By Evan Lenow Reprinted from the Oikonomia Network Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is located deep in the heart of Texas in Fort Worth. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex enjoys a bustling economy and steady population growth. As a result, we have a great opportunity to address the integration of faith and work within our community. Through the work of the Land…
This the latest in a series of articles sharing insights from a joint curricular development initiative of the Oikonomia Network, the Theology of Work Project and three ON schools (Asbury, Assemblies of God and Western). It is reprinted from the Oikonomia Network Newsletter. Only two professors we talked with were teaching Old Testament courses as such, but discussion of OT texts and…
Reprinted from the Oikonomia Network
Each session at Karam Forum 2018 was hosted by a leader from our community who framed the session with a 7-8 minute mini-talk. Like our Economic Wisdom Project Talks, these mini-talks are packed with catalytic insight. Check them out below and mark your calendars for Karam Forum 2019, featuring Miroslav Volf, David Miller and Mark Greene!
Vincent Bacote: “Seminaries or Cemeteries? A Mission as Big as Life Itself”
Vincent Bacote told the audience that, being in Los Angeles, they were sitting not far from the most influential seminary in the world: Hollywood. The movies win hearts and minds by showing people an imaginary world on a screen for two hours. Theology may not have big special effects budgets, but it can do something even more impressive than the movies; it can show us the real world. Bacote argued that theological education needs to recover a sense of how big the mission of theology is – a mission as big as the whole world, as big as life itself. Only then will it reverse its reputation as a storehouse of lifeless abstractions and decaying formulas.
Greg Forster: “Discovering Oikonomia: A Christian Life of the Mind”
Introducing Charlie Self, the event’s closing speaker, Greg Forster described how his conversion to the faith as an adult forced him to reevaluate what it meant to live the life of a scholar and educator. In a universe where God cares about building bridges and feeding the hungry as much as he cares about knowledge and insight, how can we have a Christian life of the mind? Forster argued that reason must have a place in the oikonomia theou, God’s plan for all things, because we use reason to discover the oikonomia theou. Everyone in the kingdom of God, in all vocations, has valuable knowledge; nonetheless there is an indispensable role for those who live the life of the mind – as Self put it, raising up poets and prophets for God’s people and world.
P.J. Hill: “Theology and Economics: Getting Past Cognitive Dissonance”
P.J. Hill shared the story of his journey as an economist who slowly discovered that moral and even theological questions were not secondary to his discipline; they were right at the heart of it. From a starting point where he struggled to connect his faith to his economic studies, producing “cognitive dissonance,” Hill eventually concluded that economic understanding had to begin with questions of justice, rights and morally ordered desires. Hill also described some insights the economic discipline provides on market economies that can inform theological evaluation of their functioning, such as the role markets play in coordinating social activity among people who don’t know each other well.
Chris Armstrong: “Flourishing: More than Souls on Sticks”
Gremlins sabotaged the audio feed at Karam Forum 2018, but this memorable mini-talk will be re-recorded and released at a future date – stay tuned!
Chris Armstrong argued that a well-rounded Christian view of human flourishing is essential to the faith in the coming generation. Too often, the church has treated people as if they were “souls on sticks” – addressing their eternal fate, but not their whole lives. Many young people leave the church today not because they think Christianity is false but because they think Christianity is irrelevant to anything they care about; our problem is not so much “intellectual atheism” as “practical atheism.” Bringing in delightful wisdom from C.S. Lewis and pointing to its origin in the earlier ages of the faith that Lewis studied, Armstrong made a case for Lewis’ maxim that “because we love something else more than this world, we love even this world better than those who know no other.”
Ten years on from the Great Recession, the faith and work movement finds itself growing in momentum and impact. Alongside our effort are other movements that have challenged our collective sense of America and how she is governed: the unique candidacies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the #metoo movement, Marches for Women, the Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, and…
I am excited to introduce you to a new curriculum titled The Story of Holy Love produced by our friends at the Center for Transformational Churches at Trinity International University. What is it all about—my life, the world, everything? How can we make sense of the Bible? The Bible is not a book about religion that also happens to say some…
I am excited to introduce you to a new curriculum titled The Kingdom of Justice and Flourishing produced by our friends at Center for Transformational Churches at Trinity International University. The Kingdom of Justice and Flourishing is a collection of six-week, video-based curricula for small groups who want deeper insight on how to shine the light of the gospel into…
The Oikonomia Network has recently produced some great videos with different leaders in the faith and work movement speaking on the integration of faith and work from their research and study. These videos are intended to be used in the classroom as well as in the church and other instructional settings where people faith can learn about the integration of their faith with all parts of life.
