Mere Christians

Dr. Amy Sherman (Author of Kingdom Calling)

Episode Summary

Why the “Too Narrow Gospel” means everything for your work

Episode Notes

How the “Too Narrow Gospel” and a bad theology of heaven are blocking your vision for your work, 4 pathways for stewarding your vocation for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, and why we should all think of our lives as ice cream tasting spoons.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:05] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast. I’m Jordan Raynor. How does the Gospel influence the work of mere Christians? Those of us who aren’t pastors or religious professionals but who work as mathematicians, drywall installers, and curators. That's the question we explore every week. Today, I'm posing it to Dr. Amy Sherman. She is one of the deepest thinkers in the world on how the Gospel shapes the work that mere Christians do.


By the way, if you're curious, what I've been writing, what's going to follow Redeeming Your Time and The Word Before Work, this episode, and Skye Jethani’s episode from last year are about the best previews you could possibly get.


Dr. Sherman and I sat down to talk about how the “too narrow Gospel” and our bad theology about heaven is blocking your vision for your work. We talked about the four pathways for stewarding your vocation for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. And we talked about why we should all think of our lives as ice-cream tasting spoons. This is my favorite episode we've done in a very long time. I think you're going to love it. Please enjoy this great conversation with Dr. Amy Sherman.




[00:01:34] JR: Dr. Sherman, welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast. I've been a longtime admirer of yours from afar for years. I can't believe this is the first time we're talking live. So, welcome.


[00:01:43] AS: Oh, thank you. That's very kind. Thank you for inviting to be on the podcast.


[00:01:48] JR: Yeah. So, I want to focus our conversation on this extraordinary book you published a few years ago called Kingdom Calling, and the book is really focused on what it means to be the righteous people that are described in Proverbs 11:10. Can you share the context of that verse? And why do you think it's so important to the mere Christians who are listening?


[00:02:10] AS: Yeah, my attention was drawn to that verse by a sermon I heard from Tim Keller, and he was talking about the verses, when the righteous prosper, the city rejoices. And that's Proverbs 11:10, and he says, “If you're paying attention, that verse should land on you counterintuitively, because a city is going to have all these different groups of people. And this versus saying that there's a particular group of people, and everything's going great for them, and everybody's happy about it.” And that's counterintuitive, because you could easily imagine a scenario where if one group of people was doing great, other people would be disgruntled or jealous or angry about it.


But the key to the whole thing was the fact that the group that's prospering is the righteous, and the Hebrew word, there is the word Tzadikim. It's a word that gets translated in our Bibles as the just or the righteous, and that's not bad. But the meaning is really a deeper and richer. It's this notion of a person so in love with God, and so sold out to God and God's purposes, in God's mission, in God's ways, that the person sees everything that they have, all their talents, their relationships, their assets, their opportunities, whatever power they have, whatever influence. They see all of those things as gifts from God that are meant to be poured out for the sake of others.


So, in the book of Proverbs, Keller was explaining, the righteous, the Tzadikim, are the people that are portrayed as generous and pouring themselves out, even to their own disadvantage, for the sake of others. Whereas the wicked in the book of Proverbs are always those who are putting their own particular, personal or economic, desires before everything else. So, the righteous are these beautiful, beautiful people who love God, and who are full of gratitude, and who are strategic about wanting to deploy everything that God's put into their hands for the benefit of neighbor love, out of their love for God. And it's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful vision.


What struck me, personally, when I was hearing that, was that we can be the prospering without being the righteous. I think I am part of the prospering. I mean, I may not be Bill Gates, but as a white educated American citizen living in the time that we're living, I have much more than literally probably a couple billion people on the planet, right? But it's entirely possible I could be the prospering without being the Tzadikim. So, I found myself saying to the Lord, “Oh, Lord, I am the prospering. Help me. Take inventory and you lead me to be a Tzadikim.


[00:05:29] JR: I love that. That's beautiful. And you're getting at in the book that most of us aren't the Tzadikim. Right? Our integration of our faith in our work is very surface level. You pointed these three E's. We never move beyond thinking about ethics, excellence and evangelism. Why more of us are not the righteous people. Just go to Proverbs 11:10.


