“Redemption is . . . rotating crops, spreading manure”?

One of the ministries of Redeemer PCA in NYC is the Center for Faith and Work:

Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work (CFW) is the cultural renewal arm of the Redeemer movement, founded to equip, connect, and mobilize our church community in their professional and industry spheres toward gospel-centered transformation for the common good.

This year, CFW is having a series of lectures on Gospel and Culture:

A series to prepare our community for effective engagement with the culture of NYC, and part of Redeemer’s Gospel in the World focus for the 2010-2011 year. The lectures will be held one Sunday afternoon per month at Hunter College, and will culminate in our first weekend-long Faith & Work conference in Fall 2011.

The lecturers who have been selected to be part of this series have all become thought-leaders through their writing, teaching, and work in the world focused on this area of gospel & culture engagement.

Each month features a renowned speaker who will help us understand:

  • Why our work matters, in light of the gospel,
  • Why theology is critical to our work,
  • Why community is necessary for keeping our vision and perspective, and
  • How the motivations of our heart affect our service.

Our hope is that through these events the church will be awakened to the critical role of work in redemption, broadening our understanding of the gospel beyond the walls of the church.

This month, James K.A. Smith will be speaking on, “Culture as Liturgy.” One of his articles, “Redemption,” is featured in the most recent CFW Ministry Update newsletter. Here is an excerpt from the article. It seems to me that he says: we are co-redeemers, rotating crops is a good example of redemptive work, and that redemptive work is not just done by Christians:

In an equally scandalous way, we are now commissioned as co-redeemers. Redemption is the re-orientation and re-direction of our culture-making capacities. It is we who have invented the twisted cultural systems that deface and despoil this good world; restoring creation to its lush plenitude and fecundity will not happen by divine fiat or magic—it will require the hard, patient, Spirit-inspired work of building wellordered systems, creation-caring institutions and life-giving habits. While not quite a matter of “save the cheerleader, save the world,” the scandalous economy of redemption does seem to suggest, “save humanity, save the world.”

I can think of no better picture of this than the sort of health-giving practices that Wendell Berry notices and celebrates in his recent collection, Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food. Consider, for example, his praise of Amish farmers in northeastern Indiana who are “working to restore farmed-out soils.” That is a compact rendition of our redemptive calling. Systems, institutions and practices have grown up that fail to care for the soil (and the animals who live from it); they leech it and steal from it without restoring it. The error—yea, sin—of such ill-gotten gain will show itself soon enough because such systems and practices run against the grain of the universe. Creation itself tells us what we’re doing wrong. Redemption, in this case, is tangible and concrete: it is rotating crops, spreading manure and being attuned to what the soil is telling us. Working to restore farmed-out soil is situated within a way of life—indeed, it is a way of life.

Thanks be to God, such redeeming, health-giving, cultural labour is not the special province of Christians. While the church is that people who have been regenerated and empowered by the Spirit to do the good work of culture-making, foretastes of the coming kingdom are not confined to the church. The Spirit is profligate in spreading seeds of hope. So we gobble up foretastes of the kingdom wherever we can find them. The creating, redeeming God of Scripture takes delight in Jewish literature that taps the deep recesses of language’s potential, in Muslim commerce that runs with the grain of the universe, and in the well-ordered marriages of agnostics and atheists. We, too, can follow God’s lead and celebrate the same.

This just seems odd to me. Does it strike you as odd? What do you think?

5 thoughts on ““Redemption is . . . rotating crops, spreading manure”?

  1. B. N. Seeley says:

    Dr. Craig Troxel writes in the recently issued Confident of Better Things,

    With regard to the world as the created suborder, the Bible does not speak of it as something that is in the process of being redeemed. For example, Romans 8:21 states that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage”. But the context of Romans 8 teaches that the liberation of the created order will take place along with the revealing (“apocalypse”) of the sons of God, that is, at their glorification (vv. 19, 23). This renewal of creation will happen when it undergoes a purging by fire, and when the new heavens and the new earth are ushered in at the close of this age (2 Pet. 3:12, 13). This will take place, not in a process, but on the “day of the Lord” (2 Pet. 3:10). Secondly, this will take place, not through human efforts to preserve or “save the planet,” but by the mighty hand of God, with fire, just as he once deluged the creation with water (2 Pet. 3:6, 7). How are we to understand a form of redemption that bypasses the cross and is accomplished by and through our good works? Typically we associate the vocabulary of atonement, repentance, faith, and forgiveness with redemption, but how do we construe the church as a “co-redeemer?” We must be careful of rhetorical excess and consider the query oof our forefather, B.B. Warfield, who asked in wonder whether we really think that we can understand “redemption” and “Redeemer” to refer to whatever benefit we happen to think it means–no matter how loose or superfluous that meaning is.”

    pages 354-55.


  2. sedgegrass says:

    I tend to favor a term I often heard Francis Schaeffer use- ‘co-belligerent’. We may align with the unredeemed in mutual cooperation against evil, for good. All of humanity benefits from common grace but common grace, as well as particular, redemptive grace, is the result of God’s good work, not ours. If the unredeemed man responds in a way that reflects common grace (ie. good parenting, giving to the poor, planting crops properly), is his common grace response then a redemptive act upon the world? It certainly constrains sinful man from being as bad as he could be.
    Since God, however, is the source of this grace, I would tend to think that we must be careful to say that it is God Who is about the business of redeeming and constraining men by His grace.

    I heartily agree with the last post stating that we cannot play loose with the meaning or idea of redemption. I would feel more comfortable with distinguishing our co-labors as being co-belligerent, than as co-redemptive. For those of us who have lived through the demise of some of the mainline denominations and watched the social gospel seeds grow in the 60’s and 70’s, this feels uncomfortably familiar. It is a slippery slope and words mean everything in this case. I can remember my pastor of just such a church shifting from saying “Hear the Word of God’ to “Listen for the Word of God’. A simple, one word change that announced the death of Biblical inerrancy for his listeners.


  3. sedgegrass says:

    An interesting link that has to do with your previous posting on the mission of the church, as well as this discussion: I think there are quite a few evangelicals watching these threads of debate within what has been orthodox Christianity. Are they connected by one particular shift in thought? Would it be inerrancy, simply the influence of post modern thought or just pendulum swinging to make a cultural compensation for wrong headed evangelical thinking (health/wealth theology, political marriages with the ‘right’, sloppy ‘Christian’ imitations of art, music, literature, etc.?)

    How seldom we look to the faithful theologian/teacher, rather than the charismatic personality, mega-church pastor or popular guru, for clarity on difficult issues!



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