A Vocational Approach to Public Engagement for Evangelical Communities

Evangelicalism has been a prominent advocate of the Faith at Work (FAW) movement in various ways since its inception (roughly the late-1800s). FAW aims to bring a seamless integrity to the spiritual and economic life of believers, cultivating more meaning and personal fulfillment in the workplace. David Miller, in God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, identifies the reason for this alliance as the tendency of evangelicals to view the market and marketplace institutions favorably, as opposed to mainstream denominations and organization that draw more from liberation theology and Marxist cultural critiques. Indeed, FAW has been criticized alongside evangelicalism for doing little to challenge oppressive tendencies in modern workplaces, such as inadequate compensation and socio-economic inequalities. This is because FAW and evangelicalism together have focused theological engagement on internal issues of individual piety (sensibilities amiable to middle-to-upper class workplace concerns) rather than an emphasis on communal flourishing (sensibilities more present in lower-/working-class sensibilities).

This paper will endeavor to broaden not only FAW but evangelical social vision itself to include issues of justice and equity by suggesting a vocational anthropology as a foundation for public engagement. Such a vocation anthropology would view humanity as created in God’s Image to work and keep creation, cultivating and facilitating flourishing communities. If this is the original, irrevocable vocation in which humanity was created, something that was broken in the fall and inherited by all of Adam’s posterity, then it becomes central to the life of Jesus, the crucifixion, and conversion away from sin and death and into Christ, the first-fruit of new and renewed creation for which and to which we are being saved. This rejected vocation and broken relationship with creation becomes a central reason for Christ’s death, a central object of repentance, and a central priority of sanctification, rather than being incidental to the death of the Messiah. More explicit reflection on the centrality of this vocational anthropology brings concerns of communal flourishing to the center of FAW as well as to the heart of evangelical faith in the redeeming work of Christ that restores believers to right relationship with God, others, and creation.

The result of centering this vocational anthropology in conversations about faith and work is a greater emphasis on communal and public concerns from a distinctively evangelical posture. It navigates between the authoritarianism and privatism between which many evangelical communities find themselves caught (recognized early on by Martin Marty and Richard John Neuhaus). By beginning with a vocational anthropology, public theology can provide a stable foundation for evangelical public engagement that proves responsive to issues of justice while remaining distinctively Christian.

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