I had the great privilege of preaching at Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge today. Subsequently over lunch I considered with a group of student the question of why people stall in their Christian. One of the answers is worth blogging.
One of the student said that he regularly heard the argument (not, I think, at Eden), that the way to bring God the greatest glory in our life was to strive to be the best and most prominent doctor, lawyer, politician, academic. After all to have high profile Christians exemplifying godliness in the forefront of public life is potentially greatly strategic.
But the student went on, with some disquiet, "this case can clearly be made with integrity. However exactly the same case can be made to justify Christians being exactly as careerist as everyone else, just with a holy-looking gloss. People stall, he claimed, by thinking that this argument allows them to be careerist, convincing themselves it is for God's glory when it is really only for their own."
What if God's purpose is to glorify himself by a believer who is gifted enough to be prominent deliberately not being? That is what happened with a well known generation of our forebears like C.T. Studd.
Does the argument presuppose that a potentially gifted lawyer shouldn't conceive of giving it all up and going into overseas missions in obscurity instead?
And, worst of all, doesn't it fly in the face of the New Testament evidence that few that God chooses and calls are wise and prominent by the standards of this world?
Obviously we can all think of biblical examples of people that God used to glorify his name in positions of (secular) authority: Joseph, Gideon, Esther, Manaen. But I think that to reverse this statement is a false syllogism. (You know the kind of thing: "we must do something, this is something, therefore we must do it.") In this instance the argument is: "God used people in high positions of secular authority to glorify his name; therefore people in positions of authority glorify his name; therefore we should seek to be prominent in the world to glorify him. And prominence and worldly excellence is the best way to glorify him, so for us not to do it is tantamount to dishonouring God."
To anyone who is tempted to justify a career path with this argument I would say the following:
1. Always be suspicious of any argument of how our strategy might serve God if it also happens to exactly coincide with what will bring you prominence and worldly status. It may be of God, but we decieve ourselves so easily
2. Be extremely cautious of justifying anything as glorifying to God on the basis of worldly position rather than on faith. The argument that the Kingdom is served by Christians of position rather than Christians of integrity is deeply dangerous. Of course they may not be incompatible, but beware we are not just finding good reasons to do what we want to to do anyway, when questions of God-given ambition for our life isn't aren't what we are really thinking about
3. Be chastened by the fact that God tends to call and choose those the world disregards rather than those who are highly regarded. If we went the whole way with this argument we would have to conclude that Jesus made some dubious choices with the disciples. God tends to use uneducated Galillean fishermen to turn the world upside down
4. Never assume that God needs us in positions of prominence to accomplish his purposes. God is not sitting in Heaven saying to the angels "I am so glad X became a prominent academic/lawyer/business person. What on earth would we have done without her? Where would my strategy for reaching the world be if we didn't have her?" That isn't happening. It never happens. Regardless of the position we achieve in this world, and regardless of the integrity and godliness with which we fulfil it, we aren't adding to God's strategic ability to carry out his plans. Don't persuade yourself of certain career plans on the basis that we are