Putting Your Theology of Work to Work

Our final book in this year’s reading list brings all we have read together this year to its practical conclusion. Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling gives us a presentation of a theology of work similar to that presented in the previous book on our list by Timothy Keller along with a series of practical illustrations of what this looks like in real life application. Sherman acknowledges that much of her view of this theology is based on Keller’s writings and teaching. Beginning with the theological foundation in part one, she turns to a brief manual for training people in vocational stewardship, and concludes with a helpful description of four pathways to actually being vocational stewards.

The central idea in her presentation of this theology is the church as the tsaddiqim, the doers of justice, which is also drawn from Keller. She describes this work of doing justice as having three parallel aspects: the rescue of the helpless and innocent from their oppressors; promoting equity; and restoration. The objective is what Sherman calls the “rejoiced city,” drawing from Proverbs 11:10, which tells us that “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” Another way to describe this, she says, is that the work of the tsaddiqim is “offering our neighbors foretastes of kingdom realities.” (27) The goal of this is to give the world a picture of what biblical shalom will look like when God completes his redemptive work and creation is as it was meant to be again.

After giving us a picture of what we ought to be like as the tsaddiqim, Sherman explains why we so often aren’t that way. Her primary reason boils down to a misunderstanding of the scope of the gospel.

If we want to make progress in discipling Christ-followers who will live as the tsaddiqim, we need to understand the reasons why many do not live that way. The prevalence of an individualistic understanding of the gospel is the number-one reason. in many of our churches, our gospel is too small. While it is rightly centered on the vital atoning work of Jesus on the cross, it fails to grasp the comprehensive significance of his redemptive work. Consequently, it fails to direct Christ-followers into the righteous lifestyle of the tsaddiqim, who gladly join Jesus in his grand mission of restoration. (64-65)

What follows is an insightful critique of the evangelical church in America, including how we worship, how we fail to really disciple each other, and the results of both. Her solution? A proper understanding of the gospel is the only path to being who we ought to be as believers and, collectively, the church in the world. All this recalls Keller’s emphasis on Jeremiah 29 in both his Gospel in Life study and in Every Good Endeavor. It is because we truly understand why we are placed where we are placed that we are able to be the doers of justice and the signposts to what shalom is like.

If one of the problems with the church today is our failure to disciple, Sherman seeks to help correct the problem by giving some practical tools for discipling toward vocational stewardship, toward properly using the gifts and places God has given us in our work. Her call to the church to help members integrate the gospel with their daily lives echoes Keller again as well as the work of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World. Her suggested approach includes teaching a comprehensive gospel that points toward integrating faith and work as well as its lasting value, along with helping Christians discover their individual giftedness and how this informs bringing the comprehensive gospel to work.

Sherman closes her book with a description of four paths to putting all she has presented so far into practice. Her intention is to help Christians with “discerning where to invest their efforts.” (143) This is directed at church leaders, and intended to equip them first to respond to her challenge to disciple those under their teaching. Her four pathways include a place for every believer and their unique giftedness. They recognize that there are some who serve on the front lines, and some who provide support in the background in the role of doing justice. No one need feel that they can’t contribute to the work.

Sprinkled throughout with real-life examples, in Kingdom Calling Amy Sherman has provided both church leaders and individual Christians with a practical manual for teaching how to be good stewards of the gifts, callings, and vocations that God has given each of us. As we seek the prosperity of and to rejoice the cities in which we are placed, this book helps us understand more deeply our role in God’s redemption of creation so that we can perform that role with excellence where He has placed us.

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