Seminary Spotlight

Seattle Pacific University

By Celeste Cranston, Director, Center for Biblical and Theological Education

In the fall of 2013, Seattle Pacific Seminary began a new Oikonomia Network program in cooperation with Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Biblical and Theological Education and Center for Integrity in Business. We’ve held a conference on “Theology and Economics in Creative Partnership,” hosted three new courses for seminarians with local church and marketplace leaders (Spiritual Capital, A Theology of Business, and Entrepreneurship and Mission), and  training to assist theology professors to engage students in the university’s annual Social Business Venture Competition. All of these projects have contributed to accomplishing our goals.

Our most transformational project, however, has been our monthly Community of Practice (CoP), which brings together marketplace leaders, church leaders, and seminarians for roundtable discussions on the basic goodness of work and economic exchange, and the nature of vocation outside of the church.

One seminary participant, Jeremiah Hinton, reflects on his experience in the CoP:

Seminary is a unique opportunity to scrutinize the practices and convictions of the church without the possibility of ruining a congregation. My own convictions have been solidified, challenged, broken down, and reformed for the sake of my future congregation. With this in mind, I am intensely grateful for my participation in the Seattle Pacific Seminary CoP. Before entering seminary, my disposition toward business was as assured and naïve as many of the other ideas I held. Participating with business leaders and pastors has drastically changed the way I view business and economic systems, and how I think of work outside the church.

The majority of my interactions in seminary are either with members of academia or members of the church. Prior to the CoP, my exposure to Christian business leaders was non-existent. I never had opportunity to hear from a Christian business leader about how Christian theology shapes their business practice. In addition, I had not heard from pastors about how they navigate the rough waters of church administration.

I held deeply entrenched beliefs that there were “holy” jobs and “secular” jobs. It was only in hearing from, and arguing with, pastors and business leaders in our CoP that I have grown to understand that all work is holy, and made holy when it is done to the glory of God. This was a revolutionary idea for me: the essential aspect of work is the disposition of the heart as much as the effect of the labor. It is entirely possible to dig ditches, my recurring summer job, and honor God with my head, hands, and heart. Alarmingly, my potential position as a pastor someday does not ensure that my work will be “holy.” Growing in my understanding of what it means to labor with God with all of my being in industries outside of the church has allowed me to grow in my understanding of what it means to serve God within the church.

Another revolutionary perspective on business and economics was the realization that business can be conducted so that it is both profitable and non-exploitative. Before participating in our community of practice, I had long assumed that any financially successful organization was operating at the expense of someone else. Our discussion of Bill Gates’ “Creative Capitalism” was the point at which I understood that it is possible for business to both be profitable and advance the kingdom of God on earth. While Bill Gates does not use that language, he describes the way in which self-interest can be harnessed in order to accomplish a goal, which we have the power to assign.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this particular reading and our discussion fundamentally changed the way I understand business. Our cumulative CoP discussions have challenged my previous misconceptions of business as a necessary venture into predatory relationships that constitute a world infected with sin. The possibility that participation in business can be a means of actively working out Jesus’ call to heal the sick and broken, and still be profitable by business standards, has been a major turning point in my education. I am better prepared to encourage and affirm the people God has called to participate in business. I am excited to have a new and broader understanding of what constitutes ministry, ultimately strengthening the collective expression of God’s people in the world. – Jeremiah Hinton

We are looking forward to expanding our CoP program this year, so we can help more seminarians develop these insights, and also reach out to local churches and start the same kind of fruitful conversations there.