July 18, 2020

“He was utterly devoid of careerism”

He was utterly devoid of careerism.

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Would that that be said of me when I die.

These words were actually said of JI Packer, who has just passed away, and gone to be with the Lord. And they’re convicting and challenging words. You can read them here in Christianity Today.

Utterly devoid of careerism.

They’re convicting and challenging words in any setting, but especially large swathes of the evangelicalism of 2020.

Evangelicalism has not only become a nice little earner in parts of the Western world,  it now provides a career ladder that can be climbed in so many areas, pastoral, theological, academic, and now an all new category,  celebrity!  And climb it people do.

Academic careerism used to be the bogeyman, but by and large it is a subculture of the evangelical subculture, a very small pond within a very small pond.

The real careerism that threatens evangelicalism these days is the careerism of the platform and the “influencer” badge that so many yearn for. Rather than moving into the inner elite circle in which the badge of honour is that only three people understand your PhD, and one of them wasn’t your supervisor, the new badge of honour is widespread influence in which your Instagram account has 300 thousand followers.

Social media can help the evangelical careerist completely bypass the normal channels to the top of the tree. And as we know, trees can be dangerous. You can fall a long way dow out of a tree.  Or you can eat the fruit of a tree and sell your soul.

Followers, hits, reads, likes, trending.  Evangelicalism has fallen for it hook. line and sinker.

“Smile, God loves you” – that’s all well and good. But that’s so 1970s. So pre-digital era.  Now it’s “Emote five hundred people like you!”   

Dunno what the feel good ratio of God’s love to human likes is, but 500 would be pretty close, right?

Careerism can be couched in all sorts of ways, and all sorts of spiritual language can be used to couch it.

Here’s one the Apostle John prepared earlier:

“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” (3 John 1:9)

Can’t imagine JI Packer and Diotrephes would have had much in common.

Utterly devoid of careerism.  Not just occasionally devoid of it.  Not mostly devoid of it. Not giving the impression of being devoid of it. Utterly.

Who among us can’t say we haven’t looked over our shoulder as we’ve gotten older in ministry and wondered about “the career” aspect of it, and where this is taking me? There’s something mighty intoxicating about career, and in an evangelical world, the rewards ape the world’s rewards.

Nothing so intoxicating.  And nothing so toxic. Who won’t you step over, and why, if careerism gets its talons into you. And who you won’t get stepped over by!

The best take on careerism, of course, concerns the death of a man utterly given over to careerism, among companions also utterly given over to it. Tolstoy nails careerism, and its insidious desire to creep over the top of even the dead, in this observation about the death of Ivan Ilyich, in the novella of the same name:

… there was an understanding that, in case of his death, Alexeev might be named to his post, and to Alexeev’s post either Vinnikov or Shtabel. So that, on hearing of Ivan Ilyich’s death, the first thought of each of the gentlemen assembled in the office was of what this death might mean in terms of transfers or promotions of the members themselves or of their acquaintances.

“Now I’ll probably get Shtabel’s or Vinnikov’s post,” thought Fyodor Vassilievich. “It was promised to me long ago, and the promotion means a raise of eight hundred roubles, plus office expenses.”

“I must now request my brother-in-Iaw’s transfer from Kaluga,”thought Pyotr Ivanovich. “My wife will be very glad. Now she won’t be able to say I’ve never done anything for her family.”

“I thought he would never get on his feet,” Pyotr Ivanovich said aloud. “What a pity.”

Or as the bishop said after he was overlooked for archbishop, “Where there’s death, there’s hope.”

A man utterly devoid of careerism will write a book called Knowing God, not a book called Promoting God, nor one called Reframing God. It will sell one and a half million copies and he won’t go on a book tour.

And now JI Packer knows God in a more fulsome, sweet and unadulterated way than he ever knew in his 93 years.

Utterly devoid of careerism.  Utterly filled with God.



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