The Table Podcast
Michael ThigpenDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Vocation and the Cultural Mandate

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Michael Thigpen discuss the theology of vocation in the Old Testament, focusing the Creation Mandate in Genesis orients our approach towards work.

Timecodes
01:01
The Okonomia Network
03:58
Personal identity and vocation
06:13
Ministry and Vocation
09:07
How the Creation Mandate reveals your life purpose
16:55
Taking dominion in Genesis
22:03
Economics and identity
29:45
Being mastered by creation
34:49
Gratitude for the mundane parts of work
38:37
The Creation Mandate in community
41:49
Human flourishing and vocation
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to "The Table." I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary, and my guest is Michael Thigpen, who is Execute Director for the Evangelical Theological Society and also now, and I'll let you fill in the blank...
Michael Thigpen
Associate Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Talbot School of Theology.
Darrell Bock
Very good. And so, you're just launching in, right? Your first year there and all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and all that kinda stuff?
Michael Thigpen
Ten days in and already behind.
Darrell Bock
Oh, well, yeah. Well, I'm 35 years in, and it gets worse. So, anyway, so, you have no idea what it means to be behind. Anyway, well, it's great to have you on. Our topic today is what's often called "Faith in Work." But I think what I want to do is talk about "Vocation in Work," make a little, slight tweak change.

Michael and I are part of the Oikonomia Network, which is underwritten by the Kern Family Foundation and is a group that brings together seminaries that discuss issues of faith in work. And we were given the assignment of a "TED Talk" a little more than a year ago, at Acton University, and we were designed – we were supposed to discuss about different aspects of faith in work.

And Michael had Old Testament and faith in work and vocation and that kind of thing, and I had Luke and money. And so, we're here to talk about the Old Testament and vocation with Michael.

And let's start off with a little biographical discussion. How did your – how did you become interested in this kind of a topic?
Michael Thigpen
Well, for me it's that I've always been back and forth between the academy and what we might call secular employment. So, I worked my way through Ph.D. by managing parts of a bank, or working on a website. And now ETS, day-to-day, functionally I'm a CFO. I manage the Society's resources.

So, between my personal experiences and being in the pastorate, where most of the folks that I was pastoring were managers, employers, those kinds of things, work has never been far from what I was doing, although I was Old Testament by trade.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. So, you worked in a bank in a former life?
Michael Thigpen
I did. And it does seem like a long time ago. I started out, I was Ph.D. work, and I was answering calls. So, you'd call in, "What's my balance?" And I'd be giving that to you, and I'd be translating Acadian in between calls. So, it was this weird sort of mix of things in my life of what seems like real life every day, and what was sort of kind of just off in the academy.
Darrell Bock
Now you joked, kind of as an aside that you call it secular work, but I take it now that you know better? [Laughs]
Michael Thigpen
I do. You know, the Lord's taken us down this path of not knowing what I was gonna do long term. I've been in the pastorate; I've been in the academy; I've worked in the banking profession. And in all those cases, I was ministering. I was gainfully employed. And it was all part of one life.

And I think early on, I saw myself living two different lives: one at work, one in quote-unquote ministry. And that's part of what the Lord had to break in my life was to get me to see that this life was His. It was all part of mine, and it just had different parts instead of being different lives.

And so, I really do think of work as just one aspect of my life, not something separate that I do.
Darrell Bock
And that, of course, is one of the themes that we continually talk about, when we talk about faith and work, is the idea of doing away with this kind of dualism that says, "There's ministry, and then there's what I do for work," as if that's in a separate, distinct, hermetically sealed, chemically protected environment that never touches life and ministry.

How do you see that question now?
Michael Thigpen
Well, I see it as a matter of where the Lord's asking me to put energy in at this point. And for me, one of the big keys was getting away from some idea that somehow where my paycheck came from was the source of my identity.

So, if it came from the bank, I'm a banker and a secular worker; if it came from the church, then I'm a pastor; if it came from a school, I'm an academic. When in all reality, I'm all of those things. And so, for me, it really has been distancing the idea of my identity from my paycheck, my occupation.

