Faith, work, and biblical commentary: speaking with David Kim and Will Messenger

The Green Room recently sat down with David Kim, editor of the Faith and Work Bible recently released from Zondervan, and Will Messenger, executive editor of the Theology of Work Project, to talk about the Bible and work and the similarities and differences between their projects.

TGR: What makes a faith and work Bible, or Bible commentary, different than any other kind of commentary or Bible with notes?

WM: The TOW Commentary, like anything else in the genre, takes passages in the Bible and comments on them. But it’s specifically focused on faith and work, so since not every passage in the Bible is focused on work, not every passage is covered. We chose passages that either speak directly and obviously about work or have pretty clear applications to work. But I think that’s a fairly minor difference.

The bigger difference between it and traditional commentaries was authorship. We sought a combination of scholars, pastors—because we wanted pastors to be among those using it—and workplace Christians—because ultimately our idea of what faith and work means is equipping people in non-church workplaces.

So: it’s a simple product but a cumbersome process. We would get a draft, usually from a scholar but possibly also from a pastor or workplace Christian with the necessary biblical/theological capabilities. Then we spent 2-3 rounds of line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph discussion. Sometimes we got into long, even heated discussions on whether a passage applies to work at all or about how to best apply it to work. That process occurred live: our steering committee plus guest reviewers plus sometimes authors. Ultimately over 150 people were involved.

DK: In our case, it’s basically in the study Bible genre. The project began with Zondervan and Christianity Today having the idea, and me responding, “The world doesn’t need another study Bible.”  The Zondervan editors said that once you write a book, it will be read once—maybe a few times if it’s a really great book—but it just sits on the shelf. If there’s content that really needs to be applied, the form of a study Bible is a better container. As people are reading through Scripture they are seeing your material over and over again.

For me the faith at work movement is not only a new vision of work but also a new vision of Scripture, and I think that’s what we have in common, Will: we want to see the Bible applied through the whole of life including workplaces. We hope a study Bible over time give people a new lens to read familiar passages of scripture.

We’re not trying to do the scholarship you would see in the usual study Bible. But we do try to connect key passages of Scripture that are emblematic of historic church doctrines, and discuss how a lot of the doctrines that people are familiar with could be applied into the workplace.

Just as an example, Romans 8 is a famous passage that talks about adoption, so when you turn to Romans 8 you see a callout to some historic primary source and then a connection to how the doctrine of adoption was actually helpful to a real-life person in a particular way. This is a point of connection with TOW’s work, but it’s in more of a bite-size container. It’s a good complement to the TOW commentary.

WM: I got a copy and looked at some of the entries. As far as I can tell, every entry seems to have a story: someone applying the piece of scripture to their workplace, or trying to. They’re fantastic. How did you find so many stories like that?

TGR: That was my next question too.

DK: The content comes out of the lived experience of what we’ve seen at Redeemer. Doctrine, when applied to the workplace, really does make a difference.  These were stories I was hearing initially in the Gotham Fellowship as to how people were applying doctrines in a specific context. From a pastor’s perspective it was wonderful to hear how laypeople were getting deep into these doctrines and making applications pastors would never think of

Many of the stories are New Yorkers but most are not. We wanted to make it broader, so Christianity Today  set up an open call for people who wanted to talk about this work. We wanted a diversity of white-collar, blue-collar, different parts of the country, etc. Each of the 75 stories is a real life story, though we decided not to put people’s names.

WM: Did people call or write in with specific passages?  I’m fascinated because I’ve interviewed a lot of workplace Christians who could maybe talk about their calling, or name a couple passages, but usually have a hard time identifying a lot of different significant passages in Scripture.

DK: The prompt that they received was a Scripture and a doctrine. For example, adoption, a description of adoption, and then a couple passages. They weren’t sure what passage it would be tied to in the end. That’s how I found doctrine was an important link between Scripture and people. When people read Romans 8, there’s a mental block on applying it to the workplace because they have heard very many sermons and writings and Bible studies about it but not from a workplace perspective—it floods their brain and they have trouble thinking of workplace applications. Starting with doctrine was a better entry point.

Stay tuned for the second half of this interview!

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