You argue that there's two things keeping us from this, and I thought you were spot on in your diagnosis here. Number one is what you call the “too narrow Gospel.” And number two is an inadequate understanding of heaven. I want you to explain both. But let's start with the too narrow Gospel. What do you mean by that term, Dr. Sherman?


[00:06:14] AS: I think what I mean by that is the notion that we're understanding the redemptive work of Christ being limited to personal salvation. I believe that the Bible story is a story of God creating a world that's marked by what the Hebrew word Shalom, that God created this world in Genesis one where we have peace with God, and peace with self, peace with others, and peace or harmony with the created order. We have spiritual intimacy with God. We have psychological wholeness and wellness. We have social peace, where we're in mutual loving relationship with others. And we have physical abundance and harmony and wellbeing in the world.


The Bible story is really a story of God wanting to create a world of Shalom and putting human beings in it. Human beings making the choice to turn away from God and losing that world of Shalom. And then this long, Biblical story of how God is at work in the world to restore that Shalom, Jesus coming into our time and space to make possible the healing of all of the brokenness, the spiritual brokenness, the psychological brokenness, the social brokenness, the physical brokenness, to make a way back into that relationship with God, that is marked by wholeness in all those dimensions.


And then, the Bible story ends in the New Heavens and the New Earth when we actually regain in all of its perfection, that full Shalom. That's what I would call the big Gospel, and it understands that Jesus's work was a work that yes, absolutely restored, that which was spiritually broken. Restored intimacy with God. But we don't give Jesus and the atonement enough glory, enough honor, if we limit our understanding of what it accomplished to solely that repair of the loss of spiritual health and intimacy. Because we are whole beings, and Shalom was always bigger than only that spiritual wellness. It always included all the other dimensions.


Only when we can really understand and be confident to say, “Wow, God really wants us for all of the wholeness of Shalom. That's how he created the world. That's what his normative intentions for people are.” Jesus did this amazing work, whereby he set right all of those different dimensions and he pushed back the effects of the curse and the fall against all of those dimensions. Ultimately, when he returns, we're going to see all of those things healed and all things made new. A narrow Gospel that only focuses on the repair of our individual relationship to God and says, “Jesus bought us a ticket on the cross so that we can get to heaven to be put back into relationship with God.” It is not untrue, because that is part of what Jesus is just insufficient, because it doesn't tell the full story.


[00:10:05] JR: It's terribly insufficient. I would argue it's heretical, because in a way, it's calling Jesus a loser instead of Lord. Let me explain. Act One of the story, God deems all things good, material and spiritual. Act Two, Sin destroys all things. If Jesus doesn't come back and in Act Three and redeem every square inch of fallen creation, then you're saying God has failed. But he hasn’t. So, not only is it a heresy, but I think this has direct implications for how we think about our work and I'd love for you to speak to this explicitly.


[00:10:43] AS: It absolutely does. Because if the only important thing is the repair of the relationship with God, and nothing else is important, then it's very difficult. If the mission of God is reduced to only the mission of saving souls, we're going to have a really difficult time figuring out why our work as an architect, or an accountant, or an artist really matters. Or we're going to have this notion of, “Oh, well, that's just work I do to kind of pay the bills. And I guess the only really important thing I'm supposed to do is just evangelize my coworkers, so that they can get right with God.”


So, it gives us this really, really paltry, insufficient view of what it really means to do our work as believers, and it fails to even understand the important purposes of the work itself. Because Jesus didn't just come to redeem the sinful architect or the sinful accountant or the sinful artist, he did come to redeem sinful people. But there's so much more. Part of that comprehensive, every square inch type restoration that you were just mentioning there, he actually came to redeem that which is fallen in art, and that which has fallen in accounting, and which is fallen in architecture.