You know, when we meet people, it's, "What's your name," and then the next question is, "What do you do?"
Darrell Bock
What do you do? Yep.
Michael Thigpen
And that becomes wrapped up in our identity. And we think of that as who we are, when, in fact, that's a much different question. We didn't – Paul didn't become not the apostle when he was making tents, but only when he was supported by the Church.
Darrell Bock
Yes. In fact, I had a note here, in listening to you talk again today, that I wrote down. And it goes like this, "Identity is bigger than vocation, but vocation serves and underscores and models identity." Now, what do you think about that kind of construction?
Michael Thigpen
Well, I like that, because it puts the cart and the horse in the right place. My life was very messed up when vocation was the source of my identity. But when we flipped that, and the way I live out my vocation, I can do what Paul says. I can do everything for the glory of God. And that puts vocation in the right place.

I had my relationship to God. My vocation flows out of that, just like my family relationships do, my church relationships do. So, all those things become part of how my identity is lived out, not any of them being the source of my identity.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. We've – this has been an interesting discussion for us here at the Seminary, as we wrestle with the issue of ministry and vocation and that kind of thing. 'Cause I think there was a long time when we thought about people being in full-time Christian work as being in a higher form of ministry in one way or another, a vocation. And of course there was time when seminaries were strictly dedicated to training people for full-time vocational ministry. I mean that was the phrase, as if everything else was something else.

And then, in the last several decades, really, as a result of opening up our MA programs to all kinds of folks, in all kinds of vocations, who were thinking about, "How do I live as a Christian in the place where God has me," a shift came into our thinking.

Not that we aren't still in the business of training people for full-time vocational Christian ministry in the Church, we still do that and very much are dedicated to that proposition. But there are a whole bunch of other kinds of vocational training that's also Christian, that's also full time, and that very much needs Christian full-time people in it.
Michael Thigpen
Well, I think we – I'm trying to maintain the balance that there is a sense of Scripture in which it is a weighty thing to be a teacher. You have to not rush into that, and that there is a sense of gravity that comes with being a leader within the Church. But that becomes, then, a matter of how the body fits together and not one part more or less high than the other but having different functions.

And so, trying to maintain that distinction between variations in function, but not a hierarchy of one more than the other. So, I'm not more valuable if I'm preaching or teaching than I am if I'm working in the bank, but I may have a different function.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, we've established kinda that you do a lot of things. You're Execute Director for the Evangelical Theological Society. You said that's primarily being a CFO. I've watched you do your work.

That's a pretty humble way of putting it. You are – you plan major events, and you don't just manage the resources, but you are providing some direction in leadership for what's possible for the society. There's an international outreach that's been a part of your tenure there. So, just a word of appreciation for all that you do for the ETS.
Michael Thigpen
And I enjoy it. Part of what's real exciting for me now is adding Talbot in. I get to walk out, in the afternoon, and put my prof hat on and go teach Hebrew, and get to come back in and work on November's meeting for ETS. And the Lords letting me sort of work in all these different ways in kind of a rich and unique way that has just been really fulfilling for me.
Darrell Bock
Well, that's great to hear. Okay, well, let's turn our attention here to Scripture for a little bit and talk about the theological underpinnings of what we've been discussing in terms of real life. And you mentioned, in your talk, the importance of Genesis 1:26.

And I think we're talking really about 1:26 through 1:28, what's sometimes called the creation mandate. It's not a covenant, technically speaking; it's an instruction. And it's actually a revelation by God about why He created us and what He created us to do.

So, that's as open-ended a question as you can get about – you know, sometimes when you go to college, they say to you, "You know, the reason you come to college is to learn why you're here and what to make of your life." So, that's kind of the what-to-make-of-your-life question. And what better thing to do than to ask an Old Testament prof about Genesis 1. So, go for it.
Michael Thigpen
Well, and there are tentacles from this that just reach out everywhere. It's interesting to me; my particular work is on divine motive. So, what motivates God to act the way that He does? And this is one of our very first motive statements: that He created us, and His reason for creating us this way, in His image, is so that we could then function the way that He designed us in the world.

And that function is to have dominion, to function as royal leaders, as it were, administering His kingdom for Him, being His representative here on the Earth and to do that both in society, as well as in our engagement with the creation.

And so, for me, this text really begins with answering the question of "Who am I and why am I?" And the “who” is that I am a creation of God, and that I am one who is created in His image. And then my why is I'm here to represent Him.

