Joy For The World: The True Source Of Our Economic Witness

A missing key ingredient to social and economic restoration is joy: The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do.

Before and beyond the Christmas season, let us surrender any primary allegiances to contrived cultural action. Instead, we have a far greater task: to draw from and rest in the joy of God in Christ in all that we do. Let it flow and overflow in and throughout our daily lives, all while remembering that the distinct difference of the life sacrificed unto Christ—“the work of the Spirit in our minds, hearts, and lives”—also happens to be the best light for civilization.

 

As the culture around us continues to move farther into post-Christian territory, the Christian response has often taken the shape of heavy-handed strategy or top-down mobilization. The goal: to win the culture back!

In our economic activity, we focus on starting “Christian businesses” or “social enterprises” and using our profits and salaries to fund “kingdom endeavors.” In our political action, we opt for politicians who share specific religious beliefs, hoping they will somehow set the world to rights. In the arts, we create fictional stories and music and movies with the sole purpose of down-and-direct evangelism.

These all have their merits and designated functions, to be sure. Yet when we look at the Christmas story and the way of the manger—the King of Kings who begins by going low and bearing witness through mundane family relationships and daily labor—it would seem that the predominant cultural witness of the church ought to emerge a bit differently.

According to Greg Forster, much of this is due to a missing key ingredient to social and economic restoration: joy. “The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do,” he writes in his book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It, arguing that our lofty, strategic goals for nudging the culture often come with far too little on the inside.

“Every day, we participate in the structures of human civilization. Our participation ought to manifest the miraculous work the Spirit has done in our hearts,” Forster writes. “Impacting our civilization is only one of many reasons it ought to do so. Evangelism depends on it; if we preach the gospel but don’t live in a way that reflects it, our neighbors won’t believe it. Our own discipleship and spiritual formation also depend on it; our ‘civilizational lives’ take up almost all of our waking hours, and we’re not disciples if we glorify God only inside the church walls.”

For example, in our work, businesses, and trading relationships, ethics and evangelism are surely important, but if these are all we are thinking about or putting our hands to, our economic action is bound to deteriorate into petty legalism or “cultural lever-pulling.” In such cases, “we’re just cleaning the cup from the outside,” Forster argues. “The inside of the cup may still be full of worldly and materialistic assumptions about what work is for.”

At a deeper level, we need an economic imagination that’s infused with the spiritual joy of work and an understanding of its proper place in our current economic systems. Indeed, we need Gospel-transformation across all of our common notions about labor, service, consumption, fruitfulness, profit, and what an economy actually is.

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