Seminary Spotlight: Covenant Theological Seminary

By Dan Doriani, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.

Rooted in the Reformed and Kuyperian traditions, Covenant Theological Seminary offers students both specific courses on work and a curriculum-wide approach to engagement with the labor of humanity and of believers in particular.

Covenant Seminary students initially engage work in the classroom through a first-year course, taught by three professors, titled Calling, Vocation and Work. The course includes spiritual and ministry formation as well as exploration of one’s calling. It equips students to help church members understand and explore their calling, after they enter ministry. A third-year course, Biblical Ethics, builds on this by exploring the biblical theology of work, faithfulness at work, biblical teaching on social and economic transformation through work, and a short history of influential theories on work. Both courses deny any sacred-secular split. Covenant asserts that all honest work has dignity, and that all workers have equal ability to please God, even as some work is more strategic and culture-forming. For those who prefer online coursework, Covenant also offers a video series on a biblical theology of work and economic transformation is in planning stages.

Covenant Seminary has a variety of co-curricular avenues that allow students to explore work. This includes ministry lunches that feature speakers from various sectors, including psychology, media, and occasionally business. The Francis Schaeffer Institute, led by professors Jerram Barrs and Mark Ryan, enables students to explore cultural engagement with an emphasis on apologetics in dialogue, which naturally leads to interaction with experts from various workplaces. Covenant also partners with the Center for Faith and Work in St. Louis, which I lead, in bringing business leaders to campus.

Covenant Seminary believes the Lord distributes varied gifts to his people. In his sovereignty and grace, he gives pastors and other church leaders positions of strategic influence and authority. Seminary-trained leaders do not first look to recruit more pastors, missionaries and counselors. Rather, following Paul’s principle, we entrust the comprehensive gospel message to men and women who will train others. This applies to every other area of life. Therefore our alumni strive to equip all workers to live out their faith within their vocation. This begins with the most common occupations – drivers, food preparers and retail sales workers, as well as the array of unpaid workers, from new parents to adults in their volunteer work. We also equip our students to recognize and mentor leaders in business, medicine, education, the arts and more, so all are empowered to practice their faith in their workplace.

Our goal through this is to help them transform their workplaces for the glory of God, through principled innovation. That is, while we hope the people we disciple work hard, share their faith, act ethically, and start Bible studies at work, we aim for more – to make the workplace more pleasing to God and more satisfying to mankind. Since God made this world and his principles work best, we believe seminary students should learn to guide all the people they disciple so they can practice daily faithfulness as well as transformational initiatives.

Covenant Seminary endorses all of the Oikonomia Network’s outcomes for students. We agree that pastors and Christian leaders should help people live as disciples at work, moving beyond income production and mere morality in their labor. We teach students to ask these diagnostic questions about their work:

  • Am I serving my King? Promoting justice? Or fitting in and make a living?
  • When potential conflicts between business and kingdom goals arise, do I stand on principle or do what it takes to keep my job? Am I willing to initiate and endure conflict for a good cause?
  • What motivates me? The opinions of others? Desire for wealth? Love for God and neighbor?
  • Do I collaborate with fellow believers to achieve godly goals?

We teach that Jesus, by working with his hands, dignified all honest labor. By performing manual labor, Jesus honored shepherds, farmers, carpenters and everyone else who uses muscle power. Human abilities vary, and God respects them all. One’s principal duty is to exercise the talents God bestows, whether many or few. Steadfast labor counts; fruit matters too.

We teach that work shapes human identity, even as God primarily establishes identity by creating humanity in his image and adopting believers to his family. People called Jesus “the carpenter.” When scripture identifies people as priests, fishermen, soldiers, merchants or tax collectors, it acknowledges the link between work and identity. Through our work, we shape the world, but our work also shapes us. It leads us to gain certain skills and to see the world in light of our skills and experiences.

We teach students that work and vocation are not identical. Jesus worked with wood and stone, and Paul made tents, but they had other God-given callings. Men and women can temporarily labor in one field while moving toward a position that better fits their gifts and interests. Vocation entails service in the place where God has given gifts and a desire to make a difference in this world. This requires stewards of God’s world, starting with the people made in God’s image.

The Lord assigns places of work, yet believers can move. “Were you a slave when called?” Paul asks, “Do not be concerned about it.” But Paul also tells slaves to “gain your freedom” if you can (I Corinthians 7:17–24). Therefore we affirm a dual truth: (a) God assigns believers to specific roles or callings, and (b) he permits them to move if there is good reason.

Covenant also affirms, in many courses, that pastors and church leaders should place priority on helping the poor, the marginalized and the apparent outsider. This will entail action, both individual and corporate, and quite possibly through our paid labor to promote love, justice, and mercy in a world that often resists efforts at reform. This will call for wisdom in discovering allies, understanding adversaries, and persevering in all events.

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