That's what all of this language is; it's royal language. It's the idea of that son, the crown prince who represents the King, and we get allowed, on His behalf – Paul's language of being an ambassador. We go out and represent the great King, and that's our function and role in life, regardless of where we work. And that's really, I think, at the core of all of this.
Darrell Bock
So, let's talk first about the image of God portion, and then we'll turn to the rule and subdue and stewardship portion. Let's talk about image of God a little bit. This is actually a pretty interest concept. My understanding is – now, I don't read Acadian in my spare time, you know? I have trouble enough with English. But my understanding is is that the background of this term has something to do with a statue or something like that. What's going on when we image of God?
Michael Thigpen
We're really looking at a couple of different things. The primary piece of this would be a statue that a king might put at the border of his kingdom or in a town within the empire that reminds them that this is representative of the ruler who lives somewhere else. So, the king's off in the capital, and there would be these images, these reflections of the king in the local towns, maybe at the border, to remind them of their relationship with him.

And so, it really is this idea of representation. And that brings with it kind of a dual aspect. A portion of it is that I am related to Him, but I also represent Him. And really, this image gets at both of those. I'm a faithful representation of Him when I rightly reflect my connection to Him.

And in Genesis, it's just all about Him as Creator. We could take that into the New Testament and think of it as becoming sons and daughters so that there that relationship, that recreation is in the familial mode, with Him as Father and with me as His child. Both of those, we're then to grow up into the image, into Christ, and to represent Him in this world. That's at the core of what's behind the image idea.
Darrell Bock
M-kay. So, in the representation, of course, is the idea that I'm designed to reflect His character and also designed to be connected to Him and be in relationship to Him. Aren't those the core ideas that are associated with representation?
Michael Thigpen
That is. Connected to and reflective of is the way that I think of this. But it's a little bit larger than just me. 'Cause remember, we're here in the Genesis context. So, it's me in the context of creation, and then He's creating humanity. So, he's beginning with this very kinda special building block of the family: male and female together. So, it's societal as well. It's not just my individual relationship, but as a community we are connected to Him and reflective of Him within our environments as well.
Darrell Bock
You know, it's an important observation to think about the corporate here, because I think in American culture and in Western culture in general, we focus so much on the individual, and we keep it in the first-person singular.

One of my complaints about hymns is is that we've got way too much first-person singular in hymns, and we could use a little more first-person plural to think about singing about what we share. The Disciples' Prayer is not a prayer I make as an individual; it's a prayer we pray for one another as a corporate group. And the apostrophe goes after the S, not before it, if I can make it a point about English.

And so, there's just a lot of features about the corporate importance of what's going on. And the idea that the image of God is reflective in both the male and the female moves me outside thinking about the individual creation of Adam to the creation of Adam and Eve.

I like to make the point that the climax of the creation really doesn't come until God's finished creating humanity: male and female in the image of God, that that's the high point of the creation. And there's something about that corresponding nature and that togetherness that's pictured that's an important part of setting the stage for what God asks us to do and be.
Michael Thigpen
And I think, beyond that, for me it's personally the other direction. Not only is it male and female, but also that's just the beginning, because we're supposed to multiply and fill the Earth, which means more families than that original pair, and it means societies and communities spread out across the world.

So, we tend to kind of think of Genesis 1 and 2 as siloed off from the rest of it, but it's really the beginning of civilization and of society. So, it's the larger structures, which will include economy and the arts and everything that's involved with how communities operate together in this world, reflecting our connection to Him.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, we've sort of discussed the image of God. I'm so tempted to discuss the corresponding nature of male and female to one another, 'cause that's an important part of the deal. I like to make the observation that the corresponding part is important, and that really, when we get to the fall, the fall doesn't take place until each partner has let the other down in one sense or another.
Michael Thigpen
Yes. And if you want to think of it in terms of dominion and subdue, it doesn't come out well. We usually think of subdue as dealing with the environmental. But if you look at every place where subdue and either a geographic name or a people name is used, it means to deal with bringing things/people into submission.

Their responsibility was to discipline one another and to be engaged. So, as they each start to go off the reservation, as it were, and they're beginning to step outside God's instructions, the responsibility to one another was to step in and subdue that sinful moment, and they both fail each other, Adam and Eve, in that moment.