Chris Armstrong is the founder and director of Opus: The Art of Work based at Wheaton College. Previously, he directed the Bethel Work with Purpose Initiative as well as was professor of church history at Bethel Seminary (St Paul, MN). In addition to Chris’ current work with Opus, he is Senior Editor of Christian History Magazine.
Chris spoke on the topic of vocation from his life, the Bible, and church history. He began with passion and vulnerability, recounting lessons he learned on the value of work and the apparent problem of “work-life balance.”
As a child of the 70’s, Chris confesses to having had a laissez faire view toward work: “Labor is a life-destroying activity.” This attitude would soon put him in a hard place, as during the first few months of his marriage, he was forced to turn to family for financial support. This uncomfortable interlude ended only when one of his college professors offered him a full-time job at a language school.
What strikes me from this story is the sense of self-worth and dignity that Chris felt after he started this job. He had co-workers who now relied on him. He had a sense that he was contributing to the world in a new way. In fact, on most days he could not wait to get to work. If you would have told the younger Chris he would one day have this kind of anticipation for work, he would have thought you were crazy.
“The 70s had lied to me. Work wasn’t life-destroying. It was interesting, energizing, and rewarding.” -Chris Armstrong
At this point, you might think that everything was in order for Chris and he simply proceeded with his work and family life helping everyone in his life to flourish. But soon the flip-flop from dismissal to obsession with work was complete, as he ran up against what his church called “work-life balance issues.” He was told, like so many of us, to put God first, family second, and work third.
But, Chris asks, “Is ‘work-life balance’ really the problem?” Life is not normally as neat and tidy as the simple priority of God over family over work implies. Colossians 3:23 shows a different, more holistic picture: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… (ESV)”
To illustrate, Chris took us back to some 16th century “work-life struggles,” as addressed by a little-known monk named Martin Luther (!). In response to the way that era saw only monks and priests as having vocations that mattered to God, Luther proposed the radical idea that all work can be God’s work regardless of its apparent sacredness or status.
“When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.” -Martin Luther
What Luther and Armstrong are saying is that all kinds of work, even the mundane, can be done in obedience to God and in service to others. Luther used the word vocation to refer to this work. Unfortunately, words like vocation–as well as stewardship, flourishing, and culture–have been watered down and devalued. From Luther, to Adam and Eve in the garden, to the 6th-century pope and spiritual writer Gregory the Great, Chris unpacks the meaning of the Christian concept of vocation.
I want to note one other important point from Luther’s discussion of vocation: it embraces work done in the home as well as in the marketplace.
My friend Tom Nelson uses some helpful words to describe work. He discusses work in terms of contribution and remuneration. Some work involves contribution to an organization while other can result in remuneration. Both are of equal importance, though work that involves remuneration is oftentimes valued more. Luther and Nelson would both agree that both types of work are critical to flourishing.
As we reflect on the history of the faith and work movement and look toward its future and legacy, the topic of vocation properly defined is a critical area for continued study, reflection, and education. We as leaders need to correctly understand this so that God can use us to teach its importance and relevance to our students as well as the people in the pew.
I’ll leave you here with Armstrong’s closing words:
Now, in my fifties, I’m finally really hearing and acting on the “whatever you did” of Jesus, and the “whatever you do” of Paul. I’m hearing Luther’s call to love my neighbor through ordinary work, and Gregory’s call to let my devotion prepare me for my work, and my work for my devotion. Can you hear it too?
Please watch this brief (16-minute) video and share with like-minded folks in your network. If you’re interested to read more about vocation, I’d refer you to Working for Our Neighbor: A Lutheran Primer on Vocation, Economics, and Everyday Life, by Gene Edward Veith.
Ora et labora