In addressing this question, I decided to give the ubiquitous “Christian plumber” a break. He always shows up in this discussion for some reason. So we’ll let the Christian bus driver sit behind the wheel today.

I wonder if the framing of this question in this way can at times reinforce ambiguity. My sense is that often a singular question is being asked but multiple questions are being answered. The result is more confusion than clarity.

Below is an attempt to unpack the issue a bit. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, so I welcome your own contribution and push-back in the comments section below.

Does the Bible teach how to be a bus driver?

No. For the most part, the Bible does not provide anything like a manual for the specific skills of a vocation. The Bible teaches on the nature of work, the purpose of work, and the manner of work, but it does not get into many specifics tasks with respect to many vocations.

Does the Bible teach how to be a Christian bus driver?

Of course. The Bible teaches that as Christians we should function within our God-ordained vocations (i.e., legitimate callings) (1) from biblical foundations, (2) with biblical motives, (3) according to biblical standards, and (4) aiming at biblical goals. These are the necessary and sufficient conditions for Christian virtue.

Faith working through love—before God and for our neighbor—is essential for virtuous action in our various vocations (1 Corinthians 13; Luke 10:27; Gal. 5:6, etc.). All things are to be done for God’s glory in accordance with his revealed will (1 Cor. 10:31). We are to work heartily unto God, not man, knowing that ultimately we are serving Christ before we serve our boss or our customer (Col. 3:23-24). We work in imitation of our creative, working God, and we work from a position of divine acceptance and not for a position of justification before him.

Is being a non-Christian bus driver inherently sinful?

It depends on what we mean here.

The vocation itself is a legitimate calling, sanctioned by God.

But one’s spiritual condition is not irrelevant in God’s evaluation of the proper way to fulfill a vocation. The Bible teaches that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6) and that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23); therefore, any vocational pursuit devoid of genuine Christian faith is ultimately marked by sin and is finally displeasing to God. (The Westminster Confession of Faith 16.7 is helpful on this.) Their work is used by God but not fully pleasing to God.

Can a non-Christian be a good bus driver?

Yes, by common grace one can fulfill the earthly (i.e., non-eternal) standards of a vocation (e.g., safe driving, punctuality, cheerfulness, lack of external vice, etc). But the non-Christian will ultimately lack godly foundations, motives, goals, and standards—so even what looks “good” will not be Godward.

External virtue requires borrowing capital from the Christian worldview, and the two will often look similar from a superficial perspective. To make matters worse, sometimes this non-Christian borrowing can look more compelling than a Christian’s inconsistent or misguided efforts (e.g., beautiful art by a non-Christian vs. schlock art by a Christian).

Is a Christian necessarily a better bus drive than a non-Christian?

No. Christians are justified (uncondemned because of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ) but indwelling, entangling sin still remains. That means that before glorification Christians will never have pure goals, motives, or standards. A non-Christian may achieve a higher degree of competency in his or her vocation than a Christian—though this should not be the case. Sometimes this is a result of the non-Christian’s idolatry (achieving skills and competency at the expense of God and family and friendship and service); at other times a non-Christian will simply have more natural gifting from God for a particular vocation (e.g., a bus driver with better eyesight, superior reflexes, driving skills, experience, etc.)

Is there a distinctively Christian way to think about the particulars of each vocation?

Yes, I believe that there is. My sense is that the more intellectual and aesthetically oriented the vocation, the more work has already been done on a distinctively Christian approach. This is, in my part, because the contrast will be more wide-ranging and apparent and because the Bible seems to have more to say directly about these areas. I’m thinking, for example, of areas like philosophy, education, and politics. (For some examples, see Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” or the books in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series.) The same would be true for aesthetics, as in music, fine arts, and design. It can be more difficult to see in areas oriented toward manual labor. But there is still much work that can be done in these areas. One of the problems is that intellectuals and philosophers are more inclined to know and study areas they are more interested in, and therefore other vocations become neglected in terms of analysis.

Those interested in exploring this further may want to check out Vern Poythress’s ongoing labors at reforming academic disciplines from a relentless pursuit of Trinitarian implications. Thus far he has worked through the subject matters of science, language, sociology, and logic (with works on philosophy, mathematics, chance and probability, and hermeneutics forthcoming).

