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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The One-Tenth Gospel

‘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?’

How indeed?

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 Greene
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):


Mark Greene


  1. A superb reflection. Thank you.

    By Mel  -  22 Jun 2018
  2. Brilliant. Thanks Mark :O)

    By Tim Simpson  -  22 Jun 2018
  3. Thanks Mark, there is so much that could be said on this subject.

    Something we all need to keep in mind is how our work impacts on God’s creation. I may do ‘good work’ that satisfies my clients or employers but how does it affect the world’s climate and people on the other side of the globe.

    Keeping our carbon footprint to a minimum should be our goal at work as elsewhere. That which cannot be avoided needs to be off-set.

    Personally, I support Climate Stewards for offsetting. It is good to see that the LICC does as well.


    By John Steley  -  22 Jun 2018
  4. Great! As the ‘grace before meal’says..”for food and drink and happy days,in serving others Lord we do express our thankfulnes to you

    By Ailean Turner  -  22 Jun 2018
  5. Too right.

    By Andy Smith  -  22 Jun 2018
  6. Thank you so much for this homage to a writer who has greatly influenced my thinking for many years, and whose novels I still recommend happily to many of my colleagues. Her “Are Women Human?” is one of the best humorous articles on men and women, and still (alas) quite apt to provoke reactions.

    By Martin Slabbekoorn  -  22 Jun 2018
  7. Amen bro!

    By Gary Stacey  -  22 Jun 2018
  8. Excellent – I didn’t realise that Sayers was so clear about that. Thank you.

    By William Lowries  -  22 Jun 2018
  9. I think I recall rightly that DLS said that when we are told we are made in the image of God the only thing we know about him is that he creates. She went on to say we do not work to live (as many think) we live to work


    By James Allcock  -  22 Jun 2018
  10. Perhaps until all clergy are self-supporting we’ll continue to have this disconnect between faith and work…

    By Richard Adams  -  23 Jun 2018
  11. A powerful tribute. Excellent. Too few people have read The Mind of The Maker. Sadly

    By Jim Noakes  -  25 Jun 2018
  12. I gave the Dorothy Sayers lecture at Exeter University a few years ago and focussed on her faith and of course famous play series. Give me an email address and I will send the text.

    By tony jasper  -  29 Jun 2018

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