‘How’, wrote the great Dorothy Sayers, whose 125th birthday anniversary is celebrated this month, ‘can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?’
It was 1942 and Sayers was already nationally famous as a ground-breaking detective novelist, a genre-breaking evangelistic broadcaster, a forthright, if reluctant apologist, and a formidable public intellectual. The sentence quoted comes from her seminal essay on work where she lamented ‘the church’s failure to understand and respect the secular vocation’. Her logic is irrefutable. Why indeed would anyone remain interested in a religion that only addresses one-tenth of their life?
Her point, however, was not just about work. It was about the gospel. And it applies today. The failure to teach a rich vision for daily work is part of a wider challenge to offer a rich, whole-life embracing vision of life in Christ to believers and non-believers. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons why people may not be gripped by the gospel, but might one of them be that the message presented and the teaching offered rarely include any compelling vision for the transformation of ordinary daily life? Might it be that we are much clearer about what we have been freed from by Christ’s glorious self-giving on the cross than what we are freed for?
And one of the things we are freed for, Sayers argued, is to celebrate the significance and dignity of our daily work – the pipe laid, the meal cooked, the algorithm written, the sentence crafted, the customer served. Work matters in itself to God: not only work as a platform for evangelism, or as a means to generate funds for church initiatives but work as work. For Sayers this is rooted in the biblical portrait of a creator, worker God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, co-labouring in creation and cosmic redemption – and doing good work that declares his glory. How could we doubt it? Has any generation ever seen more evidence of the finesse, beauty, grandeur, generosity of God’s work? To this God, work matters. And good work matters. As she wrote:
‘No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.’
Sayers summoned the church to live and share the mysterious, reassuring, liberating grandeur of the ten-tenths gospel: everything we do really does matter to him (Colossians 3:17).
She summons us still.
Mark is the Executive Director of LICC.
You can also watch Mark’s ten-minute tribute to Dorothy Sayers at the Faith and Work Summit (Dallas, 2016):