When we recognize that it's like, “Oh, Jesus is renewing the field of work that I'm in, and Jesus is concerned about – Jesus created that field for good to give Him honor and glory and to be used as a means for promoting human flourishing. I get to be part of that, and He wants me to be on mission with Him repairing and restoring the parts of my work and my industry, that have really gotten off the rails and gone in the wrong direction. To be brought back into the purposes of Shalom.”


So, when we don't have a big Gospel, we don't have a robust understanding of why we're working and what it is we're supposed to be doing in and through our work.


[00:13:00] JR: Amen. The good news of the Gospel is not just that I get to go to heaven when I die, but that I get to partner with God in revealing heaven on earth until I die, those glimpses of Shalom.


All right, we've been talking about this first reason that we believe more Christians aren't the righteous people that cause the city to rejoice, this too narrow Gospel. Let's go to the second reason. To quote you, you say, “It's our inadequate understanding of heaven and the afterlife.” Talk to us about what you mean by that.


[00:13:35] AS: Yeah, well, certainly. I'm heavily indebted here to a variety of other writers and thinkers, in particular anti-write, and it's very related, really, to the first reason that we've been talking about. But again, if our conception of Heaven is a very serial, non-material one, that somehow the basic problem was that our soul was in communion with God and then because of sin, our soul was not in communion with God. Now, Heaven is our souls being reconnected to communion with God.


First of all, it gets very squishy, and we don't really know how to understand any of that. But that often is this view. We don't have a very robust three-dimensional view of what heaven or the afterlife is like. And then we have all sorts of popular cultural images that swim around in our minds, and all of a sudden, Heaven is people floating around on clouds playing harps. A lot of our young people say, “That doesn't sound very fun. I’m not really sure I want to sign up for that anyway.”


So, we have this really – basically, we don't know the end of our story. So, the Bible is telling us this amazing story of Shalom lost, all the way to Shalom regained, but we don't have an imagination for how great the full regaining of Shalom is going to be. So, we don't know where it's all going. We're in this story, but we don't have a great view of its conclusion. If the conclusion is the earth is all going to burn up, nothing that I really put my hand to that was called work is really going to last. The only things that last are the Word of God and the souls of man. If that's what we believe, then we don't know what we're doing here again, right?


[00:15:35] JR: Yes. Oh, man. I can't tell you how much my blood starts to boil and hopefully in a righteous way. I have to repent of some sin here anytime I hear people say that because that's not at all what we see in Scripture. I love what Randy Alcorn says in his great book on Heaven. He says, “When we think of Heaven as unearthly, our present lives seem unspiritual, like they don't matter. When we grasp the reality of the New Earth though, our present earthly life suddenly matters. Conversations with loved ones matter. The taste of food matters. Work matters. Why? Because these things are eternal.”


So, I think it's critical that we get this Biblical vision of not just the present heaven, but the eternal heaven on Earth. I think there's another misconception here about Heaven, Dr. Sherman, that Heaven is simply a place that we go to in the future. And that's true, in a sense, but it's only half true, because Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven, aka the Kingdom of God, is also a state of affairs that's breaking into the present, right?


[00:16:40] AS: Yeah, absolutely. And we need to be connecting to those realities. I love how my friend Tom Nelson tells the Biblical story as a story of ought-is-can-will. So, creation, fall, redemption, consummation. Ought, creation, the way things are supposed to be is. The fall, the way things are, because of the fall. Can, the chapter of redemption, the way the world is different now because of Jesus's incarnation and ministry and life, death, and resurrection. And then will, the way that the world will be one day in the final consummation.


So, we live in this time of can, the time when the Kingdom actually is now. Some of what we are doing in our work is offering people foretaste of that Kingdom right now. And in some ways, we're participating with God in the work of renewal that He's doing now, and that will find its final form and ultimate expression in the future. But we live in the time of can, and I love that phrase. It gives me a great sense of optimism and excitement about what's possible, even now in the power of the Spirit.


[00:17:57] JR: I love that so much. You argue in the book that it's when we bring those samples of the Kingdom of God into the present, that's when as Proverbs 11:10 says the city rejoices. I love this analogy you shared, and I know you borrowed it from somebody else about the tasting spoon in an ice cream shop. Can you briefly share that with our listeners?


