By Greg Forster
This has been an amazing roller coaster of a year. Together, in 12 short months, our community of partners has built itself into a major national network of theological educators dedicated to reconnecting sound theology and biblical wisdom to work and economics. I’m honored and humbled to work with you as the Oikonomia Network (ON) reconnects the church to one of the most important challenges of our time: the tremendous moral and spiritual significance of the work that takes up most of our everyday lives, and the way our local and national economies steward that work and its fruits.
Do you want to see some amazing numbers? Here is the total ON activity report from 2012:
You know what’s more amazing? That’s less than half the real reach of our network going forward. These activities took place at seven schools, which were just gearing up. Three schools didn’t even come on board until halfway through the year. There is still tremendous untapped potential at these schools, and our network is now at 12 schools and growing!
Want to see some more amazing numbers? Compare the Kern Family Foundation’s ON grant activity today to what it was just one year ago:
|Jan. 1, 2012||Feb. 5, 2013|
|Annual Funds||$169,000||$1.5 million|
Overall, it’s been a stellar year. And we’re not done yet.
What’s most amazing to me about the Oikonomia Network isn’t the numbers. It’s the people who do this important work. Here are some milestones we can all celebrate:
- Charlie Self of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary has received national acclaim in Pentecostal and evangelical circles for his new book on work and economics, “Flourishing Churches and Communities.” You can read about other developments at AGTS in Charlie’s “What’s Going ON” article in this newsletter. (Look for profiles of other ON schools in future newsletters.)
- Chris Armstrong of Bethel Seminary published a cover story in the January issue of “InTrust” magazine, the trade publication of American seminaries, on the desperate need for theological education to reconnect with work and the economy. Major figures in the seminary world have sat up and taken notice of this landmark. They will take notice again when part two comes out in the next issue! (Also check out Chris’s article on the surprising history of the doctrine of vocation in the winter 2013 edition of “Leadership Journal.”)
- Scott Rae of Biola University was featured in an article in the November issue of “Christianity Today” that described the Oikonomia Network as part of the growing interest in marketplace ministry across the country. Scott’s success in “leavening” the cultural dough at the Talbot School of Theology with the leaven of every Christian’s vocation was well worth highlighting.
- Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has put together a series of successful denominational conferences and other events that are attracting national notice. Southwestern’s conference on how to integrate work and economics in the seminary curriculum attracted faculty from almost every seminary in the Southern Baptist denomination. A conference on mission and business attracted over 100 nationally influential attendees, and another on urban economics broke new ground in helping denominational leaders deepen their understanding of the moral underpinnings of economic systems.
There are more stories for us to celebrate than I can share here. Watch for more in future newsletters!
Amazing Ideas and Opportunities
We are only at the start of our journey, and the Lord is providing many new opportunities. The unique value of our network lies in our ability to help pastors renew ancient wisdom by applying it to the pressing problems of our time. This takes place in both intra-tradition and inter-tradition dialogue, as we discover these connections both within and across our theological affiliations. The discipline of theology has been mostly disconnected from work and economics for over two centuries; that means we have a lot of work ahead of us, but it also means that the trove of insight and wisdom awaiting us is vast!
Even now, almost two months later, I am still digesting the big ideas and challenges Dallas Willard shared with us at ON’s first faculty retreat in January. Dallas has kindly turned his talks into papers; we will share them with you soon. In the meantime, click here to see how I’m applying what Dallas shared with us.
As he said, it’s crucial that pastors help people grasp the biblical concept of human well-being. The Bible depicts well-being as relational; to have well-being or to flourish consists of being in right relationship with others. Thus, the pastor should help ordinary people see the economy as a place for fruitfully serving others (love), embarking on new ventures and finding better ways of doing things (joy), being content with the material goods they have (peace), and so forth. This kind of well-being cannot be handed to people; “It must be grasped internally.”
By contrast, the powers of the world want people to define their well-being in terms of money and possessions, because those powers want to make people dependent on them as providers of such things. But those who define their well-being this way become unable to say no to their desires. As this materialism takes hold at every level of society from top to bottom and across the political spectrum, the result is a furnace of competition in which factions struggle to seize resources by means of power.
In this darkness, pastors have a new opportunity to shine the gospel as a source of light, life, and hope. Our neighbors are struggling with dislocation and uncertainty in the new global economy. Their national leaders can’t seem to solve the simplest problems. Is it even possible for the human community to live in a way that has dignity, meaning, and purpose? Pastors can say, “With God, yes.” Through Christ, each individual can co-create a life with God that flows through daily work and all other activities. And when this concept of the dignity and meaning of work becomes influential in a culture, the national economy can find a path to stewardship grounded in industriousness, honesty, generosity, fair play, responsibility, and enterprise – free and virtuous people serving the common good. That’s what the Oikonomia Network is all about.