David Buschart, professor of theology and historical studies
Brian Gray, director of training and mentoring
Dieumeme Noelliste, professor of theological ethics, director of the Vernon Grounds Institute
Don Payne, associate professor of theology and Christian formation
Gary VanderPol, assistant professor of justice and mission
Denver Seminary is making the most of a number of strategic partnerships with the Oikonomia Network and other faith and work organizations. To date, the seminary has been involved in no fewer than six initiatives advancing a theology of work and economics in creative, engaging ways that have been well-received by students.
A New (and Continuing) Course, “Theology of Work”
In May 2010, Denver Seminary received an Oikonomia Network $5,000 “mini-grant” to strengthen and expand the impact of a new course titled, “Theology of Work.” The course is co-taught by theology professors David Buschart and Don Payne. It was offered first in spring 2011 and has been offered twice more since then. The grant funds supported the following steps:
- Deepen the “real world” perspective of the course during its preparation through six roundtable discussions with individuals involved in a variety of work settings and various levels of responsibility. Feedback from the discussions benefitted course preparation by keeping biblical and theological lecture material anchored to the practical concerns of today’s workers. Grant funds provided meals and a complimentary copy of “God at Work” by Gene Edward Veith for each participant.
- Increase the effectiveness of the course through professional design of PowerPoint slides and providing honoraria for external guest participants in two panel discussions.
- Increase and incentivize enrollment in the course by providing a copy of one of the course texts for each student.
Formal and informal student evaluations of the three offerings of the course have yielded consistently positive responses about its relevance and helpfulness to students’ ministry settings. The course has established a platform from which Denver has been able to influence an even wider audience of current and future pastors. There has also been noticeable interest in the course from beyond the seminary as evidenced by the participation of several auditors from the community every time the class has been offered.
Vernon Grounds Institute
Each year, under the leadership of Dieumeme Noelliste, the Vernon Grounds Institute of Public Ethics explores a major theme. During the 2013-14 academic year, the institute explored the theme “Economics for Human Flourishing” in partnership with the ON and the Acton Institute. Acton’s support took the form of wise counsel and human resources, while ON mini-grants helped to stage two of the institute’s annual events, the Rally for the Common Good and the Salt and Light Seminar.
Held respectively in February and April 2014, the Rally and the Seminar impressed upon the minds of Christians the highly theological and deeply spiritual significance of economics. The Rally hosted a breakfast that brought together pastors and business leaders in their congregations for a conversation on how to bridge the divide between faith and economics, church and business. The featured speaker was Charlie Self, a professor at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a senior advisor to the Acton Institute. The breakfast was followed by a panel discussion on the Denver campus for the seminary community.
For its part, the Seminar pursued the same objective as the Rally, via an intense learning experience that brought together seminary students, Christian professionals and businesspersons, and Christian workers in general, to wrestle with the meaning of a stewardship of life, vocations, and material resources that truly honors God and contributes to the enhancement of others. The Seminar’s featured speaker was Amy Sherman of the Sagamore Institute, who is also a senior advisor to Acton. Together, the events attracted 250 participants and received great reviews.
Denver INI Program
From spring 2013 to summer 2014, under the leadership of David Buschart, Brian Gray, and Don Payne, Denver Seminary partnered with the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture to provide local leadership for a church enrichment program titled, “Integral, Not Incidental” (INI). The title is drawn from Steven Garber’s maxim that a whole-life understanding of vocation is “integral, not incidental” to Christian spirituality and mission.
The program gathered 35 participants from 10 area churches, with each church sending a combination of pastoral staff and lay leaders from various career fields. Participating churches were combined into three conversational learning communities, each facilitated by a member of the Denver faculty. Learning communities gathered monthly to work through a dialogue-based curriculum attending to issues of faith, work, and economics. At the beginning, midpoint, and end of the program, the learning communities joined for plenary sessions, which included a shared meal, a presentation, and community dialogue on an aspect of the theology of vocation.
At the end of the Denver INI program, participants left with shared thinking on and concrete strategies for ways to better infuse worship services and discipleship ministry with practices that honored and stimulated the callings of every Christian in the spheres of the world they influenced.
In September 2014 and January 2015, new ON mini-grants created support for Denver students who want to bring deeper teaching on faith and work into the local church. The two grants are parallel, one supporting students in the fall 2014 offering of the “Theology of Work” course described above, and one for students in the spring 2015 offering of the course “Doing Justice,” taught by Gary Vander Pol. Students coming out of these courses can apply to receive support for follow-up activities that bring what they’ve learned to local church congregations – for example, through multi-week preaching or teaching series, adult education, small groups, or men’s and women’s ministry programs.
The second grant is distinctively valuable because it brings together a theology of work with a theology of justice. The Justice and Mission curriculum at the seminary focuses on ministries of justice and compassion. Vander Pol observes:
I think there is tremendous potential for bringing together the conversation with would-be missionaries who are concerned about justice and poverty and those concerned with theology of work and vocation. Unfortunately, I find that such cross-pollination is all-too rare.
For example, I spoke just a few years ago at a major, internationally recognized mission conference in the Global Poverty track, but kept close tabs on the Business as Mission track. I was saddened to find very little interchange between the two missional groups. You could tell who belonged in which groups simply by their appearance – ties and collared shirts versus sandals and tattoos!
One of the goals of the “Doing Justice” course is to foster this kind of cross-pollination. The mini-grants to students extend just this type of cross-pollination beyond the course and beyond the campus. After the course is completed, students are supported and guided in teaching and applying what they have learned in a ministry context beyond seminary. Students from the fall “Theology of Work” course are pursuing their mini-grant projects, and students from this spring’s “Doing Justice” course will apply for support this semester. Those who receive a grant will lead their projects during the summer and fall of 2015.