[00:18:16] AS: Yeah, yeah, I heard that many, many, many years ago, a guy named Jeff White out of Harlem. But the idea was that he says, “Our lives, if you go into a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store, you get this little pink plastic spoon and you're able to look over the 31 flavors in their big five-gallon buckets, and ask the person behind the counter there. I want a little taste test of whatever. Butter Crunch or chocolate raspberry truffle is my favorite of the Robbins flavor. They take that little spoon and they give you a little taste of that ice cream.”


I love that, because we are those little spoons. In our lives, and through our work, we get to offer people a little taste of the coming marks of the Kingdom. So, we know in Scripture, from lots of different texts, that the New Heaven or New Earth are going to be marked by perfect justice and perfect wholeness, and perfect beauty and perfect intimacy with God, by perfect community and by dignity and by abundance and prosperity. These are the realities that are coming in the future. We live our lives now offering people as little pink spoons a taste of what is going to come. How, in my work, can I offer someone a little taste of greater justice, of greater wholeness, of greater beauty, of greater community, et cetera? That's what we get to do here, empowered by the Spirit.


[00:19:57] JR: But if we want to be the Tzadikim, we got to share accurate samples of that Kingdom, right? We got to know to extend the analogy of what's in the five-gallon ice cream pockets. You touched on this. It's these marks of the consummated Kingdom, and I got to say, I loved how explicit you were in your book Kingdom Calling, listing out those marks of the consummated Kingdom. That in and of itself is worth way more than the price of admission to this book. And it's really all built around Shalom, the four fundamental relationships of life. Can you quickly talk through that wheel of those four fundamental relationships, Dr. Sherman?


[00:20:38] AS: Yeah. So, we've mentioned them earlier, but this notion of peace with God, peace with self, peace with others, and peace with the created order. So, peace with God, the appreciation of God is the good, the true, the beautiful, the sense of spiritual intimacy, the joy that is ours, the beauty that we see in the world, because it is created by God, and it reflects the beauty of God. So, there are aspects of that spiritual wholeness and wellness that are fundamental to human flourishing.


And then peace with self, this notion of mental wellbeing, of emotional and psychological wellbeing, of being the beloved of God, of having an identity based on being the beloved of God, and having all of the wellness that comes from that deep sense of personal purpose, and meaning, and identity, and being loved by God, and enjoying all of that, peace with others. So, everything from the lack of armed conflict to the beauty of mutual collaboration and interdependency in our relationships with others, and working together for the good of others, and for the flourishing of all.


And then this notion of peace with the created order that right now, the world is full of thorns and thistles, and there's much brokenness and corruption. The human relationship to the creation is often strained. But God is working in such a way as to bring healing into all of that. And so, we get to push back against the curse of poverty, and push back against the curse of pollution and work towards human health and wellbeing. Work towards the planet's health and wellbeing. Work to bring about abundance in the places where there is barrenness. So, yeah, it's this multifaceted, beautiful picture of Shalom, and all these different facets of the Kingdom of God in all its glory, and how they can be understood within that fourfold imagination of about what Shalom is.


[00:23:11] JR: I love it. So, that's what we mere Christians are called to sample in our lives and work. Let's bring it down to the ground floor though, Amy, and pick whoever you want. You pick a public-school teacher, an entrepreneur, a bank teller. Let's talk through how one of the mere Christians listening right now can practically offer tastes of that coming Shalom as they work today.


[00:23:32] AS: Yeah. One of the stories I tell in the book is about an architect named Jill, and I think she's just been really intentional and thoughtful about what this looks like. So, during her time in architecture school, she actually became the first student to take a number of different, I don't know, whether it was certifications or what it was. But she basically learned how to be a green architect, learned how to be the kind of architect that builds buildings that are healthy for people, and that are sustainable, and that are energy efficient, and all of that. She did that because as a Christian, she really takes creation care seriously, and she takes human health really seriously.


