What Do They Know? Learning From "Secular” Leaders

Outrageous Revelation

When God speaks through his world, we call it general revelation or common grace. But “general” revelation is a pretty boring name for it, because there’s nothing general or common about how God speaks through his world. Maybe we should call it awesome revelation—or even outrageous revelation!

David sang about this truth: "The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). God speaks through the heavens above us and nature around us so that his presence is plain to us, even if we reject him (Rom. 1:19–21). God speaks through our consciences so that what God requires is written on our hearts (Rom. 2:14–15).

In fact, life in the world is intelligible to us because the Father speaks through what he has made. When Paul spoke to the Athenian philosophers, he explained it this way:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. . . . He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. "For in him we live and move and have our being." As some of your own poets have said, "We are his offspring." (Acts 17:24–28 NIV)

We can learn about God’s world and grow to know more about God through living in the world, because God has created a world where knowing is possible. Every insight is under God’s sovereign control—part of his incredible work of revelation. We are able to know because God has made us to know. Sometimes, a sense of wonder and curiosity about the Father’s world doesn’t mark the lives of Christians. Even if someone is thirsty for the wisdom of general revelation, they aren’t sure how to connect their curiosity with their Christianity.

We can learn about God’s world and grow to know more about God through living in the world, because God has created a world where knowing is possible.

“Secular” Leadership

You might have a Christian medical student who is fascinated by the human cardiovascular system—and she wonders how her thirst for learning about capillaries and arteries can possibly connect with her faith. Another individual may love the structures and storylines of novels, but he feels a sense of shame because he is interested in something that seems so “secular.” Is he making his passion for literature into an idol? No. Our passion to know more should never be a source of shame. We long to know because we’ve been created to know God and his world. This is our Father’s world. When God speaks in his world, he speaks as the King. God speaks as the one who is sovereign over history, culture, and leadership.

God is not just King over our spiritual lives. He is King of every sphere. That truth alters a leader’s posture toward so-called “secular” disciplines. Have you noticed how defensive Christian leaders can be? Have you noticed how we often choose sides before we understand an issue? The evangelical tribe I’m a part of has a tendency to be anxious and combative about anything we deem “secular.”

We’re worried that a naturalistic worldview has influenced our psychology and our politics and our music. But we’re inconsistent. We don’t have the same anxiety about the business principles that inform our leadership. How do we filter them? If we’re honest, we don’t even think about it most of the time. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting we take a defensive posture toward business principles. What I am suggesting is that we pay attention, with discernment, to everything that may help us lead. We must put into practice our belief that “this is our Father’s world.” Psychology, anthropology, biology, communications, and the world of business aren’t off-limits. We shouldn’t have a combative posture toward these other disciplines.

Leaders in those fields know truth—not completely, not with an awareness of Christ as the one in whom all things hold together, but they have glimpsed some measure of truth. Wise leaders recognize and apply truth even when it comes from the lips of a pagan.

There is not one monolithic discipline of leadership. The streams of leadership in the world are many, moving, and changing. That’s true for the political streams as well as for leadership in business.

But before we can begin to explore leadership truth from those fields, we should confess God’s sovereignty over them. God turns the king’s heart like waters in his hand (Prov. 21:1). He holds all these streams. He’s the Lord of government. He’s sovereign over the businessman hustling sheep on the Ein Gedi plain, and he’s sovereign over the businessman sculpting the latest skyscraper in Dubai. He’s the Lord of trade. Convictional leaders must pay attention—always listening for God’s voice in the world. When we hear something that rings true about the Father’s world in the voice of an economist or community leader, our ears should perk up. That truth was revealed by God’s common grace.

That’s right. The Pulitzer is God’s. Quantum mechanics is God’s. There is not a square inch of knowledge that doesn’t belong to God.

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