Evangelism versus justice. Great Commission versus Great Commandment. Kingdom work versus ordinary work. Proclamation versus discipleship. Gathered versus scattered. Missionaries versus deacons. Justification versus sanctification.
Faith versus love.
A lot of people are sick and tired of setting the things of God against each other. Some have been seeking this change for a long time. In the first chapter of his 1975 classic Christian Mission in the Modern World, John Stott wrote that one of the most important theological defects of the modern church was its inability to grasp an integral gospel that would reveal the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as interdependent and mutually reinforcing, rather than in constant tension.
Since then, more and more Christians have come to share the same frustration. Yet an integral gospel seems to remain frustratingly out of reach. The old, familiar dualisms (“I left my job to go into full-time ministry”) keep coming back to haunt us.
If you teach systematics, ethics or spiritual formation, you know how important this issue is.
In this lively and pointed talk, designed for classroom use, Michael Wittmer shows us how to leave behind the tired debates and false dualisms by digging deeper. He gets to the root of the problem: how to relate our calling to salvation in Christ and our calling to do good works in the world. His integral approach to vocation offers the church a fresh vision of a gospel that both justifies and sanctifies.
Boldly, Wittmer doesn’t just relate the two callings. He argues that they aren’t two callings at all. The call to Christ and the call to good works are, he says, the same call. We are called into a faith in Christ that does not depend upon good works, but inevitably expresses itself in such works. That is the only kind of faith into which we are called. To divide the calling to faith from the calling to a new life of good works is to divide the gospel itself.
Systematic theologians, take note: This is no compromise of the classical Protestant view of the gospel. On the contrary, Wittmer grounds his approach to the issue in no lesser authority than Martin Luther’s interpretation of Paul. Let he who thinks Brother Martin is insufficiently Protestant cast the first stone!
Wittmer illustrates his point with moving examples from his own life – examples that will resonate especially with students in theological schools. Wittmer was drawn to seminary by the dream of “becoming the next Chuck Swindoll.” But a dualistic view of pastoral ministry turned the dream into a nightmare. Without an integral gospel that views all good work done by Christians in all sectors of service as God’s work, the calling of pastoral ministry became an intolerable burden.
The need for paid employment to cover seminary tuition at first increased his burden. But it later became a window through which he discovered a bigger gospel. Work done just to pay the bills and nothing more is draining, but work done for the glory of God is liberating. He learned that signing his initials on the work sheet, indicating that his assigned task was done, could only be done faithfully if the job itself had been done as an act of faith.
What if we had to sign “Jesus” after every task we did? If you’re a Christian, Wittmer says, you already do! That is what real faith means – it means we do all that we do seeking obedience and conformity to Christ. The question is not whether to sign “Jesus” after every task, but whether we are striving in faith after Jesus in such a way that we can sign his name and mean it.
If you want your students to connect the gospel and work, also consider assigning Celeste Cranston’s meditation on the Parable of the Father with Two Sons (aka “The Prodigal Son”) for what it reveals about how the gospel transforms our work.
The gospel breaks down dualisms – evangelism v. justice, faith v. work – because it calls us to wholeness in Jesus Christ. The call to faith in Christ is a call to a faith that produces faithfulness – a call to a new life in all of life.