So, there's correspondence, but there's mutual accountability. There's a cooperative nature here, that if we miss that cooperation, and we go Lone Ranger in terms of how we think about ourselves, our relationship to God, our place in this world, we've totally missed what it means to be human.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Let's come to – I want to linger there, but I'm gonna discipline myself and move on, since you talked about discipline. Let's talk about two verbs that appear in this chapter that are important. One of them is the idea of subduing, and the other is the idea of having dominion or ruling. What are those terms doing for us?
Michael Thigpen
Dominion is a royal kind of a speech. We would see it used in Psalm 72 of kind of the ideal Davidic king. He rules, and when he rules well, it's a benefit to the people; it's a benefit to the environment; life works, as it should when this ruling is going well.

So, it's an idea of expressing leadership and moving forward as a representative of God in the spheres that we're in. So, for us, that would be taking the lead and moving forward in the progress of taking the Garden and building it out into the rest of the world, and in every kind of aspect.

Subdue is a bit darker term, in that it has – it usually has some, in some cases, violent connotations to it for taking command over someone else. In some cases it's used in enslaving. In here, the reason that I think it has that darker tone to it is just because it's the positive and negative. We are to rule and express His leadership, but we also are – in Chapter 3, humanity's gonna be in a fight. And we have that image of Cain with sin is crouching at his door, and he must rule over it – another term yet.

But this idea that we're gonna have to fight against sin to be who God has called us to be. And so, He's giving them kind of a dual command here, to take the leadership, but then also to defend the territory, as it were, against sin, which is pretty soon gonna be encroaching o the Garden.
Darrell Bock
Now, I'm gonna ask you a question. You may – since we haven't discussed this before, you may or may not know whether to go there or not, but this word for rule, what are the roots of that term? 'Cause I have it associated with things like the pictures of plowing and beating and bringing things under control. It's almost a stewardship word. Is that a fair way to describe it??
Michael Thigpen
It is. So, you've got these ideas of treading or walking and making pathways go down. So, they both – both dominion and subdue have aspects of bringing things into submission to make them useful. So, subduing, you might tread down a ramp in order to make a pathway some there where you want to go.

So, they both have utilitarian aspects of taking raw material and making them into something usable and serviceable.
Darrell Bock
So, if I were to ask you what the core of the creation mandate is, you've put it in terms of representation on the one hand, but what else besides representation and reflecting God is a part of the creation mandate?
Michael Thigpen
Well, it's a representational reign, where we're called to go out into the world, in all the ways that we've been gifted, and to, in small ways, do exactly what God has done, which is to create. So, Adam is going to be creative in his naming of the animals and in his engagement with Eve.

Right after we get out of Chapter 3, we're going to meet metal workers and musicians and all sorts of other occupations where we kind of take, if you will, control through knowing and experimenting and doing, and we begin to create, in the world, things that are beautiful and useful, the exact same way that God created the Garden. And it's both beautiful, and it's usable, and it services our needs, and it's wonderful.

It's our job, both on that sort of mechanical utility side and also on the kind of beautiful artistic side, to continue to create and to do that, but as a small creator, a little creator, modeling ourselves after what He's done.
Darrell Bock
And then, of course, as our – as they're fruitful and multiply, and as these becomes bigger and bigger groups, the task of organizing this and executing it becomes more complicated.
Michael Thigpen
And so, as we go out into that, there's gonna be the complexity of economies will be needed, because we're gonna need transportation. Everything, as they begin to spread, that is what we think of as economy and society now, is inherent within this mandate to go out and reflect God in the world through ever-broadening geographical boundaries.
Darrell Bock
Now, another thing that people often do with the image of God is to talk about the ability to reflect and reason, and that kind of thing is wrapped up in it. Is that there or not?
Michael Thigpen
It's not there expressly. It's a little too limited, because the express purpose is the image is our connection and reflection of Him so that then we can express this dominion He's given us.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So – but it would be fair to say that imaging God assumes that there is a relational element in being able to reflect and be connected to Him. So, at that level, it connects.
Michael Thigpen
Absolutely. And the first thing Adam does is to speak just like God did in Genesis 1, and he has this immediate relationship with Eve that is fulfilling the purpose he was created for. So, it's there; it's just not primary.
Darrell Bock
I see. Well, let's pick up and talk about kinda where we left off. We laid the theological groundwork in Genesis 1 for what God has called us to do and be, and we've talked about being made in God's image and being made to subdue the Earth and rule over it, a kind of stewardship responsibility that we've been given to manage the creation well and to reflect God and His care and concern and grace in the midst of doing that.

