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A Privatized Faith Leads to a Secularized Culture: Greg Forster on Faith and Work

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What’s behind the secularization of culture, and how can we help solve the problem? Greg Forster, director of the Oikonomia Network, tackled this topic in a talk at Southeastern Seminary’s chapel. In his talk (“Let Her Works Praise Her in the Gates”), he explains that we must reconnect faith with the rest of our lives — including our work.

Watch the full talk above. Below are a few key excerpts.

On why the church needs to focus on work.

“We end up trying to fill in the time between a decision to follow Christ and going to be with him [in heaven] with church-focused activities. Show up on Sunday morning to worship. Show up on Wednesday night for Bible study. Evangelize your neighbors. And this, and this, and this…

“Now all these things are good. They’re vital. They’re important. This is the beating heart at the center. But if your body has a beating heart and no other organs, you’re going to be in some trouble. The fact is that these church-focused activities are never going to take up more than about five percent of the total waking hours in the average waking person’s life — if you are not in a church job… [and] if you are a model congregant. If you’re a pastor, someone who gives you five percent of their week consistently — that’s a super congregant! Those are the people we pray for! But it’s never going to be more than five percent of their waking hours in a given week.

“Mark Green, who runs something called The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, has pointed out the consequence of this. He says [that] if this is the way we address people with church-focused activities, the result is that the 98 percent of Christians who are not employed by churches and parachurch organizations will not be envisioned or equipped to serve Christ with 95 percent of their lives.

“Think about this. If the model of the Christian life we have consists of church-focused activities, then 98 percent of Christians who are not employed by churches are not envisioned or equipped to follow Jesus with 95 percent of their lives. And as Mark puts it, ‘What a tragic waste!’

Christians tend to disconnect their faith from activities that connect them to their neighbors & culture.

“The results of this, I’m convinced, is what you see all around you. When we lament the state of the church. When we lament the state of the culture. We see Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) treating their faith as if it were a leisure time activity: ‘My faith in Jesus Christ is a leisure time activity. It’s something that I squeeze into my life in between other activities, when I can show up at church, when I can show up at Bible study.’

“Another result is a thoroughly secularized culture. If you want to know how it is that a culture gets secularized, this is one of the main ways it happens. Because Christians have a tendency now to disconnect their faith from the activities that connect them to their neighbors and connect them to the structures of their culture. If we privatize our faith and keep it as a leisure time activity that we participate in as part of our private life, it’s not connected to the structures of public life. It’s not connected to the culture. This is how the public square becomes secularized.

“I’m convinced that this is one of the most important challenges both for the church and the culture in our time. What’s the path out of this situation? I’m convinced that one of the major keys that we need to get out of this situation is to connect the faith — connect the gospel — to work.

On the pervasiveness of work.

“Most people — almost all people — spend most of their lives working. Work is not just in jobs. If you’ve ever had children, you know this. Work takes place in homes. Work takes place in neighborhoods. Work takes place in schools. Work is most of life, when you add up the hours.”

The gospel points us to a new understanding of work.

On the brokenness and renewal of work.

“There’s no denying that the world of work is badly broken. We know this, and we know why it is. Genesis 3 makes this very clear. When Adam and Even disconnect themselves from God, God addresses himself to them and one of the things he says is, ‘I’m going to tell you the consequences of your actions. Your work will be full of toil and frustration because you have disconnected yourself from me.’

“So the world of work is badly broken. And idolatry of work is wrong; it’s as wrong as any other kind of idolatry. And the technocratic elite who increasingly run our society and have more and more of the power in our society do have a workaholism problem that the church has to confront. But the gospel does not point us away from work. The gospel actually points us to a new understanding of work. A deeper reality.

“There’s a reason why work takes up most of life. It’s because we’re made for it! We’re made for work. For good work. In Genesis 2:15, it tells us why God put Adam in the garden. It wasn’t just to hang out; it says God put Adam in the garden to work it and protect it. To cultivate it and protect it. We are here to love God and to love each other, primarily, by doing good work. Other things are involved, but in Genesis and in other places, the purpose of creation is identified primarily in terms of work.

“We’re made to accomplish good things… [To] roll up our sleeves and do something for God, do something for our neighbors. To do work that provides food, provides clothing and shelter, provides transportation, communication, medicine, safety, beauty — the things people need and rightly want. That’s what we’re made for. To do work that provides things that are good for people.”

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Center for Faith and Culture

The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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