Then, she went off and worked for a firm out in California that devoted itself to green architecture, and improved her skills there. I think, really, just developed professionally. But one of the things that happened was, she was thinking this is great because we're using these architecture skills and we're directing them towards really good ends of human health and creating buildings that are designed to the scale of humans, and that let the light in, and that don't waste resources and all of that.


But the only people that we're serving are the people that can pay these really, really, really high prices for architecture consulting. So, she realized, I've got a skill set and there are people around the world that can benefit and need to benefit from this skill set, but they're not able to access my skills. So, she and another friend of hers left that firm and built a little boutique firm, where they offered green architecture design at a more affordable scale, so that churches and nonprofit organizations could also benefit from her services. We ended up helping a nonprofit that was involved in building schools for girls in the Sudan.


So, there's an example. I mean, so many different Kingdom fortes that Jill had her fingers in the pie on in the way that she was working. The book is just packed with all these fun stories that I was able to collect from people being so creative, people, working artists who take their art into nursing homes and work with lonely, isolated elderly people, and get them involved in doing art. It gives them not only a taste of beauty through art in that way, but also is really meeting them as human beings, giving them a taste of creativity and community as they create as part of a group, and just beautiful work like that, or business people recognizing that one of the things that they can do in their business is have a huge impact on people's lives, if they're giving someone a job, who needs a second chance. And so, there are stories about business folks that are hiring folks that other people are a little bit reluctant to hire, and how transformative that is in their lives.


[00:27:12] JR: For sure. One of the things I loved about your book is not only that it was theologically rich, but there are so many of these stories. Because I think stories makes theology three dimensional, right? It's part of the reason why I have this podcast, this guest-driven podcast where most of our guests are mere Christians. I think it helps get a vision for how we can steward our vocations to the ends of being the righteous people of Proverbs 11:10.


In your book Kingdom Calling, you share these four pathways to vocational stewardship. In other ways, these four postures for being those righteous people that Proverbs 11:10 describes. Can you share those four pathways explicitly with our listeners?


[00:27:53] AS: Yeah. So, the first pathway, I just call bloom where you're planted. And this is really open to every single person listening. Because the idea here is just to ask the questions in the particular work I'm doing now, whether that's paid work or unpaid work. How can I be a Kingdom forte bringer in the circumstances I'm in? Maybe I'm not in my dream job. Maybe I'm not even in that job that seems to very align very well with what my passions are, or even what I went to school to do. I went to school and I got a degree in whatever, but that's not the job I have right now.


But you can still be someone who offers those Baskin-Robbins sized spoonful of good through the work that you're doing right now, asking how you can bless others. Asking, of these various marks of the Kingdom, which are the ones that my field that I'm working in, most particularly offer to people? If I'm in the healthcare field, well, I have the opportunity to give people a greater taste of wholeness and wellness. If I'm in the business world, I have a real opportunity to give people a greater taste of prosperity. If I'm in opportunity, if I'm in the world of law, I have an opportunity to give people a greater taste of justice.


So, thinking a little bit about the creational purposes of the field that you're in, thinking about the types of Kingdom marks that are most advanced within that field, and how can you play your role. So, how can you bloom right where you're planted?


The second pathway is called donate, and the idea is, maybe you just feel very limited in what you're able to do in your current position, in part because maybe there is that misalignment with your own capabilities and talents. So, an example I like to give is the dancer or the musician or the actress who is working in a restaurant or something, and they don't feel like they're really using their gifts in the arts fully at that restaurant.


Well, the second pathway is to say, well, outside of doing that regular work, you could give those talents to other organizations. You can volunteer those talents in another agency or nonprofit or in your congregation. But you can use those particular gifts that you've been given by God, if you don't feel like you're deploying them as strategically as you'd like to see on your job.


The third pathway, I call invent, and if bloom where you're planted is really about what I've heard Tim Keller use the phrase “intrapreneur”, how do I, inside the field where I'm at inside my workplace, how do I become an agent of wholeness, of justice, of beauty, of joy, of these different Kingdom fortes? How do I act in that way within the organization to push it towards those things more and more?