That's kind of the basic call and basic vocation that all of us have no matter where God has us. And yet God calls us into individual places of rule. And you gave a talk on what the Old Testament has to say about economic activity. So, you said you were a CFO. So, now is the chance to shine.

What – you began with the first part of the talk saying economic activity flows directly out of our identity. Now, we've alluded to this a little bit, but I'm gonna let you develop it. What exactly does that mean?
Michael Thigpen
What I mean is that when we look at the way that Genesis 1:26-28 lays out our creation, we are created in the image of God so that we can then have dominion and subdue the Earth. And so, there's this important little syntactical piece there that gets missed in some of the translation. The NIB picks it up well, and it lays out that our creation has a purpose in it so that we can do our work. We usually flip that and say, "I do this kind of work, and therefore, that's who I am."

And that's exactly backwards of what the Scripture teaches. It teaches us we're created, this is who we are, and out of that, then, we have this capacity to work. And so, it becomes this place where like, for me, when I was working in banking for six nearly seven years, it drove me nuts, because I'm a pastor; I'm a – I should be a professor. And my paycheck is coming from a bank.

Now, the Lord is giving opportunities I don't deserve to minister to co-workers and to teach in the church and to preach and do all these things. But because of my economic activity, where my paycheck came from was not the right place, I felt like I wasn't who I was supposed to be.

And so, it really kinda created this angst in me, this occupational unease that I couldn't sort out. I was being fruitful with what the Lord was giving me, but I was miserable, and it was primarily because I had flipped those two things and was trying to make being a banker or being a pastor bear all the weight of who I was as a person, and it's not designed to work that way.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. So, let's assume, for the sake of discussion – of course, this isn't what happened, but let's assume you had stayed at that bank, ok? That you hadn't come into the ETS or ended up at Talbot, but you were still engaged at the bank. How does your change of understanding or how would your change of understanding impacted the way you would have seen your banking job – how can I say this – after Christ – after coming to understand that your identity isn't tied up in where you work; it's broader than that?
Michael Thigpen
I think it would have meant for me that ministry, as it related to my vocation, would have been less exclusively about evangelism and Bible studies for believers I worked with. Those are kind of the only categories I had. I didn't have a category that my work and whether or not I did it well.

So, at one point I was managing 150-200 employees in a Call Center. Whether or not I did that well, faithfully, with integrity, so that those employees flourished is part of what brings glory to God, and it's part of the ministry I had. But for me, ministry was limited to, "Who did I share the Gospel with, and did I help anybody understand the Bible better today?" Actually, how well I did my job had nothing to do with it.

My understanding now, as I think about the way that we're created, the way that I managed those employees, the way I cared for our budget, the way in which I used our resources is all part of my reflection of God in my vocation. So, doing that job well is as much a part of reflecting His glory in the world and bringing honor to Him as it was directly engaged in evangelism or Bible study. So, it would have changed the way I viewed the importance and significance of my work.
Darrell Bock
You know, it's interesting, 'cause it also opens up the whole idea of serving, which is an extension of stewardship. I mean stewardship is a matter of a kind of strange combination of leading and creating and serving, of providing for people, caring for them, helping the creation to be organized, that kind of thing. And the moment you do that, rather than the side things that happen at work being relevant, the work itself becomes relevant.
Michael Thigpen
And it becomes relevant in a communal kinda way. So, when I was in this mode that my identity was messed up because of where I was working, the only thing I cared about flourishing, really, was me, because I wasn't flourishing the way I thought I should be.

But when you open up to this idea of leading for others flourishing, and serving them by stewarding the vocation God has given you, then that's a much broader perspective. It's communal; it's societal in the way that it works so that my purpose is not just me, but it's how we cooperate together for the flourishing of everyone that God has put in my sphere of influence. And it's a totally different way of viewing service and stewardship than when it's all about whether or not my work is right for me.
Darrell Bock
So, the course elements of identity here that we're talking about are the idea of representing God, of imaging Him, if I can say – of mirroring Him and His character, if you want to use a variety of pictures to kind of think about this.