Also of interest should be James Bratt’s new biography of Abraham Kuyper, being hailed as the definitive work on his transformative thought. As Mark Noll notes, “Attentive readers of this landmark biography . . . should . . . be in a much better position to reflect on vital questions of Christianity and education, church and state, Christian universalism and Christian particularism, and many more that remain of first-order importance still today, nearly a century after Kuyper passed away.”

(For the record, I don’t think one needs to be “Neo-Kuyperian” to benefit from and appropriate many of Kuyper’s insights, or do learn from his shortcomings. As Mike Horton notes, there is nothing in a “two-kingdom” approach to Christ and culture that should prevent one from affirming a distinctively Christian way of fulfilling vocations.)

So there you have it. One big general question, and my attempt to unpack what may lie behind it. But oh how much more could be said!

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30 thoughts on “Is There a Distinctively “Christian” Way to Be a Bus Driver?”

  1. Pat says:

    Another interesting question to tack on would be: ‘Could you tell a non-Christian bus driver apart from a Christian bus driver?’ I think two-kingdom guys would give a big no, but I am not 100% sure.

    1. Lou G. says:

      Pat, depends on which “2ker” you’re talking to. Like Justin mentioned, Mike Horton wouldn’t see it that way. I think I’ve heard it put that way by R2Kers though?

  2. Lou G. says:

    Thank you Justin! Spot on post.

  3. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the theology of work lately (being that I’m currently making a career transition). Today’s post provides so much more than a philosophical/theological statement, Justin. It really does speak to the whole issue of the privilege of serving with God in His work in the world–in the realms of common grace and of saving grace. Thank you!

    Gary Hutchinson
    260reasonsforbelieving.com

  4. Lauren L. says:

    Mr. Taylor, any chance you could unpack the lyrics of “Bus Driver” by a very young Caedmon’s Call in your next post? Talk about confounding.

    1. Michael says:

      Lauren,

      That is one of my 11 year old’s favorite songs. We listen to it quite often in the car. My take: the point when it says, “I’m just a bus driver” is that he in fact is not “just” a bus driver. He knows the people on his route, not just their names but what they do and something about them. He goes out of his way for people. It is a song about perception versus reality. It seems he’s “just” a bus driver, but if this particular bus driver were not there, there wouldn’t be just a little less exhaust, but the impact would be far greater. And then of course, they end with, “We’re all just bus drivers.” In other words, all of us, everyday, have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, regardless of our profession or how the world sees our profession. Great song about the value of work for believers.

      Micael

  5. Chad says:

    I’ve always noticed that the question, when dealt with, seems to involve a blue-collar type of job like plumbing, or in this instance, bus driving. But then notice when examples are given of distinct Christian ways to think about our vocation, all the examples are from white collar jobs or jobs that people perceive as being jobs in which people really wanted to do, such as: professor, author, teacher, etc….
    In my mind, the question never really is about how to be distinctively Christian while doing your job. For many people, I think it is the struggle with how to find joy in a job that they got stuck with or have to do in order to pay the bills or provide for their family. Very few people get to do what they truly want, and the rest of the population must do what they have to.
    It just seems that for the people who have to do what they must do, an example which draws them in with blue collar collegiality but then offers them examples from white collar utopia doesn’t actually encourage them to do a better job. I wonder if it discourages them and causes them to do better, not out of Christian duty, but out of guilt.
    For what its worth, I struggle with this in a tremendous way and always found this approach to be unpersuasive. However, I may have an incorrect perspective and need a deeper account of spiritual maturity to understand the issue.
    My two cents, for what it worth :)

    1. Lou G. says:

      Hi Chad, I agree that most theologians gravitate toward the white collar implications, as you stated so well. However, I don’t think that this is necessarily representative the entire topic and teaching. For instance, Gene Veith, who wrote “God at Work” begins his first chapter discussing vocation in terms of the farmer. I’ve also read a number of articles and seen quite a few applications that pay a great deal more to the ideas of Christian Virtue and the concept of Excellence in giving glory to God in all our work, no matter how mundane. The scriptures are repleat with examples of the blue collar worker, the plowman, the tentmaker, and calls us to learn to work with our hands.. Any correlation between this doctrine and ivory tower jobs is merely circumstantial for our own day and age, I believe.
      There is great honor for those of us who are called to bring glory to God in doing physical/manual labor with our hands, by being good stewards of our time and gifts where ever God has placed us.

