Faith & Vocation & Culture, One More Time

thFaith. Vocation. Culture.

I had written the words on a paper napkin, and I saw him looking at them— and then he looked at me, and said, “That’s the problem in Kenya, and in all of Africa really. We have taught a faith that has nothing to do with vocation, and we have corrupt cultures. Would you help us with this?”

There are words we hear that we do not forget. Since that day over three years ago I have had those words in my heart, and do not intend to forget them. The man who spoke so thoughtfully and forcefully was Eliud Wabukala, the archbishop of the Anglican Province of Kenya, a church of some seven million people.

That he saw into the meaning of the words did not surprise me. Not only a brilliant man with a PhD in theology from the University of Toronto, but a holy man who has given his life to pastoring the people of God in his native Kenya, in his own being he understands the integral character of faith to vocation to culture for human beings everywhere, but especially for his own people in his own place.

Today I am speaking to a gathering of Anglican bishops from North America and other parts of the world. Yes, on the relationship of faith to vocation to culture, especially focused on what vocation means for the church and for the world. I will talk about Eliud, but I will also reflect on my apprenticeship to J.I. Packer and John Stott, and the ways that their friendship began to draw me into the Anglican church.

th-1I could write for hours about these two great men, but not here. Simply I will say that I have had a great gift in my life. Over many years I began to know both men, having meals with them in many places, hearing them speak, reading their books, driving them to and from their engagements, and inch by slow inch beginning to see the world as they did. Yes, like the truest and deepest learning always is, over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart.

Their commitments to the mainstream of historic orthodoxy, to live orthodoxy— to what we understand as “mere Christianity” —has formed me, as it has so many all over the world. What intrigued me as I watched and listened was that they could walk into any setting anywhere, and those who listened knew that the heart of true faith, hope and love was being taught. Nothing peripheral, nothing on the edges of parochial concern, but instead mere Christianity, what true Christians have believed in every century, in every culture.

th-2Stott has now died, and we honor him still, as we will into the ages. Packer is 89 now, and intellectually vigorous, if frail of body; this past summer I had the gift of a lifetime to be able to teach alongside him at the Laity Lodge in Texas. That I am speaking today to the Anglican bishops is, humanly speaking, mostly due to their gifts to me, a legacy of belief in things that matter most, offered with clarity and compassion, with mind and heart.

And Eliud Wabukala? I plan to speak about him too. That he has a PhD is principally due to Stott’s vision for the church in the majority world. All of the money that “Uncle John” made from speaking and writing went into a trust to enable education for future leaders like Eliud, whom Stott picked out in his 20s, and sent off to Canada for graduate school. Over 30 years later, Eliud watches over the hearts and minds of millions of Anglicans in Kenya, and through his leadership of GAFCON, the global Anglican fellowship, scores of millions all over the world.

And yes, he understands with uncanny insight the reality that for everyone everywhere, what we believe about life and the world, forms the way we live in the world, and that has consequence for our life in the world— faith forms vocation which forms culture.

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