And the second one that you alluded to in the first segment was the idea of being an emissary, of being an ambassador, of representing someone. Actually, the way I like to describe it is you're representing another country. You're – exiles probably not the right word, but you're a stranger in a strange land, representing someone else, and hoping that the people that surround you, who are from that place, appreciate who it is that you represent.
Michael Thigpen
Yeah. So, I come as, if you will, sort of as the prince representing the King, and I come here to express the King's values and way of doing life. And as you get the chance to look at my life, it shows you the King's perspective on things. And then I invite you to come and join this kingdom and be a part of it and to extend that kingdom's influence everywhere that we go. But I do it as someone who – I'm living here, but this is not really my home in some ways. We're extending the kingdom out there to these new places.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, it's clear here that the identity is bigger than the vocation. The vocation serves the identity rather than the identity serving the vocation.
Michael Thigpen
And that allows for vocation to change. So, Paul can be a tentmaker; he can be a church-supported missionary; he can be a local pastor being supported. He can be supported by those donors who are giving to him, and he's still the same person, but with different – at different times different proportions in his life going on. The same for us as the Lord takes us through different seasons.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well, your second point was that economic activity is worship in response to God's gracious activity. And in the midst of this, you discussed a danger which is a shift, that can be subtle sometimes, in getting to the point where we worship the creation rather than being responsive to the Creator. Develop that one.
Michael Thigpen
Yeah. Working in banking's an interesting thing, 'cause there are lots of people who are really interested in money.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, that's right.
Michael Thigpen
And so, I watched around me, and I had a good friend that I worked with, who was very successful in banking. But his constant comment to those of us who knew him well was he felt like he was dying inside. He had all the right things going on for him vocationally. He had a beautiful wife, a home in the right community, all the right club memberships, but he felt like he was dying.

He was disconnected from the source of life, although he was, in some ways – we might look at him and say, "Well, gosh, he's flourishing vocationally, or in his work." And it comes from this way that we evaluate things. Instead of starting with identity, "I am connected to and reflective of God, so how is that relationship," we turn it and say, "How is my relationship to the creation? Do I have everything that I want? Am I able to produce all the things that I want to consume?" And we begin there and back in, and it's this hollowness that just sort of eats us from the inside.

And fundamentally, it's because it's an act of worship. I'm either rightly connected to Him and reflecting Him, or I made my connection to the world, it's produce, and everything that's sort of around me tangibly, and that really is where I pour in value and worth, and it just eats us from the inside out.
Darrell Bock
Now, this is interesting, 'cause as you're talking, I'm thinking about an image that you wouldn't normally connect to this conversation, and that's the picture of being a slave. I have – there are two types of allegiances I can have: I can have an allegiance to God, in which I see myself as His bondservant, or I can see myself –I think I'm controlling the creation, but actually what you're describing is the creation controlling us and taking us over.
Michael Thigpen
And that's what happens in the story. Right? So, we get the serpent ends up really controlling Adam and Eve, because they believe his lie. We get Cain is controlled by the sin that brings mastery over him and his envy of his brother. And so, we do have these images that use the same rulership language, that either we're going to rule and express God's reign in the world, or the world sin will express its resign over us.

And so, this is Paul's kingdom language. Right? We're in one kingdom or the other. And we belong to a King. I think one of the greatest Old Testament mistakes we make is to think of the people coming out of Egypt and being set free. They're not; they're redeemed. They are purchased and brought from one kingdom to another, and they have allegiance now to a new King. They're not just set free to go about on their own, but they're put back in the proper and right relationship to the King who has redeemed them out of slavery.
Darrell Bock
And the interesting thing is is that when you analyze idolatry, at least as Paul describes it in Romans, he says that the exchange that takes place is rather than worshiping the Creator God, we end up worshiping the creation. And when we do that, we actually end up being in control – being controlled by forces that, in the end, pull us down.
Michael Thigpen
Yeah. And so, the Old Testament, there's this sort of little tragic train of thought, "We're the work of God's hands, and our economic output – our crops and the other things in the Old Testament – that's the work of our hands." But it also uses that same phrase to refer to idols. That idols are the work of our hands. And so much of the prophetic material is God calling them back, instead of worshiping what they create, to worship the Creator.