      1. Chad says:

        Thanks for the clarifications Lou :)

    2. Bob Robinson says:

      “I think it is the struggle with how to find joy in a job that they got stuck with or have to do in order to pay the bills or provide for their family.”
      Very helpful insight, Chad. The bus driver that feels called to be a bus driver in one thing, The bus driver that sees his calling in another vocation is another. While we have “callings,” we may also have “occupations” that are not exactly lined up with those callings. We are simply “occupying” a job at a particular time and place. But our “primary calling” to follow Christ always informs how we work in any occupation in which we find ourselves. As I recently wrote at TheHighCalling.org, “The occupation does not define the calling; the calling defines what we do in the occupation.” What do you think?

      1. Chad says:

        Yeah, the latter part of following Christ is the primary motivation I think. As I said, I have a lot of spiritual maturing to do in this area, I think mainly to align my heart with finding ways to do the mundane for the Lord, as opposed to intellectually understanding it. Thanks for the advice and encouragement :)

      2. Bob Robinson says:

        Thank YOU, Chad, for helping me to continue to mull over this stuff!

    3. threegirldad says:

      “[A] sacred calling is not limited to ecclesiastical functions. The man who is weeding a field of turnips is also serving God.”
      –C.S. Lewis

  6. KC McGinnis says:

    I just love that this kind of thought is trending so much right now. As a campus minister, faith and work issues are always on my mind, especially in the last two years or so. Trust me, campuses like mine are really benefiting from this discussion. What’s more, the discussion is starting to go beyond college campuses, toward people with jobs that don’t require college degrees. I love that.
    My brief contribution for students entering the workplace is here: Does Your Work ‘Matter’ Enough?.

    1. Bob Robinson says:

      KC,
      I just love that article you wrote at Relevant! I, too, am in campus ministry. And I see it as one of my main jobs to deprogram students into thinking that the only possible way to serve God 100% is through becoming a pastor or missionary. The campus ministry organization I work with makes this a major aspect of what we do: To prepare students as they prepare for their vocations to transform the world through those vocations! We need to help students understand that, being created in the image of God, they are created to glorify God through representing him and cultivating the creation – in other words, their work matters! I write about this here: Who Am I? Rooting Your Identity in the Image of God, from the “Making the Most of College” edition of Comment Magazine.

      1. Bob Robinson says:

        **And I see it as one of my main jobs to deprogram students OUT OF thinking that the only possible way to serve God 100% is through becoming a pastor or missionary.**

        1. KC McGinnis says:

          Bob,
          I loved your article. Thanks for sharing it! And I’m so glad you liked mine. I’ll be sure to share yours with my students.

          1. Bob Robinson says:

            Well, I already shared YOUR article with MY readers! Thanks.

  7. Bob Robinson says:

    Justin,
    As a Kuyperian, I appreciate this article a LOT. I love the taxonomy that looks at various aspects of the question. And thanks for mentioning the Kuyper biography! One does not have to be a neo-calvinist to appreciate the insights of Kuyper on this important issue.

    My thinking runs along these lines: If redemption in Christ means the restoration of every aspect of life (not just our prayer life or our evangelistic life, etc.), then that aspect of our lives in which we spend the majority of our waking hours and in which we spend so much mental, physical, and emotional energy had better be redeemed by Christ as well, namely our work. And it does not matter what work that is, the plumber, the bus driver, the politician, the philosopher, the pastor… A major part of a Christian’s sanctification process is the hard discovery of how his or her vocation will glorify God.

  8. JohnM says:

    Seems to me we tend to unnecessarily complicate things. As for work, If you’re able, just work. Work so that you can feed yourself and anyone for whom you have responsibility. Work at something that is honest and not inherently wrong and, given that, do whatever work your talents, inclinations, and opportunities allow you to do. As long as you have the job actually do the job, since somebody is giving you money with the understanding that you’re doing the job. We really don’t need to complicate it more than that.

  9. JohnBrian says:

    Thanks for the article.

    I am currently a shuttle van driver and will be until the Lord gives me a new occupation. I love my work and am fascinated by the folks I meet from around the world. I love to engage in conversation with them and when I have a lone passenger I do have opportunity to engage them in evangelistic conversation.

  10. Denny Burk says:

    Great post, Justin. But this discussion needs a soundtrack:

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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