Invent, this third pathway is the idea of being an entrepreneur, the person that says, “Okay, I'm going to start a new thing. I'm going to create a new venture, a new enterprise, maybe a for-profit, maybe a nonprofit. But I'm going to create something new to give me a platform for the full deployment of the particular gifts and talents that God has given to me.” So, it's the musician deciding, “Okay, I've saved up money, and I am going to stop working at the restaurant, and I'm going to open my own little studio where I'm teaching voice lessons to folks, and I'm passing on these musical gifts.”


Then, the fourth one is a little bit harder to describe briefly. But in a nutshell, the fourth one, the idea is what I call investing. And the concept I had in mind there was a little bit more corporate, whereby a church would be giving itself to some really big cause in the world, or giving itself to a particular place in the community, to be working for the good of others, and then inviting the various people in the congregation whose vocational abilities range really, really, really broadly.


But inviting them into that cause or into that mission in a very particular way, whereby they would get to use their specific talents. The story I tell there is about a church that really reaches out to a neighborhood just a few minutes away from the church building. The idea was, all the educators in the church got together, and they were loving on the school in that community, and they were loving on the school children, and they were starting tutoring and mentoring, all kinds of stuff.


The real estate and finance people got involved in that particular neighborhood, starting to buy up some of the properties that were owned by slum lords and improve those properties, and become much better landlords and even create some opportunities towards homeownership. And the scientists that were part of that congregation, finding their niche, whereby they were able to really help the local school reimagine some of the science curriculum and even create. They took an unused gym space and really transformed it pretty magically, into a place that had this replica of the solar system. So, those are the different pathways.


[00:33:43] JR: It’s so helpful for our listeners to be able to think through how they could serve their vocations in those four ways. By the way, we should say you said in Kingdom Calling, you wrote this book, primarily for the clergy, but really for everyone. And I would argue that any mere Christian listening could get a lot from it. I haven't told you this yet, but I just finished writing, basically a version of Kingdom Calling for mere Christians primarily, that also the clergy, secondarily, can get a lot from. But I would highly encourage you guys to check out this book.


Hey, a couple of other things from the book I want to touch on before we go. First, I was hoping you could touch on this tension you addressed that personal happiness shouldn't be the primary motivator for Christians as we choose our vocations, which I completely agree with. But then you also point out that, “God is not indifferent to our joy at work”, which I also agree with. So, where do these two seemingly competing ideas leave us, Dr. Sherman?


[00:34:40] AS: Well, in the Christian life in general, we see that tension, right? I mean, the Christian life, on the one hand, is a call to joy. Because God is the most joyous being in the universe, Christianity is the most joyous community in the universe. And the invitation of Jesus to “follow Me” is an invitation into the life of the Trinity and into the joy of the Trinity. And God created us for that joy. We are meant to flourish in that relationship.


So, there's a way in which the call of Jesus is a call to enter joy. And yet, as Bonhoeffer and others have said that the call of Jesus is also a call to come and die. But it's a dying to selfish desires. It's a dying to flesh. It's a dying to being our own guide, really. So, there is sacrifice that is involved. But some of that sacrifice, ultimately, isn't so painful, right? If the sacrifice is, “Oh, this is going to be hard to turn from one direction to another direction.” But if the direction that you're turning towards is the one that's going to get you, actually, the joy that you most desire, then that's a worthwhile sacrifice.


But the Christian life is also an increasing willingness to participate with Jesus in this work of redeeming all things, and in this great work of love. Particularly, in our fallen world, to pursue the way of love will be costly, and will be difficult at times. It will require the sacrifice of comfort at times. It will require the sacrifice of convenience at times. It will require the doing of things that we'd rather not do, that aren't as fun as other things that we might want to do. So, that's just a reality of the Christian life, that there's these things that we hold in tension.


But I really want believers to embrace this notion that God is for you, and does want your flourishing, and he made you – you are his poem. You are his workmanship, created for good works. You will find a lot of joy in living into that calling. There will be times when living into that calling will feel as though you're making a sacrifice, and may feel like you're not really getting to do exactly what you always want to do. But I think ultimately, there is a greater joy than sacrifice.


