I love it when an author can take great ideas and communicate them effectively, helping people to process and apply them. Bob Robinson has done this very well with his 7-week bible study, Reintegrate (forthcoming in 2017 from Good Place Publishing.)
The overarching aims of the study are to help believers connect shalom to everyday life; see their vocation as part of God’s larger story; and learn an integrating way of approaching faith and work. Robinson accomplishes all three. And he does it in a package that is very “doable.” This is not a year- or even semester-long endeavor. The reading and study required for each lesson ought not take more than 90 minutes or so per week. Serving as the facilitator will take a bit more work, but the study’s Leader’s Guide is comprehensive; through it Robinson is a very able coach.
Fans of the Theology of Work project will appreciate how the study is actually grounded in scripture. Amusingly enough, not every “bible study” is—but Reintegrate makes the grade. Users walk through key passages in Genesis, Luke, Philippians, Titus, and Colossians. I found Robinson’s discussion of Titus 2:14 especially helpful.
I learned here that the word for good work, “ergon,” means simply everyday work tasks. That’s helpful because I’ve been asked at times why I make such a big deal out of teaching believers that just doing good work—doing work with excellence, doing works that serve others and contribute to the common good—is part and parcel of God’s desire for us. The ones asking usually believe that evangelism is the only “good work” that counts. Titus 2:14 says something different.
Robinson also includes a helpful discussion in the Leaders Guide about the evolution of translators’ understanding of that tricky passage in 2 Peter 3:10-11 (moving from the KJV’s language that seemed to imply total destruction to contemporary translations based on older texts that correctly teach of the earth’s being “laid bare”).
Through the generous use of sidebars, Robinson also weaves in much of the best, pithy wisdom on work from key theologians and missiologists like N.T. Wright, Al Wolters, Christopher Wright, and Miroslav Volf. He also draws upon and invites users to interact with some of Michael Wittmer’s good material from Heaven is a Place on Earth. You can tell Robinson’s been to seminary, yet Reintegrate is not stuffy, dry, or highbrow.
The curriculum’s basic structure will be familiar to many who’ve already been introduced to faith and work 101. It follows a five-chapter version of the Bible’s grand narrative: Creation-Fall-Redemption Accomplished-Redemption Applied-Consummation. The discussion questions were fresh and the study includes some creative, interactive activities for the group that should unleash the imagination. Most lessons begin with an engaging story that draws the user in (the Consummation lesson was a bit weak here). A Leader’s Guide recommends the facilitator start (after an ice-breaker—for which suggestions are provided) with three basic questions:
- What was most interesting about the lesson?
- What was most in need of clarification?
- Was there an “ah hah” moment?
The first lesson is particularly strong. Users complete it together interactively during the first session; no prior homework required. Together they wrestle through a case study that gets them thinking about how to think: i.e., how to assess any situation with four questions that align with the Bible’s narrative: How ought it to be? What’s wrong with the way it is? What can we do to make positive changes? What should the future look like for this? My guess is that because of this strong start, most of those joining the study will decide to stick it with after the first meeting.
This study isn’t for everyone, though. It’s pitched towards a college-educated audience and generally will be of greater interest to white-collar workers than blue-collar ones. While Robinson clearly appreciates non-paid labor, the study mainly focuses on paid employment. Reintegrate is also not as touchy-feely as some folks might want. For example, there’s not a lot of room for processing your gripes about work or much on vocational discernment.
The sweet-spot audience, I’d say, are workers aged about 28 and above who generally like their jobs and are “thoughtful Christians” (e.g., the kind who hate “Christian bookstores”). This is not a “mass market” product. It’s intelligent without being academic. If you like the work of Andy Crouch or Steve Garber, or listen to Q talks, or generally avoid the “5 Steps to [fill in the blank]” literature, this one is for you.
Dr. Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and is author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP).