What’s Going on at Biola-Talbot?
By Scott Rae
At the Talbot School of Theology (Biola University), we are grateful to be participants in the Oikonomia Network as we pursue our commitment to whole-life discipleship by connecting theology to work and economics. When we began the Oikonomia project, many of our students held deeply entrenched ideas that reflected a hierarchy of vocations. Business, the professions, and blue-collar occupations rested toward the bottom of the hierarchy, while pastoral ministry and missionary work floated to the top. We discovered that our considerable Asian student population held to this perception most strongly, reflecting cultural challenges of which we were not previously aware.
As a result of this revelation, we spent the first year of the program cultivating a better theology of work, moving to integrate it into our curriculum and raise awareness of the issue. A faculty retreat in fall 2011 was the beginning of this journey, and served as an effective point of reference in discussions with various faculty members. Dallas Willard, Wayne Grudem, and Bill Pollard spoke at the retreat, along with local business leaders and others who have invested in this issue.
We took what I call a “yeast and leaven” approach to the curriculum. This consisted of one-on-one conversations, typically over a working lunch, with faculty members whose courses were reasonable arenas in which to make these connections to the world of work. In the past year, we have initiated roughly 15 of these meetings, all of which were well-received. In each case, the faculty member recognized the need and appreciated the importance of integrating this material into his or her class. Courses impacted by these meetings include two different systematic theology classes (of our four-course regimen), Introduction to Pastoral Ministry (sessions on connecting with the world of business and with professional men and women), the homiletics curriculum (preaching to impact business persons), the church history segments dealing with the Reformation and Puritans, the doctor of ministry curriculum, and the spiritual formation curriculum.
We were able to leverage Talbot’s spiritual formation track particularly well. We held a capstone retreat for all students in the track, which focused on the topics of calling and vocation. We plan to hold these retreats in future years, ensuring that every Talbot student is exposed to a thorough- going immersion. Most students will be exposed to this topic multiple times during their course of study.
As mentioned above, we recognized that some ethnic groups of students were struggling more than others with our theology of work. We organized a handful of brown-bag lunches with select groups of Asian students in order to more deeply explore cultural assumptions that can contribute to hierarchical views of ministry and work. This was a valuable bridge-building experience.
We also put on a series of more high-profile events. On April 16, we hosted an invitation-only event for 60 senior pastors and senior church leaders titled “Taking Faith to Work,” and featuring nationally known speakers David Miller (Princeton), Amy Sherman (Sagamore Institute) and Doug Spada (WorkLife). We have sponsored a special chapel series titled “Connecting Sunday and Monday: What Every Pastor Needs to Know about Work and Economics,” designed for both faculty and students. We have also sponsored a variety of events for pastors, including half-day pastor seminars titled “Preaching 9 to 5” to help pastors preach in a way that better relates the Bible to the workplace. Some of our more student-focused times revolved around an already existing lecture series called the “Little Caesar’s Lecture Series.” We sponsored three of these events, informal and over Little Caesar’s pizza, which focused on a theology of work and economics.
Just recently, I introduced students to the 12 “economic wisdom maxims” from the Economic Wisdom Project at one of these Little Caesar’s Lectures. It was generally well received; students affirmed many of the maxims with a straightforward “amen!” In some cases, they posed questions about nuances and definitions, including some that revealed their desire to have a clear understanding of the maxims we discussed. I found it helpful to remind them that the maxims are proverbial statements, intended to start conversations rather than end them.
During the second year of our grant, we will continue the “yeast and leaven” approach with selected faculty on the integration of theology and economics, focusing more on economics than in our first year. But we also have come to learn that keeping the theology of work in the forefront of people’s thinking requires diligence and consistent follow-up. This coming year will be devoted to ensuring that the progress made in the area of work remains firmly integrated in the curriculum, in addition to advancing the conversation with the faculty and students in matters of economics.