Two Shelves, One World

Michael Metzger

Two shelves.
Even though I had only met Allan that evening, I had heard the storythousands of times before.  He had come to faith at the age of twenty-two.  Raised in a nominally Catholic home, a friend led Allan to faith and he has become an increasingly committed evangelical ever since.  He reads the Bible regularly, attempts to witness to his friends, and is a faithful husband and father.  He lives in a cul-de-sac with some of his closest Christian friends (they jokingly call it a “cult-de-sac”).

After graduating from college ten years ago, Allan found work as a sales representative for a large industrial firm.  Now thirty-two, Alan has been in this line of work for a decade.  Yet Allan lives a double life that he wanted to talk about that evening.  I met him through a mutual friend, Mike, who had gathered four couples for an evening conversation about faith and the world we live in.  It was during this evening that Alan shared a story I have heard over and over.  In his sales work, Allan has struggled with what he called “cognitive dissonance.”  (That was a big word!)  Allan’s dissonance was due to the amount of deception that goes on all week at work.  “Basically, we lie everyday.  We lie to our suppliers, distributors, and customers.  And they lie too.  And we all know we’re all lying.  That’s the way this business works.”  When I asked him “What does your faith tell you to do?  Where do you find help?” Alan painted a picture I’ll never forget.  “I have two shelves of books in my home office.  On one shelf are all the business books.  On the other are my theology books.  The two shelves never touch.”

One world.
This is the story I hear repeatedly.  Almost every week, I meet good people looking for help in how their faith intersects the wider world.  Although most would not know what “cognitive dissonance” means, they are vaguely aware of leading a double life.  For many, they have come to accept this as part of what it means to live as a Christian in a fallen world.  They simply accept that the “secular world” will always present these difficulties and there is little to be done about it until we get to heaven.  As several of the men around the table shared, they have been led to believe that the point of being in business is to share their faith and provide for their family.  The culture of deception is simply part and parcel of living before the return of Christ.  They strive to live in a “spiritual” world while most of society surrounding them is “secular.”

This summer, I’m writing a book for the Allans of the world.  It’s for people who agree with Theodore Roszak that faith has become “privately engaging but publicly irrelevant.”  The more I think about people like Allan, the more persuaded I am that they want to know the specific ways their faith can change the world they live and work in.  They want to know specifically how they can engage the structures and systems of their workplaces (and their schools, their neighborhoods, and so forth).  To accomplish this, I think they have to become modern-day Sons of Issachar.  It is written that “they understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (I Chronicles 12:32).  That’s what this book is about, and I’d appreciate your prayers as I complete this task.

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