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!