Biblical ideals should rise from each soul to affect world, Beckett says

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Christian business executive John Beckett greets a well-wisher Tuesday at the Chattanooga-area leadership prayer breakfast. Next to him is his wife, Wendy.

Christianity, unlike Mohammadanism, is an internally transforming and culturally transforming claim upon individuals and upon institutions and cultures.

It operates from within people and manifests itself in their outward acts and words. Christianity’s sweetness and softness, if you will, is not to be mimicked by the world’s great religion. This religion has surged by words and warfare from the Middle East to the Islamic temple on Gunbarrel Road in Chattanooga. A revelation, Christianity does not coerce people into its ranks by threats, laws, force and warnings, but by the winsome doctrine of Adam’s fall and God’s electing grace. While it has some care to externals such as rites of worship, as does Islam, its preoccupation is with the heart of the repentant believer and with that person’s extension of God’s character into his field of human endeavor.

The internal aspect of the claims of Jesus Christ is an important part of the work of Christian businessman and benefactor John D. Beckett, who addressed 1,500 people Tuesday at the annual leadership prayer breakfast at the Convention Center in Chattanooga. Mr. Beckett’s arguments about the transforming nature of Protestant Christianity rise from many years as head of an Ohio fuel burner systems company and the battles he has faced as a CEO.

His growth as a Christian led him down a path from skeptic to seeker to “cultural Christian” (churchgoing, but no real taste for God’s ways) to, finally, being a true believer. As a professing servant of the God of the Bible, Mr. Beckett reminds us that God speaks to business practices and economics no less than to an earnest mom praying for a sick daughter or a college student thanking God for having escaped a lurid encounter in the library stacks.

GOD IS PERSONAL. BUT He’s more expansive than being just a private savior. Mr. Beckett in his speeches and his books is concerned that Christians integrate their theology with their commerce. No bifurcation should exist between our worship and rest on the Lord’s Day and our job Monday. Your life, he says, should be the model for the corporation. A profit-seeking company is reconcilable with the life goals of God-seeking owners, managers and staff. No conflict exists between Christian service and the service to the marketplace that is the power of a capitalism submissive to God’s standards and to righteous rule by civil authority.

Mr. Beckett was originally tempted by a line of Greek thought called dualism that divides reality falsely. ‡  He wondered, when God flooded him with His love, whether he should quit business. Should he go into full-time ministry? Is that the only way?

The claim that a believer serves God only as a full-time missionary, monk or Christian 501(c)3 do-gooder has long influenced Christendom, despite much teaching against it by the reformers. But Mr. Beckett saw through it. He realized he could stay put. He could run Beckett Corp. and glorify God by doing it.

“The Bible emphasizes that personal repentance is vital in the transformation process. Repentance literally means ‘a change of mind.’ We repent when we specifically decide to change the direction of our lives. *** In time, the transformed life impacts everything we are and do,” Mr. Beckett says in his booklet, Coming Home, a Roadmap, given every listener at the event.

Your calling, he says, is not simply in terms of religious conviction. “You can be an ‘ordained’ plumber! People called to business have many opportunities for service unavailable to those who are specifically focused on ministry vocations.”

Mr. Beckett puts us in mind of our Christian duties, which are as ancient as the Old Testament. His work as a writer and speaker is active at the juncture where issue our good works from the root of God’s saving grace.

The other day we looked at whether Christians are saved from eternal judgment by performing good works and following the requirements of God’s law.

The scriptures say we aren’t saved that way. Rather, sinners are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit upon the basis of Christ’s atoning death on the cross. We are set free from the law, St. Paul explains, to produce a righteousness that corresponds to the righteousness that the law demands.

In the 16th century the life of Christianity had become bound up in the vast jurisdictions of the church at Rome, and had settled into dead externality, formalism, innovative but unbiblical ritual and modes of living and worship. The Reformation, of which every Protestant church in Chattanooga is heir, rediscovered the right place of works and faith, of law and grace. By the power of the Holy Spirit men were brought back to life.

PERHAPS THE MOST useful historian to write about our forebears is J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, whose magisterial work appeared in the 1800s in French. He tells how God brought Christianity back to the internal spiritual life of His people. Drink with me, please, lines from D’Aubigne that convey the origins of Mr. Beckett’s arguments and tell us the difference between religion as an outward formality (Islam, the unreformed church) and Christianity as intended to be lived.

Sin begat death. The Romish clergy destroyed themselves by the abominable manners of a great number of their members.  But better times were beginning; morality was springing, in company with faith, from the tomb in which they had been buried so long, and were spreading through Christendom the potent germs of a new life.

A sad spectacle was that presented by the Church at the beginning of the sixteenth century! There were magnificent cathedrals, wealthy pontiffs, sumptuous rites, admirable paintings, and harmonious chants; but in the midst of all these pomps yawned an immense void: faith and life were wanting. Religion was at that time like those winter trees whose frost-covered branches glitter with a certain brightness under the rays of the sun, but are all frozen.

A new season was beginning, which, by bringing back the sap into their sterile branches, would cover them with rich foliage and make them produce savory fruit. We do not say, as an eminent Christian has said, that the reaction of morality against formalism is the great fact of the Reformation, its glory and its appropriate title. Such an assertion omits one essential element. The grand title of the Reformation is to have restored to Christendom religion in its entirety, the truth with the life, doctrine with morality. If one had been wanting, the other would not have sufficed, and the Reformation would not have existed.


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Sources: J.H.Merle D’Aubigne, The Reformation at the Time of John Calvin (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1880) Vol. IV, pp. 277, 278. My set is that owned by T.H. McCallie, who signed his name in Vol. 1 in December 1891 and who read at least as far as where I am, in the fourth volume. The Rev. McCallie, who pastored First Presbyterian Church during the war to prevent Southern independence, gave the land on which sits  McCallie School.

‡  Mr. Beckett discusses this trap in his first book, Loving Monday [;] Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998). The Greeks held that creation has two levels. The higher is spiritual (poetry, philosophy, religion). The lower is secular (sex, work, farming). Mr. Beckett realized the Bible posits all the world as subject to God, with evil “in conflict with God’s design” and good “in harmony with God’s design.” The graphic above simplifies this point, p. 73.