And so, they've been – they put themselves in subjection to forces that are not the God that created them, and it just turns their world upside down.
Darrell Bock
Now, you talk about economic activity being worship in response to God's gracious activity. So, I'm taking the idea here that there's an appreciation for God's grace that feeds into the way – and God's person – that feeds into the way we actually engage in our own activity.
Michael Thigpen
It is. So, if we really have a stewardship mindset, it means that we recognize that everything we have is a gift. My relationship to Him is His gift to me. That male/female correspondence is His gift to the larger society. This environment that He's created for us, that provides for all of our needs, is His gift.

And so, there's recognition in that of His goodness, of His power and graciousness in giving that power in a way that's beneficial to us. So, it all gets tied together with His character and my recognition of how overwhelmingly good this creation is and the gracious gift it is to me.

When I'm in that kind of perspective, then I'm really sort of beginning to function in the way we're designed to be.
Michael Thigpen
You know, there's a variation of this that I do when I talk about this topic in public, and it is think about what it takes for you to sit down and have a bowl of Wheaties in the morning. You know? And you can think about it from the grain perspective, the guy who grows the grain, harvests the grain, the person who transports the grain from one place to another, the people who process the grain, the people who oversee the business, and you start to add up how many people are actually involved in the very simple, mundane task I have of taking that bowl of cereal?

Now, that's just the grain. I could talk about the milk. I could talk about how the bowl gets designed. I can talk about the table that it's on. I can talk about the house that I get to live in that I'm – you know, every – and so, the analogy comes up, when you come to the end of the a movie, and you watch all the credits go by about what it took for me to be able to have 90 minutes to 2 hours of entertainment and escape, and all the thousands of people whose activity and creativity and faithfulness allow me that moment, all of a sudden, your view about what some people might see as the very mundane features of work changes, and an appreciation for the way God has designed the creation is altered in thinking about that.
Michael Thigpen
It is. And as you – gosh, if you multiply that and think about, "Okay, for the crops to grow, everything that God did in His providence and in His direct action for the rain, the soil, all those kinds of things, the knowledge that he led us to discover, and you multiply His gracious interactions in those thousands of people, it grows exponentially to do a couple of things. One is it really does move us back into this connected web that God is intending for something larger than just me. God's involved in so many more people's lives than just mine.

And I am so dependent on the rest of what He's created – not just the environment, but all the people – and that's by design. That we're not independent; we're mutually in need of each other, even in need of people that we will never meet or see or engage with. But it's part of the larger world that He's created. And it just moves us to a sense of thankfulness and stewardship that we would totally miss as long as my focus is narrowly on me.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I do think it brings back a kind of – what I call a gratitude for the mundane. That there are things I absolutely take for granted each day, that wouldn't happen if people weren't faithful in carrying out a stewardship that God gave them, some of whom – some of the people doing that don't even appreciate the fact that God gave them that stewardship And yet, it's a reflection of the way God has created the world to work, and it's what makes the work – the world work well when it's done appropriately.
Michael Thigpen
And we can all recognize that in our own fields. So, if you will, if you're a pastor, sorta that glory moment might be the time in the pulpit. But the mundane of the reading that went into it, and the numerous outlines and illustrations you tried out and ended up kind of on the editing room floor – but it really is in that mundane work that a really great sermon comes out, or teaching, or a book. And we recognize the value of the mundane in our own jobs sometimes more than we recognize it in the mundane that we receive and benefit from.

And so, opening our perspective to that and seeing that, gosh, we know that those moments make the great time in the classroom, or the great book that comes out, or the wonderful sermon is built often on that mundane work that we do. So, if we can learn to value that in our own work and see its benefit, and in the others, then we kind of get a better perspective on what work looks like.
Darrell Bock
Well, we – I could park here. I mean there's just so much that could be said, but there is a third point that you make that I want to be sure we get to, 'cause it's also important, and that is that economic activity entails a flourishing society and not just individuals. That the goal is grand, if you will, as opposed to being – how can I say that? – Isolated.
Michael Thigpen
It is. And here, I think, for me the biggest change was I probably recognize this more as a student earlier if I was hanging out in the New Testament. I got all the wonderful body images, and I guess to this sort of cooperative things, but I missed it for years on the Old Testament side, 'cause I'm not an Israelite; so, I'm not part of that world. I don't view myself in that way.

