By Alistair Mackenzie (see our interview with Alistair here)
Previous posts in this series: Part 1
In my last post, I talked about how I came to enter into graduate study on the theology of work. Here’s some of what I learned.
First, I noticed how early in the history of the Christian church the sacred/secular divide that runs like a fault line through our Western way of seeing things impacted on Christian thinking. The idea that the contemplative life is superior to the active life, and the spiritual realm is something superior to and completely separate from the physical realm, helps separate ministry from everyday life. This is very plainly expressed by Eusebius at around 300AD:
“Two ways of life were thus given by the law of Christ to His Church. The one is above nature, and beyond common human living; it admits not marriage, child-bearing, property nor the possession of wealth, but wholly and permanently separate from the common customary life of mankind, it devotes itself to the service of God alone … such then is the perfect form of the Christian life. And the other, more humble, more human, permits man to join in pure nuptials, and to produce children … it allows them to have minds for farming, for trade, and the other more secular interests as well as for religion … a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them.”
Secondly, I noticed numerous attempts to deal with this, particularly as you follow developments in German mysticism and the history of Luther and Calvin and others in the Protestant Reformation; then the Puritans and the Wesleyan movement and the Clapham Group and Quaker and Moravian approaches to business as mission and the World Council of Churches in the post-WWII era.
However, at the same time one of my sobering realizations was that, although a lot of people have started down this trail, still the concern to see the church more active in the world usually gets overtaken by internal church concerns. The concern to see a greater emphasis on resourcing the people of God for their ministry in daily life tends to move toward providing a select few with resources for roles within the church. Clearly those of us who embark on the faith and work journey need to recognize the institutional forces that we are up against.
My study also highlighted some theological concerns:
- Creation: I developed a concern to see evangelical and Pentecostal Christians reclaiming a creation theology to operate alongside our redemption theology.
- Providence: I was concerned for a more developed doctrine of providence so that God’s sustaining and maintenance work is valued. God at work in the midst of the mundane as well as the miraculous. Our mundane maintenance work is connected to God’s work.
- Eschatology: So few Christians seem to have any sense of everything being caught up in God’s saving purposes. When popular portrayals of the end are just about eternal rest or something like an eternal worship service, for most people there is very little attractive or compelling about that. Clearly there is much more to the New Creation than this. But some big questions remain. How does our work now relate to the New Creation? Will there be work for us to do in partnership with God in the end? How fundamental to God’s nature and hence our nature is work? What does work redeemed from futile toil, corruption and frustration look like?
- God as Worker: Our God is a worker. And we are made workers in the image of God. This is how the image of God is defined in the context of Genesis 1, although it’s not often written up that way in commentaries or theology texts.
- Humans as Co-workers with God: God is a worker who invites us to find significance in working as partners with him in his creating and sustaining and transforming work. God’s work continues to unfold all the time in every aspect of life and we are encouraged to pray as Jesus taught us to “your kingdom come your will be done on earth even as it is in heaven”. And so we look forward to the consummation of this work in a reality in which all our desires to be involved in good and creative work will find their fulfillment, no longer spoiled by the effects of the fall that we find ourselves constantly struggling with now. But tragically, I think that most Christians have never caught a glimpse of this wonderful reality.
- The Work of Father, Son and Spirit: Most of us are part of churches that tend to build on the work of one member of the Trinity more than the others. The Father our creator, or the Son our redeemer, or the Spirit who leads us into the new creation. In fact we are called to work in partnership with all three who work together all the time. Recognizing this would help to balance our theology considerably.
In my next post I’ll talk about some dangers and possibilities in emphasizing a theology of work.
Alistair Mackenzie is a Teaching Fellow at Laidlaw College – Christchurch, New Zealand and has also worked part-time with the Theology of Work Project. He is the author of Where’s God on Monday?, SoulPurpose: Making a Difference in Life and Work and Just Decisions: Christians Ethics Go to Work, and the founding director of Faith at Work (NZ).