[00:37:36] JR: Yes, amen. That’s so well said. Hey, I want to touch on one more thing from the book. You said, “To say that there's no sacred secular divide”, and sidebar, too narrow Gospel that we talked about, inaccurate view of Heaven helps us break down that sacred secular divine, right? You say, “To say there's no sacred secular divide is not the same thing as saying that all secular pursuits are equally worthy.” I love this. I love this nuance. I think I know what you mean by this, but I'd love to hear you explain it a little bit deeper. What do you mean by this statement?


[00:38:10] AS: I think that's the statement that's gotten me into more trouble than others.


[00:38:14] JR: That's interesting.


[00:38:16] AS: It’s fun talking about it. What I was trying to get at there was the fact that we live in a world of tremendous need, and we live in a culture in which there are many things that are just trivial. I try to make a distinction between that which is trivial, and that which is mundane. So, we have all this freedom of choice. There's many, many different types of work we can go into. But some of those things are really, really trivial, and they're not really contributing anything to the Kingdom of God.


So, the examples I use are things like, do we really need a business whose whole reason for being is to create new flavors of dog food? Just go to your local grocery store and stand in the pet food aisle. We have enough. Frodo doesn't need a new flavor of dog food. We got plenty of them.


Another example I gave in one talk was, there's some company in New York City where the whole purpose of the company is to do interior design of themed rooms in your home for your pet, that are dependent on whatever your pet’s passions are.


[00:39:49] JR: You’re really going after pets here, Dr. Sherman, with your kittens in the background.


[00:39:53] AS: I love animals. I love pets. They're majorly important to my life. But I don't need a company that come in here and try to convince me that I can find out from my kitty cats what are they really, really into? And how can I create a themed room for them and design it? Because they really liked the movie Frozen? So, I designed them a whole Disney room with stuff. This is trivial work. Why in the world would you – when you have a bunch of choice, why would you give to yourself to such frivolous trivial pursuits? That's very different from mundane things.


I'm not talking about – there are companies that just produce toilet paper. Okay. That's not like really fancy and sexy, but it's a good thing. There are companies that produce bicycle chains, and there are companies that produce widgets that go into – something that helped make this computer, you know, mundane things. And there are mundane occupations of being a janitor. But gosh, being a janitor is super important in the world for flourishing. If we didn't have janitors, and garbage collectors, oh my gosh. They contribute massively to public health and they limit massively the suffering that could be ours if they didn't do their work.


So, it's making those distinctions. Because, yeah, I say to Christian students in the United States, you have a lot of choice. And a lot of people around the world lack that choice. A lot of people just have to do whatever their father and grandfather and great grandfather did, you actually have a level of choice. Why in the world would you fritter it away, working for enterprises that are devoted to really trivial pursuits?


[00:42:01] JR: Yeah. I’m not surprised you've generated a lot of controversy with that quote. I've been chewing on it a lot over the last few months. Here's where I come down with this. All good work matters to God. All good work that is done in accordance with His commands matters to him. Psalm 37:23 says that, “The Lord delights in every detail the lies of the godly.” So, your work, even if you're making, “trivial dog food”, can bring God eternal pleasure. But not all work matters equally for eternity.


We have to say that. We have to say hard things. And so, my charge to our listeners on this podcast, don't come to this podcast just for encouragement. Although I hope you found that a lot, especially in this episode. Put more weight on the bar. Make your work matter more for eternity. Don't settle for just ethics and excellence and evangelism, be the one offering sample after sample after sample of the Kingdom, in and through your work. Be one of those – is Baskin-Robbins still around? I don't know. Be the one of those pink Baskin-Robbins spoons. At the end of the day, I think that's what you're urging the reader to, Dr. Sherman. But I want to put words in your mouth. Is this an accurate read?