But when you think about you're supposed to fill the Earth, and all that that requires – it requires specialized workers. It requires transportation and economy. It requires those who will relate between communities as they go. As communities spread further and further apart, it's communications. It's everything. His design has always been for a massive, flourishing society, not just flourishing individuals. We kinda think Adam and Eve and stop there, but the command is to fill the Earth. So, it's so much more than they could ever do on their own.

And so, it brings us to this place where we think about something much grander and larger than any individual or any couple, any family, or any community.
Darrell Bock
And so, there are all kinds of combinations that talk about – I mean when you talked about this, of course, you talked particularly about the husband and the wife and the family, 'cause that's kind of the building block in Genesis. But it really does expand out from there. There are other combinations of things that are in view.
Michael Thigpen
So, it's governments; it's all the societal structures that we're going to need. So, when we get to this mass of people, how are we going to educate them? How will we communicate between communities? How will we – you know what? I'm not a great house builder, so, I've got to have those who can build a house for me, because that's not part of my skill set.

So, we have all these places where we're gonna have these specialized vocations crop up, where we're gonna then cooperate together to do all that God has called us to do. And it looks and feels so much like the sort of gifts-based body language that we get in the New Testament, but it's foundational to the way He's created humanity to work from the very beginning.
Darrell Bock
And so, now I think about the chapters particularly related to the building of the tabernacle, where we get minute descriptions of all the things that went into the very – again, back to the mundane – very mundane elements that it took to build the tabernacle, with very detailed descriptions.
Michael Thigpen
Yeah, the linens, and the rings, and the engravers, and everyone who would do that. And very specialized things. And it's clear that this is part of how God's gifted them and their contribution is this little slice of what's going on. But it's for the good of the community, and they'll all benefit from it.
Darrell Bock
So, what we're talking about here is a view of faith that says, you know, every place where God puts someone is a place of potential value if they do it with an eye – with an eye to why He has them there, and the way in which they can serve and steward in ways that lead to flourishing.
Michael Thigpen
Yes. So, we might think of probably the ultimate picture of flourishing in the Old Testament is Psalm 1. So, here we have someone who – we don't know what they do for a vocation. We don't know what their job is, but they have a connection to the Lord that's vibrant.

And out of that connection, they meditate on His Word; they're engaged with Him; they're pushing away from sin, and they flourish, in season and out, deep roots, well watered. They flourish. That's the image. It all comes from our connection to Him, and it flows out into whatever we do.
Darrell Bock
Well, we've been talking practically about how you view this. I like to tell people that every person has a unique network that God has given them. There's a combination of relationships that they alone have, and that they've been placed there to represent God well and to serve Him and serve others.

Part of loving God and loving others is through this means of carrying out why God has created us. And in that identity, we are able to reflect the goodness of God, the grace of God, the creation works well, and we are able to show the goodness and care of God by the way He's made us to care for one another.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I think it's – sometimes we feel a little bit guilty, this idea that we want to flourish and to grow, but it really is how He's designed us, is that working well, working together, rooted on our relationship with Him, He's designed the world for us to flourish in it. And that really is our goal.
Michael Thigpen
Well, Michael, thank you again for taking the time to do this. This has been a fascinating journey. One of the discussions we didn't have – maybe we'll have to come back and do it and develop it down the road – is the whole after-the-fall idea of does the fall change any of this?

'Cause I think one of the points that you made in the talk is is that some people think this is before-the-fall stuff, but it's actually after-the-fall stuff as well. And so, all these relationships are affirmed and reaffirmed. All these goals are reaffirmed in what takes place after the fall. But that'll have to be for another time.

I thank you for helping us think through faith and work and vocation and calling and show how God has designed our lives to be united in a way that allows our identity in who we are in imaging God to really impact the world in positive ways by how we do our work.
Michael Thigpen
Thanks. It's been great; I've enjoyed it.
Darrell Bock
Well, and we thank you for being a part of "The Table," and we look forward to having you back again with us soon.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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