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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“The Christian On the Job” (book review: Christianity Today)

Christianity Today
May 4, 1979

The Christian Employee, by Robert Mattox, (Logos, 220 pp., $3.50 pp), Your Job: Survival or Satisfaction, by Jerry and Mary White (Zondervan, 190 pp., $6.95), Success Without Compromise, by Richard H. LeTourneau (Victor, 176 pp., $1.95 pp) are reviewed by Robert Case, realtor, Yakima, Washington.

As Western society drifts farther away from its Christian ethical moorings those who are ministering those Christian ethics through the pulpit and teaching positions seem to be retreating farther away from an understanding of that society. This is nowhere more apparent than in their appreciation of the how and who of the market place. Many of the evangelical pulpits and educational institutions are occupied by men and women who have never held a secular position in the job market, and therefore have little personal understanding of what the majority of their parishioners endure during the work week. This is a luxury which the Lord never permitted himself (Mark 6:3: Luke 2:52): nor did Paul (Acts 18:3). Even the current darling of the evangelical left, Amos, knew what it was like to work in the real world before he became a social critic (Amos 7:14-15).

In the yawning chasm left between an increasingly “secular” (Latin for “belonging to worldly things”) society and an increasingly insulated clergy/academia swings the embattled lay man and woman who must fight to hang on to their Christianity and their economic livelihood. Unfortunately, there is little practical help on the way. But the three books in our review do attempt a rescue. The focus of the books is on working as a Christian in a non-Christian place of employment. That means cooperating with and competing with others whose ethical gyroscope is not spinning in the same direction as that of the Christian (I Pet. 2:11-25).

R. G. LeTourneau is perhaps the most recognizable name of a Christian businessman in America in the last forty years. His son, Richard, has written several books on work and the Christian, and his latest is Success Without Compromise, that is, “getting ahead God’s way in the workaday world.” LeTourneau is a multitalented, practical man. Successful in business, education, anti writing, he knows what he is saying. His earlier book, Success Without Succeeding, is a valuable asset to a discussion of our topic. His latest endeavor, however, is disappointing. I had hoped for a more cogent examination of the Christian’s plight in the workaday world but it was not forthcoming. Nevertheless, there still are some nugget thoughts worth remembering, such as: “It is extremely important that a Christian be as prepared as possible for any field of endeavor. With the help and guidance along with the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit here is no reason why a Christian cannot be prepared better than any of his contemporaries. To ignore this preparation, or to sidestep it, would be saying in erect that we do not have the guidance and wisdom available to us that we say we do . . .”

On a less positive note, just as he is ready to end his book he tosses off a statement that tantalizes us with the thought of deeper, and perhaps more meaningful, help to the beleaguered Christian worker: “”The basic problem with money is that human nature has basically a master-slave orientation. We all want to acquire this labor of other people, or the medium of exchange which will buy that labor, while at the same time minimizing the amount of labor that we, ourselves, must perform to earn the use of another’s services.” That is a sentence that warrants some elucidation and, unfortunately, receives none. So, there is the first weakness of this book: not enough grappling with real, meaty problems that most Christian workers face in a secular environment. The second weakness is even more serious and might not be corrected by another book. The weakness is LeTourneau’s handling of Scripture. He notes that we must be wary of dealing with certain problem situations with a scriptural solution. He writes: “There are many cases . . . where to take a scripturally absolute position may be considerably more damaging to the cause of Christ and to the future of any given situation than to apply the laws of grace.” (He does not explain the latter phrase.) LeTourneau clearly has a high view of Scripture, but a more consistent hermeneutics and better exposition in future writings will add immeasurably to his already considerable contribution to the evangelical believer in today’s work force.

Mattox gives us ample exposition and has put into the hands of the Christian worker a most valuable aid to maintaining a biblical stance in a secular work place. The core of his book is the thesis that Scripture gives us seven principles in providing a foundation to support Christians in our places of employment. These are: (1) God controls kingdoms and companies: (2) you are employed by Christ, not by your company: (3) your future depends upon God and your response to him; (4) your circumstances are designed by God: (5) count your superiors worthy in thought, word, and deed: (6) you must trust the Lord to direct your career; (7) your only status symbol must be the cross.

This book is filled with simple, yet helpful, exegesis of both the Old and New Testaments. Mattox does a marvelous job with Joseph, Moses, and Daniel. He gives us some very practical do’s and don’ts and puts the so called “seven editions of the Word of God” found in Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible to good use. The author’s approach is very reminiscent of Bill Gothard’s proof-texting approach to the Christian life. Despite the weaknesses of this, it does have the very commendable feature of drawing its teaching from a course all Bible-believing workers have access to the Bible!

Mattox rightly quotes Matthew 22:29 as a good reason for knowing what the Bible has to say concerning the working world: “Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.'” I enthusiastically commend this book for any Christian working in the secular atmosphere. The author has given those of us who sit in the pew on Sunday and work among the pagans Monday through Saturday a valuable aid in living the Christian life in our places of employment (Phil. 2:14-16).

The Whites’ book comes from the pen of a couple of Navigator staff members and the organization of their material is characteristic of that body. The book has two major divisions: “Foundations” and “Problem Situations.” The former is the best part of the book with the most exegesis and with thoughtful comments, such as, “Whether we like it or not, neighborhoods segregate according to so¬cial and financial levels. Instead of envying those who have more than you have, thank God for placing you in both your job and your neighborhood so you can be salt and light for Christ where you are.” They have a chapter entitled, “The Biblical View of Work,” and while it will not unseat Alan Richardson’s The Biblical Doctrine of Work as a pivotal piece of theological thought, it still is good, clear writing for the lay reader.

The second section, “Problem Situations,” while helpful, is less so than the first section. In this part the Whites cover a number of job categories such as, “The Salaried Employee,” “The Hourly Employee,” “The Working Woman,” etc., and they attempt to sketch some problem areas for each category. Sketching is all that can be done in a book aimed at simplicity and shortness, thus some of the profound and deeply disturbing questions of each category are not really covered. However, despite the brief treatment given this section it affords a panoramic view of part of the job market (and the curses and blessings of that market) for the believer, and is a serviceable primer for the worker.

Dorothy Sayers wrote in Creed or Chaos, “Work is not, primarily, some¬thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. When a man or a woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work.” Many share those sentiments, but authors and publishers have not kept Christian bookstores supplied with helpful books aimed at encouraging believers to claim their secular work environment for the Lord of Creation.

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