Note from CM: I love Labor Day weekend as much as any of the other holiday times during the year here in the U.S. It kicks off fall, my favorite season. It used to signal the beginning of the school year, a blank slate to be filled in, a season of new opportunity for learning and growing. Baseball playoffs are in sight. College football returns.We usually find a way to get together with family for some relaxation and enjoyment. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the blessing of work, the Lutheran perspective on vocation, and the opportunity to look back on a lifetime of working with people in the name of Christ.
Labor Day weekend combines thoughts about work, leisure, play, family, community, etc., in a way I find pleasing and encouraging. It represents what Michael Spencer calls in today’s post, “A Theology of Everything.”
Michael wrote this after receiving criticism for celebrating a win by his school’s basketball team over a rival school. His critic called such celebration “idolatry.” This led Michael to ponder whether or not God is in such things as basketball games.
Like Michael, I believe in a God who has given us all things richly to enjoy. May God bless your labor, your rest, your play. Happy Labor Day.
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I have what I call a “Theology of Everything.”
I don’t believe that everything is God. There is only one God. But I do believe that everything has to do with God, and the truth about God — particularly the Gospel — rescues everything from being meaningless, and infuses a new meaning into everything in life.
This Theology of Everything intentionally looks for God in the “non-religious” aspects of life. He is always there, and scripture gives us a grid for looking at anything in life through the lens of God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Instead of seeing the world separated from God, as so many evangelicals preach over and over, the Bible shows us a world that God refuses to desert; a world where God stays involved despite the sinfulness of people.
The idea that the world is tainted with sin and must be avoided is gnosticism, not Christianity. It is a kind of manufactured righteousness that specializes in religion being more significant than other human activities. Singing hymns is acceptable. Making three-pointers is not. Preaching and teaching- God thing. Cheering and playing the school song- not a God thing.
This is most clearly seen when we talk about something, but don’t talk about God. If God is not mentioned, it is assumed we have idolatry going on. God has been displaced. Of course, we have the Song of Solomon and Esther, neither with any mention of God. We have a lot of Proverbs, premised on God as the beginning of wisdom, that do not mention God at all. Can we talk about human experience, all the while believing in God, but not mention God at every opportunity? In fact, is it possible that the Jews, in their reluctance to speak the name of God, might have been on to something evangelicals could learn about: not trivializing God by making everything an opportunity to engage in God-speak?
A Theology of Everything doesn’t have to prove God’s relationship to basketball or a great game or a significant recognition of the team. God’s relevance isn’t my responsibility. God IS relevant. He IS central. He DOES change everything. He IS the way, truth and life, whether we are focusing on God or on the best defensive performance of the game.
A Christian school like the one where I work ‘ doesn’t make God relevant by constantly, cheaply displaying religion as more important than sports. We show the greatness of God by being able to do our best in sports out of a commitment to what we know of God through His son, Jesus. We can honor a sport’s accomplishment in the context of our faith community, because without God we wouldn’t be doing anything. Saying God is the “all in all” isn’t saying anything but God is a waste of time. It’s a confession that, as C.S. Lewis said, God is the one without which nothing is very real.
God gave us the desire to excel. He gifted the young men who play basketball for our school. He is glorified in their work ethic. He has given them a good coach and a supportive school. God gave them the drive to overcome great odds through effort, teamwork, unselfishness, sacrifice and leadership. It doesn’t make God greater to draw the circle of His relevance smaller. We ought to draw the circle larger; so large that it encompasses everything.
What has this way of thinking done to the Christian view or art? Creativity? Calling and vocation? Non-religious accomplishments of every kind? Obviously, it has elevated the mediocre (or the just plain bad) because God was talked about, and it has overlooked, ignored and rejected what was covered in the fingerprints of God, just because He wasn’t mentioned in every verse or every page.
In a recent discussion of one Christian filmmaker’s view that evangelicals refuse to see excellence where there is no explicit Christian content, a commenter went into the familiar description of such a view as worldly compromise with a sin-tainted world. I wonder… when you read the scriptures, who is the one who is really most tainted by the sin of the world? Good, moral Christians? Or the God who is there in the middle of the mess we call creation, providing His Son as a mediator who is both “untainted” and “very tainted” so the world can be redeemed? If I go into the world “as Jesus did,” do I go with the intention of being “untainted,” or of redeeming what is tainted by the transforming power of God’s Gospel?
Is this why so many Christian young people think that the only way to serve God and honor God is to talk about God? So they must become preachers and Christian singers? Is this why my school contains so few Christian students planning on a “secular” profession as an explicit expression of their Christian calling? We need a Theology of Everything if we are going to accomplish the Great Commission. Having a God of the Ghetto (Christianized version) won’t matter.
I’m glad I understand there is no way to exclude God, and it is a mistake to ever act as if we do. All our actions may not glorify Him, and all our energies may not honor Him, but a gymnasium is as good as a church when it comes to experiencing the goodness of God’s creation, and I think that God works in far more wonderful ways than we ever suspect. God won’t be limited. It takes human beings to attempt to tell Aslan he isn’t welcome at our celebration of victory.