Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: The Other Six Days

Review: The Other Six Days (Paul Stevens)

For most of church history, the people of God have been divided into two categories – those who “do ministry” (the clergy) and the objects of ministry (the laity). This clergy-laity division perpetuates a caste system of “spiritual” work with missionaries and pastors at the top of value chain, followed by people-helping professionals (like doctors, teachers, nurses) and “barely-religious, secular” jobs (such as lawyers, politicians and jazz musicians) close to the bottom! In The Other Six Days, Stevens challenged that dualism with provocative biblical, theological and practical reasons.

In Part I of the book, the author sounded a clarion call for reframing a theology “of the whole people of God” (where every member of the church is gifted, chosen and called by God for service in the world), “for the whole people of God” (which intentionally empowers the ordinary believer for practical, applied living) and “by the people of whole people of God” (where academic theologians work together with ordinary believers in the furnace of marketplace realities). By doing so, we recover an ecclesiology where each member is “ordained” to do the Lord’s work from Mondays to Saturdays and equipped to apply biblically Kingdom values to his daily concerns.

He argued that even in the Old Testament, the entire nation of Israel was called to belong to God and serve His purposes (Exodus 19:6). But within that people, were not some given a special call to be priests, prophets and kings? According to Stevens, the new covenant envisaged by the Old Testament promised a day in which all people will have God’s law written in their hearts (Jeremiah 31:34). The once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus the great High Priest has fulfilled the function of the Old Testament priesthood so that now the entire church is a royal priesthood. But he cautioned against ‘anti-clericalism’, stressing the need for gifted leadership of dedicated pastors as God’s will for the church (page 53). Drawing from the doctrine of Trinity, he outlined how the church needs to mirror that perichoretic life of God by rejecting individualism and embracing every member to contribute to the unity/ministry of the whole community of faith.

In Part II of the book, Stevens explores the thorny subject of calling and vocation in a culture where we no longer find meaning at work in relation to God. It is common to hear believers in ‘full time’ ministry speak of a special call from God but it seems not to apply to other believers. Stevens proposed that we do not separate God’s calling for humanity into two, disconnected mandates – The Creation Mandate (Genesis 1:27 – 30) and The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). It has tragic consequences to emphasize one and downplay the other. Rather, we ought to see our human calling in terms of a “covenant encompassing creation, redemption and final consummation. Salvation is both a rescue operation (recovering our lost vocation in Eden) and a completion project (preparing for the final renewal of creation at the second coming of Jesus)” . In that sense, all believers are called to communion with God, community-building (relationships, family and holy sexuality) and stewards in caring for the creation. “Every legitimate human occupation (paid or unpaid) is some dimension of God’s own work: making, designing, doing chores, beautifying, organizing, helping, bringing dignity and leading.”

In Part III of the book, Stevens explores how the biblical ministries of prophet, priest and king relate to the whole people of God in the wider world. As priests, the church intercedes for others in God’s presence and offers up everyday life as ‘spiritual worship’ (Romans 12:1). As regents, they bring in Kingdom values to bear on all of life. They embody the rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. As prophets, they bear witness to the gospel and challenge dehumanizing powers and idolatrous systems. People can be encouraged to see the marketplace as a natural place for evangelism by “using workplace terminology to share our faith; by connecting Sunday and Monday through interviewing people about their work, and praying for them; by extending pastoral care to the workplace, especially when there is injustice or unemployment; and dealing with workplace sins and temptations as part of church discipline” .  I am encouraged to put into practice some of these recommendations on a weekly basis during worship service to facilitate this paradigm shift.

The Other Six Days is a most worthy and inspiring read for Christians who seek deeper connections of faith to their work in the office, factory, school, field or at home as well as pastors who seek to send out the congregation to minister in the world. When we recover a biblical theology of work, ministry will be transformed as pastors are liberated from the crushing burden to minister to every need in the church. Rather, they exercise leadership gifts to empower and equip the people to spiritual maturity and service with God’s word. Similarly, mission is transformed when a church of one hundred members serve throughout the week in all the contexts in which God has placed them. They do not need to go into the world because they are already there.

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