in mind for the rest of their life as a primary activity. That doesn't make their degree worthless but it might make it a little secondary. In such a situation it remains that it's not much commendation to the gospel if being a Christian is an excuse to be a slacker - perhaps that attracts students but it must annoy the life out of lecturers. Christian and non-Christian alike. I know for myself that sometimes the compelling nature of evangelism was an excuse for my academic slackness (in addition to my pride that refused to seek the help I needed).

Most Christians are not called to be full time evangelists. The church doesn't have the budget for that, for a start. And - it's pastor-teachers, evangelists and apostles who equip the church for ministry.This seems to imply that they are a few within the body rather than the norm.

Is work just for paying for evangelists? Well that actually does need to be part of it - no-one else is going to pay, and the OT and NT seems to authorise the setting aside of some by God's people to serve the body. But if that's it it seems a bit peculiar. Partly because it makes a very strange relationship between the church and their servants. And partly because it makes the whole thing very odd - the church spends its time in the workplace persuading non-christians to pay them money so that they can go and pay Christians to tell them to be there and do it. Dissolving the whole thing would save a lot of hassle. Also, it's evident that we don't really believe this - otherwise we'd employ a whole lot more evangelists.

There has to be a bit more to it. So is work just a way to meet non-Christians? Well, it is where most of the population spends about a quarter of every week, and if there are no Christians in the workplace that's going to radically slash the opportunities for evangelism.

But again, if this is all it seems strange. Employers don't want evangelists they want employees. Integrity demands that a Christian's primary reason for being in the workplace is to work. If Christians only want to do evangelism at work then Christians are going to find themselves unemployable.

Something more? Rewind to Genesis 1 - God tells us to fill the earth and subdue it from their base in the garden he planted for them. That basically seems to be about creating a global-eden, a global temple in which God is glorified. To achieve this man must form and fill the earth just as God has done with all creation. This is our creation mandate. In all the disputes over Genesis 1 it's tragic that we miss this. Subduing and ruling the world has to include work.

I don't think it's incidental that early chapters of Genesis tell us about Jubal the musician, Tubal-Cain the metal-worker, Noah the Wine-maker etc. These occupations are creative. That's hardly surprising because the definition of human being is as an image bearer of God. God is creative. Human beings will be creative. God is also speaking and relational, so we should expect these to be par of human life. Adam is a gardener. We can surely expect scientists to explore and label God's world as Adam begins to. The arts and scientists exist as part of work in God's creation.

Work happens before the fall. And it continues past it. Post-fall the divine-image is marred. Farming is cursed. Child-birth is going to be hard. There will be illness and death. We already need people in agriculture, healthcare and undertakers. When people gather they organise themselves in idolatrous ways - we need godly politicans. God confuses language though communication was already marred so we'll need speech therapists, linguists and educators.

None of these occupations is a means of gaining eternal life but they do restrain evil just as the law did for the nation of Israel. And they are ways of repairing the creation that God will renew. Bible teachers work to see the divine image renewed in people... so we do in our work to renew creation. God will complete both when the new heavens and the new earth are formed and filled with people from every tribe and tongue around the throne of Jesus. A vast crowded enjoying God's new creation.

What does that mean at University?
Studying is work for a start. It needs to be done in submission to lecturers, working hard with honesty and integrity. That applies to every subject. Much study is a lesson in perseverance, doing something now so that future opportunities will be available. A fresher may not be able to do cancer research, but study enables that down the line. My Maths lecturers loved to tell me that what we studied had no applications unless we got as far as post-doctoral research. If I'd valued the prize that should have helped me run the race.

And then there are the specifics of different disciplines...
We said that science and arts are basic acts of investigating and labelling the world, and living out God's creative image. That gives them fairly straightforward godly applications. Other occupations apply the arts or sciences to the effects of the fall. Heathcare professions such as nursing and speech therapy are needed to combat the pain and problems that sin has introduced. Reducing pain, enabling communication. Philosophers, Historians, Geographers... Politicians, Economists... Teachers, Engineers, Muscians. All will experience futility and emptiness in work (see Ecclesiastes for example) but each should be able to find ways in which their work will restore life to people.


  1. As somebody who used to work for the Chaplaincy, I have seen this problem. There is no way that letting your studies fall to teh sideline brings glory to God.

    None of these occupations is a means of gaining eternal life but they do restrain evil...

    How do they restrain evil/

  2. I've been pondering the idea that working / studying for God's glory is not only looking back to the creation mandate (albeit frustrating due to the fall) but looking forward to the new heavens & new earth. Christian work is part of the Kingdom here present, anticipating the full consummation. In that it testifies prophetically. Why work? The Christian's answer is shaped by the fact that Christ will come to renew & restore all creation, and reign over it as Lord with us under him - à la creation mandate, but better! It is with this hope that we work & study - not only to restrain evil as if just wanting to eradicate the effects of the fall and get back to Gen 1-2, but with the knowledge that we work towards what Christ will soon do at his return, with new heavens & earth. Our work & study, as we do it in a Christ-like way, is shaped by, motivated by, and illustrates our hope of Christ's return and new creation. It is part of the new life brought in in Christ.

