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Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure Paperback – October 1, 1995
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About the Author
Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) is professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and the author or editor of nearly forty books, including Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible.
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Another gripe is that he quotes social scientists about leisure. Ryken argues that social scientists view that leisure as important and then states the Bible does as well. This tactic comes off a little strange in a book where he quotes the greatest theological minds commenting on scripture's view of work and leisure. The bible seems at times in Ryken's arguments as secondary supporting arguments to me. He also expresses his own views on leisure. He writes about how leisure helps us to become fully human. This seems a little out place in the company of thinkers like Lewis and the puritans. Our becoming fully human is a goal that the puritans would not put much stock in.
I did like his section on "time" and Ecclesiastes. He has some wonderful quotes by Sayers and Lewis and the Puritans. His insights on work are very good. His interpretation of some key scriptural texts is right on. The book has some great insights. It just seems disjointed to me at times.
I was looking for a sound biblical treatise on the nature of authority in modern employment context, as opposed to OT & NT work structures, and sought the advice of a highly educated and well respected theologian. Paul's "slaves, obey your master in everything" doesn't really apply to our professional lives as employment at-will free-agents. He agreed but could not recall ever coming across a book on that specific subject but recommended Ryken's book which he claimed is the standard on work (and leisure) in the church. If you search the phrase "work and leisure" under books on Amazon, you get 2,400 titles. Even if just 10% is relevant, you are still left with 240 books to browse; if just 1% is worthy of your time, that still leaves 24 books to read!
But you only need to read Ryken! It's a book that helps one understand God's mandate on work AND play, and appreciate the bible's notion of and emphasis on sabbath or rest. Most books treat the latter topic as a matter of law or grace, observance or liberty. Ryken deals with the subject theologically/philosophically and covers the entire shades of gray. If you are looking for quick practical advices, this book is way too dense to wade through though he has plenty of wisdom to offer. But if instead you are interested in acquiring theological understanding and developing some doctrinal convictions with respect to work and play, you will find this book not just informative and helpful, but very satisfying. It's the feeling that one gets for having poured a concrete foundation, framed the house, then roofed it and weather-proofed the envelop so that what remains to be done or "worked out", can be undertaken at one's leisure, without the need to call in some experts or heavy duty machinery. He's done the heavy lifting for his readers, now we get to use our own creativity to "work out" our own salvation from the tendency of work in a fallen world to enslave us and rob us of the joy of living, whether it's in work or leisure.
Next, the Reformation view of work and leisure are contrasted against other historical views; for examples, those of ancient Greek, Marxism, and sacred-secular dichotomy, usually promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. Here, I am confident the readers would be encouraged by the many related quotations by the Puritans and the Reformers. Some that underline their conviction in the dignity and gratefulness to God of all vocations, as well as the legitimacy of leisure; though they seem to struggle about the latter, are as follows:
"It looks like a small thing when a maid cooks and cleans and does other housework. But because God's command is there, even such a small work must be praised as a service to God far surpassing the holiness and asceticism of all monks and nuns" (Luther, 104).
"In all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God. This, too, will afford admirable consolation in following your proper calling. No work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendor and value in the eye of God" (Calvin, 106).
"[God's blessing] at times come to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because our labors; for God always gives them because of His undeserved mercy... He uses our labor as a sort of mask, under the cover of which he blesses us and grants us what is His, so that there is room for faith" (Luther, 164).
Perhaps, the best Puritan mandate in regard to work comes from Richard Baxter,
"Choose that employment or calling ... in which you may be most serviceable to God. Choose not that in which you may be most rich or honorable in the the world; but that in which you may do most good, and best escape sinning"(107, 252).
Despite a solid Scriptural understanding of the nature of work, and the legitimacy of leisure, as Adams and Bradshaw implied, "Men may eat and drink even to honest delight.Christ Jesus is no enemy to honest mirth and delight" (p.119), however, Ryken argues that the Reformers have a somewhat defective view of leisure due to an excessive concern of idleness. As a result, though they acknowledge the legitimacy of leisure, they inadvertently treat leisure in a utilitarian manner, yet with a nobler motive than a purely economic motive that is prevailing today. The Puritan utilitarian view that tends to legalism can be seen, for example, from Baxter's seemingly inordinate paranoia about time that Ryken criticizes,
"Keep up a high esteem of time and be every day more careful that you lose none of your time... And if vain recreation, dressings, feastings, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep be any of them temptations to rob you of any of your time, accordingly heighten your watchfulness and firm resolution against them"(125).
The last section of the book examines what the Bible says about work and leisure, the key of which is found in Genesis; in the life of God and the life of pre-lapsarian Adam and Eve in the garden before work became a curse that affects our view of leisure as well. The examination also includes the New Testament views from Jesus Himself as well as from Ecclesiastes and the epistles of what sanctified work and leisure look like and what the right view of them is, the most important of which is the fact that both are the gift of God that carries the principles of stewardship and God-centeredness in them, that in the end is intended for both His glory and our enjoyment. Ryken puts it this way, commenting on the Christian work ethic, as well as both work and leisure on 1 Corinthians and Ecclesiastes:
"[quoting Minear] Throughout the Bible, it is the person who works to whom most attention is given, rather than the form or conditions of his work... Biblical writers [emphasize] the agent more than the act, the motive of the laborer more than the mode of his labor"(256).
"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Eating and drinking are thoroughly physical and earthly activities... They might be ascribed with equal plausibility to the life of work and the life of leisure. In either case, they can be the sphere in which we glorify God"(213-214).
"[On Ecclesiastes]There are `under the sun' passages in which the author describes the futility of trying to find meaning and happiness in a purely earthly scale of values, and there are `above the sun' passages in which the author celebrates the God-centered life as an antidote to life `under the sun'... In fact, enjoyment is exactly what the writer finds denied when he limits his quest to the earthly sphere"(263).
Strangely, yet truly, the ultimate goal of work and leisure of a service to the glory of God and our satisfaction is nothing but John Piper's tenet that says that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him (this "in Him" is crucial), even in work and leisure, and everything else indeed. The glory of God and our joy are not two and opposite but one and the same.
The reason why this book is indispensable is because Ryken not only offers careful, solid, true, reasonable and fair analysis, understanding and principles of two important aspects that occupy most, if not all our lives, but also how to translate them into actions. For some, they may guide them how to pick a college major and where to work. For others, they may help determine whether one should get another job. For others still, they may mean forsaking questionable unfruitful wasteful ways to spend leisure and look for more satisfying ones; all these have a single ultimate holy goal in view, whether one is a janitor or a CEO, that is, to honor God our Maker by being happy in doing and being a janitor or a CEO, or everything else in between, living for Him.