[00:43:16] AS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. One of the caveats I say to people is, look, work is one of our really important callings. It's not the only calling that we have. If you're a dad, and you've got a handicapped child and your medical bills are hugely burdensome. If you get a job at the dog-food company and you're in that job working for the dog food company in large measure because it allows you the healthcare you need to really take really good care of your son who has some disabilities, yeah. I mean, again, if you're in the R&D section, creating new flavors of dog food, I don't think you're doing like super, super important work. Because I'm not sure we need more dog food flavors.


So, there are always caveats. But the bottom line is exactly what you're saying. The bottom line is we have an opportunity and an invitation from Christ to offer people fortes of the coming Kingdom. There are many, many, many, many ways to do that in every occupation that we inhabit. As we discern from God what those opportunities are, ask him for guidance and ask him for the equipping grace to live into those opportunities, we will find greater joy in our daily work.


[00:44:45] JR: Amen. So well said. All right, Dr. Sherman, three real quick questions. We wrap up every conversation with. Number one, which books do you find yourself recommending most these days?


[00:44:56] AS: Oh, gosh. I have really enjoyed a little book called Being Disciples by Rowan Williams that I have actually recommended a few times. Incidentally, I always recommend things by N.T. Wright, in particular, Surprised by Hope, and How God Became King. The two of my favorites.


[00:45:18] JR: Those are great answers. I love those answers. Dr. Sherman, who would you want to hear on this podcast talking about how the Gospel of the Kingdom shapes their work in this world? Maybe somebody you mentioned in Kingdom Calling, maybe not. Who do you want to hear?


[00:45:38] AS: Tony Bennett of the UVA men's basketball team.


[00:45:43] JR: Oh, interesting. Not the Tony Bennett, the other Tony Bennett. Well, in Charlottesville, Virginia, he's probably the Tony Bennett, right?


[00:45:50] AS: Tony Bennett, and he is this amazing Christian man. I think he's doing amazing things. But I love sports. And I think sports are really good, and I think sports can be redemptive. But having a person really talk about the nitty gritty of what does it look like to be a Christ follower in that space, because I think he's doing it brilliantly.


[00:46:14] JR: Wow. All right. Strong words. I like that. Dr. Sherman, what's one thing from our conversation you want to reiterate to our listeners before we sign off? Tie a bow around this thing.


[00:46:24] AS: Jesus is on a really big mission. He is renewing all things, that is great news for us and for the world, and it is good news for our work because our work matters to God and has deep meaning, and God is using you in your work and can use you in your work for that grand story of renewal.


[00:46:57] JR: Amen. You’re reminding me of this great Keller quote, I just pulled it up. He says, “Jesus says, I'm on a mission. I'm going to heal the whole world of everything that's wrong with it. I'm going to liberate people psychologically, sociologically, spiritually and every other way. And I want you to be a part of that. How's that for meaning of life?” I loved him so much.


Dr. Sherman, I want to commend you for the exceptional work you do, for the glory of God in the good of others. Thank you for giving us just practical and concrete pictures of what it looks like to be the righteous people who yank pieces of the Kingdom of heaven into the present. Guys, I cannot recommend Dr. Sherman's book highly enough. The book we've been talking about today is Kingdom Calling. But you just published another book back in 2022. Can you give us the 30-second summary of that book, Dr. Sherman?


[00:47:51] AS: That book is called Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society. It's similar to Kingdom Calling. The differences that it's a little bit more directed towards churches as communities and how as congregations we can participate with God in his mission of redeeming and restoring and advancing the thriving of our communities.


[00:48:18] JR: I love it. I can't wait to read it. Dr. Sherman, thanks again for joining me today.


[00:48:22] AS: Thank you for having me, Jordan. I sure appreciate it.




[00:48:27] JR: Man, that was crazy good. I love Dr. Sherman. I'm so glad she was able to come and share a little bit about her book Kingdom Calling. Again, if you love that episode, I can't wait to show you what I've been working on. Lord willing, we’ll release this next book in January of 2024. Guys, if you're enjoying the podcast, do me a favor. Take 30 seconds right now, go to Apple podcasts, Spotify, wherever you listen to the show, and leave a rating of the podcasts. You would be shocked at how important those ratings are in helping other people find the podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in this week. I'll see you next time.