    I found this most exciting when thinking about maths for my Subject Really Matters sess at Word Alive, but it extends to all subjects. I wish I'd grasped this before the end of 2nd year at uni!

  3. Splendid. I was especially struck by

    "When people gather they organise themselves in idolatrous ways - we need godly politicians"

    given what's going on in the UK at the moment.

  4. Sorry to add another question, but it does come out of this. I know and agree that there is no real sacred / secular difference (to coin a phrase) but pragmatically, there is. I don't come to a church meeting because I am glorifying God as I paint a picture (hobby or work). Even though in all things I do I can glorify God, is it better. And though some poeople might just be using it as an excuse to do what they like, others will genuinely be glorifying God through what the are doing. So then, I guess what I'm really asking is are some ways 'better' ways to glorify God than others. If that needs clarifying do let me know!

  5. I blogged a bit in response to this here.

    Good post.

  6. Richard - I think that although all of life should be worship in the broad sense, we need times of specific worship, where we spend time in prayer, song, reading the Bible, and so on, in order to anchor us and keep us focused for worshipping the rest of the time.

    I'm not sure that there are "better" ways of glorifying God. As long as different things are in accordance with God's commands, and we do them in faith, then they're equally glorifying to God. We face the choice of many different ways to glorify God, and deciding what to do involves prayerful consideration of the gifts and abilities God has given us on the one hand and the needs and opportunities that are available to us on the other.

  7. Richard, that's where godly wisdom comes in! Painting the picture may be glorifying to God; meeting with other believers for mutual encouragement, hearing & response to the word, etc., is something we're commanded not to neglect (e.g. Heb 10:25). Thus if in painting the picture we're disobeying God's command, it's clearly not glorifying him! But more generally, those decisions call for questions of wisdom, and questions of the heart - what priorities are coming into play? Are we giving lordship to any other than Christ? Are any desires seizing an idolatrous place? Or is our study, our evangelism, our work, our worship singing, our family, our art, our serving one another, our music, our meeting together with other believers, all being done for God's glory? Or at least the repentant aim to aim for aiming at God's glory...

  8. Great stuff - I know I definitely need to cultivate a more earthy view of glorifying God and serving others in his good creation.

    I just have a question about this comment...

    "For some evangelism might be more compelling because God actually has it in mind for the rest of their life as a primary activity. That doesn't make their degree worthless but it might make it a little secondary."

    I get a bit muddled sometimes over the question of time vs. priorities. Does the reality that most Christians won't have gospel work as their primary activity (timewise) mean that it's a secondary priority for the them as well though? I think this is where we sometimes can say 'so-and-so is called into ministry, but I'm called into the workforce', and so conceive of these priorities in a way which doesn't recognise 'the time is short'. Always a tension though...

  9. On my blog I've posted the first of a series of posts based on my dissertation on Christian literary criticism, with some of the questions raised here also brought in a bit more directly.

    This first one looks in general terms at why Christians need to develop a Christian understanding of the subjects they are studying, and I'll go on to look at some distinctives of a Christian view of literature in contrast to the kind of views that are generally accepted in universities.

  10. Emma Balch says:

    There is an incorrect assumption if you're an evangelist it excludes you
    from having genuine interests other than evangelism?! Things shouldn't be as
    black and white as that - and just because evangelism or evangelism training
    is the context that most Christians see an evangelist in doesn't mean that
    is the ONLY dimension of their life; rather that they are seeing them doing
    the work of an evangelist (their calling).

    I also think this article is missing a whole dimension of work being an
    expression of gifts and skills we receive from God, and the sense of
    enjoyment that can be found in this. This is the case of the evangelist as
    it is in other vocations. Living in Argentina, a country full of young
    entrepreneurs and creatives, you really see people living out work in a way
    that a British person would never see work, and in this sense I think you're
    interpreting things from a very particular (and quite negative with respect
    to study and work) cultural perspective.

    If, as this article suggests, lack of funds is a major reason for not having
    evangelists that is a serious issue. Perhaps people should be thinking more
    creatively about how to fulfil their calling, and encourage others to do so,
    and have part-time jobs to fund giving the rest of their time to evangelism?
    It would certainly help them understand better where the people they are
    trying to reach are coming from, and help the issue of funds getting in the
    way of them using their God given gift to share the gospel with others...

    I'd like to explore with a student like this what the real issue is - is it
    a case of wanting to do evangelism or Bible study or pray with other
    Christian students or whatever more than getting into their course, or is it
    that they are really enjoying and feeling comfortable being part of the
    Christian set/club/community. I think many Christian blogs reflect the might be wrapped up in theological debates or student talks,
    but I suspect what starts as a cosy club in CU later becomes a cosy club
    (even if virtually, but also in the form of church or Christian orgs) where
    people would prefer to do that that than be genuinely involved in the lives
    of people around them and think/act like Christ in those relationships and


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